Virtual classrooms are one of the wonders of the modern world. And they have a lot to teach us about how to make education work better. Virtual classrooms grew out of the need to create distance learning for those who were too far away to come to university. But from the beginning, they also got used to teaching. At first, it was mostly credit programs, where you took a course online and then passed a test. But soon it became popular to offer courses that had no credit value.
At first, the courses were just glorified slide shows. But after the technology improved, they became more sophisticated. The slide shows got more interactive. People could type their questions into a chat line, and the instructor would respond. The instructors got better too. They saw that they could teach better if they didn't have to keep eye contact with every student.
Virtual classrooms took off, and now they are everywhere. Most universities offer them, and so do most of the big private universities.
According to online Quran classes, The beauty of virtual classrooms is their simplicity. The technology is cheap and ubiquitous. It lets young people from poor families get an education. It lets anyone teach. It's perfect for creating knowledge. But virtual classrooms also teach some hard lessons about how to get knowledge. Virtual classrooms are a completely new way of teaching; one that's both hard to define and really hard to get right.
One way to explain what a virtual classroom is: instead of talking to a class, you talk to individual students, using a chat exchange or video screen, and record the conversations for class review.
Another way: instead of lecturing in front of a class, you tell a computer what you want it to do, and the computer tells you. Neither of these kinds of virtual classrooms is new. What is new is that thanks to technology, they are available in large numbers, and are beginning to be used in education.
For teachers, this is a major change. It's not just a matter of how students are taught. It's also about how teachers teach. Because virtual classrooms are new, we don't know yet what works. For example, a widespread belief is that if you can't physically see your face on a video screen, students will not talk to you. But it turns out that's not true. Virtual classrooms are hard because instead of seeing a single teacher, students see thousands of them at once. They all look the same. They have the same personality. And the students don't know any of them. Each teacher is competing with all the others, and the students don't know that.
What works for one teacher might not work for another. And that makes it hard to generalize.
Teachers have to learn to use virtual classrooms. They have to learn not only how to teach, but also how to adapt to the new medium. And they have to learn fast because students are going to expect them to be using them.