Distance Education

Virtual Classroom and Distance Learning: Bangladesh Perspective – 1

virtual classroom and distance learning; Photo credit: mit.edu
Written by Aklima Sharmin

Universities are faced with the difficult problem of simultaneously keeping pace with the increased number of students and the increased extent of knowledge that is to be delivered to students. And students expect to be taught by excellent teachers who have a deep understanding of the subject. A virtual classroom concept is a possible solution to the problem of the increased number of students, when a set of smaller classrooms is interconnected and a lecture is given from one site to all connected sites Use of videoconferencing technologies brings the virtual classroom concept a step further, giving access to teachers outside one university.

Also, even individual students can directly participate, extending thus the capacity of the virtual classrooms. However, the major drawback of using classical video conferencing technologies lies in their limited video resolution. This shortcoming is removed by the High Definition (HD) videoconferencing technologies that are giving an opportunity to create an almost natural virtual class environment, with a very realistic illusion of teacher’s presence in the remote lecture hall.

The virtual classroom approach describes how to turn around our mass people toward creating a learning and skilled society. In this report, we intend to show how we can leverage our existing infrastructure to deploy this technology. Our proposed deployment strategy is based on four basics fundamentals; standard openness, scalability, flexibility, and productivity enhancements.

Technology such as the virtual classroom is becoming increasingly popular (Flatley, 2007; Gilmore & Warren, 2007; Arbaugh, 2000a; Arbaugh, 2000b). Virtual classrooms are online environments that enable students and instructors to communicate synchronously using audio, video, text chat, interactive whiteboard, application sharing, instant polling, etc. These features enable faculty and students to interact as if they were face to face in a classroom. Participants can talk to each other, view each other through a webcam, use emoticons, and work together in break-out rooms. Some of the virtual classrooms on the market today are Elluminate, Adobe Connect, Webex, Centra, and Horizon Wimba. Freeware versions of the virtual classroom include DimDim and Wiziq. The interactive nature of the virtual classroom addresses the main challenges found in distance education, namely student involvement and participation (Arbaugh 2000a; Webster & Hackley, 1997; Alavi, Wheeler, & Valacich, 1995). Advantageously, the virtual classroom can be used in online and blended instructional delivery.

Currently, most of the literature on virtual classrooms is descriptive and focuses on practice (Halper, Kelly, & Chuang, 2007; Gilmore & Warren, 2007; Grosjean & Sork, 2007; Flatley, 2007; McKinnie, 2008; Anyanwu, 2003). The paucity of research on the virtual classroom focuses on MBA students (Arbaugh 2000a, Arbaugh 2000b). The purpose of this study is to compare undergraduate perceptions of the virtual classroom in an instructional technology course, in education, which is taught online and in a blended format. More specifically, the researchers examine the student’s perceptions of the features (e.g., whiteboards, text chat) and characteristics (i.e., interactivity, synchrony, usefulness and ease of use, and sense of community) of the virtual classroom. Competitive pressures and stakeholder expectations will continue to drive the push for more technologically sophisticated online courses into the foreseeable future (Arbaugh, 2000a). Research on the virtual classroom is necessary to help identity which contexts are most suitable for this technology.

2. Conceptual Framework

2.1 Virtual Education

Virtual education is a term describing online education using the Internet also can be called e-learning.

Virtual education refers to instruction in a learning environment where time or space, or both separate teacher and student, and the teacher provides course content through the use of methods such as course management applications, multimedia resources, the Internet, and videoconferencing. Students receive the content and communicate with the teacher via the same technologies.

2.2 Virtual Classroom 

2.2.1 Explanation of Virtual Classroom

A virtual classroom, on the other hand, is a system that provides the same opportunities for the teaching and learning process, beyond the physical limits of the traditional classroom’s walls, thanks to the use of computer communication networks. Due to the ubiquity and popularity of the Internet — particularly the World Wide Web –, most virtual classroom implementations are Web-based.

The Virtual Classroom is a teaching and learning environment located within a computer-mediated communication system. The objectives of a Virtual Classroom are to improve access to advanced educational experiences by allowing students and instructors to participate in remote learning communities using personal computers at home or at work, and to improve the quality and effectiveness of education by using the computer to support a collaborative learning process. By collaborative learning is meant a learning process that emphasizes group or cooperative efforts among faculty and students, active participation and interaction on the part of both students and instructors, and new knowledge that emerges from an active dialog among those who are sharing ideas and information (Bouton and Garth, 1983; Whipple, 1987).

Some of the benefits of a Web-based classroom are its geographic, temporal and platform independence, and its simple, familiar and consistent interface. Some of the drawbacks are: limited access to the Internet worldwide; resistance to shift to new and alternative teaching and learning paradigms or methodologies; privacy, security, copyright and related issues; and a lack of uniform quality (McCormack and Jones 1998).

As this use of Internet is increasing, a traditional classroom has shifted to E-Learning. While advancements in communication tools were easily adapted to learning methods, it was the introduction of the personal computer and the development of the Internet that would create the most radical transformation in higher education. Learning by computer can be as easy as communicating with your professor and fellow classmates via email, student utilizing an interactive CD-ROM.

Just as the term virtual means a simulation of the real thing, Virtual Classroom is a simulated classroom via Internet, which provides a convenient communication environment for distance learners just like traditional face-to-face classroom.  A virtual classroom allows learners to attend a class from anywhere in the world and aims to provides a learning experience that is similar to a real classroom.

When we go to college we have a schedule of lectures, which we must attend. Student must arrive on time, and when he enters the classroom, he finds a teacher, fellow learners, a blackboard or whiteboard, LCD projector, optionally a television screen with videos. Likewise, a Virtual Classroom is a scheduled, online, teacher-led training session where teachers and learners interact together using computers linked to a network such as the Internet.

A virtual classroom enables to bring learners from around the world together online in highly interactive virtual classes while greatly reducing the travel, time, and expense of on-site teaching/training programs. It can be used as a solution for live delivery and interaction that addresses the entire process of creating and managing our teaching-learning process. It facilitates instructor and student in teaching-learning events, such as a seminar, online discussion, or live training for employees in the company.

As in a traditional classroom, there are professors and fellow learners present with the student; we have many participants present in virtual classrooms. They can talk with each other as in the traditional classroom via chat. Similarly, the presenter uses a whiteboard, gives notes/resources, gives presentations as given in the traditional one.

About the author

Aklima Sharmin

Aklima Sharmin is working as a Divisional Education Coordinator (Dhaka and Chittagong Area), World Vision Bangladesh, Dhaka, Bangladesh.

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