Virtual Classrooms

By Chris Hall

Getting Online Quickly & Effectively

Online Education is a hot topic presently with the COVID-19 outbreak.  If you are a Registered Training Organisation (RTO), K-12 School, Higher Education Institution, or Corporate L&D Department, read on….


Where Do I Start?

The first thing to recognise is that you do not need to have a Learning Management System (LMS) to deliver a class virtually.  If you have classroom-based materials that are in a format such as PowerPoint, then the main thing you need is a video conferencing option to get you started.  Most video conferencing platforms will allow you to share your screen (i.e. PowerPoint) to your students and you can use emails to send the “meeting” links to students.


What If You DO Have Learning Management System (LMS)?

If you do have a Learning Management System and select the right video conferencing option (more on that later), then you have the advantage that you are able to do two keys thing:

  1. Issue “meeting invitations” via your LMS (better than emails).
  2. Collect your Assessments via you LMS.

BUT I DON’T have an LMS: How Can I Accelerate an LMS implementation?

Firstly, recognise that the most important thing is to get your Assessments into your future LMS.  By doing so you’ll be able to demonstrate evidence of participation and collect assessments for marking in the most effective manner.  Most LMSs have Quiz functionalities and you can likely save your Trainers’ / Teachers’ time by programming in quizzes in this way.  Also, this is an organised and documented workflow for marking submissions and way less risky than submissions via email.

Secondly, by using your existing PowerPoints, you can simply use a video conferencing tool to ensure that classes can continue today without delay. There isn’t an immediate need to integrate every aspect of your learning materials into your LMS to get you off the ground.  This can come later.


So, Which Video Conferencing Options Are the Best?

The good news is that there are a lot of scalable video conferencing solutions on the marketplace. 

 When deciding the best fit, it is important to think from a educational perspective plus consider how these platforms might integrate into a current or future LMS.

Here are some suggested criteria for your selection:


Are your Teachers / Trainers used to a platform already?

It is useful to ask your team which platforms they like and are competent at.  If they know a platform well already then this could save you time on training.


Do you want “breakout” rooms?

Zoom Pro and BigBlueButton have “breakout rooms” which allow the Teacher to virtually split the group up and assign tasks.  This is an incredible way to encourage interaction between students, plus facilitate competitions between groups.

Google Hangouts and Microsoft Teams unfortunately do not have break out rooms.


Whiteboard functionality

Digital whiteboards allow the teacher and sometimes student to interact and learn via drawings in real time.  These add to the learning experience, giving it a sense of “aliveness”.

Tip: Teachers can dial in a second time and use their tablet device to draw pictures by hand, rather than by mouse.


Do you need to be able to record classes?

Zoom Pro, for example, allows the Host to record either on their Local hard-drive or on the Cloud.  Be aware, however, that the Cloud option will have storage limits and you’ll have to pay accordingly if you want to keep files on the cloud.  The local hard-drive option is good for getting around this limitation, but it adds the burden of Teachers manually uploading the classes to an alternative such as YouTube, Google Drive etc.  Even after uploading, the teachers need to set appropriate security and sharing restrictions.

Note: Zoom Education has bulk deals for educational institutions that you might qualify for! https://zoom.us/education


How long do these recordings need to be available for?

The free version of BigBlueButton only records the online classes for a period of 14 days before they are deleted.  If you want to keep recordings for longer then you’ll need to upgrade to the paid version.  For those that don’t know, BigBlueButton is an open source video conferencing option that integrates LMSs such as Canvas, Moodle, Chamilo, and Docebo.  It is already deeply integrated inside these LMSs, which means that the usage is seamless.


Would you ideally like to be able to issue the class via your LMS (if you have one)?

By integrating your video conferencing option inside your LMS, you can directly issue “meeting” or class invitations via your LMS.  This means you don’t need to resort to manual emails.

If you are using Canvas LMS, the integrations even work with Canvas Calendars, which is a great way to scheduled classes, set assignments, and share meeting links.


Do you want chat rooms or discussion boards?

  • Canvas Chat is an instant chat tool that can be turned on within courses.

Canvas Chat is a course tool that is available to all students in a course.  Teachers have access to the historic logs within courses. Chats cannot be limited, unfortunately, to specific students.  This means, in Canvas parlance, that you can’t limit chats to areas such as “Sections”.   

  • Canvas Discussions is a more controlled manner, within Canvas, of having discussions.

Canvas Discussion Headlines:

  • Can have Section specific Discussions
  • With Ungraded discussion, you can set private Discussions
  • Graded Discussions are set automatically to the entire Course.

Canvas provides an integrated system for class discussions, allowing both instructors and students to start and contribute to as many discussion topics as desired. Discussions allows for interactive communication between two or more people; users can participate in a conversation with an entire class or group.

Discussions can also be created as an assignment for grading purposes (and seamlessly integrated with the Canvas Gradebook), or simply serve as a forum for topical and current events. Discussions can also be created within student groups.

Discussion topics can be organized as focused or threaded discussions. Focused discussions only allow for two levels of nesting, the original post and subsequent replies. Threaded discussions allow for infinite levels of nesting. Focused discussions are relatively short-lived interactions, while threaded discussions allow replies within replies and may last for a longer period of time.” (source)

Tip: Trainers can insist to students that students ask all questions into Discussions so that all students can benefit (similar to an FAQ)


How do you want to manage who sees these discussion boards?

As mentioned above, Canvas Discussions can be set to Sections which is a common way of managing your cohorts in Canvas.

Whether or not you use Canvas, do consider who you want to view discussion boards.  It might not be appropriate or relevant for certain students to see them.


Are other forms of social media style learnings important?

If you want social media style learning then there are some great apps that can be activated and integrated with Canvas, such as NoteBowl (see this blog).  Have a think about whether you classes will be synchronous or asynchronous.


Do you need to ensure certain pre-reading materials are reviews before class?

If you need certain materials to be viewed before class then consider two functionalities within your LMS (if you have one).

  1. Setting up a Knowledge Competency Quiz within a Pre-Reading module (to prove the students read the materials)
  2. Using Canvas Studio if you have Canvas.
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Canvas Studio Headlines:

  • Can view video statistics for each student.
  • Students can submit comments and questions.
  • Quizzes can be integrated at specific time-points inside the video (this proves they watched it and actually learned the content!).

Need Help?

Strawberry Solutions is a dynamic Canvas-First consultancy that brings a fresh approach to resolving your School’s problems.
 

We offer education providers assistance with: 

  • Canvas implementation and training.
  • eLearning development and project management.
  • Project management of integration between systems.
  • Ongoing Help & Support.

We pride ourselves on offering right size solutions to complex problems and delivering on time and on budget.

You can get in touch to ask any questions about this article via our Contact Us page