In the midst of this pandemic, schools have been forced to shift lessons online. Without the physical facilities in schools, how can we still ensure our students are receiving the best quality education? What is the best way of ensuring your students are still learning during this pandemic? This is where virtual classrooms come in.
Here, we have curated for you a list of live virtual classrooms that you can utilise to engage your students. What’s more? They’re all free! Using free software ensures that your students can access these helpful resources. Read on to find out more about your options for creating the most suitable live virtual classroom.
Left: User annotating on Zoom’s screen share using a tablet. Photo by Zoom.
Right: Demonstration of Zoom’s online whiteboard. Gif created by the writer with imgPlay.
As many began turning to online alternatives for meetings or for lessons, Zoom is an option that had a meteoric rise to fame, and it is not without reason. Zoom has many features that are critical for teachers. For instance, besides being able to house up to 100 participants, teachers can use zoom’s functions such as breakout rooms, polling, and hands up functions to make classes exciting. However, being designed with mainly video-conferencing in mind, Zoom may not be the best live virtual classroom. For one, key classroom features such as whiteboards only have the most basic functions, and the free version of Zoom also has a 40 minutes time-limit for each video-conferencing session. This limit is much tighter, relative to other similar platforms. To conduct live, virtual lessons for more than 40 minutes, you will need to purchase a paid Zoom plan, which may only make your virtual classroom less accessible to your students. Furthermore, there are also security concerns. There have been cases of “zoom bombers” who disrupt class through exposing students to obscene images, where teachers are unable to stop these “bombers” since Zoom does not have such functions available. While Zoom has been trying to fix these problems, many schools have since banned the usage of Zoom.
Another option is Vedamo. Vedamo is a platform for teachers to conduct virtual classes either via video conferencing or just by recording and sharing educational videos. Vedamo is equipped with basic virtual classroom features such as whiteboard and chat boxes, helping to make lessons more engaging, and also allow teachers to check in on their students real-time. Additionally, Vedamo is also compatible with other third-party virtual classroom software, allowing teachers to use any combination of online resources to provide their students with the best virtual classroom experience. However, Vedamo is only available for free for a 30-day trial period. To continue using Vedamo after the trial period, you will have to get a paid version, which means quality virtual classes might be less accessible for you and your students.
3. Newrow Smart
Newrow Smart is a platform that allows you to have your virtual classroom on our web browser. This means that no prior installations or downloads are necessary to start lessons. One interesting feature of Newrow Smart is that it allows teachers to create live quizzes to test their students’ understanding of class contents in real time. This provides timely feedback for both teachers and students, which can be useful for clarifying doubts as early as possible. However, one limitation is that the free version only allows teachers to organise classes with up to 5 participants, making Newrow Smart a more suitable option for small group discussions and consultations. For larger groups, a paid plan will be required, and details can be found here.
WizIQ is a platform for live, virtual classrooms that can be used without prior installations or downloads. This makes WizIQ accessible for both you and your students. It provides teachers with most basic functions such as video-conferencing, interactive whiteboards, as well as the ability to set up polls and surveys. These features are useful additions to ensure your online lessons remain engaging for your students, and can provide you with timely feedback to adapt your classes to your students’ needs.
While it might look mundane, for those teaching coding languages, WiqIQ may be a suitable option given that it has a collaborative code editor. This unique feature allows students to work together and hone their coding skills in real time. This collaborative aspect can also help students pick up valuable life-skills such as team work.
One key limitation is that WizIQ is only available for free for a 14-day trial. In order to continue using this live, virtual classroom, a paid plan will be required.
Screenshot of HeyHi’s online whiteboard
HeyHi’s online whiteboard is a one-of-a-kind online teaching tool that can both function as an independent platform or as a complementary service to your video conferencing app. Specially designed with educators and students in mind, HeyHi is an application through which teachers can host virtual classes with a shareable whiteboard as its dominant feature. HeyHi is free to download and users on the free subscription plan can set up a virtual classroom for up to four participants, making this the ideal app for facilitating in-depth discussions and small group consultations. You can invite up to 100 participants for webinars.
