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Education Technology Gives Teachers a Wider Reach
by Mark Cruthers


Abstract:
What if technology allowed you to teach or learn anytime anywhere? What if preparation of teaching or learning notes became a simple download activity from a repository or just an enhancement of existing content? What if the student could put forth his queries without any hesitation to his teacher and the teacher could pace the learning accordingly? How does receiving instant help from someone who is doing or has worked on something similar to what you are doing sound to you? Ubiquitous connectivity in today's world brings these benefits to an online teacher or a student.

Historical Precedence: Transition from classroom teaching to online teaching

Before the onset of the virtual classroom concept, the paradigm was of a teacher-centered approach. The teachers and students used to meet in a physical classroom at an appropriate time. The role of the teacher was that of an instructor or aptly an 'information distributor'. The learners too did not have much choice to express or access the vast resources, and also not much collaboration could ever be the part of their learning trends.

The education was not accessible to the students living in rural areas or at a distance from their educational centers. The scope of education was limited for the reason if the course or subject was not available at universities or centers; and if students were unwilling to relocate they did not have any other option but to leave it.

Progressing with the technologies, education too witnessed a major restructuring. These transformations involved a change in the values and practices. From the 'teacher centered' classroom teaching the emphasis is now more on the learner. The onset of online learning made education available anywhere, anytime transgressing the barriers of time and place. The concept was welcomed because of the student-centered, collaborative approach; access to distance learning courses online, and flexibility to manage the conflicts stemming out of the academic, personal and professional commitments.

Virtual Classroom - a new wave in the world of education

The word 'virtual' in virtual classroom can be understood as 'being actively connected to a network or computer system, usually being able to interactively exchange data, commands and information' (University of Rhode Island, 2005, p.1). Now, adding the concept of classroom to this definition, would characterize virtual classroom as 'the learning environment where the teacher and learner exchange knowledge live by connecting to an internet connection instead traveling to a physical classroom'.

An example of such an education is the 'University of Kansas Medical Center' that uses Virtual Classroom to offer many of its courses, supplemental material for the Schools of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy and Continuing Education.

Every year more and more universities and colleges add up to the number that are offering web-based classes for their courses and degrees. It is hard to conceive of a college or university remaining competitive in today's marketplace without reaching beyond its physical boundaries.

What makes a Virtual Classroom?

The key characteristics of a virtual classroom are invariably the same as for a physical classroom. Primarily it includes the means to exchange communication and knowledge. Whiteboard in virtual classroom works parallel to blackboard; drawing and writing tools replace chalk; audio, video conferencing and chat for the live interaction. Besides, the virtual classroom has an advantage of being technologically advanced with a robust element of content sharing. The content and whiteboard sharing capabilities can be employed for notes exchange, online exams, or grading assignments.

How Virtual Classroom adds to the student's learning?

In an online environment, learner pursues learning in an individualized and self-paced way. He can instantly ask for queries, doubts and feedback without any hesitation which might not be the case in the physical classroom. It's more of a self-directed learning where the knowledge is not just transferred but emerges on its own via a virtual classroom.

Factors such as geography, disabilities or gender do not remain impediments in a virtual classroom. The online sessions are far more convenient and effective as the teacher and learner can connect from anywhere with just a requirement of an internet connection.

In a virtual classroom, content is primarily text-based, delivered through chats, whiteboard and presentations. Also, links related to other resources and web-sites can be shared in an online session. Moreover, session recordings are readily available to students to revisit them as required.

The main power of the internet based learning is the enhancement of the ambit of learning sphere for a learner. With the different types of interactions like learner-learner, learner-teacher, teacher-teacher, and learner-others, the learner can use a blend of learning styles.

Virtual classroom can be effectively used for individual learning or even for group projects like simulations, role playing, case studies, debates, problem solving or brainstorming exercises.

Teacher can easily tailor the required teaching style from an instructor to a facilitator in contrast to being just an instructor in face to face scenario. While teaching a group he is more of a facilitator and in one-on-one he can simply be an instructor. This flexibility in virtual classroom overpowers the rigid teaching pattern of a physical classroom.

Worth mentioning here, the streak differentiating the education seekers and providers is blurring. Students after gaining a certain level of expertise in a subject can find a channel to offer teaching. On the other hand, teachers can learn more on their subjects and technology.

Does any online teaching or learning platform work best for you?

