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The unexpected possibility of a virtual practicum

As an IB pathway student-teacher studying at the University of Dundee, Amellia Elizabeth Menmuir completed a virtual practicum at the International School of Como. She reflects on the new possibilities and resources that online learning has opened up for future classroom instruction.

The unexpected possibility of a virtual practicum

To learn more about the impact that the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic is having on education, we connected with educators, student-teachers and schools. You can find more perspectives from this series here.

How has remote learning and conducting an online practicum challenged you?

Amellia Elizabeth Menmuir: Personally, I feel that virtual placement has taught me to appreciate the resources and ability to work with the students one-on-one, rather than give me any negative views on online teaching as an approach. It has allowed me to learn to be creative and introduce concepts in ways I would never have learned from only in person classroom practice.

I have gained the resilience and adaptability to change how I encourage and engage students to support their learning. This is vital as there are some students who may not view an online space as a learning environment, which can lead to distraction and inability to focus. The challenge is not for the practitioner, rather for the students, who have had their routine changed and don’t always have the understanding of how to cope with it. Allowing the students to still feel connected, able to share and communicate with their class peers is vital during virtual learning as students are missing their regular breaks during the school day. The International School of Como has introduced a variety of strategies, such as show and tell Padlets, to support sharing personal experiences and inquiries the students have engaged with outside screen time.

How do you expect in-person classroom instruction during your IB practicum next year to differ from the virtual education you have just observed?

“When returning to the classroom, I feel allowing the ability for both virtual and live presentations should be continued”

There are some aspects I expect to change but most things have adapted to being as close to classroom practice as possible. For example, the positive relationships between students and teachers are still very much there. However, I am excited to observe the students’ inquiry process, as most of this has been through independent work off-screen, so we cannot watch the children challenge themselves and wonder about their curiosities within a subject.

Sharing presentations through Zoom has changed my opinion on presentation possibilities online. During the virtual Primary Years Programme (PYP) exhibition, I observed students presenting to 90+ viewers. When returning to the classroom, I feel allowing the ability for both virtual and live presentations should be continued, as it is accessible to viewers all over the world. This allows for greater audiences allowing more family members to be involved and global partnerships to be created. I have also noticed how much extra student agency we have allowed these students to gain, as we cannot hover over them to ensure the final deadlines are met. Virtual learning has allowed students to find the motivation to create and prepare for themselves and has proven they can do this alone. As an in-class practitioner, I will be aware of this and allow the students the time and space for this process to take place, whereas before I might have too quickly jumped in to support.

What advice do you have for other future educators as they navigate the differences in virtual to in-person teaching?

If we were to continue with virtual learning, I would encourage you to jump at the opportunity with open arms. There are a lot of, “firsts”, within virtual learning. Once you get into it, there isn’t much difference between in-person practice and virtual. Students love to learn and the quality of work they produce at home with their own resources is wonderful. With careful planning and flexibility, virtual learning does not have to limit what can be explored in the Scope and Sequence documents. You never know what hidden talents you might tap into from the comfort of a student’s home.

Don’t be afraid to set inquiries as children will be able to find resource and ways to present. For example, I had a student who created a dance to explain the layers of the ocean. Virtual learning has encouraged students to problem-solve and apply creativity throughout. By finding their own ways to create and present their learning, students are demonstrating the ability to adapt and build a new learning environment that suits their current situation.

“While working with IS Como, I have noted the importance of using resources such as online portfolios”.

Creative thinking will be your go-to. How can you inspire the students when you aren’t there in person to create an impact? Virtual learning requires looking for student motivation and curiosities the same way as in the classroom and using this will engage students.

The biggest difference has been finding new ways to be able to show off the students’ work, where the students can see their accomplishment and view their own progress. While working with IS Como, I have noted the importance of using resources such as online portfolios. This allows the students to share their work, receive feedback from their teachers and peers and allows them to have a copy that they can look back at. I feel this should be taken into in-person teaching as it encourages students to keep a record of their work, which they can easily access to reflect on their progress throughout the year.

Finally, take time to let the students settle in this new environment and learn to teach in this way. Starting slowly allows students to adapt to this new environment and make the most of their learning without overwhelming them.

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Amellia Elizabeth Menmuir is completing her MA in education at the University of Dundee in Scotland.

To gain either an IB certificate in teaching and learning or in leadership research, simply enroll in a programme of study at one of our IB-recognized universities.

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