HeyHi’s online whiteboard is a unique live, virtual classroom that can be used independently or alongside other virtual classroom tools. Intended for educators and students alike, HeyHi is a platform through which teachers can set up virtual classrooms for online classes, with a shareable whiteboard as its dominant feature. “Why a whiteboard?”, you may ask. Moving classes online does not mean teachers can no longer use the traditional tools that have worked best for many students. Whiteboards have been and will stay a quintessential feature of any classroom, physical or virtual, because having a space to pen down and visualise thoughts and ideas have been proven to be one of the best practices for teaching and learning by improving knowledge retention. HeyHi Whiteboard can allow you and your students to reap these benefits even in a virtual classroom, and even with increased efficiency. For one, unlike traditional whiteboards, HeyHi’s whiteboard is expandable. Teachers can simply enlarge the whiteboard by swiping to shift to another section or the board, or by zooming out. You can also create new whiteboard pages without affecting the current pages worth of work. What’s not to like about endless space for note-taking? In addition, HeyHi also allows students to download all content written on the whiteboards for easy revision.
User shifts to another section of HeyHi’s online whiteboard to continue writing. Gif created on imgPlay
HeyHi is also differentiated from other products by its unique user interface that is specially built to improve students’ focus on class contents. Upon entering the virtual classroom on HeyHi, students will immediately see a gridded whiteboard that fills up the entire screen with the faces of their teachers and classmates only on the right margin of the screen. This intentional placement ensures that the video images of other participants draw less attention, which allows the student to invest their full attention into the class content being displayed on the whiteboard. HeyHi’s virtual classroom provides students with a conducive learning environment with all possible distractions minimised.
HeyHi’s online whiteboard. Photo by HeyHi.
Beyond the conducive learning environment, HeyHi’s whiteboard also provides a space for the students to exercise their collaborative spirit through the completion of group activities with their peers. Students can join forces and double check their understanding of course content, and gain the invaluable skill of teamwork in the process. HeyHi also helps foster students’ creativity through the drawing of mind maps. Mind mapping is a timeless strategy that has been proven to reliably enhance students’ learning by drawing connections between concepts, and HeyHi helps to maintain such learning even in a virtual classroom.
Beyond the learning experience, HeyHi also provides for a quality teaching experience by lightening the educators’ workload. HeyHi automates administrative matters such as the booking and scheduling of consultation timings through its in-built calendaring system. This helps teachers to effortlessly care for every students’ needs, on top of delivering quality course content. HeyHi also takes care of the smallest of administrative matters, such as attendance taking. With all the time saved, teachers can now have more for their students.
Left: Student books an online consult with the teacher. Gif created by the writer on imgPlay.
Right: Screenshot of HeyHi’s attendance taking tool
With so much going on in each day, teachers reasonably find it challenging to keep track of all that is said. Fortunately, a virtual classroom provides teachers with the luxury of recording their classes for future use. The advantages of recording these online lessons include allowing absent students to catch up on class material with having to set aside extra time for make-up lessons. Even though whiteboard recording is not available for HeyHi just yet, this can be easily overcome by recording your sessions with tools such as Loom, Panopto, and Quicktime (click here for an in-depth guide on how to create an online whiteboard recording or a useful list of six free software for recording video lectures). Remember, HeyHi can be used independently and also alongside other online teaching tools, which means you can customise your virtual classroom to your needs.
Loom’s screen recording interface. Photo by Loom.
Beyond being an effective virtual classroom, HeyHi whiteboard is also a safe learning environment. Developers at HeyHi do not take security for granted, and hence, it is compulsory for all online lessons to be accessible only by a Meeting ID and access code. There are also regular reminders not to reuse existing sessions that, while troublesome, helps ensure the safety and security of all users. Safety and security of users are of utmost priority, and HeyHi’s layered protection is not only reassuring but also necessary. Parents need not worry about their children being affected by hackers with malicious intent.
In the future, even as we exit this pandemic and our virtual classrooms, HeyHi is still extremely useful. HeyHi’s versatility means it can double as a tool to produce educational videos which can be used in conjunction with physical lessons. On HeyHi’s online whiteboard, teachers can write and illustrate their ideas to create pre-recorded videos of lesson contents which can then be easily played back to aid your students’ revisions at home. In both virtual and physical classrooms, HeyHi’s got your back.
With all that said, the most critical feature of HeyHi is its accessibility. Since HeyHi’s online whiteboard is accessible in browsers, you do not need any additional downloads or installation to start creating your virtual classroom. HeyHi’s application is also free for download in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. You can refer to HeyHi’s pricing page for more information on the different subscription tiers.
If you’re an educator looking for a way to recreate your physical classroom virtually, we hope that this curated list has provided you with some helpful starting points. Amongst all these, HeyHi is an attractive one-stop solution that can help you create a live, virtual classroom that is best for your students, and at no cost!