A Collaborate[ive] learning approach: Building a Virtual Professional Learning Community with pre-service teachers.

Year: 2017

Author: Harold, Barbara

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The use of online platforms to support pre-service teachers during their practicum experience has been growing in frequency. It has used a variety of forms including multimedia CD-rom (Khine, 2003), videoconferencing (Johnson et al., 2006); social networking (English and Duncan-Howell, 2008), asynchronous discussion (Ajayi 2009), and synchronous online meetings (Keamy and Selkrig, 2013). Studies of this approach report a range of benefits to pre-service teachers including customized learning experiences, shared discussions with peers and regular and targeted feedback. The theoretical underpinnings for such approaches fit clearly within the concepts of socially constructed and situated learning (Lave and Wenger, 1991).
This paper reports on the development and implementation of an online support system and virtual professional learning community (VPLC) for a group of student teachers (STs) during an eleven-week practicum between January and May 2017. The platform is Blackboard Collaborate virtual classroom, with which the researcher had had prior experience in graduate classes. During the practicum the faculty supervisor and STs held weekly one-hour online meetings. The agenda was co-constructed by both parties based on emerging ST needs and College of Education requirements.
The participants are 4 female STs in their final semester in a College of Education program. Three are completing an Early Childhood-Grade 1-3 program and the fourth is preparing to be a teacher of English. The school in which they are placed is a private international girls' school using an American curriculum and catering from grades K-12.
The research design uses a group case study approach to record and describe the development of the VPLC. Data collection was done through a pre-internship meeting to co-construct the goals of the PLC, recordings of the actual Collaborate meetings, emails and phone texts, and a final interview with participants to evaluate the process.
The study is guided by two key questions:
- What are the successes and challenges of using a Virtual Professional Learning Community online environment to support pre-service teacher development?
- What are student teacher perceptions of the impact of the VPLC on their dispositions, knowledge and skills during the practicum?
Data are currently being analysed and it is expected that the findings of this study may identify fresh critical perspectives on professional learning in relation to the use of technology. It will also provide further theoretical and practical insights to inform teaching and learning in higher education contexts, particularly in pre-service teacher education.