Questions Answered About Virtual Reality and Early Childhood Teacher Preparation (Guest blogger: Dr. Anni Reinking)

If you attended the Higher Ed. Forum in Bloomington, IL in 2018, you are able to see the early childhood virtual learning environment in action or if you read the VLE blog in 2017, you learned more about the VLE experience. However, you might still have many questions. In this blog, four of those questions will be answered.

  1. What is Virtual Learning Environment (VLE)? If you have not heard of VLE before, here is a brief overview. A VLE experience provides:
  • a safe and low-stress environment for learning and refining best practices
  • practice with no harm/risk to others
  • an actively construct knowledge and apply in context
  • immediate Feedback; Debrief process where critical feedback can be incorporated in future practice
  • suspend (pause) session, regroup/discuss better options, restart session and practice new techniques (pause classroom)
  • avenue for self-reflection

Essentially, VLEs blend artificial intelligence with human intelligence. Overall, the VLE is an indispensable training tool. Studies show that simulations are more effective than other instructional methods, because they simultaneously engage participants’ emotional and cognitive processes.

  1. How do you pay for it?

Currently, Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville “owns” a license which provides full access to most scenarios (parent, administrator, classrooms, office visit, etc.). SIUE purchased the license and all needed technology and materials using administrative support and grants. If teacher preparation departments have a desire to use the VLE at SIUE (it is transportable), SIUE charges $125/session. If you choose to purchase a license it is $25,000/year, along with technology costs.

How do universities pay for per hour charge? Some programs charge a student fee, others have applied to grants, and others have secured administrative support based on the transformational application of the experience.

  1. What have you found with the research completed in the early childhood VLE?

Overall the last year, Dr. Reinking has collaborated with the University of Central Florida and Illinois Action for Children to implement the early childhood classroom scenario. These are the preliminary results:

The Spring 2018 cohort overall remarked positively to their experiences using the virtual simulator (TeachLivE). Many participants’ comments focused on two areas: ability to work with others and their peers and wishing they had more time to practice in the simulator.

Three main themes emerged when participants were asked to comment about what they liked about the professional development: 1) Interacting with an avatar/using virtual learning environments, 2) practicing techniques in the simulator before they taught in the classroom, and 3) ability to ask questions and receive feedback. These three themes suggest the participants felt safe with the avatars, they were able to make mistakes and learn from them, and could transfer skills into their real classrooms.

Participants were asked if there was anything they would change about the professional development, and most said the experience was great and did not need to be changed. Other comments were very constructive, including requests of interacting more in the simulator and explanations of what the avatars can and can’t do.

Overall, participants’ comments and Likert scores suggest positive experiences with the professional development using virtual simulators. Virtual simulators:

  1. Provide a safe environment for participants to practice, learn, make mistakes, and try again before interacting with students in their classrooms.
  2. Provide a unique experience for co-teachers to practice lessons together to find which co-teaching model works best for their instruction, as well as best for the lesson they will deliver.
  3. Participants expressed the desire for more time in the simulator to hone their skills to effectively teach their classrooms.

Here is a video of one participant in the VLE at Illinois Action for Children:

In this video you see the benefit of pausing the classroom, providing, feedback, and the interactions the avatar students are able to do.

  1. How do you incorporate it into teacher preparation programs?

Currently SIUE incorporates the VLE into several courses including, but not limited to:

  • Parent teacher conferences: pre-service and in-service teachers practice engaging in parent teacher conferences, specifically focused on difficult conversations.
  • IEP Meetings: pre-service and in-service teachers practice engaging in IEP meetings. This is in collaboration with the special education program.
  • Co-Teaching: pre-service teachers engage in co-planning and co-teaching in the VLE.
  • Classroom Management: pre-service and in-service teachers practice developmentally appropriate behavior management practices.
  • Classroom Instruction: pre-service and in-service teachers practice various classroom instruction strategies.
  • Feedback: pre-service and in-service teachers practice providing impactful feedback (link to edTPA).

The students interact in the VLE during class time or, if time allows, during other parts of their day.


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.

WE NEED YOU IN THE CONVERSATION! (Guest blogger: Catherine Main)

The recent report, Teach Illinois—Strong Teachers, Strong Classrooms: Policy Solutions to Alleviate Teacher Shortages in Illinois (September 2018), from the Illinois State Board of Education highlighted key teacher shortage areas and offered a range of recommendations to address those shortages. On behalf of our membership we drafted a response to the report. Our response is below.

But, this is just the start of the conversation. We need to continually be engaged and participate in our professional organizations (ILAECTE) as well as local and state level committees that recommend practices and policies impacting our program and students. Please RSVP to our Meeting on November 2, 2018 at Elmhurst College.


The Illinois Association for Early Childhood Teacher Educator (ILAECTE) is professional organization representing faculty and administrators in early childhood teacher educations program across Illinois institutions of higher education. It is an affiliate organization of the National Association of Early Childhood Teacher Educators.

As an organization focused on issues impacting the recruitment, preparation and assessment of teacher candidates in early childhood education programs we appreciate the opportunity to respond to the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) report, Teach Illinois—Strong Teachers, Strong Classrooms: Policy Solutions to Alleviate Teacher Shortages in Illinois (September 2018).

Our comments are based on our collective experiences in both teacher preparation and broader policy making within early childhood education. We have organized our responses around four key areas that we believe impact the identification of the problems and potential solutions for teacher shortages across early childhood education programs in Illinois.

Create a more accurate data portrait of both Illinois children in early childhood programs and the Illinois early childhood workforce.

