Designing Virtual Practicums for Pre-service Teachers

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					         Designing Virtual Practicums for Pre-service Teachers:
                        Three Project Iterations

                                  A. Margaret Fryatt,
                         Nechako Electronic Busing Program TM
                          School District #91 (Nechako-Lakes),
                         Vanderhoof, British Columbia, Canada.

                                    David A. Gregg,
                         Nechako Electronic Busing Program TM
                          School District #91 (Nechako-Lakes),
                         Vanderhoof, British Columbia, Canada.

Literature Review:

While there is a growing research base that supports the notion of providing technology
training for pre-service teachers [Levin, (1995), Duckett (1995), McClintock (1994),
Maddux, Johnson, and Harlow (1994), Kester and Beacham (1994)], and also a growing
body of research that describes some of the necessary features of on-line learning
environments Hiltz (1995)], there is almost no research that describes how pre-service
teachers might acquire the skills necessary to create, foster and evaluate on-line learning
activities for direct use with students.

Levin, Waugh, Clift and Brown's (1995 )Teleapprenticeship Model developed at
University of Illinois, looks at support systems for pre-service and beginning teachers.
His model does not look at using technology to develop on-line teaching skills or to assist
in the design, delivery and support of computer mediated learning activities.

The models developed by Makurat, (1994), Gunn, (1994) Kester and Beacham, (1994)
look at teaching pre-service teachers how to use electronic mail and then try to extend
these skills into collaborative learning activities. These models and projects do not
explore the skills, knowledge and attitudes important in preparing teachers to use
telecommunication technologies to actually teach distant students. This project is an
attempt to gather that information.

Project One: Massey University Students

The purpose of the project was to explore the skills needed to develop, deliver and
support educational activities electronically to elementary students and to provide
opportunities to integrate technical skills in teaching practice. The student teacher pairs
created 3-6 learning activities to achieve stated learning outcomes supported by Internet
resources and delivered these via electronic mail over a 3-4 week period. Learning how to
use electronic mail and learning Internet tool skills were vital.
Messages between all parties were collected and archived. Written comments,
observations, and insights recorded in reflective journals were also shared weekly.
Transcripts totaled approximately 135 pages. Message and journal texts were examined
for the emergence of factors and themes significant to participants. These included
organizational factors, management factors, project factors, communication factors, and
technical factors.

As an initial effort on both sides, there was room for improvement in the areas of
organization and management. Overlooking details in the initial planning phase ( sharing
class schedules, assignment dates, and holiday times) caused major headaches later on.
Clarifying expectations about the amount of electronic communication necessary during
the start -up period between student teacher pairs and the facilitator would be helpful in
future versions of the project.

Handling ten groups of communicating partners generated more traffic than should have
been attempted in an exploratory project by a single coordinator. Reducing the number of
groups or sharing the mentorship task would reduce this load. Involving classroom
teachers or teaching parents in the home in providing feedback directly to student
teachers would be very helpful.

How the online activities were planned, prepared, delivered, supported and evaluated
were also areas of concern. Project activities need to be blended into an integrated series
of steps towards a specific goal; these steps need to reflect more clearly the important
aspects of good pedagogy.

The provision of superior Internet resources to support projects is very important.
Unfortunately student teacher pairs who provided an insufficient number of supporting
resources, or used inappropriate resources had real problems with the completion rate of
tasks or lessons. The task of locating resources cannot be passed on to the students unless
adequate guided practice is provided first to help students understand how to use the
various search tools provided on the Internet.

Formatting of messages needs to become a more important consideration in developing
on-line activities. Being able to draw the student's attention to important information
within a text based medium is an art form. The biggest formatting error was to include
too much text in each message. Students need instructions broken into manageable
chunks -- perhaps outlining what can be accomplished in one 30 minute session.
Consistency in referring to activities as lessons, or tasks was also helpful, but a feature
that many groups overlooked. Pre-service teachers with a higher degree of Internet
literacy might be able to take advantage of posting materials on the Internet.

