Have you tried virtual learning before? At Academy of learning, we implement a web-based learning platform that incorporates digital technology aspects into our teaching and learning system. During a virtual class, students can receive real-time lectures from experienced instructors, chat and discuss specific topics with the instructor, interact and network with other participating students, work on projects with peers from across the country, and review or preview recorded materials before or after the class. Today we have our Virtual Instructor Mary Jane from Academy of Learning College here with us, and we’re going to find out what virtual learning really is and what you can experience from it!
What programs do you teach as a virtual instructor? How long have you been teaching virtual classes?
MJ: I teach the Medical Office Assistant and the Health Unit Coordinator Programs. I started teaching these programs when Academy of Learning College started the Virtual Instruction programs; it’s been just a little over 5 years now. I love teaching as a virtual instructor! Teaching is actually a great part of my day: I spend my mornings writing curriculum and then I teach in the afternoons. Teaching is a great way to spend the afternoon and it’s always nice to have that contrast: writing and being conversational with my students.
What technology do you use to perform the virtual instruction?
MJ: We use a system called ACME, it allows me to record student marks, and it is also where the students and I communicate. Additionally, Adobe Connect Pro is the platform we use to deliver live lectures. Now we’re moving over to new software like Bright Space and YouSeeU, which still allow us to deliver the live lectures, but with more opportunities to add fun aspects to the virtual classroom. Similar to Skype, Adobe Connect and Bright Space allow students to see me on camera and hear me when I talk, and I can show presentations to them on the screen at the same time.
How do you communicate with your students during and after the class?
MJ: The class is delivered through Adobe Connect Pro and when we communicate in there, the students can see me and hear me through my camera and microphone, and they can respond using a chart window. We don’t have a camera and microphone for each student, because when you have 30 people on camera and microphone who can’t see each other in the same space as they are from difference campuses, everyone will just be talking over everyone else and no one will able to hear anything. With me being on camera and students using the chat feature, they feel very involved and all the questions get answered on time. So this is how we communicate during class.
Outside the classroom, the mostly used communication method is email communication. It is worth mentioning that the students have learned to compose very efficient emails and become very efficient in their communications through email interactions with me. Also, when a student and I are going back and forth regarding a question and we’re not making much progress, I would call the campus and talk to the student on the phone because sometimes things are easier to explain through interpersonal conversations.
Moreover, students are very welcome to stay after the class where I can offer a bit more explanation. If a student needs more clarification on a topic, I can invite the student to stay in the classroom and we’ll continue to work on that. I can do one-on-one sessions with students if they want, and again, because the students use typed words to explain themselves, they’ve also learned to express themselves very well during this process.
What is the main difference between a virtual class and a physical classroom? What are the benefits of a virtual class?
MJ: The obvious difference would be – me being in a classroom versus me being on a camera. I always tell the students to envision that I’m at your campus, I’m just sitting in the next room; I am there even though we’re all across Canada, I want you to understand that I’m a real person, I’m here in real time, and I pay attention to all of you individually while we’re in class. I try and make the physical differences very minimal.
For the class itself, the students each sit at their own computer in a campus with rows of cubicles, similar to a lab environment. There could be a campus with 5 or 10 students there, they could all be sitting beside each other or sitting in different areas of the campus. They each get their own computer, their own keyboard; they’re not watching me on a shared screen and they each get the chances to “speak” to me individually through their keyboards. Basically, the students sit at a computer with headsets on and participate in the class with no physical interference.
Sometimes there is only one student in a particular program at a campus, for example, a campus way up north that doesn’t get many enrollments. They don’t want to turn a student away because they don’t have an instructor for this program; so that student will go with me to the virtual class. It takes no time for that student to become an inseparable part of the interactive environment of my class. The students all start to network with each other, rely on each other, and encourage each other from the beginning of the program, and I try to establish that right off the bat.
The relationship will start to build from the very beginning between the instructor and the students, as well as between the students themselves. I like to tell my students to picture us all siting in a circle with our computers and talking to each other. I’m not the figure standing in the front of the classroom giving a lecture, instead, we’re all in this together as a team. Since we’re all in different locations, I try and make the environment as inclusive and warm as possible, so students don’t feel excluded. Also, all the live lectures are recorded for students to review. Therefore, during the hours of the lecture, I tell my students not to take notes while I’m talking as they’ll only memorize what they wrote down. I tell them to just sit and enjoy the lecture, and watch the recording afterwards to take notes. This way the students will be more concentrated during the class. Also, if a student gets in late or misses a class, they don’t need to ask someone to take notes for them and they don’t fall behind, because they can watch the lectures as many times as they want on their own time. This is something you don’t get from an instructor-led classroom environment.
Last but not least, I found other than being highly focused during class, virtual students tend to be more independent and more entrepreneurial with their thinking. The students don’t have me by their sides for 5 hours a day walking around and helping them. They have to take any instructions and any advice I give them during the class and run with that on their own. They tend to spend more time doing their work, instead of having me talk to them for an extended period of time. Their typing and computer skills just naturally improve by the nature of the virtual environment; their typing speed increases naturally because they are typing all the time when we communicate.
What kind of feedback you get from your students? What do your students like the most about your class?
MJ: I’d say most of the students are a little anxious before they start. They’re only used to having an instructor standing in front of them; they don’t know how this will turn out, or if they’ll feel included during the class. However, once they get into the virtual classroom and learn what the virtual class really is, the students actually prefer it. I get a lot of feedback from students saying “I love learning this way!”
The students get to network with other like-minded peers across Canada. They can work more on their own pace outside lecture time. For example, my lecture normally falls in the middle of the day, the students can show up early and get some work done before the lecture starts, or they can come in for the lecture and then stay a little long afterwards to work on their projects. They’re very flexible with their time.
The students love everything about the virtual class and I don’t hear many negatives about it. They like the way I explain things in class. As for the virtual environment itself, the students are pleasantly surprised about how well they adapt to it, how well they can learn and how fast their skills improve. Students are getting the same material from me as they do from an in-class instructor. As a little added benefit, students like the fact that their computer skills and typing skills improve significantly throughout the virtual learning experience.
Students also like that when they’re sitting in class, each of them is getting one-on-one attention from the instructor. Instead of looking at one specific student in the classroom, I’m looking at the camera while I teach, and the students feel like I’m teaching specifically to them as if they’re getting their own one-on-one tutor.
As for myself, as a virtual instructor, I prefer teaching like this. Some people may not be comfortable teaching in front of a camera where you can’t see people, but this has enabled me to deliver the lecture regardless of the environment, whether it’s in front of 50 people or 500 people, it takes away that stage fright for me and makes me more confident.
In short, our students love how effective virtual learning is. They love the results they’re receiving and the fact that they can work flexibly around their own schedule. Students feel more relaxed and concentrated during class without the pressure of taking notes simultaneously, they feel very confident knowing that they can review the lecture as many times as they want with the recordings and advance their knowledge time after time. With the warm support from our virtual instructor and campus facilitator, students can learn at the pace they’re most comfortable with and receive the best results from the delivered knowledge and material. At Academy of Learning College, we take career development and skill training very seriously. Browse our program listings by province and find the career education that is right for you!
Virtual Learning I- How Do We Deliver Live Lectures and Communicate With Students?
Virtual Learning II- What Do We Do In Virtual Learning? How Do Students React to it?