Thursday, September 14, 2017

Are Students Paying Attention in the Virtual Classroom?

In their 2016 dissertation Trabinger asks how we know if students are paying attention in the virtual classroom (VC). When a live lecture is replaced with a video conference or webinar, how do you know if the students are paying attention or are actually "multitasking".
The work gives a good overview of the issues with the victualer classroom and is not about some far-away place, but based on research at the Canberra Institute of Technology (CIT). I was a student at CIT around the time of the research but did not attend any classes, virtual or otherwise, with all instruction asynchronous.

Two research questions were asked:
  1. How can teachers design content and/or activities to encourage interaction, engagement and attention while participating in a VC? The answer was  ‘planning’ and structuring of sessions. Many of the suggested ways suggested for improving virtual classrooms I suggest are also applicable to face-to-face classes.
  2. What training, guides and support do VET teachers and learners require to provide an environment that supports learners in the VC? Professional development in virtual classroom techniques was suggested for teachers. Curiously what was not suggested was for the teacher to first participate as a student in a virtual class (I found this very useful) or to have formal training or qualifications in this area.
One question not asked in the research was if students in a virtual classroom pay any less attention than in a face-to-face classroom (FTFC). The assumption seems to be that VCs are not as good as FTFC. However, with students now equipped with smart-phones and tablet computers there is no way to know just by looking at them if they are paying attention, or not. Even without the added distraction of gadgets: how much do student pay attention in class?
Particularly in the VET field it is not clear that simply having students sitting and listening is a useful learning activity. Students should be doing something, not just sitting there.


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