Teaching alternatives during the pandemic: Aula Virtual as an educational tool

Nowadays the world has been in constant change. We must readapt ourselves to the new needs that arise in the tasks that are performed every day. This is mainly due to the fact that the human being’s objective is to look for changes that allow pertinent and adequate growth.

With the arrival of the pandemic caused by the SARS COV2 virus, most universities with a face-to-face model faced the challenge of continuing with classes despite the contingency. Although with today’s technological tools it should not be a major problem to find a solution for non-face-to-face classes, it is important to say that both, students and teachers, were not prepared to face the situation. In addition, at Technological University of the North of Aguascalientes (UTNA) there was only one platform, which was used to take the exit exams.

Due to the above, we worked on a way to solve these problems and consequently, we adopted a free software platform known as Moodle that later was considered as the principal platform used by the university, this program is called “Aula Virtual”.

What does “Aula Virtual” mean?

Aula Virtual is a digital medium based on the Moodle platform, in which a process of knowledge exchange between student/teacher or vice versa that is carried out. This is achieved thanks to the features and applications that are presented in this work tool, since it allows generating various types of activities to continue with the development of classes.

Since the implementation of this system, it has been possible to visualize some changes in the paradigm of traditional teaching. One of these advantages is that the student can access the virtual classroom when it is required, since asynchronous class sessions can be held. This platform has other benefits, however, not everything was so easy at the beginning, as not all students and teachers were prepared for this great change. So, we worked with the required strategies to help them in this transition.

First, we worked with a course for teachers, in which we sought to train them to control and manage the basic aspects of the platform. In this training course, a methodology was taught so that the materials designed for learning in the virtual classroom would contain important elements for designing quality courses. Subsequently, a second course was developed in which more specific topics were addressed and some other functionalities of the virtual classroom were taught so that teachers could manage these resources and thus improve the efficiency in the use of the virtual classroom itself.

Within these instructions, we worked on the importation of activities, management of rubrics for grading tasks, activities and projects, as well as teamwork and some other activities. It is worth mentioning that in this collective work, the product was raised by the users themselves, in this case the teachers, that took a lot of time to design an exam and after, they were able to solve and design activities without any difficulty.

Some of the colleagues mentioned that an evaluation instrument of 20 items could take up to 2 hours to complete. Therefore, the virtual classroom support department, began to look for alternatives to optimize the time used in this activity, and this led to the creation of a template that would make the exams easier and faster. This template was developed in part by people from the Moodle community and the remaining work was done within the University. Now with this template it is possible to make any type of question in Moodle and the importation of the questions to the platform is faster and more transparent; so now, it saves a lot of time when designing the quizzes by the teachers.

In this short time that we have been working with this educational platform, we have seen meaningful progress in the way of teaching classes, and several teachers have expressed their relish for the system and have made proposals to continue using it even once we return to face-to-face classes. Some of these advances are that teachers have more complete material for teaching classes and, above all, didactic material that can be useful to complement learning. And students say that they are learning more and can use additional resources that have helped them to a better understanding of some topics.

As it was mentioned at the beginning, this platform can be used by anyone and can be customized and fit to any institutions’ needs. To achieve our goal, improvements have been implemented to extend the usage of the platform and thus benefit the university community. Some of these improvements range from allowing the visualization of assignments without the need to download them and adding comments to them by sharing workspaces on the cloud such as Google Drive, which allows hosting heavy didactic materials without the need to feed platform resources. Although there are endless applications, each institution is in charge of managing the ones that best suit its needs.

Finally, we can say that the current pandemic brought something satisfactory, and this is our educational tool that once seemed very far away or something that only prestigious universities could afford. But now, it is a reality and we will be working on continuous improvement so that every day we can offer better technological tools.