The commoditization of education with massive open online courses (MOOCs) and the lifestyle of professionals pursuing higher education have become a challenge for private university administrations across the United States. Creating an online campus-one that mimics the interactive classroom setting and allows faculty and alumni to interact and collaborate- with virtual classroom technology, is the best way to evolve with these landscape changes. A holistic solution, versus online meeting or Web conferencing software, can bring the physical (offline) campus atmosphere online.
While an absolute necessity to offering a complete education experience, creating an online campus poses many challenges. Most importantly, the solution cannot in any way hinder or get in the way of current teaching and education. It must be easy to use for both teachers and students alike, and require minimal training with increased interactivity.
To provide the desired level of education, it also must bring the experience of the classroom online and closely resemble the in-person experience. For example, students must feel like they have the ability and tools to learn the content as thoroughly as they would in a classroom, without having to jump through extra hoops technically. In addition, faculty members need a unified platform for team meetings, public forums or collaborative projects that mimics the environment in which they are accustomed to interacting with students. Invited guest speakers, additionally, should be able to participate and present in the virtual class. Finally, alumni should be able to participate in continuing education courses and classes, and organize fundraising events in a familiar and collaborative manner. The correct technical solution will benefit all parties involved, either enhancing or inhibiting the learning experience.
In order to meet the needs of students, faculty, alumni and administrators, private universities must consider a solution that addresses intelligent technology delivery, ease-of-use and available tools to enhance the learning experience. By following the below four key steps, private universities can create a seamless and valuable virtual classroom experience.
Streamline Technology Delivery
Professors need to be able to rely on virtual classroom technology, knowing that it will be running smoothly throughout their class without causing interruption or creating additional steps for themselves or their students. When choosing a holistic solution, it's important to look for proven technology that is focused on keeping sessions-both live and recorded-up and running. In addition, the solution should be able to recognize possible issues and address them before they impact the users.
High quality voice and video must be delivered on the available network, regardless of low bandwidth or increasing number of users. In order to do this, the solution should leverage the latest open-standards-based technologies, and be able to optimize and prioritize content in real time. Needless to say, security and scalability should be a core part of the platform, especially in the Cloud.
Ensure Ease of Use
In order to provide a positive user experience that encourages interactivity and repeat use by students and faculty, virtual classroom technology must enhance and not impede on the experience from all sides. All of the behind the scenes technologyrelated aspects of the solution must be thoroughly addressed and reviewed, anticipating any possible issues unique to the virtual classroom scenario and ultimately delivering the content to students. The environment must be completely focused on the students and faculty, enhancing how they learn regardless of location.
Provide an Arsenal of Tools
Just as with a classroom in the physical world, users want to interact with others within the virtual environment. They want to share their ideas at a point in the discussion when they are relevant, express themselves nonverbally and see how other participants feel about the discussion taking place. Virtual classroom tools need to provide users an easy way to alert the instructor that students want to ask a question or make a point by raising their hands, and also need to be able to contribute to what goes up on the team's whiteboard.
Administrators need to be prepared for their virtual classroom before it starts, with an agenda builder allowing them to import content before the class begins. They also need to be able to organize the sequence of the content being shared, as well as add placeholders for application, Web and whiteboard sharing or watching YouTube Videos. Creating evaluations, polls, tests, and surveys to measure learning, progress, and opinions also are critical for establishing an interactive and collaborative classroom. Finally, virtual classes need to provide simple yet powerful breakout rooms where learners can do group exercises and extend their learning further. Integrated video conferencing can be used for role plays.
Enhance the Learning Experience
A virtual learning environment can build on and enhance the physical classroom environment, if it's done correctly. In a physical classroom, the professor teaches, but students have limited interactions with one another during the lecture. A virtual classroom can bring together slides, videos, chat, whiteboarding, applications, websites, recordings, polls, surveys, and assessments into a single, clearly defined agenda, allowing students to comment on it and discuss in real-time. This increases the engagement of students in the learning process, revolutionizing how knowledge gets shared. Making courses available via mobile also increases flexibility, giving students easy access to lectures after the fact and when they need and want the content.
By focusing on these four key areas during the evaluation process of virtual classroom tools, private university administrators will be well on the path to creating an online campus that rivals any physical environment. Their solution will drive higher user adoption, grow with them globally, foster a cultural shift that increases knowledge transfer, increase retention, as well as be fun and engaging.
is senior director of product marketing at Saba and responsible for Saba's Collaboration product offerings. Babak, who holds a master's in telecommunications technology management and a bachelor's in engineering, has more than 20 years of domain expertise in collaboration, IT, security, compliance, and telecom/network infrastructure. To learn more, visit www.saba.com.