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Going virtual—symbolically, holistically and effectively

As an IB pathway student-teacher studying at the University of Dundee, Amy Fraser completed a virtual practicum at the International School of Como. She reflects on how virtual teaching allowed her to improve her communication and problem-solving skills.

Going virtual—symbolically, holistically and effectively

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?

Amy Fraser: Remote learning has challenged me in ways that have been very helpful in improving my teaching practice. There are new factors to take into account, such as Internet, audio and video connection―all three need to work in order for the calls to be as effective as possible. There have been instances where the Internet connection has been poor, resulting in reduced sound and visual quality or disconnection from the call entirely, which can negatively impact the quality and pace of the lesson.

I had the opportunity to lead an online lesson with a class, which was interesting as I had never taught a lesson via Zoom, so it was an entirely new experience. This allowed me to step outside my comfort zone because I experienced first-hand the kind of different technical and pedagogical obstacles might happen in an online learning environment. It allowed me to think on my feet for ways to resolve them and has helped me to develop my problem-solving skills.

Obstacles can arise when pupils do not have access to resources at home. For example, if they do not have access to a printer, then they won’t be able to complete assignments that require printed materials. This was easy to overcome through video conferencing apps, such as Zoom, which allow you to share the screen with everyone and allow the teacher to put resources up on screen for all the pupils to access.

“Resource preparation and organization are important in any classroom and perhaps more so in a virtual classroom”.

When I was first leading lessons, children initially found it difficult to understand me when I was explaining a task to them. On reflection, I realized this was, in part, due to the fact that working with a multilingual class was new to me and I was speaking too quickly, meaning I had to repeat things a lot. I managed to overcome this by speaking slower and with greater clarity. I observed the class teacher’s effective use of hand gestures and symbols and used this in my own practice to communicate more holistically and, ultimately, more effectively.

Resource preparation and organization are important in any classroom and perhaps more so in a virtual classroom. To ensure all students are able to access their learning, associated resources were shared online as part of the weekly timetable (or delivered as hard copies for those students working remotely but not virtually). As in any classroom, sometimes students require additional support or may finish their work earlier than others. Online platforms with the capacity to screen share enable teachers to respond in real time to the needs of their pupils that require additional support or challenge resources.

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

I expect in-person classroom instruction during next year’s IB practicum to be very different from the virtual education I have observed and participated in. Explaining key learning outcomes to children in lessons will be much easier in-person than online because everybody will be in the same room. The virtual problems I’ve encountered, such as connection and audio quality issues, would not occur as pupils would be able to listen to what the teacher is telling them to do. It will also be much easier to carry out formative assessment during the lessons as all children will be present in the classroom. When learning remotely, some students are not always present and may complete the work on their own while others may have had help from a parent. This means that the teacher sometimes must work harder to gain an accurate reflection of student progress. Being at school in-person means that the teacher is always there to help, support and challenge students. Furthermore, all children will have the appropriate resources.

“I would encourage teachers to practice using the technology as much as possible before teaching so that they are familiar with it”.

It will be interesting to experience the Primary Years Programme (PYP) exhibition in person. During my virtual practicum, the grade six pupils delivered their presentations online and had to consider the format of their presentations to ensure they were easily legible on a shared screen. For example, when pupils presented on paper, it was sometimes difficult for the audience to read the information because the screen quality was not always the best. However, in-person, posters would be easily legible. In-person, children have many more choices of formats for their presentations that would work well and are not limited to online technology.

What I found amazing about the PYP exhibitions being presented via Zoom was that it enabled many more people to watch than would have been possible in school. For example, other schools could join the call, as well as students’ family and friends from all over the world! It was incredible seeing the positive support from family, friends after the students presented their exhibitions as I could see how proud the loved ones were and how much the students appreciated it. I also loved giving positive feedback to all the students for their excellent work. I could tell that they all put in so much effort!

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

Advice I would share is that it is always very important to be as clear and concise as possible when teaching. The clearer you are at setting expectations and negotiating desired outcomes the fewer disruptions you will have and the smoother your lesson will flow.

From what I observed, the teachers are all very good at using different hand symbols representing different concepts. For example, to represent, ‘think’, the teacher put their finger on their head. This works very well, so I would encourage all teachers to do this whether it is in virtual school or in-person.

Furthermore, I would encourage teachers to practice using the technology as much as possible before teaching so that they are familiar with it. I found at the beginning, I was scared to do much with regards to sharing the screen and using break-out rooms, but the more familiar I got, the more confident I felt.

Overall, I have thoroughly enjoyed my virtual practicum experience and it has been amazing for increasing my confidence in teaching!

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Amy Fraser 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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