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The Virtual Classroom and Its Metacognitive Benefits

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By Keith Lockwood

Student-centered instruction is the apex of the teaching and learning model. There are many different paths the teacher can take to reach this methodological goal. When one examines the triangulated nature of student, teacher, and curriculum, the challenge set forth before them is to achieve a harmonious balance that has an end result of student learning /mastery. Authentic teaching and learning can only be accomplished through a developmentally sound approach geared towards student achievement as its core feature. By the virtual classroom's very nature, individualized teaching is the net effect and maximizes differentiation for every student with whom the teacher has contact. An exploration of the virtual classroom, and the metacognitive benefits therein, combined with the teacher and student exchange may reveal the advantages of the virtual classroom.

Robust high bandwidth, low cost, Internet service provision has sparked an innovative approach to providing instruction to students through the virtual classroom (VC). Utilizing today's basic computer configurations, many people are familiar with, or have some experience with, video conferencing software. This has led to numerous technology companies producing software that combines video conferencing technology with document software to create a unique presentation platform for teachers, students, and curriculum. Some of the more noteworthy software is Adobe Connect, Blackboard, and Moodle. Like this, teachers can prepare and produce visual presentations of curriculum combined with a direct visual interface between the teacher and individual students on their specific workstations.

It is worth mentioning that this technology-based model of student intervention and teacher instruction is quite commonplace in Higher Education. By offering these options in the K-12 setting, students and teachers have opportunities to engage in digital environments and pupils have access to the best and brightest to maximize their learning potential. Traditional, brick-and-mortar settings are experiencing enormous challenges in securing the highly qualified pedagogue and pupils lack access to the highly effective professional educator necessary for academic success.

An interesting benefit to the VC instructional model is the opportunity to engage students in ownership of their learning, and the metacognitive advantages of learning in this environment are substantial. Typically, there are disparate interests in teaching students within what is viewed as the bell curve of performance. Many teachers are familiar with the institutional rub of students who range from the general education student to any student who is designated atypical in any sub-population category (i.e. special education, gifted and talented, bilingual or simply a cultural outlier). Consequently, creating learning opportunities for students with incredibly diverse needs through an accommodation and differentiation mental model is highly complex.

When students are enculturated in the constructivist virtual classroom from the onset of their learning, that all learning is self-learning, the teacher can co-op the student into actively engaging in their learning. This leads to scaffolding and differentiating instruction by stimulating student curiosity through a teacher/student transactional model. The virtual classroom, and the individual workstations facilitating student learning, aids in focusing the student on their unique instructional needs, by assisting teachers in identifying and constructing an individualized teaching model benefiting student achievement. Metacognition, simply put, is an awareness or understanding of one's thought processes. By engaging the student in the "focus room" of the virtual classroom students are supported in their metacognition to become more in tune with their learning needs through reflective and recursive learning techniques. When teachers support students in becoming lifelong learners who construct their knowledge when given the opportunity to do so, their metacognitive interests outweigh an instructional disequilibrium and move the student to Bloom's Synthesis in learning in the current permutation of his taxonomy. 

The virtual classroom is a valid and reliable teaching and learning construct. Students are afforded access to teachers from a broader and more diverse teacher sample than people simply recruited by local school districts in their local communities. The advantages outweigh any disadvantage given the nature of 21st-century economics and educational opportunities. If the goal for students is lifelong learning and critical/analytical citizens who can compete in the global economy and comprehend a global citizenry who acts morally and with a diverse understanding of varied cultures, the virtual classroom must be an essential component.

With the collaboration of teachers and school districts, the virtual classroom will be an all important anchor component of student learning. The success of Khan Academy and other online virtual classrooms speaks to the superior benefit of the technology and student achievement. The virtual classroom approach is extraordinarily powerful and is already utilized in some lesser or greater degree by many teachers. On balance teachers who support student success are willing to utilize "what works." If the virtual classroom is ushered in by the teacher and led by authentic teacher leaders, the dream of a great student-centered instructional model will become a permanent and import piece of the teacher, student, and curriculum mastery equation.

Keith S. Lockwood, Ph.D. is recognized as an expert in the field of special education and American Sign Language. Keith holds a Ph.D. from New York University in Special Education, Deaf Education, and Linguistics. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Lockwood has held leadership positions at the New Jersey Department of Education and the New York City Department of Education. He is now working with Proximity Learning Inc., to ensure teacher quality. 

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The opinions expressed in Education Futures: Emerging Trends in K-12 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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