Do you teach ESL students in a physical classroom? Now is a great time to make the move to a virtual classroom to teach English.
The online ESL market has grown rapidly and exponentially, as it evident from the sheer number of students learning English online, and the thousands of people who have become online ESL teachers, working for one or more online ESL companies. But there remains a significant number of professional ESL teachers who continue to teach in brick and mortar schools around the world, perhaps aware of the eventual and inevitable shift to online education, but unaware how to make the move for themselves and their students to the virtual classroom. Any ESL teacher has the potential to fully run and manage an online ESL teaching business from home. But it is the classroom teacher, ironically, who has the best opportunity of all.
Let’s take a moment to understand why:
- Your students already know and trust you
- You know your students, and their specific learning needs
- You already have course content, and you can gradually develop or purchase additional course content
- If you teach them at school, you can provide them additional lessons after school or on weekends
- If they like how you teach in the classroom as well as online, they will refer others in their circle of acquaintances to take lessons with you
It’s a true win-win situation, right? Unlike someone starting from zero, classroom based ESL teachers already have students and course content, and can get started with a lucrative business fairly quickly. Students can quickly make the switch, and enjoy ESL lessons from their homes.
What you need now is a way to connect and interact with your students virtually – a virtual classroom. Let’s take a closer look at what virtual classrooms are, and which of the many options are the best virtual classrooms for teaching English online today.
What is a Virtual Classroom?
Many people are familiar with Google Hangouts and Skype. These are by and large video messaging social apps, and they work great for this purpose. Indeed, many ESL teachers use these apps for teaching ESL online, and have done so successfully. However, they are not virtual classrooms, because they lack the advanced features a virtual classroom should have to enable a fun, interactive learning environment that is focused on accomplishing and measuring learning outcomes.
A large number of ESL teachers are also familiar with Zoom, and a great deal of online ESL companies have used Zoom to deliver online lessons. Zoom itself is primarily designed as a videoconferencing solution, but it does have features that can crossover to virtual learning, such as a virtual whiteboard, polling, and scheduling.
In this post, we are going to look at solutions specifically designed for teachers, and that is the difference between social apps, videoconferencing apps, and virtual classroom solutions – they each serve a specific purpose. As teachers, we are interested in solutions purposefully built for online learning.
As with the physical classroom, the virtual classroom should accomplish the specific needs of teachers and students, with features that foster learning. These include mechanisms for interactive engagement, testing, rewarding, gamification, and evaluation.
How do you choose a Virtual Classroom?
Clearly, there is no singular solution for every teacher, school or private academy. When choosing a virtual classroom solution, it’s important to think about the typical ESL student age group you are teaching, and what is the context of the learning that is taking place in the virtual classroom. If your primary goal is to create an awesome learning experience, then you will need to define what features and functionality you need to accomplish it.
Fortunately, we have drilled down what we think are the best virtual classrooms for teaching English online.
Best Virtual Classrooms for Teaching English Online
Here are our top picks, with explanations of what each solution offers.
Vedamo is a virtual classroom solution purpose-built for online tutoring. Because it runs completely inside your browser, there is nothing to download to join the classroom. Vedamo boasts the following collaborative features:
- Online whiteboard
- Breakout Rooms
- Media Player
- Session Templates
- LTI Integrations
Vedamo offers a 30-day free trial, after which pricing starts at $25/month. This is very reasonable for what you get, because Vedamo includes unlimited virtual classroom sessions, and unlimited learners per session, though there is a limit of 25 learners per session who can connect to video and audio. As an online ESL teacher, this is ideal, because your interactive classes will probably never exceed 10 students per session. The unlimited learners feature is also great for when you want to offer open classes or demo lessons for new enrollments.
Vedamo also integrates into Learning Management Systems (LMS) like Canvas, Google for Education, Moodle, and Schoology LMSs for a fully immersive online learning platform.
Of course, Vedamo’s virtual classroom can be completely white labelled, so your students will feel right at home in your own personalized classroom.
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Like Vedamo, LearnCube is a purpose-built virtual classroom packed with features you will enjoy for online ESL teaching. LearnCube is entirely browser-based, so there’s no software to download or install, which is great because your students have the option to join the lessons on a computer, tablet, or phone. Its features include:
- Interactive online whiteboard
- Interactive Audio and Video
- Messaging and Conversation Mode
- Private and Group Classes
- Classroom interaction features such as hand raising and virtual ticks
- File and Media Sharing
- Custom Branding
- Class Review
- Class Recordings
- Scheduling and Calendar Syncing
- Detailed Reporting (attendance, minutes taught, talk time
- Access to content marketplace (including ESL lessons)
- Assign and Manage Personalized Homework per Student
As you can see, LearnCube is feature-rich, and is designed to get you up and running with virtual lessons quickly. It even has competency-based CEFR compliant ESL content for teaching A1 – C1 levels. For a small subscription fee, more than 140 ESL lessons are available for you to use on an unlimited basis inside LearnCube.
The Virtual Classroom Pro annual subscription is $14 per month, and $26.60 per month for the Virtual Classroom Pro + Premium ESL Lessons annual subscription.
LearnCube also offers a free limited version of its Virtual Classroom, which may be enough if you are a casual teacher who teaches 1 : 1 lessons.
No stranger to universities and colleges offering online courses, Blackboard Collaborate is designed to introduce the advantages traditional classrooms offer in a virtual classroom platform. Like other virtual classrooms, you can videoconference, share files and applications, and interact using a virtual whiteboard in real-time. What makes Blackboard stand out though is its unique features focused on the learning experience. Teachers can even collaborate with other teachers using the platform.
Here are some of its features:
- Interactive online whiteboard and other interactive tools such as live chat, polls, and quizzes
- Browser-based virtual classroom with nothing to download or install
- Integrates with LMS (higher plans)
- Students can learn on their Android or iOS smartphones or tablets
- Schedule, monitor and manage live sessions, and extract meaningful reports about students, tutors, and content
- Record live classes and share the recording later with others via email and social channels
Blackboard Collaborate offers a 30-day trial, and pricing starts at $300 per year for a classroom license. You must submit a request to gain access to the trial.
Make sure your students can access the virtual classroom
One other aspect to keep in mind is where your students are located. Because China is the largest ESL market by several degrees, it’s likely that you have students based in China. If you do, you need to be sure your students can access the virtual classroom due to restrictions China places on access to websites outside of the country. Using the website China Firewall Test, you can test whether the site is accessible in China. It’s not 100% foolproof, but it should provide an indication of whether your Chinese students will be able to enter the virtual classroom. All three of the virtual classrooms we have recommended above are accessible in China according to this site.
What's Our Recommendation?
As we mentioned earlier, every online ESL teacher is going to have unique goals, needs, and preferences. So, it’s hard to pick one best virtual classroom for teaching English online. We believe the ones we have shared in this post are at the top of the class, and since each of them has a free trial, you can test drive each one to see which of the three best suits you. If we had to recommend one, we would go with Vedamo. It is a truly purpose-built virtual classroom designed with a teacher-first approach, and it is an affordable option with a bevy of essential tools to make the online teaching and learning experience both pleasant and effective.
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