Since the pandemic affected the United States in March 2020 and necessitated social distancing, most people have incorporated some type of virtual communication into their daily activities. This communication has taken various forms, including socializing with friends and relatives remotely, working virtually, ordering food and transportation, utilizing cell phone apps, and participating in virtual medical appointments.
As a professor of transportation and logistics, I’ve been teaching virtually for nearly a decade. I can personally attest that mastering virtual communication techniques are essential not only in daily activities, but also to better engage students in online learning.
What Is Virtual Communication?
Virtual communication is how people interact with others without being in the same room. Audio and video technology are used to communicate with people in either a real-time or asynchronous format.
The types of virtual communication continue to expand. They can include phone calls, streaming services, voicemail, text messages, social media platforms, email and instant messaging. Choosing the right mode of communication is important, however, because good communication directly relates to enhanced efficiency and productivity.
There are dozens of video platforms that offer free or subscription-based services for businesses and individuals. In addition, many social media platforms offer a way to communicate with thousands of users using video.
Each video platform has slightly different features, controls and accessibility, so understanding each platform’s capabilities are important. For video calls, it’s essential to test the software platform in advance. Ideally, you should download the software and familiarize yourself with the features prior to using it.
If you are participating in a video call, do your homework. First, assess if you are going to be on camera and visible to others. If the answer is yes, make sure your attire, background, lighting and audio controls are appropriate for communicating with other people.
If you are not on camera, learn what features you can use to stay fully engaged in a video conversation such as a group chat, reaction icons, the ability to draw/edit documents in real time, and whether or not the session will be recorded. Some platforms offer short tutorials with video instructions to teach you the features of the platform.
“Zoom fatigue” is increasing for people who are working and learning remotely, because there have been an increased number of virtual meetings as compared to pre-pandemic, in-person meetings. As a result, many people are using phone calls as an alternate way to communicate. Communicating by phone allows you to hear the tone of a person’s voice and to have a more intimate conversation with one or more callers.
Text Messages and Instant Messaging
For people with cell phones, text messages have replaced the need to communicate over the phone and allow users to create short, informational exchanges. In addition, reports show that more people are using their cell phones to access websites and scan QR codes.
However, when you compare texting versus phone calls to communicate information, most people report a greater feeling of connection with phone calls. With texts, there are also accessibility issues, and all parties need to have a cell phone to interact with one another. Likewise, text messaging rates may add up, depending on your provider’s cell phone plan.
Streaming platforms are mainly known for movies, documentaries, and entertainment shows, but there’s also ways to communicate in a socially distanced way. Originally devised by Netflix as the “Netflix party,” there are now platforms that offer a teleparty.
Teleparties are also known as the modern, socially distanced version of a movie night; they synchronize video playback and add a group chat to Netflix, Disney, Hulu, and HBO feature presentations. These teleparties offers a way to chat with friends, host long-distance movie nights and enjoy TV watch parties.
Tips for Virtual Communication Improvement in the Online Classroom
Video, audio, text messages and streaming platforms can also be used to enhance online learning. From the student perspective, it’s important to have a keen understanding of how to properly present yourself in a virtual learning environment. Here are some of my tips to increase your virtual presence in the online classroom:
- Use video during your first week of class. The classroom introduction is standard in the first week of most online classes and provides you with a way to summarize your background in 500 words or less. It’s an important tool to help the instructor and classmates get to know you. While most introductions take the form of written posts, consider including a video introduction to connect with your classmates.
- Be mindful of time differences. In online classes, students can participate from around the globe, which may prevent certain students from interacting in real time. While this may delay communication, don’t allow it to deter you from interacting with other students in different time zones.
- Don’t be afraid to contact your instructor using different platforms. Many professors offer a variety of ways to contact him or her. This may include instant messages, question and answer discussions, and Zoom video discussions. While email may feel like the “safest” option, challenge yourself to use other platforms to engage with faculty and have an opportunity to learn from them in ways beyond the standard classroom.
- Participate in office hours or other optional meetings with your professor and classmates. When possible, take advantage of opportunities to meet others in your class. Many faculty members facilitate networking opportunities for students outside of normal class activities. Attend these events when possible and get to know your professor and fellow students.
- Add classmates to your networking platforms. Don’t let your relationship with faculty or classmates end when the course is over. Consider adding them to your LinkedIn network, for example, to stay connected.
In summary, virtual communication is important to relay information, remain socially connected and thrive in the online learning environment. Online learning requires a mix of traditional tools – such as written forum posts and assignments – and digital tools – such as videos, in-class messages and interactive activity platforms like Kahoot – to ensure an engaging environment for students. Infusing technology into the classroom provides a level playing field for more students to have a seamless online learning experience, regardless of their location or work schedule.
Utilizing technology to enhance communication also provides opportunities for fresh content to be incorporated into the classroom. Likewise, technology enables virtual communication from anywhere.
Heartfelt Messages are the Best Form of Virtual Communication
As an instructor, I’ve learned that the best way to communicate is with the heart. It’s important to let all students know that you are flexible and empathetic to the challenges of online learning in this pandemic environment.
Overall, I have a greater sense of the importance of communicating and showing flexibility by using the communication technique that is best suited to that student. That’s the best form of virtual communication.