Virtual classroom training is, without a doubt, the education method of the 21st century. In this global world, online education provides teachers with an opportunity to develop their skills and become familiar with different software, it gives them the freedom to choose and adapt their teaching styles to fit the learners’ needs. It also gives them the chance to communicate and exchange ideas, to explore new ways of expressing themselves and be creative, original and authentic.
Most teachers would say that online courses fail to achieve their objectives, mainly because the physical distance between educator and learners, on the one hand, and between the learners themselves, on the other hand, makes it difficult to share and assess knowledge. Even so, I believe that online teaching can prove successful and effective if the teacher is resourceful and demonstrates the ability to engage students in ways that form strong bonds in the shared learning community. The feeling of isolation can be overcome. Surprisingly enough, online courses provide a high degree of personal contact, which enables teachers to find out many things about their online students, to get to know them much better than students in on-ground courses.
Research shows that this is possible because asynchronous, online courses offer many more opportunities for reflection, in-depth discussion, and interaction than traditional courses. Teacher and students communicate directly; everyone in the class can be involved in group- and class-level discussions contributing as much and as often as they want.
The online teacher plays an important part in managing the classroom effectively, in developing a safe and supportive learning environment, and must possess the proper tools to perform successfully. I suppose there are teachers who adapted easily to the online teaching situation, having experienced this manner of delivering content to students before.
I found the transition from the traditional classroom environment to the online one rather challenging.
What I discovered, after the first few classes I taught, is that the way of planning and preparing an online lesson is as important as the content of the lesson. Designing lessons based on students’ learning styles is much more difficult when teaching online, so I spent a great deal of time thinking in advance how to split the learning activities between synchronous and asynchronous, what resources to use and how to share them with my students, what tools to use and how to organize the activities. Each lesson was an opportunity to realize how important it is to have all the documents prepared and that it is vital, especially with younger students, to follow a clear plan so as to manage time properly.
Leaving aside my frustrations with the lack of parental involvement in student learning, I must admit that the online teaching experience has been extremely beneficial to me. I now believe that nothing is impossible (”Where there is a will, there’s a way”), that nothing could ever prevent me from reaching out to my students and doing my job as an educator. I know that online education is not without flaws and that it has its critics, but, at the same time, I expect that many of my colleagues already share my views on the benefits of virtual classroom training.
I truly believe that the online medium will help teachers deliver the key pedagogical principles of our times more easily, more realistically. For example, differentiation will be much easier to achieve or to implement in the teaching process, simply because teachers will have the possibility to run shorter sessions, possibly with smaller groups of students sharing similar interests or ability for assignments. Students will have the possibility to practise teamwork skills if they are put to work together to solve problems or complete tasks, carry out different projects by collaborating with others on forums or by sharing documents in their virtual learning environments.
Technology can encourage collaboration with students in the same classroom, the same school and even with other classrooms around the world. Collaboration will thus become more palpable, very transparent and very practicable. Teachers will find it easier to adjust lesson content to meet students’ needs and assess their learning through formative evaluation, having the proper tools to support them in doing that, because all the activities and the records of students’ activities are being kept in the online environment. There is the opportunity for feedback to become more diverse because teachers are now using technological devices, so they might start giving feedback in more formats, for example voice recordings, which learners might find more personal and more encouraging.
One of the key aspects, however, is that equal opportunities will, in most cases, be available for every student because students will be interacting with teachers from behind their own screens, so it will be much easier for educators to collect responses from all the learners, not just from those who are more confident and who are quicker to respond in the real classroom, as it often happened in the past.
And finally, this is a big chance of really bringing the classroom in line with the digital age reality. Let’s regard this as a huge opportunity to focus on real communication instead of on isolated structures with no real-life reference. We’ve got the big opportunity now to set realistic communicative tasks that require learners to take initiatives and provide their responses to contribute to the success of learning.