Professional experience preparation: Does distance make a difference?

Year: 2011

Author: Masters, Yvonne, Winn, Stephen

Type of paper: Refereed paper

Professional experience (or practicum) is one aspect of teacher education that crosses several perceived boundaries including those between theory and practice, university and school. A further boundary in many institutions is believed to exist between on-campus and off-campus (distance education/external) study. Crossing these boundaries presents challenges with both preparation and support for professional experience. These challenges have been exacerbated as higher education institutions pursue new ways of delivering courses in an era of rapid change and increased accountability. Professional experience is regulated by state accreditation bodies and by the Commonwealth Government and new national teaching standards and national accreditation of teacher education courses are currently being implemented. This is resulting in further examination of how professional experience can be enhanced for all stakeholders. At a university where more than 75% of students study off-campus it is imperative that approaches to professional experience actively engage the students in a positive and productive manner. At the end of 2010, all teacher education students at the University of New England who had completed at least one school placement were invited to participate in a pilot survey. This survey was designed to explore their perceptions of the effectiveness of their preparation for placement and the support structures available during placement. The survey was also designed to ascertain whether there was any difference in perception not only between on- campus and off-campus students, but also across courses and across age groups. The discussions presented here focus on student perceptions of their preparedness for professional experience placements. In particular, the perceptions of off-campus students are compared and contrasted with those of the on-campus cohort. While there has been a general presumption that on-campus students would feel better prepared than off-campus students, the data show nuances in the perceptions based not predominantly on mode of study, but rather other determinants such as age. These data will provide directions for enhanced preparation for all students.