Teacher Education

Online Teaching Tips for Teacher Prep Professionals with Dr. James Mitchell [Workshop]

Online Teaching Tips for Teacher Prep Professionals with Dr. James Mitchell [Workshop]


Imagine preparing teacher candidates online with old school dial-up. Wild, right? But that’s how Dr. James Mitchell began preparing teacher candidates online in 1999.

I had the pleasure of hosting an online workshop with Dr. Mitchell last week, and today’s episode is a special recording of that workshop. With 20 plus years of experience preparing teacher candidates online, Jim provides online teaching tips for teacher prep professionals looking to create a sustainable online learning environment this fall.

I know you’ll find this special episode useful. So, without further ado, here’s the webinar with Dr. James Mitchell.

Paradigms for Online Education

Dr. James Mitchell: Thank you, Hillary. Hello, and thanks for having me today. I’m Dr. James, and I prefer Jim, Mitchell. I am a professor of teacher education at Cal State East Bay in Hayward, California. We also have campuses in Concord, and we have a thriving online campus. I direct the single subject credential online program, a program we’re about to launch our second year next week. (00:40)

Jim, you started working with teacher candidates online in 1999. I can’t imagine using dial-up to prepare teacher candidates. Can you tell us about your first experience? (01:03)

Dr. James Mitchell: Yeah, sure. I’m an old AOL user. I was one of the first people to use AOL. I had my first name and then 13 after that. I was the 13th James on AOL. I started teaching online through dial-up because that was what was available and accessible. And I began incorporating a short, a very good program called nicenet.org. It was available years ago, and you can still find information about it online. It’s nice, net.org. It’s not very active now, but I brought that as a discussion platform to my campus class that I was teaching at another university in Southern California. And I recall introducing it to my course, the learners liked it. The candidates at the time liked it. And so I traveled to Boston for a conference and met a friend in Harvard Square and said to him, “You know, I have to teach my course right now because I put them online.” (01:13)

He was very unfamiliar with that and he said, “Well, can I watch you?” And so we went over to Kinkos in Harvard Square at the time, you probably remember Kinkos. I had to get to a computer because laptops were not accessible. And so he saw the platform that I had set up and he thought that was somewhat impressive. But as the candidates responded to my discussion prompts, my feedback was “Okay!” Or just an exclamation point. And he looked at me and said, “That’s not really teaching.” I totally agreed with him, and I said, “Let’s see what happens going forward.” So that was my initial feedback, just “Okay!” I would never do that today. And I think it’s an interesting place to begin. (02:13)

I love that anecdote. Teaching online, as you just illustrated, is very different from traditional face-to-face courses. So to help those making the transition now with all the technology we have available, what are some productive and healthy paradigms when it comes to online education? (02:59)

Dr. James Mitchell: Well I feel like many teacher educators that it’s difficult to admit that we don’t know how to do something and not be defensive about it. For me, I’m speaking only for me. But it’s really difficult to admit that we’re not familiar with something. This shift that we’ve gone through in the last three months is an enormous paradigm shift. And there are very few people whom I would call experts. I do not call myself an expert. I just have a lot of experience. There is a difference. (03:15)

Collectively we are experts. So we need to apply three Fs, actually. Flexibility, where we make maintain that what we’ve set forward may not be what we come out with, but we need to maintain flexibility. We need to forgive ourselves. That’s the second F. Forgive ourselves if we do something that’s not what we call up to our standards. And then forge ahead, always forge ahead, because we will learn how to do this together, and we will develop something really strong. Lastly, I’d say don’t be afraid to reach out to our candidates and stay in touch with how they see the shift is going for them. They are our greatest resource. (03:47)

Don't be afraid to reach out to candidates and stay in touch with how they see the shift is going for them. They are our greatest resource.—Dr. James Mitchell #teacherprep Share on X

Tips to Support Teacher Candidates Online

Along with having the right mindset. What are some tangible action teacher prep professionals can do to support their candidates online? (04:34)

Dr. James Mitchell: Well, we should not make assumptions. And so I always start with telling candidates to make sure your computer is turned on, or make sure you have access to your remote learning device that you’ll be using. And then find the right tools and resources that apply to the candidates you’re teaching, and become familiar with those tools by testing them out with a small group of people in that community that you’ll be serving that you’ll trust. To the best of my knowledge, most things that have been successful have started with at least one or two failures in the beginning. (04:43)

What are three tools or resources you found particularly useful? (05:20)

Dr. James Mitchell: That’s interesting. I was speaking with some of our instructors in the online program. We’re going to be using Padlet this coming year in our program, but I also would suggest Kahoot, which is a fun, engaging tool that is used by teachers. Blogger.com is part of Google, and it will help you give your candidates a voice in your courses. But what I’d also recommend is Quality Matters. I am a trainer for Quality Matters. They have an excellent K-12 transition program cited on their website at Quality Matters. So those are the resources I would want for today. (05:25)

