In many teacher training programs, teacher candidates are placed with students in their first semester with minimal prior training. During these first experiences in classrooms, teacher candidates learn in the moment, which at times can be detrimental to students’ learning environment. As Portner (2005) suggests, teachers need added support during their induction year, and classroom management is cited as the primary area in which teacher candidates need support. One way to provide more training before entering a real classroom is through the use of a Virtual Learning Environment in teacher training.
What is a Virtual Learning Environment?
Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) provide experiential opportunities that are often available in other professional training fields, but have only recently entered the field of education. The research on VLEs to approximate teaching situations is emerging as an effective instructional technology that can provide current teachers more practical experiences incorporating evidence-based practices (Andreasen & Haciomeroglu, 2009).
Simulation in VLEs have existed in other disciplines for many years. For example, flight simulators make it possible for trainee pilots to learn how a plane will respond to their actions. However, learning in virtual learning environments is new to the field of education. This work is especially crucial to the early childhood workforce that has minimal availability to immediate feedback through a coaching lens and, in some areas, a lack of access to diverse classroom environments.
Why use a VLE to prepare teachers?
The use of the VLE provides a safe and low-stress environment for learning and refining best practices. It can also address early childhood teachers’ needs, as reported by Dieker, Hynes, Hughes, and Smith (2008), which found that teachers need experiences with students in classroom settings to practice strategies. Furthermore, the use of VLEs in the field of education is a new and innovative way for creating a feedback cycle that promotes adult learning and in the moment feedback, while not interrupting a real school day or classroom environment. Therefore, the literature associated to this research project spreads into three categories:
- Increasing the human capital of the early childhood workforce. Human capital refers to the skills, knowledge, and experiences early childhood teachers have, which ultimately influence the overall early childhood workforce. It has been found that teachers, including early childhood teachers, are the most important resource schools can provide students and families (Workman & Ullrich, 2017). However, in the state of Illinois it has been stated that many early childhood educators are not adequately prepared to be effective in adding the development of young children (White, Colaninno, Doll, & Lewandowski, 2017). Therefore, through coaching and VLEs early childhood teachers can be prepared and provided opportunities to expand their knowledge set while also practicing effective classroom strategies.
- Adult learning and feedback cycles. The knowledge of how adults learn and feedback cycles are important to the implementation of new skills (Knowles, 1950). Adults learn predominately through experiences that have immediate and applicable results. Additionally, feedback cycles allow adults, specifically early childhood teachers, to reflect on their performance in VLEs applying the After Action Review (ARR) (Parry, Pires, & Sparkes-Guber, 2007). ARR is a structured review for analyzing what happened, why it happened, and how it can be improved, with the goal of improving future performance.
- Using Virtual Learning Environments to provide training. There is minimal research focused on VLEs in the field of education and even less focusing on the early childhood workforce. While the research is minimal, there is research data within the last ten years focused on the overall use of VLEs with teachers and teacher candidates, specifically in elementary and higher grades.
Brief Summary of Pilot Research
In spring 2017, early childhood teacher candidates at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville participated in a Virtual Learning Environment. After co-planning and submitting a lesson plan from the teacher candidates, they participated in a VLE. During the lesson in the VLE other teacher candidates observed the simulation in order to provide feedback and to learn from the feedback provided from the professor.
After the entire experience, the teacher candidates were asked to reflect on their experiences in the VLE. On the survey a majority of the teacher candidates stated that the coaching and feedback were the most beneficial portions of the experience. The ability to stop, receive feedback, and implement the strategies immediately prepared the teacher candidates. Additionally, the teacher candidates reflected that the ability for the avatars to respond with correct and incorrect answers, as well as unexpected comments created a real-life situation that the teacher candidates could work through with peers and a faculty member readily available to provide feedback and coaching.
In summary, there have been great advancements in relevant technologies, virtual reality is currently under-utilized in educational training programs in spite of its potential impact (Dodd & Antonenko, 2012).
Andreasen, J. B. & Haciomeroglu, E. S. (2009). Teacher training in virtual environments. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the North American Chapter of the International Group for the Psychology of Mathematics Education, Atlanta, GA.
Dieker, L., Hynes, M., Hughes, C.E., & Smith, E. (2008). Implications of mixed reality and simulation technologies on special education and teacher preparation. Focus on Exceptional Children, 40(6), 1-20.
Dodd, B., & Antonenko, P. (2012). Signaling in desktop virtual reality and online learning management systems: A review of recent literature. Computers and Education, 59, 1099-1108.
Knowles, M. S. (1950) Informal Adult Education, New York: Association Press. Guide for educators based on the writer’s experience as a programme organizer in the YMCA.
Parry C., Pires M., & Sparkes-Guber H. (2007, pp. 484-489). Action review cycle (ARC) and the after action review (AAR) meeting. In Holman P., Devane T., Cady S. The change handbook. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
Portner, H. (2005). Success for New Teachers: Five reasons your school board should support induction and mentoring programs-plus three decisive actions you can take. American School Board Journal, 192(10), 30.
Richards, D. & Szilas, N. (2012). Challenging reality using techniques from interaction drama to support social simulations in virtual worlds. Proceedings of the 8th Australasian Conference on Interactive Entertainment: Playing the System.
White, B. R., Colaninno, C. E., Doll, M., & Lewandowski, H. (2017). Illinois early childhood innovation zones: A new model for state policy? (IERC 2017-1). Edwardsville, IL: Illinois Education Research Council at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
Workman, S., & Ullrich, R. (2017, February 13). Quality 101: Identifying the core components of a high-quality early childhood program. Washington, DC: Center for American Progress.
Dr. Anni Reinking is an assistant professor in the early childhood program at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Her research focuses on teacher preparation, virtual training, and multicultural education.