Publish at January 27 2022 Updated February 04 2022

A virtual class, yes! Here is the program...

A virtual classroom must be prepared and anticipated; there is no magic recipe.

Both in class and in her room...

"If it's to follow a slideshow presentation in a virtual classroom, I can do that on my own, at a time that is convenient for me."

This is the view of students (and students) when faced with online classroom proposals. If indeed, the time is devolved only to the teacher conducting the class, this is a legitimate point of view. But then, what can teachers propose? What are the pitfalls to avoid? I don't believe that no answer perfectly fits all situations, however, we can establish a systematic questioning that allows us to build our solution.

1 - The learner's point of view

This is the first point to consider: what are the learners' needs and expectations? What elements will engage them and help them persevere?

To help them get into a learning process, the learner needs a supportive setting:

  • The classroom is very different from their room and does not create the same atmosphere.
  • The presence of classmates is stimulating and sought after, it is even sometimes the first reason that pushes a student to go to class.

While the virtual classroom makes it possible to delimit a 'sanctuarized' space-time, the content of this encounter still needs to be defined. This requires a real scripting with a timed approach to the different sequences to give rhythm, involve the learners and give them as much speaking time as possible. Teaching with virtual classes must therefore be designed to facilitate the perception of remote presence, but how to do this? Let's see what the research says...

2 - The issue of remote presence

The latest Louvain Learning Lab booklet "Teaching (and Learning) in Telepresence" is based on Garrison, Andreson and Archer's online learning community model where presence is the result of 3 components:

  • Social presence which brings together aspects related to affectivity and group cohesion;
  • Cognitive presence which brings together elements related to learning, solution finding, meaning making;
  • Teaching presence which supports, moderates and facilitates exchanges.

These elements join the previous point: the remote presence is built in the interactions between the different participants (teacher and learners) and the virtual classes are quite relevant to support and facilitate these exchanges.

Annie Jézégou says, in her interview on the public service portal, that presence can be developed in an interpersonal or collective way and that it can be "both felt (subjective dimension) and tangible (objective dimension)."

This presence can only develop if the tools are perceived as useful and easy to use (notion of affordance) and if the participants engage in the process in a personal and reflective way (notion of agentivity).

These elements allow us to identify teacher attitudes and continue our questioning: how to present the tools and their potential (usefulness)? How to facilitate their handling (ease)? How to accompany towards a chosen, social, thoughtful and autonomous use of these tools?

These questions are complex and very lively since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some institutions have developed strategies with a comodal approach. This modality offers a side step that can move our thinking forward.

3 - What does bimodality tell us?

Zac Woolfitt, in his talk at Online Educa Berlin, December 2021, makes a point about bimodality where some of the students are on site while the other part is attending the session remotely, which is one possible use of virtual classrooms.

He compares this evolution to the evolution of book delivery, from the bound collection to the e-reader to the sometimes questionable quality photocopy, and wonders (and asks us as well) how far along we are in the evolution of courses. It is almost certain that we have not arrived at the optimal solution and the first feedbacks allow us to move forward in the reflection. Here are the elements that I think are important to keep:

  • The mental load for the teacher in a bimodal course is much greater than in face-to-face or online.
  • The SAMR model of technology integration (for Substitution - Augmentation - Modification - Redefinition) characterizes the impact of introducing a technology on the pedagogical approach: What does it change? Does it add functional value? Does it induce a redefinition of tasks or new tasks that were previously unthinkable?
  • The geographical organization of the classroom is affected by this evolution: Where to place the screens to see the students from a distance? Where to place the cameras? How much space is devoted to the teacher?

These different questions also arise - no doubt differently - when everything happens at a distance.


Virtual classrooms offer the possibility of meeting the "social" needs of learners. This requires that they be given as much space as possible in these events so that they can express themselves, interact, question, and that the teacher provides regulation and feedback. The challenge is to create a remote presence perceived and experienced by the learners. This questions the place of technological tools and the effect they have on pedagogical strategies.

But let us never forget that learning is our priority and that the tools must serve us to achieve our goal!


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