This guest blog was written by Susanne Nobles, Partnerships Director for Digital Promise. Prior to Digital Promise, Susanne was a teacher and administrator, leading and advising 1:1 programs at middle, secondary, and collegiate levels, as well as teaching English and advising yearbook staffs. She earned her Ph.D. in Composition and New Media from Old Dominion University, her M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from Virginia Commonwealth University, and her A.B. in English with Teacher Certification from Duke University.
As I wrote in my last blog, online teaching practice, or virtual field experience, has clear benefits for training teachers. Traditional preservice teachers gain experience in classrooms beyond the local communities around their colleges, while nontraditional students and career-switchers have more flexibility to do their teaching practice along with managing other responsibilities. All teachers also gain experience in online spaces, a critical need to ensure that the great potential of online learning is met by skilled teaching.
Yet, virtual field experiences have an impact that is even more important: they create new, powerful supports for students.
Increased learning outcomes
In my own research, I found that students who work with preservice teachers in virtual field experiences learned more than they did working with just me, their classroom teacher. Even as a teacher with 20 years of experience, I could not provide my students the range of support as readers, writers, and thinkers that they got having an online preservice teacher to work with beyond their regular class time. One of my students said it best, “More than one person’s opinion helped me see what people understood and what they did and did not like. It is like when you take a survey and the more people who are asked the more correct the survey is. So the more ideas and opinions I get help my poetry get better.”
The impact goes even deeper. Preservice teachers who do at least some of their training in high poverty schools have been shown to be more effective when they work in similar schools. Virtual field experiences can provide opportunities for more preservice teachers to train in an incredible diversity of classrooms, in turn creating more teachers who have the skills to support learners in the highest need schools.
Increased opportunities beyond school
As Julia Freeland-Fisher lays out in her book, technology can radically expand students’ access to the relationships that are at the heart of social capital. Freeland-Fisher provides examples of the programs that currently exist to help connect students to adult mentors. Teacher prep programs, through virtual field experiences, can exponentially increase mentoring opportunities. By connecting students to preservice teachers from outside of students’ communities, virtual field experiences can open doors for students to see opportunities they might never have known existed and to connect with mentors who can help them learn to navigate and succeed in these new spaces.
Teacher prep programs are also uniquely qualified to address a key concern Freeland-Fisher raises: the risk of virtual mentor relationships “digitally ‘crashing’ adults and young people from different backgrounds together without scaffolds and supports to nurture trust.” Preservice teachers are perfect partners for crafting meaningful relationships, as they too benefit from learning how to interact with people of different backgrounds. While we hope all adults understand the benefits they can gain from mentoring a young person, we can be assured that preservice teachers explicitly discuss these benefits and, in turn, work hard to practice the skills it takes to support learners from diverse backgrounds.
Disruption for all
As I wrote in my last blog, let’s create new, virtual pathways for teacher training that offer diverse and plentiful learning opportunities for preservice teachers. And in doing so, let’s also open up a new world of opportunities for students—opportunities to have even more support in their learning and to grow the networks that will support them in achieving their dreams.