The Virtual Classroom – research and practice
The virtual classroom - how does the research compare with the real-life experience?
Success with the virtual classroom – the difference between research and practice
In 2008-2014 pioneering research was carried out into synchronous virtual classrooms at the University of Carolina in the USA. Five years on, technologies have changed and we thought it would be useful to see whether the findings from the research still apply today.
We revisited two particular pieces of research - a study into why educators adopt and use virtual classroom technology and a study into the views of students on online or blended courses.
We compared the findings with the views of customers who have recently introduced virtual classrooms in business schools, universities and corporate training centers. This is the result.
Projects need the full support of the institution
The research identified the main 8 factors that influenced adoption of virtual classroom technology. Two of them relate to the organization itself - institutions need to make sufficient resources available and provide the support projects need to succeed.
This has not changed. However, our customers told us that just getting the support of your institution is only part of the story.
As Giuseppe Auricchio (Executive Director of Innovative Learning at IESE) put it “having the Dean or Vice Chancellor’s endorsement is of course a major plus, but almost every stakeholder may need persuading of the merits of both the project and the proposed solution.”
An evidence-based approach helps. “Academics need research to believe in a project” according to Ine Windey, ITEC, KU Leuven.
Virtual classrooms should help build communities
The research identified two social factors that drive adoption – promotion of a sense of community and promotion of social presence.
It is clear that loneliness can still be a problem for some remote students. Adding a synchronous component to online learning helps students interact and build relationships. However, the latest generation of virtual classroom technology is a major stop forward. 4K video and features such as polls, quizzes and silent questions can make the virtual experience as good if not better than the physical classroom experience.
Adoption depends on personal factors
In the research, Higher Education instructors cited improving teaching and enhancing student learning, whereas students highlighted reduced travel time and cost as factors impacting adoption.
These factors have remained consistent and are just as important for the adoption of virtual classrooms today.
Giuseppe Auricchio made the comment “the Virtual Classroom allows us to overcome some of the more common obstacles in executive learning: namely, the time and expense involved with travel, which limits the use of face-to face learning. With the Virtual Classroom, we can now extend learning experiences over time, by blending face-to-face with online learning.”
The technology has to be easy to use
Ease of use and the availability of technology came out strongly as factors effecting the adoption of virtual classrooms in the research.
Our customers whole-heartedly agree. They told us that there is no scope for technological solutions that need to be explained to staff or students. According to Albert Añaños (Distance Learning Projects Director at IESE Business School), “the time available for training is a few minutes not hours and both professors and participants need to feel instantly comfortable with the technology”.
What’s changed in the last five years
Virtual classroom technology has advanced rapidly in the last five years, but it is not the only thing that has changed. In the original research, virtual classrooms were seen as either:
- A synchronous teaching option to enrich online courses, where 80% or more of the content is delivered online
- A medium for improving the online component of “blended” courses, where 30-79% of the content is delivered online and the rest is delivered face-to-face.
The original research that students on both online and blended courses had positive views on virtual classrooms, but the views of students on pure online courses were more favorable.
Our attitudes to blended environments have changed.
Hybrid virtual classrooms are being provided to enable students who either cannot or prefer not to travel to join face-to-face classes. For example, the hybrid virtual classroom at KU Leuven has been designed with working or part-time students in mind. These students can now benefit from a rich-learning experience remotely and balance their work and studies more effectively.
Students in KU Leuven’s “hybrid classroom” – copyright ©imec 2019
Finally, it is worth pointing out that we are getting additional benefits from virtual classrooms. Benefits provided by the latest technology and not anticipated in 2014.
Let’s hear from IESE again.
“[We use the same methodology as the one used in the physical classroom] – a rich discussion of a case – in a virtual context where they can engage with the debate” - Giuseppe Auricchio, Executive Director Learning Innovation IESE.
“It’s easier to see faces, it’s easier to see names, it’s easier to see when someone raises their hand, it’s easier to track who has spoken” - Evgeny Káganer, Associate Professor of Information Systems IESE.
“We can go far beyond, we can measure things that are difficult to track or measure in a physical classroom such as student participation” - Albert Añaños, Distance Learning Projects Director at IESE.
The research papers referred to in this article are:
“Use of Synchronous Virtual Classrooms: Why, Who, and How?” by Michele A. Parker and Florence Martin
“Using Virtual Classrooms: Student Perceptions of Features and Characteristics in an Online and a Blended Course” by Florence Martin and Michele A. Parker
The Virtual Classroom at the IESE Business School is a Barco case study.
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