Issues with Designing a Virtual Classroom
In the 1990s, virtual classrooms have become extremely popular for training students almost anywhere and at anytime, especially in conjunction with the rapid growth of the Internet. Yet despite the popularity of virtual classrooms, there are still many problems and issues with designing classrooms for distance education. These issues need to be individually addressed to help find possible solutions or even suggestions to further aid distance learning. These issues can be usually categorized as poor economic foresight, inadequate planning, insufficient testing, or a combination of them.
First, the economic cost of designing a virtual classroom is considerably higher than a traditional classroom, and attaining adequate funding is crucial in the very first stages of designing a successful virtual classroom. These funds are needed to purchase technical expertise, educational expertise, software applications, and hardware resources. The cost of paying technical expertise, such as system administrator(s) and software engineer(s), is an additional cost that traditional classrooms do not have. On the other hand, the salary for professors would go down considerably, because fewer professors would be needed in virtual classrooms. The cost of software applications can be very expensive, especially with the additional costs of upgrades necessary because of the short life span of today’s rapidly changing software technology. Furthermore, the cost of the hardware resources necessary for virtual classrooms is significantly higher compared to the cost of the equipment required in conventional classrooms. This is because a conventional classroom basically requires a room, furniture, a chalkboard, and maybe even an overhead projector. On the other hand, a virtual classroom requires expensive hardware resources; such as computers, a server, a connection to a network, and maybe even an entire local/global network. In conclusion, the cost for initially setting up a virtual classroom is much greater than a traditional classroom. However, a virtual classroom has the potential of instructing a far greater number of students, throughout the world and at any time, with less cost per student. Yet, there still needs a better method of calculating how much any particular virtual class would cost to make. So that it would be easier to compare potential profits between a virtual and traditional class, by analyzing the probable number of students to enroll in each class with respect to cost, for a sound economic forecast.
The second issue with designing virtual classrooms is inadequate planning. The first step in properly planning a virtual classroom is to determine a need for a distance-based education. For example, there is usually a great need for “cognitive” distance education, such as mental or abstract training, that does not require being physically present in a real classroom. Alternatively, “psycho-motive” (physical) and “attitudinal” (attitude) education has very little applicable implementation of distant education, because they are best taught in practice rather than on a computer. The second step in properly planning a virtual classroom is to analyze the target audience to ensure more successful results. For example, it is unwise to try to educate potential students through the use of a virtual classroom if they are computer illiterate. It is also a good idea to check the target audience’s age, education, reasons for taking the course, and past experiences into account when designing a virtual classroom. Thus, this checking will ensure that the class is specifically tailored for a specific group of people. The third step is to ensure that a virtual classroom has a logically ordered curriculum with reachable goals and objectives. Even in regular classes, there is often a lack of organization that would be even more confusing and complicated in a virtual classroom. Fourth, designing a virtual classroom takes more time than a usual classroom, because of the detailed technical aspects that must be planned out in advanced. Thus, more time should be appropriately allocated for designing a virtual classroom. Fifth and finally, the continuous maintenance must also be planned from the very beginning of a virtual classroom. For example, professors must monitor ongoing classes for legal issues (such as copyright infringement and plagiarism), publishing of unreleased research data, and even erroneous information that could counterproductive. In conclusion, inadequate planning can be detrimental to a virtual class, where planning is much more important than in a traditional classroom. However with sufficiently advanced planning, there are no reasons why a virtual classroom could not be adequately and properly planned.
The third and final issue with designing virtual classrooms is insufficient testing. In an ordinary classroom, teachers and professors get immediate feedback from the students on the successfulness of the course. However in a virtual classroom, the lack of sufficient communication between the professors and students is considerably greater. Therefore when designing, implementing, and using a virtual classroom, there needs to be continuous testing to validate the quality of the course in respect to the students. It would also be helpful during a virtual course, if there would be greater personalized attention to the students by improving communication between the professors and students. And polling students at the beginning and end of each virtual course would result with feedback to also improve the class. Henceforth, with more complete testing and more interactions among the professors and students, a virtual classroom would have more opportunity to resolve issues that arise during a course.
In summary, there are still many issues with designing a virtual classroom that are mainly a result of this field being in the early stages of evolutionary development. However, most of these issues have potential solutions or at least suggestions to further aid distance learning. Virtual classroom designers would create better courses if they had more knowledge of potential cost, more detailed planning, and thorough testing. Thus, the benefits of a virtual classroom would be much more apparent to professors and students, if these problems and issues could be fixed.
by Phil for Humanity
NOTE: This paper was first published in the Fall of 1999.
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