If the virtual classroom adds vigor to the world of online learning so can be the challenges in adopting a platform that's a best fit for your learning or teaching objectives. Going round the market today we come across different live e-learning programs like Elluminate, Interwise, Webex, and many more that offer equally promising features. But what works best for you? The exercise may involve gaining insight into a few factors like:

  • I'm not a computer savvy teacher can I give a try to classes via virtual classroom?
  • I use Windows as operating system and my learners use Mac. Can we still collaborate?
  • I'm already using a course management system like Moodle can I list live classes for my courses on Moodle?
  • Does the class in a virtual classroom go as effective as teaching in a physical classroom?
  • Does the platform adequately support voice over the Internet or do I require a conference call in addition to logging on to the online environment?
  • Is the recording and playback of the sessions cumbersome?
Objectively, the key considerations include convenience, cost, training, integration with learning or course management systems, support, and satisfaction.

What is WiZiQ?

Technology can have a real impact on education if used intelligently with effective teaching practices. WiZiQ, the frontrunners in online learning platform facilitates such a technology solution for the learning barriers of reach, distance, time and cost whilst maintaining the value of learning in its true essence. What WiZiQ achieves is bringing together students and teachers with simple-to-use technology for a rich online collaboration and effective learning.

The salient features of WiZiQ include state-of-the-art virtual classroom, creation of online educational content, and affordability to connect with persons having similar subject interests. WiZiQ accelerates both synchronous and asynchronous modes of learning. The asynchronous online is a self-paced learning mode that allows the exchange of knowledge when the participants can not make themselves available at the same time while synchronous learning facilitates a personalized interface to teachers and learners for an instantaneous delivery of knowledge as live sessions.

To put it simply, WiZiQ is a platform for anyone and everyone who wants to learn and teach live, online.

Why WiZiQ?

WiZiQ provides the next best alternative to face-to-face classroom teaching or learning. The key challenges that are generally feared in online environment are the acceptance, lack of interactivity, isolation, training, and loss of objectivity. WiZiQ outstandingly addresses all these challenges and helps building a learning environment that strikes out a balance among interaction, ease, satisfaction and achievement.

Ease of Use

WiZiQ invariably serves novices and experts. Live learning on WiZiQ is as simpler as accessing a Web site and using a headset. The virtual classroom set-up has been very carefully designed so that the initial experience of a new user with the virtual classroom goes exceptional. You completely focus on delivering or gaining knowledge than understanding the technology.

Blend of learning technologies

At WiZiQ, you can use more than one delivery mode, to maximize the learning outcome with a minimum effort. A self paced learning (asynchronous) goes while you share presentations online fully supported with your recorded voice or audio notes. Learning notes can be rolled out simultaneously to a large group, spread worldwide, in a fraction of time. In contrast to it, live learning (synchronous) is ideal where on-time verbal interaction is critical for knowledge transfer. Teachers deliver teaching via virtual classroom.

This blend of learning environment helps you utilize e-learning to keep going forward your teaching or learning, the only limitation is your creativity.

Online Learning for all

Designed with specific evaluation needs in mind for each learning section, WiZiQ is perpetually a platform for all. Be the concerns of the learners who struggle to achieve in classroom teaching environment or the learners facing problems due to disabilities, gender or caste disparities, or the learners wishfully undertaking distance learning courses.

The first and foremost rationale of WiZiQ is to provide a platform that ensures students stay the learning. A holistic environment in which knowledge is cultivated, shared with the utmost convenience and relevance to the teacher or learner.

Collaborative learning through network

WiZiQ was constructed with a community in mind with a simple reason that learning can emanate through different sources. Like, individual learning needs can be fulfilled from friends in your group, or some body in your friends' contacts besides e-tutoring or online teaching. This community based networks provide the vital scaffolding for building a self-propelling learning environment through discussion forums, groups or question-answer help chains.

On WiZiQ, you can share presentations with your friends, colleagues, discussion group members, teachers or students; exchange knowledge via messages; and collaborate in real-time in virtual classroom. Largely, a learning community is engendered and sustained for a common objective of learning.

Your Content- the lifeline in online learning

WiZiQ's model lets you produce your content online, convert it in a sharable format, push out the same with minimal effort. You make your content somewhat permanent, easy to put on blogs, embeddable as objects and links, knowledge living perpetuity. This open architecture enables learners to use content from a myriad of sources, allows playback by number of users at no additional effort and also acts as a substrate of connection among members. Further, a great assortment of materials like PDF, PowerPoint, Spreadsheets, Images, Documents, and Flash files can be added into sessions as needed.

The major benefit learner gets is ability to search and use the vast content resources available perhaps on any subject. And what's available is free, downloadable, and sharable.

