Teaching in a classroom setting may be on its way to becoming a method of the past, but it is still a training tool needed for the future, especially as a means of learning how to lead, instruct and engage students in any type of classroom setting.
Reality and the Virtual Classroom
The virtual classroom cannot replace the traditional classroom because it is by its very essence or nature not completely 'real.' Teaching on the Internet is teaching in virtual reality, but not in reality. Does that mean that any type of education given or received on the Internet is not real? Absolutely not. The teachers are real. The students are real. The material is real. The atmosphere, however, is not real, and that is why virtual teaching cannot replace classroom teaching.
Virtual Classroom vs. Real-Life Classroom
The classroom is the real, tangible, touchable place to teach and to learn. It is the place where teachers engage students, encourage participation from the entire class and expand on the thoughts and ideas raised by students. These interactions cannot be duplicated in a virtual classroom.
Teacher-to-student interactions, along with student-to-teacher and student-to-student interactions, are all part of the learning experience. Spontaneous and random interactions via questions or stated opinions are necessary in presenting a full scope of the subject being taught. In the virtual classroom, the teacher is usually able to interact with only one student at a time and it is from behind a computer screen. Raising questions and listening to other students' opinions typically takes place through group message boards, as opposed to real-time, face-to-face communication.
Teachers are not taught simply to pass on facts and figures to their students and then check out for the day. The skills of a teacher go beyond the material to also encompass their ability to lead students, filter through material when it isn't well received by a class, change up material if needed and even handle random questions that may create the need to explore a thought more carefully. Teachers are meant to lead in a real-life classroom setting where face-to-face interactions with students set the dynamic for the design and implementation of the day's lessons and materials. Classroom teaching is where it all started, and it continues to be the place where teachers develop their styles of instructing.
The virtual classroom tries to overcome the lack of teacher-to-student interaction through the implementation of live lecturing, video chatting and messaging with multiple students. However, the efforts to create a classroom environment simply cannot compete with the real thing. Virtual teachers often train in a classroom setting in order to handle interaction with other students through the virtual classroom. Taking away classroom teaching would end classroom training, leaving even virtual teachers at a loss for the tools needed to handle the increase in online teacher-to-student interactions.
In a virtual classroom, the teacher is often referred to as the course instructor or moderator, someone who simply monitors the activity of an online classroom to ensure that students log in and complete assignments on time. Assignments are graded and feedback is given via e-mails, messages and occasional video chats. There are no personal one-to-one meetings, discussions concerning materials or interactions with the teacher as there are in a regular classroom setting.
How many times have you heard or said to yourself that receiving an e-mail or a text message isn't the same as speaking with someone in person? And why would you say that? Because e-mails and texts are simply words on a screen; they often display no emotion and reveal little about the author. Does the lack of emotion and contact really matter to students? Apparently it does.
Studies have shown that many students are discouraged over the lack of engagement with a teacher in the virtual classroom. A study conducted by Kent State University found that students with virtual teachers expressed 'a lack of engagement and feelings of isolation and estrangement'.
Any teacher who has taught in a real life classroom setting knows that students can change the way a day's lesson goes. A student can ask a question related to the subject matter that creates the need to pause for a moment and explore an entirely different topic. In the same way, students can play off of one another. For instance, perhaps the teacher asks a question and the answer given by a student leads to an additional answer or question from another student. Before long, the teacher has guided the students' thoughts and questions into a deeper study of the subject matter, helping them gain more insight; however, that's not likely to happen in the virtual classroom.
For example, students who take a course in English online and students who take the same course on campus do not learn the same things or have the same experiences. The online course is more straightforward. Students check in, read or watch the lesson, do the assignment, submit it and await a grade. They then move on to the next session.
Students in the traditional classroom, however, have the opportunity to ask questions, explore topics, socialize and share helpful hints for the next writing assignment. The teacher is able to monitor or jump into discussions as needed and lead or direct the learning experience. In a virtual classroom, interaction is rare, and when there is, the teacher monitors it and may or may not comment before giving the next assignment and moving on.
The Environment Makes the Classroom
A real classroom environment with students and teachers interacting with one another is the only environment where teachers can receive the full training and instruction they need to be the best at what they do. Whether the individual wants to be a virtual or a classroom teacher, the foundation for this career will always be set in the real classroom environment. It is a necessity for learning to lead, guide, instruct, connect and grow as a teacher. The environment makes the classroom, which is why virtual teaching will never fully replace classroom teaching.