While we recognize that the data referring to Illinois students is now frequently represented as P-12, we do not have an accurate definition of what the “P” actually represents. Illinois children are served across a range of programs, including programs administered by ISBE such as Preschool For All (PFA) and Prevention Initiative (PI). These programs are offered in both school-based settings and community based settings. When calculating the demand for early childhood teachers in Illinois, which programs are included and what settings are included?

We were surprised to see that early childhood was not highlighted as major shortage area in Illinois. Other published data shows a significant shortage in the number of teachers with Professional Educator Licenses (PEL) with endorsements in early childhood education and subsequent endorsements in bilingual/ESL and early childhood special education. These shortages are represented in the very high turnover rates across early childhood programs.[1] Additionally, during the same period of preschool expansion from half day programs to more classrooms and full day programs, in our most underserved communities, the number of teachers entitled to a PEL with an endorsement in early childhood education dropped from 1,365 in 2012 to just 599 in 2017.[2]

We recommended a broader and more inclusive analysis of data regarding early childhood programs to produce a more accurate portrait of the actual supply and demand of highly qualified teachers.

Remove the testing requirement of academic proficiency and replace with a more comprehensive assessment of academic proficiency.  

While it may not have been the intention of the state legislature and the subsequent ISBE rules regarding academic proficiency, the required passing score thresholds on the tests of academic proficiency (e.g. ITAP, ACT, SAT) have done more to limit access and opportunity, particularly for minorities, than any other program requirement. The data is conclusive: not only have less than one-third of all test takers passed the test on the first attempt, fewer and fewer potential teacher candidates are even taking the test. For example, between 2015 and 2017, the percentage of African American test-takers dropped from 11 percent to just 3 percent.[3] Moreover there is scant evidence regarding a correlation, much less a causal connection, between tests of academic proficiency and teacher quality.

What we do know is that socio-cultural matches between teachers and children[4] and teacher years of experience[5] impact student outcomes. Instead of focusing on tests of academic proficiency, the focus should be on recruiting and supporting more diverse teacher candidates, particularly from the incumbent early childhood workforce as well as teacher assistants and paraprofessionals. We also recommend immediately replacing a single test score as an indicator with a range of factors that represent a teacher candidate’s academic proficiency such grade point averages and degree completion, including AA and AAS degrees.

Create more accessible, viable and equitable pathways to teaching.

As mentioned above, diversity and experience are important to teacher effectiveness. We recommend a full review of ISBE licensure program rules to identify and remove barriers that impede opportunities for working adults, such as licensed child care providers, teacher assistants, and paraprofessionals to enroll and successfully complete teacher licensure programs. These barriers include rules regarding where teacher candidates can student teach, whether or not they can be compensated for student teaching and specific qualifications related to cooperating teachers, on site mentors, and administrator responsible for teacher evaluation. In addition, we recommend a well-defined option that includes a sequence of coursework and practicum experiences for elementary education teachers and teacher candidates to add a subsequent endorsement in early childhood education to a PEL with an endorsement in elementary education. We strongly advise against a short-sighted solution of reconfiguring grade bans to include K in the elementary licensure. Including K exclusively in the early childhood licensure represents a decision by multiple stakeholders and ISBE to put the learning and developmental needs of young children ahead of administrative ease of building staffing. We are eager to work with ISBE and other stakeholders to continue our efforts in competency based solutions and improved transfer and articulation initiative pathways that focus on supporting our incredibly diverse incumbent early childhood workforce as well as viable options for elementary education teachers to add an early childhood endorsement.

Create a new paradigm for teacher and program evaluation.

We believe that evaluation systems that focus on student outcomes, particularly as measured by standardized tests are problematic at every level—but especially in early childhood education. Development and learning for young children is both uneven and sporadic. Additionally, we know that children come to school with a variety of strengths and experiences that do not create a level playing field when evaluating their progress. For example, not all children have access to high quality food, housing, community and family resources, school resources etc. Appropriate assessment of what young children know and can do must should be done through observation and in authentic contents only. As a result, we lack the measurable evidence that can we attributed to either the teacher or the licensure program a teacher completed. Teacher and program evaluation should instead be focused on improvement and support. We recommend removing all references to student outcomes from both early childhood teacher and early childhood preparation program data collection, monitoring and evaluations.

Sincerely,

Rebecca Pruitt-President

Catherine Main- Past President

Kathleen Sheridan- Past President and Secretary

[1] Main, C., Yarbrough, K.W. & Patten, B. (2018). Voices from the front lines of early learning: 2017 Illinois early childhood workforce survey report. Chicago, IL: UIC College of Education. Retrieved from https://www2.illinois.gov/sites/OECD/Documents/2017%20Illinois%20Early%20Childhood%20Workforce%20Survey%20Report.pdf.

[2] Author’s calculations using data from ISBE Educator Supply and Demand in Illinois—2014 Annual Report. Retrieved from https://www.isbe.net/documents/ed-supply-demand-2014.pdf and ISBE Educator Supply and Demand in Illinois—2017 Annual Report. Retrieved from https://www.isbe.net/documents/ed-supply-demand-2017.pdf

[3] Latino Policy Forum calculations from ISBE data. Retrieved from http://www.isbe.net/licensure/html/testing.htm.

[4] Egalite, A. & Kisada, B. (2017) The Effects of Teacher Match on Students’ Academic Perceptions and Attitudes. Retrieved from http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.3102/0162373717714056

[5] Kini, T., & Podolsky, A. Does Teaching Experience Increase Teacher Effectiveness? A Review of the Research (Palo Alto: Learning Policy Institute, 2016). Retrieved from: https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/our-work/publications-resources/ does-teaching-experience-increase-teacher-effectiveness-review-research.


Catherine Main is a senior lecturer and program coordinator in the College of Education and a visiting scholar on the Early Investments Initiative with the Institute of Government and Public Affairs (IGPA) at the University of Illinois- Chicago.