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Virtual Classrooms

This topic contains 10 replies, has 9 voices, and was last updated by  Jillian Pawlyn 7 years, 3 months ago.

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    Does anyone have any stories for how they use Virtual Classroom tools to conduct certain activities.

    I train people in using virtual classrooms, and the simple presentational mode with chat is fairly easy to set up and run, but when we have distance students who need to have more interactivity in the session, how do you manage the ‘flow’?

    For example in a physical seminar, the rules governing when to speak and how are driven by physical proximity, but online the ‘raise your hand’ feature can end up with a stilted discussion or exclude those who are not so keen.

    Does anyone have any expereince with this or any tips and tricks?


    I’ve been delivering some international training sessions and you can see the amazing difference of having two people: the presenter just talking and someone else doing the “admin” work  on the chat, microphones, etc. It is the usual webinar style but is quite effective. One useful bit that some platforms have is one speaker at a time  – which can be tricky but also can be very useful. Regarding to platforms, I’ve had the best experience so far with Adobe Connect.


    Unfortunately for the average Higher Ed situation you cant have that. It’s usually one presenter (the academic) who does everything. I would like to get tips about break out rooms and group work in webinar systems. I have seen show and tells going out onto the web and various web sites and this can be effective (and simple). But these are still most one way flows of show and tell. Aren’t we supposed to be moving away from Sage on the Stage?

    Other suggestions? It’s a vexing issue.



    Last year I did a keynote to over a hundred delegates as part of the JISC Online Conference. One technique I used which worked very well was to have another person (and this could be a learner) to watch the chat and note interesting questions and comments. I would then pause my presentation and ask the “summariser” what was happening in the chat. This meant that the session flowed and there weren’t long pauses as I tried to reflect and look over what the delegates were saying. I would think similar techniques could work for remote lesson delivery with learners.

    Another aspect of these kinds of technologies i s to remember that not everything has to happen on the platform and that activities can take place offline and asynchronously. One of the issues I find with “online learning” is a preoccupation with trying to do everything online on the one platform. This isn’t always the most effective way of doing things.

    I was discussing the use of our college VLE with learners this week and one thing they said was not only how useful they found the VLE, but that they preferred using Facebook for discussion and chat via their smartphones over using a discussion forum on the VLE.

    Should we mind that they are doing this? Using different tools for different things alongside the VLE. I don’t think so and this was very much my viewpoint in the infamous VLE is Dead debate.



    I have used Blackboard Collaborate and Adobe Connect as a presenter and delegate before, and although you can replicate the ‘lecture and PowerPoint’ approach online using these tools, you can make it a lot more interactive through the use of a variety of tools including the polling tool but particularly getting people to contribute their ideas on a whiteboard. This gets over the having to speak publically which a lot of people don’t like. One of tips at a recent webinar on tips on presenting online I attended was to get the participants doing something different every 3-5 mins to help retain attention. As we are aware it is very easy when attending a webinar to multitask, so start checking emails and Twitter and before you know it you have completely zoned out of what the person is saying (however interesting it may be). To keep attention change the participants activity frequently, so ideas are to throw in a poll, ask people to contribute an idea about something to the chat space, get them to watch a short video, ask them to contribute ideas to the whiteboard, etc etc. That way it keeps attention and makes it more engaging and allows the presenter a break from talking. As a presenter it is great to see people participating as you want reassurance that people are still there and listening! Also as a presenter don’t be afraid of short silences to give people thinking time. For some reason we are scared of silence and want to fill it. Give people a question to think about, tell them how you want them to respond and say you have 2 minutes to think about it.  In Collaborate you have a timer which you can display to show people how long left they have to think or answer a question which can be useful. So there are a lot of things you can do to try and improve engagement.



    I have just summarised my notes from the webinar I attended on creating virtual learning sessions in a blog post:


    James Kerr

    Our institution license Adobe Connect for VLE.  We have been promoting its use not only for instructional use but also to support administrative tasks, such as meetings and seminars.  Generally, our users have found it quite easy to learn and use, and have been mostly satisfied with it.  But that’s all-just mostly satisfied.  No one is super excited about it.

    In years prior, we used Elluminate, which I personally prefer to Connect.  That was a product that we had polarization with; some people loved it and wanted to use it for everything, others hated it and wanted nothing to do with it.  One thing was clear, however: even though Elluminate was a technologically better product than Connect (again, my opinion) it was less intuitive to use, and hence, people preferred Connect’s ease of use, even if it is functionally more limited.

