Virtual Classroom

Andrew Windram

Head of Digital Learning

The Virtual Classroom
ELS deliver training and education to a broad range of clients, from individuals who are looking to develop themselves professionally to organisations that are looking to upskill their workforce.

Whilst ELS has traditionally provided training and education in a face-to-face environment, be it in the ELS Training Room or at a location of the customer’s choice, ELS found itself mobilising virtual learning at the outbreak of Covid-19.

ELS rapidly recognised that they should ultimately seek out a longer-term solution that meets the requirements of both the present pandemic and the ‘new normal’ that will emerge later in 2021.

The Problem with Video Calls
With many of us still working from home, video calling and virtual meetings have become commonplace, but switching between screens, sharing presentations and other on-screen information can often be clunky. The sharer can easily select the wrong window or app which does not provide the best experience for learning to take place.

Video meeting fatigue and death by PowerPoint was also being reported in some of the media and ELS needed to find a way to standout in the crowd. Andrew Windram, Head of Digital Learning, said that “We wanted to have the ability to combine the classroom with the virtual so that we can reach as many students (restrictions permitting) in one go.” This creates for a better learning experience when there are more students interacting. The virtual classroom solution addresses all of these issues.

Taking inspiration for the emerging live streaming fraternity and the advent of low cost streaming switches that allow multiple camera and digital feeds, “the technology allows us to put the learners’ experience at the centre of what we do.” “That is because adult training and education requires the learning design to take an ‘andragogical’ approach where knowledge and understanding is developed through experiential learning, interaction and participation”, and the technology makes it easier to design learning that gives the learner an experience that replicates the face-to-face experience as closely as possible.

How Does the Virtual Classroom Work?
Powered by a live stream switcher, the virtual classroom feeds into your chosen meeting platform (e.g. MS Teams, Zoom, etc). The switcher receives multiple digital feeds (from cameras, interactive smartboards, laptops or any other digital image feeds) along with a further two audio feeds. All the instructor has to do is select the required feed by pressing a button and drive their (PowerPoint) presentation in the usual way.

The virtual classroom contains a number of great features including camera in camera views and image overlays; the combinations and possibilities for virtual training and education far outreach anything that can be accomplished in a standard virtual meeting platform alone.

By having a separate camera pointing at an interactive smartboard for example, the instructor can broadcast smartboard detail in the main picture and also show them self in the corner of the screen. This means that the student can see the detail of the presentation, any interactions the instructor makes on the interactive smartboards and the instructor using the smartboard, in order to keep the human contact with the learning experience.

It is important for students to be able to interact with their instructor and their peers and the virtual classroom enables collaboration at multiple levels, be it through online breakout rooms and virtual whiteboards, the broadcasting of live interactions with the smartboard or the instructor explaining a concept on a flipchart whilst being broadcasted by one of the cameras. The in-classroom experience where the instructor can use multiple tools to teach, is just as important in the virtual classroom as it is face-to-face.

Controlling the broadcasted feed by the push of the button is a lot more professional, the student experience is seamless and flicking between presentations and other media can be undertaken whilst another input device is broadcasting. The instructor can select the most appropriate tool for engaging their students and through a blend of medias, reinforce the knowledge that is being transferred by allowing students to pick up on non-verbal cues as well.

Moving to a Hybrid Classroom
The experience approach also allows us to use the technology both for a ‘virtual classroom’ or ‘hybrid face-to-face and virtual classroom’. As we progress through 2021 and the new normal emerges, one thing we can be certain of is that vocational training and education will not be the same. Some students will have discovered the advantages of virtual learning whilst other will prefer the advantages associated with the face-to-face classroom.

Placed in a physical classroom setting, the virtual classroom becomes a hybrid virtual face-to-face classroom where students can learn and interact together in the classroom and online simultaneously. Multiple cameras enable students online to see students in the classroom when they speak for example.

Most group exercises are undertaken in the virtual classroom breakout rooms, but where group exercises are undertaken in the classroom, say using a whiteboard (following COVID spacing’s), this can viewed by the online students where as in the traditional virtual classroom, this would not be possible.

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