Helping teachers navigate online education and build community
UD professors share resources and success stories to support teachers engaged in online instruction
Credit: Photo by Kathy F. Atkinson
The beginning of the coronavirus pandemic presented many challenges for educators, as teachers across grade levels, content areas, and geographic regions quickly transitioned their in-person classrooms to online environments. Many educators found themselves engaged in online teaching for the first time with little knowledge about how to deliver effective instruction or create an interactive online community.
To help teachers navigate these challenges and build community, University of Delaware experts in the field of teacher education and technology have shared new and accessible publications about online teaching.
Co-edited by Chrystalla Mouza, Distinguished Professor of Teacher Education and director of the School of Education (SOE), Teaching, Technology, and Teacher Education during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Stories from the Field shares success stories about preparing current and future teachers from educators who transitioned to online instruction during the early months of the pandemic. This open-access e-book, which brings together teacher educators, researchers, and practitioners, addresses online pedagogy, collaboration, field experiences, equity issues, and digital tools, among other topics.
Written by Rachel Karchmer-Klein, associate professor in the SOE, Improving Online Teacher Education: Digital Tools and Evidence-Based Practices, guides educators in developing collaborative and interactive online experiences for teacher candidates across content areas.
In an interview with UDaily, Mouza and Karchmer-Klein share their expertise in online teaching, technology, and teacher education.
Q: For teachers who may be overwhelmed by online instruction, where should they start?
Karchmer-Klein: First, I think it’s important for teachers to remember that in-person classrooms do not translate directly to online formats. Online instruction looks and feels different, and teachers shouldn’t spend time trying to replicate what they do in a brick and mortar building in a virtual space.
Instead, I often encourage teachers to follow a three-step process. First, identify the learning objectives, or what you want to teach. Second, identify best practices in teaching. For instance, what does research tell us about teaching reading comprehension? What are best practices in teaching English Language Learners? Third, think about designing instruction that leverages digital tools to meet the learning objectives by engaging students in these evidence-based practices. This is how I frame my book, Improving Online Teacher Education: Digital Tools and Evidence-Based Practices.
Q: Despite the many challenges of the spring and fall semesters, Teaching, Teaching, Technology, and Teacher Education during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Stories from the Field emphasizes stories of online teaching innovation and success. Can you share some of these stories?
Mouza: I was impressed and heartened to read about the tremendous efforts of teacher educators around the world to support current and prospective teachers. When my co-editors and I launched the call for the special issue of the Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, which preceded our e-book, we expected to receive a small number of proposals. Instead, we received well over 200 unique and inspiring stories.
Across those stories, we identified four unique ways in which teacher educators used technology to respond to teacher needs. They used digital tools to build communities of teachers, to provide professional development and live coaching for teachers and students, to provide simulated experiences for preservice teachers, and to address important equity issues and social emotional learning. Teacher educators made extensive use of video, but also innovative digital tools.
For instance, an international team facilitated a virtual STEM fair organized by preservice teachers, while another team used digital escape rooms to integrate gamifications concepts into active learning in both synchronous and asynchronous activities. To support affective learning, a school administrator posted motivational videos and health tips in superhero costumes. To support the needs of all students, a teacher educator set up a YouTube channel where undergraduate American Sign Language (ASL) students and graduate deaf education students created brief signed activity videos for deaf students and their families, along with instructions and demos delivered in English, Spanish and ASL. Those are just a few of the inspiring stories published in the special journal issue and e-book.
Q: A critical aspect of preparing future teachers is integrating field experiences into a course so that teacher candidates are able to observe and co-teach with teachers in K-12 schools. How can we use technology to create these experiences?
Karchmer-Klein: I recommend using case-based instruction, a pedagogical approach that immerses students in situations where they must apply what they’ve learned in class to problem-solve. I also encourage instructors to seek out virtual field trip opportunities where students can interact with teachers and students in locations beyond their geographical setting.
Mouza: Our special journal issue and e-book shares similar strategies for creating these field experiences. For example, one teacher educator used multi-perspective 360 video to provide preservice teachers with opportunities for student observation and assessment from multiple perspectives.
Q: How can teachers best support students who may be struggling to attend class, complete assignments, or engage with their peers due to a lack of access to technology or reliable internet?
Karchmer-Klein: We must design instruction that is structured, but allows for compassion and flexibility. By structure, I mean making the navigation of online coursework seamless and easy to follow while maintaining high expectations by including due dates and other requirements, as you would in any educational setting. Such structure provides guidance so that both students, instructors, and administrators are aware of the expectations.
Yet, compassion and flexibility must be part of the mix because we cannot assume that all students have access to online environments at the same time in the same way. I work with several school districts currently who are committed to providing devices for all students and WiFi for those in need. But, we must go further and recognize that not every student will have the ability to log on to a computer at the exact same time as the rest of their classmates, so recording lectures and providing other scaffolds will be imperative.
Q: How can teachers build community through technology?
Karchmer-Klein: I’m a big believer in building digital professional learning networks (PLN). Building a PLN is part of almost all of my courses, regardless if the course focuses on technology. A PLN is a community of educators who share ideas, answer questions, and provide support to others as we navigate the problems of practice we encounter each day.
Teachers can build a PLN and engage with educators from all around the world through social media such as Twitter, Instagram and blogs. Educators are very giving of their time and resources, and I’ve learned so much. However, keep in mind that since anyone can post on these social media tools, content must be vetted and viewed through a critical lens before applying it in one’s practice.
Office hours for K-12 educators
With SOE colleagues Fred Hofstetter, professor, and Teomara Rutherford, assistant professor, Karchmer-Klein and Mouza are providing support to K-12 educators through virtual office hours.
Scheduled every other Wednesday until Dec. 16, these free participant-driven sessions are designed to help educators integrate technology into their practice, learn how to navigate tools recommended by their schools or districts, motivate students in an online environment, and build community with other educators.
Interested participants can learn more and register through the event webpage.