Close by, from a distance?

A student wearing a VR-headset.

"A good connection with the place of learning is vital for students’ motivation for learning, for social development, for social forms of learning and therefore also for student performance," professor Wilfried Admiraal states.

Since the school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic, online education has become commonplace in all sectors of education, oftentimes combined with teaching on location.

While we can hope that extended periods of school closures are over, online education will continue to be a part of our education, from primary to higher education. – Wilfried Admiraal, professor at the Centre for the Study of Professions

What is the situation now, and what should be done?

Admiraal and colleagues have done the research.

"Technology in itself is not panacea for all our challenges as a teacher. Yet thinking about what you aim at and what you expect from your learners is," Admiraal says.

"And technology can help," he continues, "Sometimes with an additional tool like Feedback Fruits, Socrative or Kahoot, sometimes with the technology you are already using like the discussion board of Canvas."

Hybrid virtual classrooms are challenging

Hybrid virtual classrooms refer to teaching and learning with the teacher and some students face to face and some students online, at the same time.

This form of teaching poses challenges for both teachers and students, although it has enabled teaching to continue during the pandemic.

Challenges for the teacher include how to support interaction between students and teachers, both within the group of face-to-face students and online students and across both groups. – Wilfried Admiraal

"It seems that hybrid virtual classrooms require more preparation from both student and teacher side, preparing tasks and assignments and structuring real-time teaching."

Virtual reality in education

"Virtual reality in higher education is mostly used to learn particular skills, such as presentation skills, noticing as a teacher, or other diagnostic skills for nursing or medicines," Admiraal says. 

"Research makes clear that virtual reality with head-mounted displays works better than just watching a 360 degree video on a screen, as it supports the immersive experience of being part of the particular event on video."

"Research however also shows that additional reflection by the learners is necessary to make them aware of what they are learning, why this is important to learn and what could be alternatives," the professor adds.

"In other words, reflection is needed to 'frame' the immersive experience of virtual reality. This kind of reflection can be done in small groups or individually, and on paper or in conversations."

Interaction as a buffer against low achievements

"Discussion fora are part of almost any Learning Management System and provide the opportunities to work – mostly asynchronously – with small group work, discussion threads and spontaneous responses to either prepare classes or reflect on it," Admiraal explains.

Studies on online communication between students show that being cognitively engaged, for example by working a particular assignment, is the best predictor of both being engaged with the course and of positive achievements, according to Admiraal.

"In addition, social engagement through communication and working with each other also positively influences achievement, especially low-achieving students and the ones who are not that cognitively engaged."

Games and gamification

"I will argue, based on research findings, that games are mostly used as add-on, something additional at the end or the beginning of the course or a lesson."

"In secondary education," Admiraal continues, "it is mostly applied as a particular project covering a week or at least one project day."

"This time-consuming effort of using games, and the fact that most good-quality games are quite expensive to design, lead to the use of some game elements or principles and the integration of them in your regular teaching."

"Examples are:

"These are all effective working mechanism when included in one’s teaching, effective for both achievements and satisfaction or engagement of students," Admiraal explains.

However, as with many other applications, additional reflection and providing feedback is necessary to have sustainable effects on what students learn. – Wilfried Admiraal


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Published: 22/09/2022
Last updated: 05/10/2022
Text: Nina Alnes Haslie
Photo: Maxim Hopman, Unsplash