Live sessions

Making the best use of technology, WiZiQ enables teachers and learners to learn and teach effectively live, online transgressing the barriers of distance, time and cost. This new capability opens up vast opportunities of learning which could not be even thought of previously. How WiZiQ goes about is amazing. For a live session, you schedule the session for a date and time for your attendees, of course time-zone disparities automatically accounted for. You can promote your live session through e-mail or in blogs and also in web pages for your course if using some course management system like moodle. Reminder service distributes reminder messages to attendees a few hours before every session. Availability of archived sessions at the end of each session help learners playback the sessions at their convenience.

Conclusively, WiZiQ dissolves the constraints of geography, time, and learning styles reinforcing the new paradigm of learning - live e-learning.

State-of-the-art Virtual Classroom

In the virtual classroom on WiZiQ, you can learn or teach anyone around the world, regardless of what subjects you learn or teach. Mathematics, Physics, your pastimes, professional grooming, or mentoring can be delivered with equal ease through this virtual classroom. WiZiQ's virtual classroom ensures maximum student participation with real-time tools like:

  • Two-way audio communication and live presenter video
  • Live Chat binding the participants through text messages
  • PowerPoint, PDF, Spreadsheets, Document and Flash file sharing make the sessions content rich through live sharing
  • Whiteboard space where images or basic Paint style work can be done with simple drawing tools, mathematical symbols, geometrical shapes, graph; and an ability to load the images
  • Emoticons adds engagement and communication in the learning environment
  • Control Privileges for the teacher to control each student in the virtual classroom by locking up features including audio and forcing students to virtually raise their hands to speak
WiZiQ virtual classroom thus alleviates the problems associated with physical classroom or asynchronous self-paced learning by facilitating live sessions on scheduled date and time. Learner can capture the complete course by live sessions or through their playbacks.

Works on any operating system and browser

Available as a hosted service WiZiQ virtual classroom is easy to get started with requiring no servers to maintain. It is platform independent and fully compatible with multiple platforms like Windows, Linux, and Mac. You need not worry about compatibility problems. Further, this virtual classroom works well on multiple browsers - IE,Netscape, Firefox, Mozilla, Opera, and Safari.

No hardware or software requirement

The virtual classroom does not require any software installation or hardware pre requisites. The only requirement is a computer with any operating system connected to Internet with any web browser. There is no need of downloading or installing special client software.

Works with low bandwidth

For this virtual classroom, bandwidth has never been an issue. It works efficiently even with low upload and download bandwidth. Requiring as low as 50Kbps(Audio),120 Kbps(Video) bandwidth for both uploading and downloading, it ensures the good quality of audio and video transmission even if the user is running on low bandwidth. Most of WiZiQ competitors require minimum of 128 kbps bandwidth and that too with lower data transfer.

Quality Audio and Video transmission

Virtual Classroom on WiZiQ supports 'Two-way full duplex audio' and full video transmission. This increases the effectiveness as the video sharing feature and ability to talk over internet enhances the interactive communication between the participants. You can almost use any audio input device as a microphone including USB microphone devices and any video input device as a camera including USB and Firewire based cameras.

Maintaining the quality of audio during the event, the virtual classroom settings prevent any echo while listening to your own audio; and also automatically adjust the quality of audio on the basis of bandwidth detected on the users' system to have all participants in synch.

Conclusion

Teaching through physical classrooms has been the dominant form of delivering learning for a good number of centuries. But as the adage goes "Necessity is the mother of invention" so does the setbacks of traditional teaching styles set forth the new premises the learning should emerge with evolving technologies. And the resultant is we all know 'Online learning'. This phenomenal change is reconfiguring learning all the way. Whether for academics, professional grooming, pastimes, or personal development individuals and their communities are going more online to learn and teach.

For teachers, live online teaching sounds a promising but a challenging opportunity. Looking the way the online environment adds to their comfort, flexibility of having multi-flair teaching styles, wider opportunities, and ready access and sharing of courseware, live-online teaching is something relishes to taste. The challenges that stand may include the change in the perception and getting on with new skills. For learners, it's a total win situation. It's a learning environment where better participation, reflection, and collaboration are ensured and the only requirement is to have an encouraging attitude towards this learning style.

Now, the responsibility that live-online learning is used as a regular practice rests on the providers of the online learning platforms. They must realize that live e-learning is not a 'field of dreams' simply because they created the platform but the system must demonstrate quick user acceptance to make live online learning the taste of generation.

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