The global lockdown has caused major interruptions in students' learning and education, disruptions in internal assessments, and even cancellation of examinations. In these testing times, the whole world has realizedthe true power of collaborative software. It has helped us stay connected during the times when normal office work and school teaching have become impossible. Despite the heavy utilization of learning management platforms, the global educational system hasn’t been ready to go fully online. The infrastructure and processes are there, but most of the existing solutions don’t include features that are capable of catering to the unique needs of the educational system and can help in conducting actual classes effectively.
Regular video conferencing applications like WebEx or Zoom don’t fit the requirements of the learning process. At first glance, they have everything that might be needed like screen sharing and the chat. But in practice, it quickly becomes obvious that such solutions don’t provide enough interactivity and control to organize effective classes online. Many instances of hacking of Zoom meetings were reported with many of them showing abuse footages.
When you hear “Virtual Classroom Software” – schools and universities are the first things that may come to your mind. However, enterprises are the most active adopters of such applications and they’re doing that on a way bigger scale than educational institutions. Enterprises require constant training and performance evaluations of their employees. Virtual classrooms can increase the value of online learning by addressing the students' needs or provide you with a platform for corporate training. Virtual classroom software is capable of not only covering all the necessary functionality but also bringing some extras to the table. It offers flexibility,simplicity, and convenience over the traditional classroom.
" Necessity is the mother of Invention and the outbreak of COVID-19 has also paved opportunities for the growth of the online learning segment."
Virtual classroom software development requires knowledge and experience in various business and technology domains. Online Learning applications are a combination of video streaming, collaborative tools, live quizzers, remote examinations, and many other features. Here, we will discuss on developing virtual classroom software and its must-have features. We will be focusing majorly on virtual classroom software for schools and universities, but this will also be useful is developing software for corporate training. Every enterprise will demand unique features to suit its requirement. So you will have to customize the software based on the needs of the entity. Let’s explore the features that are a must-have to seamlessly transfer the learning to online :
1. Portable and Cross-Platform
The software must be easily accessible. This means a variety of supported devices, platforms, and even the ability to work in the networks with limited bandwidth. The cloud platform is the best technology foundation for virtual classroom software development. It can be scalable, easy to customize, modular, and supports all screens. Students will be able to use it on desktops, laptops, tablets, and their phones. Modern web applications architecture can easily support high-load platforms with such advanced features like screen sharing or video conferencing. Naturally, it can be built as native desktop software, but this is not really necessary considering how functional web frameworks like React, Angular, or Vue.js are. Also, targeting some specific platforms puts excessive constraints from the business standpoint because developing and supporting four versions for Mac, PC, Android, iOS, and Web will be extremely complicated and expensive.
A web-based solution will be a good idea for MVP development. It can be launched on any device that has a web browser. Some of the features, like an interactive whiteboard, may not be available on the smartphones from the very beginning. However, it can provide a limited set of tools that will be quite enough for the initial launch. For example, on mobile, it can give access to the learning materials, recording of the classes, and live quiz. This will make the learning process much more convenient which will turn into a higher engagement rate. Once the product will gain sufficient user-base it can be enhanced with native mobile applications.
2. LMS is the Core of Virtual Classroom Software
The Learning Management System (LMS) concept has emerged directly from e-Learning. LMS helps in administration, documentation, tracking, reporting, automation, and delivery of educational courses, training programs, or learning and development programs. If you’re planning to develop virtual classroom software it needs to include either LMS components in it (native LMS module development) or APIs or through integration with the most popular LMS solutions on the market. A few open-source platforms are Moodle, Schoology, Instructure, and Adobe Captivate.
In the case of native LMS module development, understand the needs of 2 categories of users. The first category includes teachers and students who are the most active participants. The second includes school or university administration, parents, educational system officials who are managing the schooling but never take part directly. These 2 categories of users need to have their own portal for everyday routine activities with the feature set tailored specifically for their role. The software should be aimed at providing both categories with the tools and optimizations aimed at making their work as effective as possible.
An effective learning process is impossible without grades and a key feature of any LMS is the evaluation of results and performance. For centuries, assessment has helped teachers to track the progress of the students, incentivize positive outcomes,and alter the learning program if the pupil is underperforming. Automation of the evaluation process, keeping records of each student organized, and tracking learning dynamics are among the most important tasks of any LMS.
Having both the LMS module and the ability to connect with the other third-party applications via APIs or full synchronization will be a nice extra add-on in the eyes of potential users. But note that, every extra feature will have an impact on the project’s budget.
3. Virtual Classroom - Central Hub
The virtual classroom is a central hub that combines all the controls and features in one place. It should include video and audio conferencing, a list of students that are present in the class, live quiz, interactive whiteboard, screen sharing, instant communication tools and all the controls for teachers and students, and many others.
