How do I manage a virtual learning space?
When using a virtual learning space, regardless of your learners' age, it will be most effective when it is organized, accessible, personalized, and interactive (Arbaugh, 2000; Falloon, 2011; Parker & Martin, 2010; W3C, 2018).
Building your space
G Suite offers two tools for creating virtual spaces to organize resources and information: Classroom and Sites.
However, both tools have very different features, and the one you choose to use will depend on your instructional needs. Google Classroom allows you to collect digital work, post resources, and host online discussions, but only learners have access to all of Classroom. Families will only be able to see all of what is posted in Classroom if they use their student's account.
- Learn more about setting up a Google Classroom.
- Learn more about approved apps that work well with Classroom.
Google Sites, on the other hand, helps you create a website and therefore is largely instructor-centered, as SFUSD students don't have access to create or edit Sites unless your school site is Digital Citizenship Certified. However, Google Sites is great for posting resources for learners to access and for sharing information with families in a central, always accessible location.
Organizing digital resources & materials
Organizing materials makes it easier for learners to find what they need without feeling overwhelmed or lost. When learners expend too much mental energy to find materials or assignments, this is energy they no longer have to spend on the content or the work (Lim, 2004).
Organization is about creating a navigable, predictable hierarchy where users can make reasonable guesses about where to find something. In Classroom, this means using the topics feature in the Classwork tab. In Sites, you can structure the pages and the material on the page in a consistent way, using headings to separate out different sections.
As with any organizational task, start by thinking big picture: How do you want to divide up what you have? Does it make sense to divide it up in units/chapters? Overarching topics or themes? Something time or date based? Types of tasks? Once you have the larger, general organizational decisions made, it will be easier to put resources or information where they belong. Keeping things organized is just a matter of always filing the resource or information in its correct place each time.
Accessibility in digital design
When something is designed inclusively, it ends up being a better design for everyone who uses it. However, it's important to consider visual, auditory, and other learner needs when working in a virtual classroom space. Content and information should be available through multiple avenues, and when appropriate, allow learners to show their understanding through different modes or products.
One of the most powerful pieces of online learning environments is that they provide opportunities for learners to have control of and become more engaged in the learning process (Lim, 2004). You can offer learners choices in how they learn and how they demonstrate their mastery.
Interacting with learners
Digital classrooms or learning spaces can't replace high quality instruction, and a personalized online learning space doesn't mean that the instructor disappears. In fact, communication and learning may be even stronger for some learners in a virtual learning space than in a physical classroom space (Arbaugh, 2000; Lim, 2004), making instructor interactions and presence even more important.
However, despite the importance of interactions with learners, there are many tools to make interactions simpler and more manageable. From creating templates in Gmail to utilizing Google Classroom's feedback tools, many communication tasks have G Suite tools to enable and amplify them.
Arbaugh, J. B. (2000). Virtual classroom characteristics and student satisfaction with internet-based MBA courses. Journal of Management Education, 24(1), 32-54.
Falloon, G. (2011). Exploring the virtual classroom: What students need to know (and teachers should consider). MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 7(4), 439-451.
Lim, C. P. (2004). Engaging learners in online learning environments. TechTrends: Linking Research and Practice to Improve Learning, 48(4), 16-23.
Parker, M. A., & Martin, F. (2010). Using virtual classrooms: Student perceptions of features and characteristics in an online and a blended course. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 6(1), 135-147.
World Wide Web Consortium (2018). Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2. Retrieved from https://www.w3.org/WAI/standards-guidelines/wcag/