Even when you cannot be together, students can connect with each other and your institution through virtual learning

COVID-19 social distancing restrictions and closures are lingering into the school year, and their end date remains unsure. It can be difficult to keep students engaged and feeling connected — to their school, to their studies, and to other students. In some cases, there are best practices for keeping safe when heading back to campus, but in other cases, the reality is that students will not be on campus for the foreseeable future. This can be a challenge to the education experience, but virtual learning is helping break down those barriers.

Distance learning is not exactly new, but the levels at which we find it now are unprecedented. New, relaxed regulations around distance learning are helping colleges and universities introduce more online learning opportunities.

Let’s look at how you can create an interactive classroom online that allows students to participate from any remote location but still learn and work together.

Defining “substantive interaction”

Even with relaxed regulations on online education and online classes, colleges and universities still need to prove “substantive interaction” to qualify for federal student aid. What does that mean to you? In short, you must provide two forms of interaction with students in the program. This could be as simple as facilitating and overseeing interaction among students and providing feedback on their work.

Creating an interactive online classroom

Today’s social distancing restrictions and recommendations require us to look at the classroom differently than we have in the past. But that does not mean it is all “doom and gloom.” You are still able to create a fulfilling educational experience for students using an online classroom.

There are also resources for instructors looking to create a virtual curriculum for the first time. Lectures, discussions, project-based learning, and more can be done effectively online. There are many tools available to help you and your instructors keep interaction with students going and keep the group together, even if not in a literal sense. Some of those tools, such as Canvas and Zoom, are becoming very popular, with today’s students adapting readily to the technology.

Zoom, for instance, can be used for breakout meetings where groups collaborate on one project. The screen-sharing functionality allows for a virtual whiteboard or similar device to be shared with the group so all the ideas can be kept and reviewed in one central place.

Canvas is a platform that can be used for things such as course management and assignment instructions and submissions, but there may be others that would better suit your particular needs or the needs of a specific program.

Each tool comes with its own positive points and challenges. Understanding these challenges and which platforms will provide the most benefit to your university, your instructors, and your students requires a solid partner in the digital space who understands your needs, but it can be done.

Keeping the “ZoomBombers” at bay

Of course, no discussion about online learning and the platforms available for collaboration would be complete without the oft-talked-about “ZoomBombers.” These are nefarious individuals who interrupt Zoom conferences and meetings to display offensive content using screen-sharing features.

This is done through unprotected Zoom meetings. This is especially a risk if unprotected links to your courses can be found online or through social media channels. There are ways to keep these intruders from your meetings, however.

First, you should use a specific meeting ID for each session rather than just the personal meeting ID set up for the instructor or group leader/facilitator. Instructors can also keep an eye on who enters the meeting to ensure only those who should be there are on the list.

Alternatively, a “waiting room” feature is available on many platforms: As participants enter, they are added to the “waiting room” that is outside of the virtual meeting space. The leader of the session then allows each participant to enter when the meeting begins.

Disable screen sharing for those participants who do not need it, as well as not allowing others in before the meeting leader or instructor. Other features, such as remote control and file transferring, can be disabled as well. And, just like securing an in-person classroom, locking the virtual meeting “door” once all participants have entered will keep out unwanted visitors.

Whenever there is a platform used to facilitate a positive experience, there will be “hackers” who attempt to find ways to circumvent the measures put in place. It’s a good idea to work with experts in digital technology to ensure your virtual classrooms create great learning spaces where users can collaborate and enjoy online lessons without disruption from bad actors.

Resources for setting up virtual classrooms

If your faculty needs to take their entire program online, it can be a learning curve. But you do not have to go it alone, and neither do they.

A digital media specialist can offer the support your faculty needs as they create an online curriculum. KWALL can help provide that support and ensure your teams create a positive, engaging experience for your students. Keeping students together, even when working remotely, can be a challenge, but will also set them up for a future of being successful while working remotely.

Contact KWALL today to see how we can help you forge ahead in the realm of virtual learning and online lessons.


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