    When using Connect for HyFlex instruction, it definitely makes the course delivery smoother with a second person manning the chat window and the backchannel questions.  In some active seminars I’ve been in, there was quite a bit of audio conversation happening at the same time as separate live chat, and the only way to digest everything happening was to review the recording post-event.  There was no way to maintain focus on the chat and the speaking simultaneously. It really was two separate conversations happening at the same time, which wouldn’t necessarily work in a class setting unless breakout groups are part of the plan.

    In my collaborative work as a doctoral student, I have used Skype, FaceTime, and Google Hangouts and Docs extensively to work with other students in classes, as I live 90 minutes from the campus I attend. For discussion and brainstorming, all three tools worked adequately, but for collaborative work, Google Docs proved the most valuable, as we could see each others’ work in real time, while maintaining either a text chat or other live discussion tool open.

    These real-time tele-presence tools are some of my favorite things to instruct and use.  They have been a real time-saver for my position at a regional campus, and I have been able to be more involved with central campus committees and events thanks to these remote participation applications.



    Phil – thanks for raising the question in the first place.

    I hope to run a webinar for the first time in June so I am very grateful for James C, Sue and James K feedback on their experience of this.  I shall make sure that I include some of the tips mentioned and possibly have another person as moderator…


    Megan Kime

    Thanks all for this helpful discussion, I’d second the usefulness of having an assistant/moderator to help monitor chat whilst the presenter is busy presenting. We’ve recently starting using Adobe Connect to run webinar sessions with a small group of students (about 5), and so some of these issues don’t arise so much, since there’s less problem with people talking over each other etc.

    A couple of things to add:

    1. We learned the hard way the importance of giving people clear instructions re: logging on and using the various tools, as well as giving people an opportunity to test their connections and microphones etc. before the session itself.

    2. We’re using the software to replicate a small group seminar/tutorial session for distance learners, and although in many ways the experience is replicated there are some important differences. I’m sure we’re all familiar with the annoyance of having students in a f2f session who aren’t paying full attention, either looking at their phones, or whispering to a neighbour. As Sue points out, these things can still go on during a webinar session, but as the presenter you’ll be much less aware of them, if at all. In some ways this is good – you don’t get distracted, and nor do other students (unless of course they’re also busy with other things instead of listening). But in other ways its not so good – its harder to tell if people are engaged, since you don’t know so easily if they’re engaging in other activity. It’s also possible, in a way that it isn’t in a f2f session, for participants within the group to communicate with each other privately during the session, either within the tool in a private chat, or through some other tool. This hadn’t occurred to me at first, but once I became aware of it I must admit it’s made me slightly uncomfortable.



    Hi Megan – a couple of points in response to your post.

    Firstly if you are using Adobe Connect with only a few participants (you mentioned groups of about 5) you could ask where possible that students use video cameras. I know you can’t insist on this if they are using their own devices, but many laptops etc have built-in cameras. If you do that they are less likely to multi-task or get distracted as they know you can see them. In addition you get a bit of the non-verbal communication that tutors are used to in the classroom – so a nod, smile, frown etc – all let you know if students are understanding what you are saying and still with you…

    Secondly re the private communication – this probably happens in f2f classes anyway, students could whisper or pass notes to each other, so I wouldn’t worry too much. In Elluminate you as moderator could see private messages between participants (or at least a setting allowed this), I don’t think this is the case with Adobe Connect but I think students are unlikely to communicate anything negative in this way for fear of it being able to be seen. You can’t really stop student communicating by Facebook, Twitter or text messages but it is the same for f2f teaching as well. You may find it is useful conversation anyway :).

    Try and keep giving the students things to do – that will increase engagement, help avoid them getting distracted and heopfully not give them much time to start messaging each other during the session. In some ways I think an online session is more demanding of someone’s attention than a face-to-face class.

    Good luck – hope it goes well. 🙂



    Jillian Pawlyn

    We are exploring the use of synchronous delivery for use in room overflow situations. We want to ensure that students and delegates enjoy the same participatory experience regardless of whether they are in the main auditorium, another lecture theatre (on-site) or attending from a venue of their choice (off site).

    We are using Scopia and exploring using a web based response system (http ‘clickers’) for  interactions such as polling and presenting questions, and back channel questions so people can use SMS and http devices to interact.

    Our intention would be for these deliveries to have a moderator to receive and moderate questions and assist with responses via the participation system.

    The additional theatres would each require a person to set up the room, control the Scopia environment (sound, cameras etc), to receive ‘voice’  questions from the audience .

    Participants off site would require a welcome and setup instructions for configuring their system for Scopia and use of the participant response system.

    We are also working out costings so the institution can prioritise the events where this service is available. Fortunately our IT and room timetabling teams are partners in this so all we need to convince are the academic staff and the people at the top 😉



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