Feedback and how it is provided to students is also important. Personal messages from
both partners making specific references to earlier communications were valued by the
participating students and their parents. Both students and parents requested that answers
be provided so that self checking could occur. Evaluation of student work requires further

Student teacher partners working with volunteers from elementary classrooms
experienced different problems than those working with students from the Electronic
Busing ProgramTM. Students in classroom settings operated in a largely independent
context where there were competing demands on their time and energy, assistance was
not always readily available, and access to computer networks and Internet resources
needed to be shared. Students from the E-Bus program had more guidance and
supervision from parents at all times, and were able to concentrate their energies on
completing the task at hand.

This collaboration hinged on the ability of the student teacher pairs to use electronic mail
as their fundamental communication tool. Quick and effective communication was
particularly crucial at the beginning of the project when the greatest number of concerns

The early pattern of once a week communication was not sufficient to support the kind of
collaboration required to get all of the groups off to a productive start. The initial lag on
message turnaround was a significant factor in successful completion. As the project
progressed, the number of contacts per group per week increased and this allowed for
more efficient feedback and problem solving.

It is very important that expectations surrounding the frequency, and the format for
messages be established early in the process. More time needed to be devoted to the less
formal exchanges of information that occurred at the beginning of the project when
curiosity was high. The immediacy of communication between parties was what excited
and captured the interest of elementary students. Teaching all parties to check their mail
regularly and to respond to each new messages was an extremely important task.

Many of the elementary students had minimal keyboarding skills, thus responding to
requests for progress reports took time away from completing the "job". Students tended
to respond with generalities instead of specific information, and time lags between
receiving the request and answering it varied according to other pressures in the
classroom. If students come to expect new "mail" each time they check, then they will
quickly learn that checking is important. When they receive quick answers to their
questions, then asking for clarification via e-mail becomes an option for them. When no
communication occurred the parties involved assumed that no work was being done. This
was often incorrect. Students were so busy "working" they didn't have time for e-mail
(which was not seen as part of the work!). Student teacher pairs should communicate in
future directly with classroom teachers / teaching parents who can provide valuable
feedback that the children are unable to articulate.

This project was a very time consuming undertaking requiring many more hours of
preparation than the average classroom lesson. Student teachers simply ran out of time.
Those who could tolerate high levels of ambiguity, seemed willing to take a risk and
proceeded with a course that could be modified as needed. Other groups, lost so much
time with early indecision that they had difficulty completing the project. It is important
to recognize that in addition to this undertaking, Massey University students were
involved in many other class activities that demanded their time and attention.

If this kind of project is used as a vehicle for teaching pre-service teachers how to use
electronic mail and Internet tools in educational practice, two distinct phases should
occur. In the first phase, student teachers acquire and practice the skills needed; in the
second phase, they can concentrate on applying the skills to the task of creating,
delivering and supporting on-line activities. If additional access to lab facilities
cannot be provided, then groups will need to organize themselves to make sure that
regular e-mail contact is maintained with students, and with the facilitator.

Project 2: Calgary Students

Two student teachers from the University of Calgary were paired with teachers from the
Nechako Electronic Busing Program in May, 1996. The first tasks of these students were
to set up the computer, become familiar with the software, arrange for Internet
connections, and to prepare an electronic letter of introduction to forward to all clientele.
These letters were then electronically circulated to parents. At the same time, e-mail
correspondences were begun between the student teachers and the cooperating teachers to
establish a rapport and a common understanding of the practicum.

Several tasks were required of the student teachers over this short, six week practicum.
Initially, Internet searches were conducted to identify resources that could be utilized in a
variety of instructional settings. The student teachers then constructed discrete units of
study that employed some of the strengths of electronic communication. These units
evolved through several iterations in order to have them not resemble correspondence
courses with a directive teacher approach.

The intent at this point was to have volunteer E-Bus families work with the student
teachers to implement the unit and then offer feedback on its effectiveness. Due to time
limitations and the fact that many families were winding up their academic activities for
the year, the student teachers did not have an opportunity to completely implement their
work. Evaluations of the process proved to be quite positive. Initial responsive journal
entries focused on the paradigm shift required for on-line work, and later moved to a
more comprehensive discussion of the trials and benefits of the process.

