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The rise of virtual classrooms #edtech

Over the last year we have seen a strong and steady growth in use of virtual classrooms even in a period (the first half of 2021) where COVID cases were low in Australia and universities were encouraging staff and students back onto campus for learning and teaching. Numbers of both small and large classes have increased in our virtual classroom software, as have recordings with a Terabyte of content being added in the first half of this year. 

For the last 10 years, as long as efficient lecture recording and convenient access has been around, we have seen a decline in lecture attendance, usually after the first 1-3 weeks, as students catch up on lectures via the recording when it suits them. This has been a point of great concern and frustration for teachers who sometimes are teaching to a largely empty room.

Why, even in a COVID normal state with low cases and a push for on campus delivery did the number of virtual classes grow in number and size? 

There are some hypothetical reasons staff might have for continuing to run things virtually, such as.
  • "Its easier to create an online space than book an appropriately sized and configured physical one."
  • "Actually online virtual classrooms are working better than expected and I've learned how to manage my classes in this space and become very effective at online teaching!"
  • "While student attendance in physical lectures was low, online attendance is better."
  • "The virtual space actually makes teaching large classes easier, virtual spaces have breakout rooms and I like joining each group individually, I am more connected to my students than ever."
The reality is this is we have not researched peoples motivations or analysed the available data. The insights into staff and students' motivations are extremely important to designing educational experiences of the future. After years of the old model (f2f lecture/tutorial/workshop/lab) struggling with technology disruption (particularly lectures), are we witnessing a transition point in higher education to new models based on more effective technology integration? Or is something else going on entirely? What are your thoughts?

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