Virtual Classrooms And COVID-19
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The Role Of Virtual Classrooms During The COVID-19 Pandemic

Virtual classrooms and distance learning, as alternate technology-driven learning methods, have been growing at a reasonable pace. Virtual classrooms have been specifically in use by all sectors, including primary and higher education as well as corporate learning. The increasing popularity of social and microlearning strategies, fostered by general social media platforms like YouTube and Twitter, and major educational technology disruptions like edX, have added to the increasing acceptance of virtual modes of learning. It is expected that the predominant use of virtual classrooms would increase by a whopping 16.2% compounded annual growth rate by 2023 [1]. Nevertheless, virtual classrooms have not yet been considered as a serious alternative or substitute for the contemporary face-to-face (F2F) learning.

Things have started to look different, however, in the wake of the current, novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, since the entire world is under lockdown. It is the time of the year when academic and teaching activities are in full swing in most parts of the world. The current pandemic situation has paved the way for a ground test of virtual classrooms as a prominent tool of learning in the current times. Schools, colleges, universities, corporates, and even world bodies and multilateral organizations like the UNO, WHO, and G20 have had to switch to the lesser-used virtual mode of learning and communications. These emergent circumstances stand as a conducive test for companies offering virtual classroom platforms and services like Blackboard, Desire2Learn, Cisco, Microsoft, etc. The test parameters are varied, some predominant ones being bandwidth management, network traffic, server response time, and a number of concurrent users. (Not to mention that Microsoft Teams evidently went down for a brief period due to an exceptionally high concurrent usage of the collaborative platform recently [2].)

Distance Learning

Distance learning has been an integral part of the learning system in higher education institutions in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The case of universities in Saudi Arabia is interesting; despite distance education being a mandated element for all institutions, the use of virtual classroom functions has been almost negligible. This is the case with all the traditional universities. However, there is a university dedicated to a mix of online and F2F learning that has been relying on the online learning system. Apart from this, there is certainly a trend of using Learning Management Systems that offer multiple options for the instructors to support their classroom teaching with online quizzes, assignments, lecture notes, etc. The primary deployment of virtual classroom functions has been in scenarios where male teachers must teach female students. Many universities have been implementing it across the country for a while through interactive television (ITV). Evidently, this set up has been running smoothly and effectively, with few exceptions that may occur even in F2F classes.

One of the authors of this article co-investigated the satisfaction of female students in Saudi universities with the ITV classes (Hoda, et al., 2018) [3]. The researchers used Biner’s Telecourse Evaluation Questionnaire (TEQ) to measure the satisfaction on four main facets of distance learning: course management, instructor, technology, and overall. The respondents gave an average rating on all the parameters. The results pointed to the areas that should be improved for an enhanced learning experience. The target sample was limited in many ways, such as skewed gender and age distribution as well as the degree of education. Since the current situation has forced the usage of virtual learning uniformly, it is now the right time to measure the students’ experience with virtual classes at a much higher scale and from different levels in order to provide a seamless learning experience. The experience is fresh, and the engagement has been very intense. The education sector should use the opportunity to understand the existing loopholes and strategize the inclusion of virtual learning in their existing learning system. Undoubtedly, the current pandemic has led to the testing of a variety of online systems on a grand scale, including education. The results should, therefore, help the development of more efficient services in a wide variety of sectors with education services at the forefront.

References: 

[1] Virtual Classroom Market by Solution

[2] MICROSOFT TEAMS GOES DOWN AS CORONAVIRUS FORCES MILLIONS TO WORK FROM HOME

[3] N. Hoda, N. Ahmad and Q. N. Naveed, "Evaluating Student Satisfaction with Interactive Television Classes in Saudi Universities," 2018 IEEE 5th International Conference on Engineering Technologies and Applied Sciences (ICETAS), Bangkok, Thailand, 2018, pp. 1-5.

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