Research in online student retention suggests that both time and relationships play a critical role in student persistence. Providing courses online does address convenience as it relates to student time constraints, but once inside the online classroom, it’s imperative that instructors find creative ways to deliver instruction that leads to student engagement. Students become more engaged when relationships are formed – with both the instructor and peers. Virtual classroom sessions, while seeming to be one solution for forming relationships, conflict with the convenience of taking an online class. To counteract this inconvenience, instructors teaching online and blended sections of the same course decided to create a learning community that offered multiple times and dates for virtual class sessions. The results have led to increased satisfaction and engagement for both students and faculty.
Across universities, each semester there are some courses that are offered and taught by multiple instructors. For example, English 101 could possibly be offered in the schedule across 10, 20 and even more sections. Some of these sections are offered in online format.
In the Athens State College of Education, we offer three courses that are taken by all College of Education majors – Foundations of Education I, Foundations of Education II and Technology and Media for Educators. Each semester we offer at least 10+ sections of each of these courses, with over half of them offered in a blended or online format.
In an effort to help establish positive relationships in these online courses, we implemented weekly virtual classroom sessions, which isn’t a new idea. But because we have multiple instructors teaching sections of the same course, we went a step further and created a community calendar where each instructor posts the date, time, topic and entry URL to his/her virtual classroom sessions (See supporting documents). Instructors are encouraged to schedule their sessions at different times/days throughout each week so that students have many options for attending live sessions.
Instructors conduct virtual sessions at the scheduled time/date weekly and record the session. Archived sessions are made available inside courses for students who are unable to attend the live sessions. Upon completion of each session, instructors ask for the names of any “visiting” students. Visiting student’s names are then sent to the other instructors so that students are given credit for attendance.
Inside each course, students are provided with a link to the community calendar and are informed that they may attend any session(s) offered. Students who were unable to attend are required to watch and summarize archived sessions.
While the initial goal was to improve relationships within the course, the results have far exceeded our imaginings. Students reported that they not only appreciate the availability of the live sessions, but have also stated that the sessions help them feel like they are in a “real classroom.” Students have also reported that they appreciate the ability to choose session times/dates that best meet their needs. This evidence of effectiveness was expected (See supporting documents).
Evidence of effectiveness that was not anticipated is the instructor’s perceptions of teaching and learning effectiveness and overall satisfaction. Prior to initiating the across-section virtual classroom sessions, instructors completed a pretest measuring faculty satisfaction. Upon completion of the first semester of implementation instructors completed the posttest. A review of the data indicates that faculty are more satisfied with their role in the course following the semester of weekly virtual classroom sessions (See supporting documents).
Learning effectiveness: Instructors felt more empowered as a result of this effective practice. Data suggests that instructors perceived an increased contribution to student learning. One hundred percent of instructors surveyed felt that students had a valuable learning experience due to the instructor’s role in the class. When comparing the amount of content able to be taught between an online/blended course and a traditional course, most instructors (73%) reported that they could now teach the same or more content. Seventy six percent of the instructors reported that they were more satisfied with their online/blended course the semester following the virtual classroom implementation. Instructors (85.7%) believed that the virtual classroom sessions improved student success (See supporting documents).
Faculty satisfaction: Posttest data from the virtual classroom implementation suggests that faculty are pleased with teaching online/blended courses. On the pretest survey 86.7% of instructors reported that they were very satisfied teaching an online/blended course. Following the virtual classroom sessions implementation 76.9% of instructors reported being more satisfied than they were the previous semester. Considering that that most instructors had already reported being very satisfied, this is a very indicative finding regarding faculty satisfaction (See supporting documents).
Student satisfaction: Student surveys indicate that students are satisfied with the availability of the virtual classroom sessions. Approximately 55% of students reported that the virtual classroom sessions were beneficial (See supporting document).
The equipment we used to implement this effective practice was Blackboard Collaborate and Blackboard Wimba, which are virtual classroom platforms. Google Docs was used for the community calendars.
While neither Wimba nor Collaborate are free, there are other virtual classroom options that are free and low cost. For example, Google Hangouts could be used for virtual classroom sessions.