Tips For Making Virtual Classroom Sessions More Interactive

Jo Hart facilitated an amazing session on tips for making virtual classrooms such as Elluminate more interactive at this week’s free online PD. Here is the link to the recording if you want to check it out.

Our next Friday session will also be on virtual classrooms but this time participants will be given the opportunity to take turns moderating the virtual classroom and developing their own skills. We’re hoping that participants take a concept(s) that Jo covered during the session to create resources suitable for their own teaching and bring them to the next session.

To aid this process here is a summary of some of the tips covered.

Some Background Info

Virtual classrooms are essential aspect of training at Jo’s College as their students are spread across the Wheatbelt region (155,000 km²) of Western Australia.

Always remember that there is a social dimension to learning and this aspect is even more important for online learning because students can feel more isolated. Virtual classrooms are one of the tools that can help reduce this sense of isolation for online students.

Keeping everyone awake in a virtual classroom is a challenge because unlike a physical classroom you can’t read student’s body language. It’s important to provide students with things to do other than just listening; build interactive tasks into the session.

PowerPoint and Whiteboard ToolsWhen you upload a PowerPoint into Elluminate any text or images on the slides are fixed in place and can’t be moved. However any text or images you add to those slides from within Elluminate can moved around on the slide. This aspect can be used to create a wide range of activities.

Labeling Activities Using the Whiteboard

Image of MicroscopeInsert an image or list of terms you want the students to define on a PowerPoint slide. Once uploaded, prior to the start of the session, add text to serve as labels to the bottom of the slide.

During the session get the students to drag and drop the text labels to the right locations on the image. Alternatively get the students to type the labels themselves.

If you want to re-use this same activity for other groups of students save the Whiteboard as a wbd file (File > Save Whiteboard > Save as wbd).

Image of Wordsearch


Create a Wordsearch on a PowerPoint slide and upload. Get the students to use the pen tool to highlight the terms.

You can choose whether you do/don’t provide a wordlist.


Wordstorms are great for exploring ideas/opinions, developing concept maps and checking understanding. On your PowerPoint slide write the task in the middle and upload. Get the students to type their ideas/thoughts onto the whiteboard.

Image of a Wordstorm

What is Activities

Examples of What is Activities are getting students to define terms in pairs, find information using the Internet.

Jo did a clever trick of asking us all to put up our hands and using the order we put up our hands to pair us with partners e.g. Number 1 partnered with number 2 etc. Then she put a question on the whiteboard and partners had to text answers to each other so only the partners and moderator could see the responses.

Image of activity

We were all given 45 seconds to text our answers then she put the answer up on the board and asked us to text our partners name to the room if they got the answer correct.

The activity was finished off by participating searching for images relating to the question — Which was what is a bobolink? Images were saved to our desktop then uploaded onto the Whiteboard.

Alternatively you can distribute the participants into break out rooms and get the to brainstorm ideas or research topics in their rooms. Set a time limit using the timer and bring them back to the main room to present their results.

Poll Tool and Quiz Manager

Image of a pollCreating polls and Quizzes are good for revision, assessment activity or reinforcer of learning.

Choices in polls are Yes/No or multiple choice options such as A, B, C. You can choose to hide their responses so they don’t know each others vote until you choose to display.

The Quiz manager allows you to create multiple choice and short answer questions. Both the poll tool and quiz manager are accessed through the Tools menu.


Definitely worth taking the time to listen to the recording from the session. If you are looking for “How To’s” guides for using Elluminate you will find them here on the Elluminate website.  Don’t forget anyone can get their own Elluminate Vroom.

Our next session is this Friday 21 November from 9-10 AM (Perth, Western Australia). Anyone can join! Doesn’t matter if you missed the last session we will be taking that into account. Remember – If you get a chance – create some material to test during our next session.

If you attended the session:

  1. What ideas did you get from it?
  2. And how could you use it with your students?

And if you’re enjoying this blog, please consider Subscribing for free!

Taking the stress out of talking about podcasting

After I posted on the stress of talking about podcasting – Zemina Hasham (Senior Director, Client Services for Elluminate) contacted me and “offered to meet up with me to better understand my presentation and share some ideas on how best to include these and minimize my stress!” So yesterday morning we meet up in her Elluminate virtual office, which was very nice of her since she had just flown from Calgary to USA, and was sitting in a hotel room at 8pm at night.