4. High Quality Video & Audio with Interactive Features
According to Capterra’s research, simple video conferencing is the most demanded feature by users of online learning. High-quality audio and video solutions form the basis of any virtual learning. The teacher should also see the learners in real-time, which makes the class dynamic and interactive. It’s also necessary to differentiate the virtual classroom software from any other video-conferencing application by adding a ton of interactive features. It’s no secret that active learning provides better recall and value than passive learning. The teacher needs to stay incharge of the class and should have all the tools to engage students. Teachers can control the class by special permissions like mute certain participants, or disable the video to block distractions.
The software should provide the tools to engage students, features that prompt them to ask questions, take quizzes, or participate in discussions. Simple additions like “raise a hand” button for students or “turn-taking” and “praise-a-student” buttons for teachers could arrange the lessons in order. Raise-a-hand tool can allow students to draw the teacher's attention if they want to request clarification. The software can include a “break out” feature,which allows the teacher to break a large class into smaller groups (e.g. 50 people into 10-people groups) to assign tasks in the break out rooms. This is a way to increase collaboration between students and foster teamwork.
5. Instant Communication Tools
This feature enables interaction with teachers and students in real-time. Instant communication tools allow the teacher to promptly respond to any questions and concerns raised by the students. This is crucial because students may not be eager to ask a question later after the lecture, which is a missed teaching opportunity. Also, the students should have the ability to save chat transcripts in their computer as an HTML file, hence preserving entire chat communications in a live session for their future reference.
These tools shouldn’t be limited to instant text messages, but could also include file sharing, scheduling calendars, and anything else that could facilitate interaction. Files can be uploaded in advance to the content library so that teachers can share it with the students any time during a live session.
6. Collaborative Whiteboard
Creating digital collaborative whiteboard produces some impressive results in collaboration, group activities, and brainstorming. It is a shared feature where both teachers and students can type, draw, delete, and blank the whiteboard. It enables realistic whiteboard experience, encourages collaboration, and visualizes the discussing ideas. In order to avoid any compatibility issues, this feature has to be available on any device as well as on the web and syncing in real-time. Collaborative whiteboard should support rich markup & annotation tools. Pointers & Checkers can be used to divert the student’s attention. Find a rich clip-art library along with numerous math symbols that are of good use.
7. Screen Sharing
It is an essential part of virtual classroom software development. However, simple screen sharing is not enough for an effective learning process and the convenience of all as there is no guarantee that students would be able to download necessary files every time and follow along at the right place. Advanced features are must-have for every virtual classroom software development project. Screen sharing should work like in Zoom where the teacher can choose the specific application windows that will be demonstrated or choose a portion of the screen to be shared. There can be a collaborative coding feature wherein the teacher can access and remotely control students’ screens, to correct their coding mistakes.
8. Testing Features
Testing is an important aspect of learning. It could be hard to test the students if virtual class software does not provide testing options. Live quizzes are a perfect way to track how well a student retains information from the online course. With the constant knowledge check, teachers will be able to support weak students and encourage slow learners. The development team has to present quick and easy ways to create and share quiz forms covering their variety like multiple-choice, true/false, matching, sequence, drag and drop, surveys, polls, or essays. Also, a module that can help teachers with homework management and evaluate assignments can be quite beneficial. The software should also include the ability to set up timed tests that time out automatically, an auto-grading system, and instant feedback to the learner with the results. This feature should be integrated with LMS to keep track of student progress and provide result reports for teachers, school authorities, students, and parents. It can also help in tracking the results and effectiveness of teaching approaches.
9. Recommendation System and References
A Recommendation System can be built allowing the software to predict the learners’ needs based on their performances and preferences. There is a better chance of engaging students in the learning process by offering them relevant reference materials like links, notes, and appendices. With these aids, students will be more eager to make use of them. Many learners don’t have the time to search for further info about the subject at hand.
10. Learning Content Creation & Management
Teachers should have access to in-built templates for creating learning content and it should be easily shareable with other teachers as well. All teachers should have their personal storage folder that will help them to save all learning resources in one place. Considering compliance regulations, all the files have to be encrypted, secure, and available to authorized users.
11. Storage and Recordings
For pre-recorded online courses, the software should be able to store all data like video lectures, notes, assignments, and calendars. Students should be able to download the learning materials for self-paced learning and revision. Live lectures should be recorded and then made available online. Firstly, it supports tracking of teachers’ performance, course attendance, students’ participation, etc. Secondly, it ensures accessibility and maximizes learning opportunities. If the student can’t attend the lesson due to illness or emergency, the student can access such records on demand. In other situations, students have to fully focus on the presentation and don’t have time to make individual notes. The students can have a rewind option to review something they missed. The software should be integrated with speech recognition applications for automatic captioning of recorded lectures. Subtitles in recorded lectures can support differently-abled students, and also avoid confusion among students.
