Utrecht University opens first virtual classroom

At Utrecht University it is now possible to teach in a virtual classroom. The classroom is the first of its kind at a Dutch university. From a studio, the teacher interacts with a maximum of 36 students; as though they are all sitting in the front row. Scientists can also use the studio for teleconferences with colleagues from abroad. In this way, these audio visual resources contribute to educational innovation and reduce the university’s CO2 footprint as less international travel is necessary.

Man in virtual classroom
Education in the virtual classroom. Photographer: Fridolin van der Lecq

Over the next two years, the UU will invest heavily in new IT/AV resources tailored to the needs of distance learning and cooperation with researchers elsewhere in the world. "The virtual classroom is a perfect fit for the UU," says the Executive Board’s Vice President Annetje Ottow. "In this way, we strengthen our education, work on sustainability and internationalization.”


Currently, online education often happens via webinars. The virtual classroom goes a step further and provides much more natural interaction. The instructor stands in front of six screens, each showing six students. Below are two more screens on which the instructor sees his presentation, quiz results and online questions.

An example from a lesson could be:

The teacher starts with an explanation of two theories. After a quarter of an hour he sees that the students are less involved. So he decides at that moment to start a quiz. He asks which of the two theories can best explain a particular item from this morning’s news. The teacher sees the answers appear below each student and shows all students the distribution of the answers.

The teacher then asks two students in person (the name of each person is shown on their screen) to explain their answers. A discussion arises. Meanwhile, the teacher sees that there are several 'silent questions' coming in from students who do not understand the difference between the two theories. The teacher closes the discussion and answers the students' questions.

Innovative and sustainable

The new IT/AV tools enables innovative remote learning and collaboration. This is important; for example in the case of UU's collaboration in a new alliance with the TU Eindhoven and Wageningen University and Research, but also for international collaboration. Within Charm-EU, for example, the UU is working with other European universities on a new joint master's programme.

Ottow: "We want more international cooperation, and at the same time reduce CO2 emissions from mobility. We therefore encourage employees and students to travel differently - for example by train instead of by plane. We also try to stimulate that they travel less. Of course, it's important that you meet colleagues or students abroad live. But sometimes that can also happen digitally, and the virtual classroom helps in this effort."

More information

For more information on how UU promotes sustainability: click here.
For more information on the way we innovate our education, check out the site of Educate-it
For more information about the virtual classroom, go to the site of the Teaching & Learning Lab.