The main concern I had was playing the audio and video podcasts within Elluminate. She explained which option you choose depends on the file size:

  • Up to 10MB works well with the Media library (keep a close eye on the indicator so you have an idea of if there is any delays with any of the participants)
  • Over 10MB then you may be better off using the Web Tour – take them to the website and ask them to click play

She also showed me how the timer feature of Elluminate V8 can be used with Breakout rooms (i.e. put the participants in separate rooms, tell them they have 5 minutes to do the task and turn on the timer – this way they can clearly see how long they had to do their task).

We also discussed that it is more important to be an effective teacher in a virtual classroom as the student can literally step away from his / her computer without disturbing the teacher whereas in a f2f classroom, the teacher can see whether the student is engaged and paying attention. She even suggested some recorded Elluminate presentations that are worth watching to get ideas on being more effective. I think it would be really good if Elluminate had a series of how to be an effective teacher in a virtual classroom on their Training page (as I only found the Elluminate presentations she mentioned by Googling them).

I personally believe that having access to a virtual classroom for remote e-learning students is essential to ensure engagement and interaction. A virtual classroom lets you talk to your students, encourages interaction between both you and your students, direct message your students, take them on web tours, share their desktop, display PowerPoints, do brainstorming activities etc. If your organisation does not have access to a virtual classroom you can always get yourself an Elluminate vRoom.


  • Free – absolutely no cost
  • Available to you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year
  • Handy to have your own room that you can access whenever you have a need – when VOIP is not enough
  • Only difference from standard Elluminate is you can not record the session and max. of 4 people can participate

Thanks Zemina for your assistance. I am definitely impressed by the customer service supplied by your company.


The stress of talking about Podcasting

You would think, as a podcaster, that putting together a presentation on podcasting would be easy? NOPE! Not when the presentation will be online using a Virtual Classroom which adds so many more factors to the equation especially when you want to make it interactive (which is much easier f2f) and you actually want to play some podcasts (a lot more can go wrong playing media in a virtual classroom than f2f)

Thankfully Philip was nice to spend some of his holiday (again) today with me and we road tested the different options for playing podcasts in Elluminate.

We worked out that:

  • Web tour did not work – the podcasts I wanted to play open up in another window
  • Application sharing was not great – the podcasts played poorly (stop, started)
  • Media library – worked really well especially for the video podcast. I could not get the audio podcasts to play on my PC (kept coming up with debugging error – fortunately when I pressed play it did play on Philip’s PC even if it was not playing on mine)

So media library with Elluminate is the way to go but:

  • Means I must log into session early and upload all videos and audios (as they take awhile to upload)
  • Need to ensure participants have Quicktime plugin installed on their PCs before the session

Make sure you check file format if you plan to play video using media library in Elluminate as only some formats are supported.

Still concerned because I need a good Plan B & C in case the podcasts fail to play. Perhaps one option is to have links on standby for them to use directly from the PCs? Perhaps the Classroom Online network facilitators have some suggestions?

Oh well, and just to add to the stress the next online presentation will not be in Elluminate, they will be using a different Virtual Classroom. (

Here is my presentation for the first online session. Any suggestions for changes happily accepted. PS I do know the alphabet – for some reason Slideshare does some weird things when you upload PowerPoints – this time it has changed my letter bullets!

[slideshare id=77284&doc=podcasting-in-vet1469&w=425]

Thanks for your help, yet again, Philip – must mean I owe you really big chocolate frog?

Back to Basics with Virtual Classrooms

54662704_dfae7a6de1_mYep – One of my famous quotes was “Elluminate is the easiest application to use and why does any one need professional development with using it?” Well after using Elluminate for more than 12 months, I take back that statement. PD is very important because there is a big difference between being able to use a virtual classroom and using it effectively for online facilitation. That’s why I am grabbing opportunities to improve my skills in this area because I know that I could be doing it much better (image from chefranden).

This is why I have joined the Classroom Online network, I attend 2007 E-learning Community network events and invite myself, when available, to attend online AMES Learnscope sessions.

Leveraging the Virtual Classroom

Today I dragged myself out of bed before 7am (day 2 of holiday) so that I could join Ruth Clark’s online presentation on Virtual Classrooms. What a fantastic presentation! The information she went through would apply for f2f or online facilitation in a virtual classroom. I am definitely hanging out for the recording so that I can re-watch it again (I was writing notes so quickly that I could not keep up – and now can’t read what I wrote). I was so impressed I also tried to purchase her book “The New Virtual Classroom” but had trouble paying (hoping she will let me know how to do).