Project Three: University of Calgary Students

Another Virtual Practicum Project is underway for the winter 1997 semester at the
University of Calgary following the model of delivering curricular support online.
Student teacher tasks include clarification of British Columbia's learning outcomes,
identifying Internet resources to meet learning outcomes, and the development of on-line
projects for specific groups of students. Student teachers are also exploring the
Internet as a source of on-line professional development to challenge their own thinking
about teaching and to encourage them to develop new ideas and skills. Other
responsibilities will include communicating and negotiating with parents on when, what
and how to assess student growth and report this information.

Drawing on the experiences of the previous virtual practicums several prerequisite skills
were identified. These tended to focus on tool skills, electronic resource and
communication skills and pedagogical skills. Tool skills included basic computer literacy
, comfort with at least one operating system and a knowledge of basic applications such
as word processing. Electronic communication prerequisite skills that would benefit a
student teacher in a virtual practicum include a knowledge of e-mail and the ability to
search the world wide web. Students with a wide range of teaching and subject
experience will find the practicum experience more rewarding and gratifying considering
the diversified nature of the clientele; specialists might not get the opportunity to draw
upon their particular area of expertise.

A number of specific projects are to be completed over the 13 week practicum. These
include the development of a simple web page to introduce students to the E-Bus
families, working with specific web resources to develop several ways to integrate the
resource into curriculum, collecting Internet resources to support a specific theme, topic
or cluster of learning outcomes with very general descriptions of how they might be used
and developing an integrated thematic on-line unit equal to about 5 hours of student time
or an email based project of some kind that requires student interaction.


The format for the Winter 1997 practicum and the Virtual Practicum Project in general
has enormous potential as a vehicle for accomplishing a series of diverse aims within any
teacher preparation program. The experience provides a meaningful purpose for learning
Internet skills and offers opportunities to apply these skills in classroom settings or with
groups of students. Student teachers are also encouraged to integrate curriculum across
traditional subject and age boundaries as they integrate technology into practice.
Opportunities to connect pre-service teachers with experienced classroom teachers for a
mutually beneficial experience are presented. Such collaborations have enormous
potential not only to further our knowledge of the processes and skills involved in on-line
teaching, but also in providing an application of technology skills into teaching practice
that require a high degree of integration.

Author's Note:
As this paper is being written, plans are underway to work with a second group of student
teachers from Massey University. Six Electronic Busing Program TM teachers on-line
have volunteered to act as mentors for student teacher groups and will facilitate the
interaction between the Massey University student teachers and volunteer students from
within the . This will give us an opportunity to implement many of the recommendations
made at the conclusion of Project One.


[Duckett 1995] Duckett, George. (1995 ) A Plan for K-12 Teacher Professional
Development in communication Technology: Using the Carrot and the Stick [On-Line
Paper] Available:

[Gunn 1994] Gunn, Cathy (1994) Telecommunications Projects Designed for Pre-service
Teachers [On-Line Paper] Available:

[Hiltz 1995] Hiltz, Roxanne Starr (1995) Teaching in a Virtual Classroom [On-Line
Paper] Available:

[Kester and Beacham 1994] Kester, Diane D., and Beacham, Betty G., (1994) A Model
for Inservice Teachers, Pre-service Teachers and Methods Faculty Learning to Drive on
the Information Highway. [On-Line Paper] Available:

[Levin 1995] Levin, J. (1995) Organizing Educational Network Interactions: Steps
towards a theory of network -based learning environments. [On-Line Paper] Available:

[Maddux , Johnson and Harlow 1994] Maddux, Cleborne, D., Johnson, Lamont, and
Harlow, Steven (1994) Teacher Education and the Internet : Where Do We Go From
Here? [On-Line Paper] Available:

[Makurat 1994] Makurat, Philip (1994) Using Telecommunications to Connect Pre-
service Teachers and Classrooms [On-Line Paper] Available:

[McClintock 1994] McClintock, R., (1994) Educating America for the 21st century - a
strategic plan for Educational Leadership. [On-Line Paper] Available:


M.E Brown ( Massey University, New Zealand

Dr. Bill Hunter ( University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada