What is a virtual classroom?
Virtual online classroom solutions have become universally present in the overall academic teaching, corporate learning and onboarding, and government training experiences. While many may consider any web conferencing software to be a “virtual classroom,” the reality is that intentional functionality, accessibility, security, integration, and other features make virtual classroom software more robust and better suited to meet an organization’s learning and engagement goals. Plus, since these platforms are created specifically for institutions, businesses, and agencies, alike, they provide niche-specific offerings that your traditional teleconferencing tools can’t.
Why do you need a virtual classroom solution instead of a video conferencing tool? How do you choose?
When would you opt for an intentionally designed virtual classroom solution? And how can you choose the right one? First, if you’re curious to know more about when to choose between a virtual classroom platform and a video conferencing tool, we’ve got a post dedicated to answering that very question. Here, we’ll explore some of the most essential factors for identifying the right online learning software to best meet your organization’s needs. There are technical considerations, entity-specific features, integration opportunities, and even support services to keep in mind.
What to think about when shopping for the best virtual classroom software?
When considering the best virtual classroom software, it’s important to know what your online classroom platform, eLearning software, or virtual classroom tool has under the hood to make sure it maps to your organization’s tech criteria effectively.
Security considerations for virtual classrooms
Security is one of the essential aspects in choosing the right software for interactive online learning. For some, this offers the peace-of-mind to know your sessions, resources, rosters, and more are safe—but, for those in certain fields, this is nonnegotiable. Government agencies require Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) certification (see Class’s FedRAMP certification announcement on why this is important), healthcare organizations mandate Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliance (see Class’s HIPAA compliance announcement for further details), and many other businesses and institutions have their own security requirements that must be met due to the sensitive nature of their data and the industries they’re associated with.
Virtual classroom solutions should be accessible
The ability to properly navigate a system is essential for any software or platform. Ensuring any and all users can do so, regardless of impairments, takes an ordinary software and makes it a unifying piece of technology that properly serves entire teams, classrooms, and more. From video closed captioning to downloadable audio files and more, the best virtual classroom software empowers all of your users to engage fully.
Karen Clem, Senior Director of Talent Development at Schoox and Class customer, says it perfectly, “We want to be able to think about what your learning needs are and how we can meet them. It’s not one-size-fits-all. And so, I was looking for something that could be individualized for every learning need, that would be able to meet the challenges of how we create an experience that feels real and that creates connection in a way where learning can truly happen.”
Technical requirements for your virtual classroom software
It’s essential to understand your organization’s technology review process for selecting and implementing the most appropriate software. This allows your team to confidently know technology, like a new virtual classroom solution, will appropriately meet your technical needs. It’s also important to ask probing questions, such as:
- Does the software have the technical bandwidth for your organization, institution, agency, or business?
- How many participants can join a particular session?
- How many breakout groups can simultaneously occur?
- What devices are supported?
- How well do synchronous and asynchronous learning opportunities coexist?
It’s important to identify the particular features and functions you hope to use and make sure your online classroom software choice can support the way you intend to teach virtually. Finding the platform that best matches your needs means the tools you must have work when and how you need them to.
Although not all institutions have such a complex process, Gavin Harper, Director of Online, eLearning Services, & CBE at Salt Lake Community College in Utah and a Class customer, summarizes the process his state institution is required to follow when adopting new software, “The process can be long. At my institution, it’s 72 steps…We’re taking all of those steps in the background to make sure that something like this can happen while we’re running the troubleshooting, testing, and accessibility points and working with the vendor to make sure that all the questions are answered.”
Online classroom software features that support your learning goals
In addition to the technical specifications, which lay the groundwork for an effective platform, it’s also important to explore the tools and functionality that can increase engagement and elevate the overall virtual classroom experience.
Collaboration tools are essential for virtual classrooms
Online classroom platforms exist because you need to be able to interact with others from remote settings in a similar fashion to how you would face-to-face. The right virtual classroom allows you to engage others effectively. This can be a whiteboard that is accessible for all participants to brainstorm in real-time or advanced chat features that let you bring everyone—or even a select few—into the dialogue. Having a robust selection of features that enable collaboration will help transform your instructional sessions from presenting to a passive audience to facilitating active learning with an engaged cohort.