12. Calendar and Email Integrations
These integrations help to arrange class schedules, set session date and time, inform the participants, and send automatic reminders via email. It greatly supports managing and time planning as in the case of international courses. Any type ofintegration would support an additional layer of user convenience and extra learning value.
13. Payment Systems Integration
This will allow easy processing of the payments for courses. A popular online payment system like PayPal can be integrated into the software to facilitate selling live courses, lectures, and training to get higher revenues quickly.
A. Back-end Technologies
Java EE, Node.js, PHP, and .NET are all good options for the server-side of such an application. All of them have their own advantages and disadvantages. Scalability, security, stability, and support of a high number of simultaneous users with the video and audio connection are the main selection criteria. All of the mentioned technologies and even Java EE with small caveats are open-source and anybody can use them in the project. All of them will be an equally good fit for virtual classroom software development from a technical standpoint. So it makes sense to have a deeper look at them from the business perspective.
Java and PHP, for instance, are very different in terms of how expensive they’re to use, maintain, how hard it is to hire developers, etc. In the list, we can highlight two types of technologies: enterprise and community-driven. Java EE and .NET have been widely used for enterprise projects for the past 10 years. PHP and Node.js historically are not in such high demand by the corporate and government sectors. However, Node.js is used by Netflix and PayPal as the main back-end technology for quite some time. Moreover, those languages are very popular among web developers right now so the offer can exceed the demand. Shorter hiring time and slightly lower wages will be some of the advantages that you may get out of the current job market situation.
B. Front-end Technologies
Fortunately, it is much easier to choose the technology for the virtual classroom software UI development. React, Angular, and Vue.js have featured great options to implement simple, functional, and interactive frontend. These JS frameworks are chosen for high usability, simplicity of integration, good performance, and productivity. They have gained considerable popularity and straightened their positions due to distinct advantages. Developing virtual classroom solutions, you need to remember that it isn’t just a web-conferencing tool. Even though video communication is the core functionality, it has to oversee certain functionality that differentiates the learning solutions. Great performance and instant updates should be adopted on all types of devices and enable access for users even with limited bandwidth.
For example, React is on high demand and often applied along with Node.js development. It helps to optimize performance, deliver fast updates, and increase development efficiency. Netflix and Instagram are among companies that use React for the interface of their applications. As for simplicity and flexibility, Vue.js is a good solution that is mostly adopted with PHP and Node.js backend. Developers are attracted by the logical structure, simple integration, and performance time. It is often chosen for small and medium-size projects. Angular is suitable for the big-scope applications where it is required to reduce the load of testing and work overlapping. Due to component-based architecture, the team members work on the single parts and later can reuse them. Angular is popular among PHP, Java, and .NET developers and adopted by such companies as Microsoft, PayPal, AT&T.
C. Video Communication Solutions
It is impossible to implement advanced virtual classroom software without video communication. That is a solid foundation that enables effective and real-time interaction between involved parties. Take into account that the number of call participants varies greatly depending on level of education. A school teacher would address to 30 students while a university professor would be lecturing to 100+ students. In both cases, communication solutions have to maintain a high quality of video streaming for all the users even within the minimum Internet speed. From a technical standpoint, the development team has to support such generic functionality as quality video and voice solutions, data exchange, collaborative whiteboard, etc. Some of the recommended solutions are :
WebRTC is a well-established technology for web real-time communications. It allows developers to build both basic web apps and powerful communication solutions where users can stream live videos through web browsers. This technology is available on every browser as well as has the library for iOS and Android app development. WebRTC provides APIs for accessing devices’ microphones and cameras, opening connections, and starting streaming. Users don’t need to download local clients like with Zoom or Skype and can join the class right away using their browsers. WebRTC is an open-source project and strongly supported by Google, Apple, Microsoft, and others.
It is necessary to consider preventative measures to avoid technical issues like poor internet connection, video quality losses, etc. For instance, Multimedia routing is rather efficient for video transactions as it renders video directly from the teachers’ devices to students’ ones. In order to avoid quality loss and set proper adjustments, you could use multi-bitrate encoding. It enables access even with limited bandwidth as long as it saves Internet traffic. The video communication solutions could be different but all of them have to meet users’ needs, facilitate the learning process, and enable efficient interactions. At the same time, it is rather important to differentiate user roles and provide extra functionalities for teachers. Even though it is a virtual classroom, they still remain in charge of the class. Turning off the student’s microphone when it’s noisy, adding/ disconnecting/ deleting call participants, the separate chats to comment on each student’s progress would help to maximize the learning experience within the virtual classroom.
Conclusion - The educational system is open to new learning approaches and wide adoption of technology. In particular, virtual classroom software supports adaptability and flexibility to conduct actual lessons for anyone, anywhere, and anytime. We can definitely say that integrating technologies into the learning environment is inevitable and rather beneficial.
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