Pedagogical features of VEDAMO Virtual Classroom

VEDAMO Virtual Classroom is a complete online environment for synchronous learning. Not only do the system functionalities resemble the conditions in the traditional classroom, but they also bring new aspects into the learning process which allow for a new type of quality learning. Thanks to them students can simultaneously look at and listen to the teacher, follow the lesson and illustration of the study content as well as fully participate using different functions, giving and receiving feedback.

Advantages of the virtual learning environment are the possibility of saving time and expenses for the classes’ implementation in a real physical environment. Virtual learning spaces require minimal maintenance in order to create the necessary comfort for the participants with the availability of the Internet and a computer only. The virtual learning environment offers possibilities for interactivity which in a real environment would require a more serious investment – an interactive whiteboard, specialised software, printed materials, etc.

Due to the functionalities of the system group learning can be additionally personalised by dividing the main group into small subgroups which will get their own virtual space (a kind of mini-working environment) for group work on an independent task. Thus, a feeling of closeness is created among the participants, which contributes to their socialization and collaboration. Irrespective of their age, sex and social standing all participants in the group have equal rights and that helps group work and improves teamwork. Personalisation of the learning process creates optimal conditions for acquisition and comprehension of the study material by children or adults with different interests, needs and abilities. VEDAMO allows this to happen without interrupting group work and collaboration in the group by working in small groups, which allows for comparison and raises student’s motivation in dealing successfully with the tasks.

The virtual learning environment offers the possibility for inclusion in one study session not only participants but observers, too. Thus, psychologists, special needs teaching assistants, educational specialists and others are able to observe the learning process without their presence influencing it. In this way, an absolutely objective assessment of the students’ performance can be achieved and any learning difficulties can be timely and precisely determined. Another opportunity that the role of the observer gives is future teachers’ training and sharing of teaching experience. By lesson observation, the would-be teacher can learn without their presence disturbing the tutor and the learners who do not know him or her. On the other hand, teachers can improve their professional competences by observing their colleagues’ lessons.

Depending on their learning aims and planning, learners’ age and the pre-set limits, the number of group participants can vary. In the traditional classroom the typical number of children in one class is between 15 and 30. In adult language courses the typical number of learners in a group is between 10 and 15. For the purposes of the interactive learning, however, and according to participants’ age, the appropriate number of learners in one group is between 6 and 12. This is also the suitable number of learners in a collaborative course whose aim can be to accomplish a common goal, to share opinions, to explain conceptual meanings, or solve situational problems as a team. This constructivists approach is related to an active process for collective knowledge development by means of the group as a source of information, a motivational agent and mutual assistance. The VEDAMO Virtual Classroom offers broad opportunities for using this approach by providing a multitude of online tools and functionalities including the differentiation of each group into smaller segments.

A common practice in the traditional classroom is for the teacher to be working with a nucleus of more active learners while the others are only passive observers of the learning process. A similar situation can be transferred in the virtual classroom but with a much higher number of observers. While the virtual tutor is interacting actively with 10-15 students, those observing the session in real time may be thousands. The difference in this situation is that it is very often that the in-class “observers” are unmotivated and disinterested in the topic being discussed. In an online environment observers can easily get engaged in a session that is interesting for them. This possibility is particularly valuable for students with specific socialisation difficulties and unwillingness for active participation or for such students with special educational needs who prevent others from working freely in a virtual classroom.

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Dr. Veronica Racheva is managing VEDAMO’s training programme. Veronica is a PhD in Theory of Education. She graduated from the Doctoral School at the Institute of Education, University of London and has a specialisation for a Virtual Teacher from the University of California, Irvine. Currently, she is a CEO of a Bulgarian K12 online academy, based on VEDAMO e-learning infrastructure. She is also a lecturer in E-learning at the Sofia University, researcher and author of scientific reports.