Enhanced Breakout Rooms
Breakout rooms play a variety of roles for organizations, institutions, agencies, and more. Pair-off new recruits or trainees and have them work through hypothetical scenarios together. Create media-specific breakout rooms that allow students to learn via the means that resonate strongest with them. Dr. Doug DeVillier, Virtual Program Director for Calcasieu Parish School Board and Class customer, sees both obvious and less-expected benefits of breakout rooms for his school system:
“In a virtual situation, the breakout room is nice because you can take the students and you can break them out into smaller groups and they’re able to collaborate with one another and work together. And that’s really how we started using the breakout rooms. But what I’m so proud of is our teachers have seen the breakout room almost even more beneficial with a one-to-one, student-to-teacher. The breakout room is great for group work, but it’s also great for the one-on-one component.”
Interactive Shared Content
The most engaging virtual classroom platforms take interactive content to the next level. Instructors can go beyond normal screen share functionality, where only they can scroll, start and stop videos, and type into a document. With interactive shared content, learners are empowered to collaborate live on shared documents with integration capabilities, including Google Docs and Microsoft Office. Being able to easily manage document access for participants within the platform—including allowing all participants to view or edit a document at any point during a live course session, revoking access once the activity is over, and enabling downloads for further study—streamlines collaboration.
Virtual classroom solutions should provide actionable insights
How do you know if your learners are engaged? Access to analytics that can keep a pulse on learner activity—like attendance, talk time, and “hand raises”—can provide the insights needed to better deliver instruction. Ideally, the virtual classroom software you choose can even provide these insights in real-time. Top-of-class platforms can track talk time to keep a color-coded meter of participation in a live session. Data dashboards allow you to drill down to get a more granular view of who is actively involved and who you need to bring the attention around on.
Jenna Caviezel, Associate Professor of English and Writing Center Director at Motlow State Community College, a Class customer, shares how she—because of the virtual classroom tool she uses for her synchronous online courses—has access to participation data that she’s never had before, “There were things that Class did that I hadn’t been doing that I was excited to do. Class measures a lot of metrics automatically. I have never, in my entire career, marked down how many minutes tardy a student was. I have never, in my entire career, measured how many minutes of the class period are me talking and how many minutes are each individual student. So I can see participation in hard data numbers. I have never been able to track a particular metric. This is a really great thing that happened.”
The best online classroom software is customizable
It’s important that your virtual classroom platform be capable of customization to meet the specific needs of your organization. An excellent example of this is the utilization of course templates. Clem of Schoox extolls what a gamechanger this customization has been for her:
“Templates have saved at least half an hour of prep time because I can have everything ready in about five minutes. All the polls are already built, all the surveys, all the documents that I need for creating individual breakout sessions or sharing files, having the websites ready. All of these things that take time to build, it’s already there.”
Seamless virtual classroom technology integrations
You already have a tech stack. Every time you explore new software opportunities, it’s important to ask yourself not just if this technology adds to your institution or organization’s capabilities, but does it do so without creating unnecessary challenges and complications on the backend of your system. A seamless integration to your learning management system (LMS) means you not only accrue the technical capabilities of your new virtual classroom software, but you do so without adding a tech stack headache.
Stewart Milner, Foundation Principal at the Centre for Higher Education Studies and Class customer, felt this very experience when implementing Class. Milner notes, “It’s all really seamless and that’s what we wanted from Class: to be the very best experience for our students, taking it beyond video conferencing.”
Exceptional support to match your selected software
You’ve identified the right virtual classroom software. In addition to each of the factors discussed above, does the company you’re choosing value your partnership, have evidence of customer success, make enthusiastic, capable individuals available to you and your team when you have questions or need to onboard new users? Essentially, how reliable and helpful is the support?
Whether it’s live or on-demand training to use your new software, service if you have a hiccup or want to try a new feature, or to simply ensure you’re getting the most out of your platform—it’s essential to partner with a company that has trusted, committed, capable support available to you. A true partner that values your success and sees it as a reflection of its own.
Dr. Clytrice Watson, Associate Provost for Academic and Student Services at Delaware State University, a Class customer, shares how important partnership is when implementing new technology, “It is very important to have that strong technical support with the organizations you’re partnering with, and Class has definitely provided that with their responsiveness, their availability, their hands-on training. The team was just there and working with our team and making sure our technical point of contact was very well trained and well versed in Class, and he actually enjoyed learning.” She adds, “Having that relationship—and it’s really about building strong relationships with the organizations that you’re partnering with—really makes the implementation process much easier and builds a long-lasting relationship.”
Is Class the right virtual classroom solution for you?
Ultimately, when it comes to choosing the right virtual classroom solution, it’s about identifying your needs, parameters, and other constraints to make sure the platform you select not only fills those needs, but partners with you to elevate the entire experience. Are you looking for a partner committed to helping you reach the next level? Speak with one of our team members at Class today to see how our solution can not only meet your needs, but elevate your entire virtual classroom experience.