Teacher Practice – The Fourth Space!

Calandra, B. & Puvirajah, A. (2014). Teacher practice in multi-user virtual environments: A fourth space. TechTrends, 58(6), 29-35.

The authors presented an article on Multi User Virtual Environments (MUVEs) as a practicable, situated and embodied virtual space where novice teachers can work with other pre-service teachers to practice being a teacher without the constraints and risks related to practicing in actual schools. MUVEs, at their simplest form, are either two or three dimensional computer simulated graphical environments where real-world participants represent themselves through online persona or avatars to interact with various digital artifacts or other avatars (Dede et al., 2004). Regarding the need for MUVEs, several researchers have asserted that teacher education programs need to have a greater focus on clinical practice because the deliberate inclusion of practice prepares teachers to perform tasks and activities more skillfully and with greater confidence by the time they enter the profession (Ball & Forzani, 2009). Thus, Calandra & Puvirajah suggest that it would be ideal to provide pre-service teachers with actual classroom practice, but that it is not always feasible and offer their research on MUVEs as a “fourth space” as a part of or a near-real solution to this dilemma.

Calandra & Puvirajah offer four spaces for pre-service teachers to learn and hone their classroom practices: 1) traditional lecture-driven classroom, 2) microteaching and role-play, 3) practice teaching in actual schools, and 4) teacher practice takes place in MUVEs. The first space of learning, is about reading and listening to others or perhaps better described as canonical knowledge with learners being passive recipients. The second space, opens the door for microteaching and role-playing in contrived scenarios usually in a university classroom with peers and the result is a simple and/or obvious solution to a teaching problem without genuine classroom distractions and within an artificial time frame. The third space, is practicing teaching in an actual school and offers pre-service teachers the opportunity for situated, authentic and valuable learning. However, the authors note that actual pre-service teachers might not be able to handle the large sensory load and the high pressure that is inherent to physical world classrooms while also learning the essentials of teaching. That idea was supported by Korthagen & Lagerwerf (1995), when they posited that teachers in these (pre-service) situations might produce more visceral or instinctual responses to occurrences in the classroom rather than connect praxis decisions to theory via repeated practice and careful reflection. Thus, the fourth space was constructed by Calandra & Puvirajah, to include the ability to: 1) occupy a virtual persona within a near-real simulation, 2) work within a social, distributed environment, 3) fail in a low stakes setting, 4) repeat a given task many times, and 5) isolate a particular aspect of the experience for careful reflection (p. 32).

I think there is incredible value to constructing a MUVE for pre-service teachers to try out a variety of different classroom tasks such as lecturing, working in groups, practice questioning techniques, working on classroom management strategies, interacting with parents, etc. I think a classroom MUVE could provide a much more natural, organic and authentic space where learning would occur for pre-service teachers where they would have to think on their feet, react to the myriad of situations that occur and reflect on their actions. Speaking from experience, when newly minted teachers work in our district, I clearly see the struggles, large sensory loads that impact their classroom happenings and the general feelings of being overwhelmed. All new teachers want to be the best they can be, but in reality teaching is an unpredictable and highly variable endeavor. MUVEs might be the catalyst and fourth space needed to simulate the possible spectrum of classroom activities and best prepare new teachers for their first teaching job. At the least, MUVEs are worth additional studies to determine if they might be a viable option to complement existing pre-service teacher preparation programs.

Works Cited:

Ball, D. L., & Forzani, F. M. (2009). The work of teaching and the challenge for teacher education. Journal of Teacher Education, 60(5), 497-511.

Dede, C., Nelson, B., Ketelhut, D. J., Clark, J., & Bowman, C. (2004). Design-based research strategies for studying situated learning in a multi-user virtual environment. In Proceedings of the 6th international conference on Learning Sciences (pp. 158-165). International Society of the Learning Sciences.

Korthagen, F., & Lagerwerf, B. (1995). Levels of learning. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 32(10), 1001-1038.

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