What I really loved about Ruth’s session was she went through and explained the principles of effective facilitation, and modeled it at the same time.

Using a Virtual Classroom to teach technology (e.g. Hands on Photostory workshop)

Not to be lazy I then snuck into Phillip’s Learnscope session which he facilitated using Elluminate. This week he was teaching them Digital stories and how to use Photostory. Before the session each participant is required to work through the pre-reading and print off the handout for the session.

I am really grateful to Philip for letting me join these online sessions because using a virtual classroom to facilitate learning technology skills is to me going to another level entirely.

Unfortunately majority of participants headsets initially would not work properly (no sound or microphones). Very frustrating to a facilitator when they are 5 hrs away. Very unlucky – not sure why they are having the problem (hopefully their IT person will advise) – need to make sure they plug in prior to starting Elluminate. If use Elluminate a lot worth purchasing Logitech USB headset ($50) as less likely to have problems (provided computers have right version of Java).

This time when he got each participant to try using Photostory (by themselves) he sent to their own break out room (this was an idea we discussed trying) and then got them to turn on application sharing. This meant that we could both move separately between the rooms and check how each was going. It was incredible that were able to run application sharing in 5 break out rooms. The hardest part was actually explaining how to turn on application sharing. Definitely need two moderators to go between rooms helping with learning technology if you do it this way. We were also challenged by the fact that a few could not get their microphones to work, which made them feel isolated.

As it was hard to physically see how they are going learning technology this way it would be really good to video it, so we could reflect on how they cope compared to f2f. Other ideas were to have an explanation on the main whiteboard and on the whiteboard in their room stating where he wants them to work through to, and letting them know that they can write a message on the direct messaging board or put their hand up if they need help. Perhaps would also need to write these same instructions in the direct messaging area because once they started application sharing they will loose the instructions.

Thanks Phillip for letting me attend yet again :). Hope you enjoyed my write up?

Importance of Staying Home

Lets see – at home. Can clean house? Wash dishes? Wash clothes? Do gardening? Or I join an Elluminate session and watch Philip facilitate an interactive online professional development (he shows the participants in the virtual classroom what to do then they have to do it on their computers e.g. set up their own iGoogle). Lets see – housework and gardening sound boring (oh well what’s another day of mess?).

I learnt a lot from Philip when I joined his f2f session the other week (that was the day I went out and discovered that someone had stolen half of the Cathedral). Philip has to incorporate effective communication (Google Talk) and virtual classroom (Elluminate) because participants are spread from Albany (415 km south of Perth) to Geraldton (424 km north of Perth) and it is not practical to deliver the training f2f.

Philip is definitely brave. I have been using Elluminate for over a year on a fortnightly basis with my online aquaculture students but have never tried to use it to teach people how to use technology. This is a considerably greater challenge than a PowerPoint and brainstorming with participants in an Elluminate session. But with the right strategies and balance this is a really powerful tool that I could use for facilitating staff e-learning professional development.

This is what I gained from Philip in this session:

  • He runs the same session f2f one week prior to the Elluminate session so that he can make adjustments to his delivery and handouts
  • Participants are told to print off and review the detailed handouts for the session prior to the Elluminate session
  • Inability to see how participants are coping is an issue a facilitator. He did get a participant to application share so he could see where they were at. Probably worth setting up breakout rooms for each participants; sending each participant to their own room; getting them to turn on application sharing; and then he can move between each room and check their progress, assisting where necessary.


Philip and I just tested creating Breakout rooms & practiced moving between the rooms. We were able to easy share each others desktop and were both able to control/use each others applications when the participant shared the application. What we don’t know is whether each participant will be able to have application sharing running in each breakout room. I will be interested to hear the outcome.

Maybe Coach Carole has some more tips for us?


Anyone can get their own free Elluminate vRoom – access anytime – up to 4 participants


He also showcased some really great video hosting site. I am really impressed with videojug – they host “how to do” videos. Really good quality videos. Their cooking videos also have the menu and instructions written below the videos. They even have a how to give a homie handshake? Are they serious? Honestly watching how to give a homie handshake is worth it for getting a laugh (maybe if I can master this handshake I can be truly cool).