School has rules, and home has different rules. But when boundaries fade, confusion sets in. Students turn up in tank tops, fiddle with their phones, or look up funny backgrounds on the internet instead of paying attention. Teaching can turn into a tiring task, trying to bring some structure in a space where every attendant has quick access to distractions and online discussions quickly get out of control. How can you make school a more tangible concept for the students at home? Setting up Virtual Classroom rules is an important first step. School’s in session … even when you’re attending from home!
Why Rules Are Important in a Virtual Classroom Setting
Students understand and know the rules when they’re on school premises. But the transition to full-time online learning or blended learning -as a temporary solution or as a new learning method- can be confusing. It’s new, students feel out of place, and a new routine needs to be adopted. In this situation, it’s essential to set expectations from the get-go and repeat them often. The students need this, and so does the teacher.
Is it because of the physical distance or due to the lack of visibility? The debate is ongoing, but for some reason, online discussions tend to go south rather quickly. But classrooms should be a safe space to express thoughts and ideas and debate them to the intellectual benefit of all participants, without hostility, discrimination, or profanity. It is the teacher’s role to mediate and set rules and expectations from the start. A good idea would be to include the rules in the students’ syllabus or as a download. That’s why we included a free infographic “10 Virtual Classroom Rules” for you to download and use at will.
Rules are important in a virtual classroom setting. They help minimize distractions and use the class time efficiently so students can learn in a pleasant and nurturing environment. To establish this, teachers can do the following:
Create a favorable virtual classroom atmosphere
Kim from The Learning Hypothesis hits the nail on the head. She recommends teachers “focus on creating a community in your classroom so that the students will want to follow the rules”.
Create a lesson routine
Predictable and structured lessons make online classes more productive. Routine typically fosters a calmer environment. The students know what’s coming, enabling them to fully focus on the learning material.
Use Virtual Classroom tools to maintain a productive lesson
Virtual Classroom platforms offer tools that can help maintain a productive lesson. Breakout rooms separate students and create smaller group discussions and collaborations. The virtual hand raise feature ensures every student gets attention without interrupting the lesson. Collaborative whiteboards focus everyone’s attention on the issue at hand in an engaging way.
Hold office hours
Make sure to allocate time slots to connect with your students individually and see who needs remediation. The nature of virtual classrooms can make some students feel isolated and left behind. Personal 101 time will help you pick up on these issues and solve them. Students will feel seen and supported, which will increase motivation and participation in class.
Regularly remind the students about the rules and expectations
Remind the students at the beginning of each class or ad hoc that the virtual classroom is an official study environment. It is an integral part of the school ecosystem. Take attendance once or twice per day. Let the students know their grades will be partially based on participation and proper grammar, spelling, and speech during virtual class time.
Save the image below illustrating 10 Virtual Classroom Rules to your computer, and share it with your students. You can include it in your syllabi or display it at the beginning of the class.
Let’s address each rule with a bit of explanation. The best thing about these classroom rules is that they are common sense:
10 Virtual Classroom Rules
Create a quiet and comfortable study space
You are about to work, collaborate, and learn. Your environment should be set up for that. Find a location that is free from any distraction by other family members, pets, background noises, or cell phones.
Be dressed for school
Since the virtual classroom is part of the school environment, the same dress code applies. Items such as tank tops, revealing clothing, or shirts with offensive print are inappropriate for class.
Be on time
Classes are relatively short and there’s generally a lot of material to be covered. Starting on time not only shows respect for your classmates and the teacher, but it also frees up more time to ask questions or linger a little longer on more complicated subjects. To make sure the class can start on time, log in a few minutes before the class begins. If you have issues logging in, that will leave you a bit of time to contact the teacher right away and solve your connection issues.
Just like in brick-and-mortar classroom settings, you should come to class with the syllabi and writing material you’ll need to fully participate in the lesson. Of course, any assignment that was scheduled for that lesson should be completed as well.
Mute your microphone and turn your camera on
Virtual classrooms can get noisy really quickly. Mute your microphone to keep the audio channel free of clutter and available to the speaker. Communication is also visual. Keep your camera turned on so your classmates and the teacher can read your visual cues. If needed, you can encourage each other with appropriate response emojis. Avoid distracting backgrounds.
Do not drink or eat during class
In general, you shouldn’t engage in activities that don’t contribute to the lesson. Eating and drinking is an obvious example here.
Class participation is mandatory. It will count towards your grade. Participation will ensure that the focus of the class is on the lesson and will help keep things organized and engaged. To be able to participate, you need to pay attention and listen so that you can respond appropriately when it’s your turn to speak.
Don’t play with your computer or other devices
As mentioned before, you shouldn’t engage in activities that don’t contribute to the lesson. It’s hard to work on a device that offers you a world of distraction and entertainment. But your computer should be entirely dedicated to the lesson at hand. You can’t properly participate in class and check your social feed at the same time.
Use the ‘raise hand’ function when you want to speak. Listen to your teacher and classmates and only use the chat function when the teacher asks you to do so or if there is an issue with your connection. Refrain from using strong language or making offensive comments. Class environments are populated with people from all walks of life. Judgment won’t enrich you, but you’ll learn a lot from listening to others and trying to understand them.
Have fun and be creative
If everyone follows the rules and contributes to the shared objective of all class members, virtual classrooms can be a fun and efficient way to learn. Make sure to approach it that way and be creative with the added possibilities that virtual classrooms and eLearning offer you.
We wish all teachers an efficient and productive virtual classroom, to the benefit of all its participants. These rules are a step in the right direction.
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IWeb TEFL Team