Growing the Virtual Classroom: Benefits and Challenges of Using Videoconferencing

Many schools were exploring different options and beginning the investment to incorporate the virtual classroom — or distance education — before the global pandemic, but the speed suddenly required for this transition to happen still pushed a remarkable burden on education systems — an industry-wide need to adopt a series of distance learning tools and technologies as quickly as possible is a significant project. Today, more and more facilities have the infrastructure needed to meet baseline hybrid learning goals at the K-12 and higher education level. For these facilities, the challenge now comes down to fine-tuning the educational experience — and powerful, purpose-built videoconferencing tools can help get them there.

For the IT managers keeping schools running and network security intact, it's essential to know the capabilities and benefits of videoconferencing tools in the classroom, and the technical and associated challenges they'll likely need to overcome on the way to full integration.

Making the Case for Videoconferencing in the Virtual Classroom

When it comes to people being able to connect, information retention, and the overall efficacy of communication, videoconferencing is considered king when compared to voice calls. It's a basic tenet of hybrid work design, and the concept translates seamlessly to education at every level, from the first days of kindergarten to the last days of postgraduate.

But education presents a particularly interesting use case because it allows us to take this line of thinking a step further. If video calls beat out audio-only calls in terms of information retention and quality of information, the ability to convey audio and video information in a high-quality, purpose-built format naturally leads to an even better learning experience. Audiences immediately perceive videos and calls with poor audio and video as lower quality, causing them to retain less information than they would with a high AV quality (think higher resolutions, clearer pictures, and better sound, for three factors) alternative. Stretched out over a lengthy school day, it's easy to imagine the compounding losses students at all levels may begin to experience, no matter the educational quality of the actual content they're being provided.

A teacher sits in front of a laptop and leads a class using videoconferencing.

For many students, a return to the classroom setting isn't possible. This makes virtual classroom solutions necessary.

Turning to the IT side, videoconferencing tools can also mix increased audio and video quality with greater flexibility. Software-as-a-service (SaaS) offerings delivered via laptops and tablets are an option, but they do not provide the quality and adaptability of a dedicated videoconferencing solution, which plays into everything from classroom design to hybrid learning considerations. 

Growing the Entire Educational Experience

Returning to the idea of ensuring a quality educational experience is available — regardless if students are in the classroom or not — videoconferencing doesn't just allow for better audio and video. It also grows the educational experience by improving the tools and resources available to teachers, parents, administrators, and students.

With quality videoconferencing tools in place, the number of virtual guest speakers available to educators immediately skyrockets. Virtual field trips and collaborative class presentations become possible no matter how many students must remain at home on a given day. There are also office hours, counseling sessions, and other one-on-one interactions that simply wouldn't work as well through phone calls.

Interactions with parents may also become easier with the presence of high-quality, purpose-installed videoconferencing tools. While these solutions can't overcome all parent communication challenges, such as a potential lack of internet access at home, they can bring the experience closer to baseline for those who can comfortably interact in a digital space. Consider a parent today who must attend an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) meeting or similar intervention. When teachers can use the full virtual classroom (instead of solely relying on a tablet or laptop), they can more fully give parents a view into this critical aspect of their children's lives — showing charts, sharing data, and communicating as comfortably as they would if the parent were in the classroom. Likewise, the college professor communicating with students back home (an increasingly common and encouraged practice in the higher education setting), can more easily communicate, collaborate, and engage with the presence of more capable tools.

Facing IT Challenges of the Virtual Classroom

Let's explore the challenges school IT teams often face in a virtual setting and how to avoid them.

Simplicity and centralization: Teachers shouldn't have to wrestle with dials and configure settings every time the classroom goes live. Moreover, they shouldn't have to bounce between multiple systems to convey information.

Accessibility: Getting content to students on their devices of choice can be a challenge. That's true at the K-12 level, where home access to computing hardware and an internet connection may not be possible for all students; it's just as big a concern at the higher ed level, where IT teams must ensure their chosen communications solutions work across the broadest level of school-provided and BYOD devices possible.

Space configuration and optimization: As any instructor will tell you, every classroom is different. This can make it increasingly difficult to find an all-in-one fix for all virtual and blended learning needs. For example, the drone of an HVAC system may complicate needs in one room, while unique size and construction (i.e. annex rooms) may make achieving appropriate sound quality difficult in another.

An adequately equipped videoconferencing solution immediately makes these challenges easier to bear. For example, Bose Professional ceiling audio solutions vastly reduce the number of devices educators must interface with, come preset with reference configurations to make initial setup easier, and give IT teams the flexibility to use multiple popular communications platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams. Just as importantly, they make quality education accessible to any student with a school-provided tablet or laptop, while allowing educators to work within the digital environments they're familiar with.

The Virtual Classroom Needs Videoconferencing

The global pandemic pushed the education industry harder than any other group. The change speaks to the importance of educators and the basic need to give students something to do during the day, and schools have done an admirable job of evolving under pressure. Now, it's time to grow the experience students at all levels need to make the most of the new world of education. And for that, there's no better way than a quality videoconferencing solution — one that integrates with a school's preferred platform while greatly improving overall quality of education.