As teachers around the country have adapted to new methods of teaching—including entirely remote or hybrid models—they’ve turned to virtual learning technologies to help ease the transition and boost online learning.
“During COVID-19, technology has been key to providing K-12 students in California and beyond with virtual instruction, academic enrichment opportunities and after school learning programs that keep children engaged, connected and on track in today’s remote environment,” says Yecenia Cardenas, M.Ed., executive director of early learning and school-age programs at Think Together.
Importantly, Cardenas notes: “It’s vital that schools, educators and paraprofessionals adopt technologies that are not only keeping students involved and excited about learning, but also empowering parents to have an active role in their child’s education.”
Virtual Learning Technologies for Online Classrooms
Teachers, students and their families have benefited from the wide range of virtual classroom technology options available to them during the pandemic.
1. Zoom Virtual Classrooms Top the List
When it comes to the go-to virtual learning technologies for creating a virtual classroom, Zoom tops the list. While there are other options—like using a Moodle virtual classroom—Moodle is, first and foremost, an LMS earning management system).
Zoom is a go-to tool precisely because of its functionality. Setting up a virtual classroom with Zoom is easy and there are a wide array of options for creating a virtual classroom that will be interactive and engaging.
Jeff B is a test prep and academic tutor with LA Tutors, an international private tutoring company. He says: “When I’m teaching math over Zoom, I use a miniature whiteboard and dry erase marker to write equations, draw geometry diagrams, or illustrate formulas. It’s a low-tech solution, but I find it much easier than typing in answers, showing students my work on paper or simply describing something if students are visual learners or it involves a diagram anyway.”
He also uses Zoom when working on writing projects. “I find it most helpful to be in a shared Google doc where both the student and I can look at and edit changes simultaneously,” he says. “This method is much easier than looking over—or trying to edit—a student’s work over screen sharing.”
And, of course, Zoom’s breakout rooms are a very popular feature for virtual classrooms. “In a Zoom classroom setting, I have seen breakout rooms used as a way to break up the monotony of a Zoom lecture, and encourage the sort of small group work and peer-to-peer conversations that can be lacking during virtual learning,” says B.
It’s not just about online learning, though, B notes. He points out that students who changed schools this year, like high school freshmen or grade school students moving into a middle school environment, may not have physically met their peers. They’re missing out on some of the social interactions and feedback that are important for making school enjoyable, says B. “Small groups, either for brief discussions or for larger projects, can help obviate some of the isolation caused by virtual learning and help students develop those skills,” he says. Learning how to create a virtual classroom that is effective in its use of technology is just like setting up a traditional classroom – it needs collaboration and personal touch.
2. Hardware to Make Online Learning Happen
While apps like Zoom have definitely been a gamechanger for creating a virtual classroom, hardware and classroom video conferencing equipment is equally important for online learning and is the key to maximizing virtual learning, notes Elie Reich, lead training specialist for ASU Prep Digital.
“Besides the obvious need for devices and Internet access for all, we’ve found that providing teachers with two monitors is a game-changer for remote learning,” says Reich. “With double monitors, the teacher can simultaneously view the students while maintaining sight of the assessment tools, content, analytics, etc., to help them make instructional decisions on the fly,” she says. “In addition, giving teachers multiple, simple cameras–and training to set up—can also help showcase various instructional activities.”
Curtis Forbes is founder of Forbes Music, a company that has been educating music students online since 2016. He says: “We’ve found that students and clients should consider investing in technology, where appropriate, to give the best experience possible. A good set of headphones can help eliminate distractions so students can stay focused on the class, and external audio devices will cut down on background noise to ensure students are able to send clean, crisp audio signals.”
When teaching classes like music, he says: “The use of technology to improve audio quality is an easy way for students to help their teachers help them, especially if the student is singing or playing an instrument.”
3. Virtual Classroom Technologies for Creation, Creativity and Engagement
“Our students have really benefited from tools like Padlet and Jamboard, both of which allow students to collaborate live online in a variety of ways, such as creating concept maps, post-it note comments, drawings, and more,” says Reich.
Padlet has been a go-to tool for virtual classrooms, says Reich, “because it is so easy for students to use for drawing, asking and answering questions, and providing comments.” It’s also been useful for engaging students and supporting social-emotional connections, she says.
Another virtual classroom tool used at ASU Prep Digital, Flipgrid, is a video collaboration tool that allows students to introduce themselves, react to learning content, or respond visually to peers in addition to written feedback, says Reich.
Anna Moss is the founder of Mind the Test. “My students absolutely adore learning through Kahoot and Quizizz, both in the classroom before and now at home,” she says. “I use them in every class as a form of formative assessment and an integral part of the learning process.” She shares a recent “teachable moment” that one of these tools made possible:
“I was teaching a small group class in a client’s home, and as usual, the class had migrated from the main ‘classroom’ area to the TV to play a challenging review Kahoot game. One particular question stumped everyone—we had not yet learned that particular grammar rule, and I wanted them to figure it out for themselves. When the correct answer appeared on the screen, everyone cried out indignantly—’What!? How is that right!?’ The only student to get it right piped up and explained the grammar rule. Every set of eyes was focused on him, every brain was fully engaged, and when he was finished, everyone knew the rule and how to apply it. And it was much more memorable—and fun—than it would have been had I stood at the front of the whiteboard and told it to them.”
The Future with Digital Classroom Technologies
While widespread school reopenings have happened, Cardenas says that “virtual and hybrid learning are very much here to stay and we anticipate that schools will continue to adapt and improve upon these models over the next couple of years.” Online classroom platforms are not leaving and classroom technologies in this digital age will only continue to grow at every level of education.
Moss agrees. “I hope that now that teachers, students, and parents are becoming more comfortable with online learning, these amazing resources continue to be used when learning migrates back to the classroom,” she says.