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Virtual Classrooms – Democratizing Education

It is a common view that soft-skill programs work better with traditional teaching methodologies. The new era virtual classrooms, have shown success in technical content-based courses. But what about courses whose very backbone is the interaction between instructor and learner? Technological advances have taken leaps and bounds over the last few years, enabling a smooth road of two-way communication. In a virtual setting, real time interaction is now possible – setting the scene for a fruitful communion of ideas and instruction.

VCRTaking advantage of the developments is TUNE, a G-Cube endeavor in imparting Personality Development Programs via Virtual Classrooms which runs over VSATs. Reaching out to students of professional colleges, TUNE is all about instilling confidence in students in facing the ‘real world’. Courses aim at preparing them to face interviewers, hold conversations and being successful in projecting themselves as trained professionals.

Dwelling into what goes on to make such a course successful, gives us an insight into the workings of a VCR. It is much more than an audio-video set up at the learner end and a trainer giving instructions from a remote location!

Striking a rapport: This is the first step to any Personality development program. In a VCR, this step is crucial but not so different from a traditional classroom, as one might imagine. Name sheets, reminiscent of traditional classrooms, work in identifying learners. Introductions are made, and the trainer takes note of the ones who are assertive or the ones who need to be more vocal. But while a trainer would walk around the class to strike a rapport, the trainer in a VCR has to use more imaginative ways. One popular method is ‘taking turns’. Every student cannot be called out in a single session, so the trainer marks off the ones who participate in one session. In the next, the trainer encourages a different set to participate and so on.

Getting learners involved: Though the course content is in presentation format, a lot of thought goes into infusing life into it. A huge benefit of the VCR is the easy inclusion of audio-video. Popular movie clips, you-tube videos and role enactment videos – all work in making the content interesting and successfully holding the attention of the learners.

Personality development programs are almost always activity based. Conducting an activity in a VCR again requires some imaginative thinking. What works is the idea of ‘facing a camera’. Learners perceive this as something truly exciting and this helps them to come out of their shells. For group activities, smaller groups are encouraged. This actually works for better, as every learner gets individual attention and subsequently, feedback from the trainer

Getting over technical limitations – VSAT technology is truly advanced today and data transmission is smooth. This allows the virtual sessions to feel more and more real. However, there are limitations and it is important to work around them. To start with, the learners are given simple instructions – speak slowly and clearly, speak one at a time and so on.

Further, trainers also evolve a set of gestures that do away with the little things like delayed audio response. Though it is a matter of just couple of seconds, it helps to get the delay out of the way for a smooth flow of interaction. Simple hand gestures work wonders – conveying conversation connectors like ‘go on’, ‘next’ and ‘stop’. Within a few sessions, the learners become accustomed to them and find them no different than instructions in a traditional classroom. The trainers are also prepared for momentary technical faults and think on their feet, For example, if the audio input from the learner end is experiencing a temporary fault, they hold one way communication till it is resumed.

Support that a VCR needs In spite of the real time flow of communication, a support team at the learner end needs to be in place for fruitful learning. The prime responsibility of the group is to ensure that the environment of learning retains its sanctity by making sure the learners speak at a time, help in classroom activities and so on.

VCRs do not need high-end technical support at the learner end. The equipment used is a high quality good audio-visual system and the expected shortcomings can be handled by anyone who knows their way around the equipment.  The technical support group also ensures that the room is sound proof (nothing fancy, just regular doors and curtains on the windows will do the necessary!) and the lighting is adequate.

Overcoming the hurdles of distance and limited resources, TUNE opens new avenues for students across many professional institutes. Its success also proves that the VCR is suitable for all kinds of learning – irrespective of course content. It goes on to reaffirm our belief that it is indeed the future of learning.

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