The five forms of teaching in virtual education

When we talk about virtual education, most people think of some sort of online 3D classroom, where we try to mimic physical education as closely as possible, using avatars and a shared screen. Although that can certainly work better than a video call, it is not the only way. In fact, there are often much better – and more fun ways – to set up online education!

In this article we describe five effective forms of teaching that you can use in imedu. Below we briefly introduce all of them, and in the coming weeks we will discuss each form in more detail in a separate post.

Instruction and demonstration

This form of teaching is closest to the standard ‘classroom setting’, where you gather all the students in a virtual room to discuss a particular topic.

A teacher giving a class about the solar system, using 3D models of planets

In the simplest setup, a teacher gives a presentation in a virtual classroom using one or more screens, with (or without) a webcam. Just like in a physical class, students can ask questions and have discussions, using their avatar to look at each other and walk around. This makes it more clear who is communication with whom.

Now, it gets much more interesting (and effective) when you make the space itself part of the lesson. This can be done by moving your class into an appropriate virtual environment, or adding 3D objects. Consider exploring a life-sized skeleton for biology, teaching in a virtual restaurant to practice your orders in English, or visiting a historical site for a history lesson.

Group work

With group work, you take full advantage of the social interaction that is possible between avatars. In this form of learning you give students an assignment after which they move to a corner in your virtual space (or a separate location) to work on it in groups.

A group of students collaborating on a project plan

Group work can take place in one large room. In that case groups can just move into corners so they can’t hear each other. But in our experience it is often more convenient to connect different project or breakout rooms to a single space, where you kick-off the class or meet up to discuss the learnings.

For students there are different ways and tools to work together. Besides communicating and moving with their avatar, they can also place images, 3D objects, videos or documents in the space themselves. Through info-panels (personal pop-ups) they can also work together directly in shared Office or Google documents, presentations or other apps without leaving the space.

Learning by discovery

In our opinion this is one of the most promising applications of virtual spaces. At the same time it is something in which there is still much to be discovered and developed. In learning by discovery, a teacher sets up a space with learning materials in advance and communicates clear learning objective to the students. They then enter the space and work on it independently, often with the possibility to ask for help in case they are stuck.

Students in a virtual lab, learning about 3D scanning techniques

Students visit this space independently or in groups, and try to achieve the learning objective with the help of the information, assignments and tests present. In this scenario the teacher – besides being the ‘architect’ of the experience – also has a more supervisory and steering role. This makes it easier for the teahcer to spend time on the students who need it most.

Because of the more motivating ‘gamified experience’, using inspiring environments, changing assignments and clear goals, this is a very fun and motivating form of learning. At the same time, students are more in control about how they learn. After all they chose their own time, order and learning speed as they go through the materials. As a teacher you can further encourage cooperation by including group assignments, e.g. think of an ‘escape room’.

Meetings and presentations

In this form of teaching you facilitate meetings between students, teachers and/or outsiders from different schools and locations. This is primarily about overcoming distances and learning from others. Consider a project fair, a presentation, or an exchange with a foreign school.

example meetup in imedu
Screenshot from a meetup organized in imedu

Because this feels more like a physical event, you will need to think primarily about the format, agenda, and layout of the space when doing the preparation. An example is an exhibition of project results, where students demonstrate their work at a virtual fair. But you can also think of a meeting with students from another school to practice a foreign language or learn from each other’s culture.

As with a physical event, it’s all about good communication beforehand and a clear agenda for any joint (sub)activities. These activities can use other forms of teaching in linked locations, such as instruction or group work.

Design and creation

This form of teaching focuses on the creation of 3D spaces, objects and experiences itself. With imedu, students can also create their own learning environments, art projects or 3D objects. And of course, everyone can then test and experience these designs in the same environment!

example spoke design tool
A virtual space during creation with the Spoke design tool that is included and compatible with imedu

There are several ways to introduce students to 3D design. The simplest way is to customize or create your own spaces using the integrated ‘Spoke’ editor. This is a relatively accessible application that allows you to build 3D spaces using ready-made building blocks, sound clips and images.

If you really want to design 3D objects and spaces yourself, you can get started with special software. A very powerful (but also more complex) open source program is Blender. It allows you to create almost anything from a simple cube to a 3D animated movie, and there are also many online tutorials. Keep in mind that it will take at least a few weeks for a first result.

So as you can see, ‘virtual education’ is so much more than just a classroom with avatars or a virtual fieldtrip to a volcano. With some creative teaching and our pre-built experiences you give students more challenges, motivation and independence. And as a teacher you free up more time for those students who need a little extra help.

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