Every year since the late 1990s, more and more organizations use virtual classrooms to deliver instruction. This is true whether the organizations are corporate training departments or educational institutions ranging from K-12 through graduate studies. Changes in business practices, changes in the student demographics of higher education, changes in the technology available to primary and secondary schools, and changes in the character of daily life all combine to drive this trend.
But an effective virtual classroom is still driven by the performance of the instructor, and the practices and skill set needed for effective online delivery are not the same as they are for the physical classroom. Effectiveness online requires particular preparation beforehand, and it takes a different kind of attention to detail during delivery. In a previous article, I offered best practices for planning and preparation. In this article, I’ll outline some best practices for delivery:
- Use Level 2 evaluations, which are assessments in the Kirkpatrick Model
- Use PowerPoint templates to provide consistent wording across events
- Use webcams to enhance contact with your learners
- Help students and facilitators use audio options
Ensure learner understanding by using Level 2 evaluations (assessments)
Using assessments in the virtual classroom will provide you with data to ensure your students understand the content you are presenting. In the virtual classroom, you can’t see the learners, so you must take positive steps to gauge whether they are “following” you. Polls do not track correct and incorrect answers and they do not generate a “score.” You must build an assessment where you judge answers and compile a score. You can do this outside of your virtual classroom when your virtual training event is over, or right inside the training event if your platform supports assessments.
Chat assessments are fantastic for virtual training because you can interact with students in real-time as they supply their answers. Their names are associated with their responses so you can build interactive discussions based on the feedback. This provides collaboration and helps to engage the student into discussion groups to dig deeper into the responses. Commenting in chat features can also re-educate the students who may have missed something and it can leverage other students to collaborate on points associated with the learning. These practices are highly recommended in virtual learning. If your platform does not support video you can put up slides with discussion topics and provide a case study for the students to review. You should save feedback so facilitators can grade the responses—these are not judged and have to be compiled manually during or after the event.
Integrated assessments (Figure 1) provide for instant scores and can be set up with tools such as Adobe Connect in Virtual Classrooms and standard meeting rooms (third-party tools only). Such a tool provides direct feedback so you can see whether knowledge transfer is taking place. Facilitators can make adjustments on the fly based on student scores. Lower scores by larger groups may require more extensive review of content, higher scores demonstrate that the students are on track and allow the facilitator to pick up the pace to eliminate boredom.
Figure 1: This is a sample assessment launched from inside the virtual classroom that contains tracking and scoring so the facilitator can maintain control of the event during short assessments
If you are interested in proctoring assessments inside the virtual training event, make sure your platform of choice offers this option via the tool itself or with a third-party plug in. Tracking and scoring of assessments is a feature that is not widely available in web-conferencing platforms.
As part of the standards process (see the previous article referenced at the beginning of this discussion), you should create PowerPoint templates to provide consistent wording across all classes for room etiquette, interacting with instructors, instructions for participation, and housekeeping items regarding breaks and hands-on labs. (See Figure 2.)
Figure 2: This is an example of a PowerPoint slide based on a standard template; only the instructor’s name and photo need to be changed for each class
I like to include an agenda (which I can change as needed) and explain to the students up-front what I will be teaching and when breaks will take place. If any documents need to be downloaded, to ensure everyone is using the most recent versions, it is a good idea to include this information in your lobby. Ensure everyone has access to the files before the main event begins.
To ensure you design to the specific standards approved in your organization, you should have the placeholder slides for user engagement—status option or polls—as part of your presentation. Your producer can open the poll on top of the slide, or you can instruct the students to change their status based on a question or statement you have. Remember, status option responses (with emoticons) are not tracked, but polls have the ability to track how people interacted with your question. Putting these placeholder slides within the template will ensure that other designers and content writers will be aware that they must include interactivity with the students every three to five slides.
Webcams allow you to build a bond with your audience and provide your students with a very dynamic learning event. (See Figure 3.)
Figure 3: Webcams enhance your “presence” in the classroom and help you “bond” with students
I recommend using webcams during introductions, at the beginning of your event, and at the end during Q&A. Because the webcam is live, it is best to turn it off when you are presenting content. One of the basics of instructional design is that “content is king”—which means we want the students completely focused on the learning content. If your webcam is turned on, the movement of the video stream will distract their eyes and they will not be sure where to look. You do not want your live-video stream to compete with your content. Turn it off and put up a head shot so there is nothing to compete with them focusing on your slides or videos.
Use your webcam for:
- Q&A sessions
- Panel discussions
- Executive speeches
- Town Hall meetings
- Breakout sessions
- Group activities
- Proctoring exams
- One-on-one coaching sessions
To concisely summarize the ten situations listed above, I recommend including these six specific statements in your own internal standards for facilitators in your organization:
- Use webcams for intros at the beginning of the event to build a bond with your audience.
- Turn off webcams when delivering your training content and put up a headshot.
- Turn your webcam back on for Q&A and discussions with learners so you can give the illusion of eye contact with the people who ask questions.
- Turn on webcams for closing remarks and when you thank the audience for taking part in your training event.
- Use webcams for panel discussions so key opinion leaders can speak to the learners and make the event more interesting. Remind panelists they can pause their camera when they are not speaking.
- Use webcams for small focus-group sessions and team meetings so the interaction among peers is visual.
In Figure 4, the virtual training room has only four pods/windows, including the head shot, visible to students. Keep it simple and do not clutter your virtual classroom with unnecessary content that you are not using. When you develop your standards with webcams, be sure to document when they are to be used and when to turn them off. Make screen shots of the ideal virtual classroom for your standards guide with clear samples of what the room should look like.
Figure 4: Keep your virtual training room simple
Teleconference/voice over IP (VoIP) standards
If you are using integrated audio with your virtual classroom, you can have students dial in from their telephone directly, or you can have them enter their telephone number into the telephony software and the virtual classroom will call them. If you insert Figure 5 (or a screen-shot from your virtual classroom software) into the invitation you send learners, it will be much clearer to them what they are to do in order to join the conference.
Figure 5: Insert this image (or a similar screen shot from your own virtual classroom software) into the invitation you send to students
If you are using Voice over IP, you will need to hook up a headset to your computer and test the microphone levels prior to the event. It is always best to use a headset with a microphone rather than an internal microphone built-in to your computer. This will minimize the echo effects. You also want to turn off your computer speakers so your broadcast of the audio doesn’t playback in your computer. Whatever the preference is for your organization, it is best to have a document to teach virtual trainers how to set up and use the audio properly and it should be consistent for every event.
Standards and best practices for virtual classroom delivery: Summary
User PowerPoint templates with placeholder slides to open polls, leverage status options, or have the students type in comments. PowerPoint slide decks should follow a consistent model with training topic, room etiquette, learning objectives, presenter information, and rules of engagement.
Assess the learners so you get instant and quantifiable feedback to ensure the learning is taking place. You can do assessments via interactions, third-party assessment tools, or features of the platform that engage and track user progress with interactions. Run surveys or polls at the end of every event to get subjective feedback. This will help you constantly develop the training and make adjustments to assure your model and standards are improving your events.
Use webcams to help you connect with your learners, but don’t allow them to become distractions: turn them off when they are not needed!
Give students clear instructions ahead of time to help them join the virtual classroom event. Facilitators also need training so that they know how to set up and use audio properly.
Contact me if you’d like additional guidance, or if you’d like a copy of my facilitator guide to use as a model when you develop your own. My contact information is in my bio.
More articles by Jacquie Beck: http://www.learningsolutionsmag.com/authors/99/jacqueline-beck