Common Online Teaching Concerns

Perfect. Those are great. I believe that those will be in the chat too. You can see the link of those three resources Jim just listed. Since you have over 20 years of experience, I’m sure a lot of colleagues have been reaching out to with concerns about teaching online. What has been one of the most common concerns you’ve heard, and is there an answer that can make us feel a little bit at ease? (06:04)

Dr. James Mitchell: Well, the first concern is people may have some fear about trying something they’re not that familiar with. So they don’t want to look in a way that they’re not comfortable being viewed as. So I would say relax, forgive yourself. We’re going to make this together. And understand that people aren’t telling you how to teach. They’re just saying to you that we need to make this transition and you’re the expert to help us make it. So once you publish a course online, you can change it. And as long as you’re endorsing your change, you can always make adjustments to your online courses. It’s okay to not know what to do, but it’s also even better to celebrate your successes. There is no room for jealousy in this process. This is not a time for people to be anything but supportive of each other. We are all in this together. And the intention is to make an optimal learning experience for the candidates and the K-12 learners that they teach. We need to focus on the candidates and the learners that they teach, and just keep our egos to the side, and work through this together. (06:27)

This is not a time for people to be anything but supportive of each other. We are all in this together.—Dr. James Mitchell Share on X

Some experts refer to the scramble to finish online these past few months as emergency remote teaching. Now as we settle into a new normal, there’s a discussion about moving beyond emergency tactics to something more thoughtful and sustained. What can teacher prep professionals do to make the transition from emergency online instruction to more sustained online learning this fall? (07:38)

Dr. James Mitchell: Well, I live by the motto, “Educate, don’t pontificate.” Really people aren’t looking to one individual to solve this. It’s a community of people. All of us on this webinar, people who may be watching the recording later, these are the people that will help us all make this transition a successful one. And also get involved with the community that each of us is going to be serving. We have different sites on this webinar right now. There can’t be a one size fits all method. You know, the community you serve. Involve members of that community and work extensively with your local preschool to grade 12 partners. (08:00)

Equity and Accessibility in Online Courses

One of the concerns about creating a more sustainable online environment is making sure that online instruction remains equitable and accessible. Do you have any tips or resources for instructors when it comes to equity and accessibility? (08:44)

Dr. James Mitchell: Well, the three A’s I would offer in response would be access, affordability, and accommodations. I offered to volunteer for this interview because I feel very strongly that GoReact reaches those three criteria. It offers tremendous access. It’s affordable, and it has strong Americans with Disabilities Act compliance pieces to it. So GoReact is one. But I will tell you that it took our team about eight weeks to become familiar with it. So I just want to be real with people on this webinar that this is a process of learning and the first stage is that we don’t know. Then we know we don’t know. Then we know we know. And then we just know. And so I would just say, give yourself some time. (08:58)

GoReact is an excellent product to use. Zoom is fantastic. Many of us are using Zoom now. I’ve been using Zoom since it was out in the public domain years ago. And we need to make sure that whatever we do, we comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act protocols. Quality Matters, the organization I mentioned, has a complete standard entirely devoted to the ADA compliance because we need to be able to offer our learners the access that they may not have. We cannot make the assumptions we can draw when we see someone on campus face-to-face. So there are a series of things that we need to do. I would invite you to look at the checklist for Americans with Disabilities Act and other materials to make sure that your courses are compliant. (09:46)

Fostering Teacher-Candidate Relationships Online

Thank you for pointing out those resources. That’s really important, especially as we’re moving online. In face-to-face courses just being in the same room as your candidates can help develop strong one-on-one relationships. Now that instructors aren’t in the same room as their students, how can they still create healthy and strong relationships with their candidates online? (10:38)

Dr. James Mitchell: Well, first of all, we can ask our candidates to take ownership of the process as well. They can have their own blogs set up in their courses, or you could have a program blog site so that they can vocalize with guidelines for appropriate etiquette and behavior in terms of what they need and what is the importance of having them as a part of the process. What voice do they want to share in this process? I would also suggest that social media is being used more and more. We’re going to be using Instagram in some of about courses next semester as a teaching tool, and that will be quite interesting. We’re also going to keep aware of the emerging social media trends. There are people on this webinar, I’m sure, who could speak about 5K technology and how that’s going to transform everything. So stay honest, open-minded, and willing to change because change is just starting for us. (10:57)

I’m curious. Can you tell us a little bit more about Instagram? What are you guys doing with Instagram? (12:01)

Dr. James Mitchell: Well, it’s interesting to see how it rolls out. I believe we’re going to be having an Instagram website for various courses so that learners can have them accessible and we’ll be teaching through Instagram because people are going to be using their phones. And the people were teaching now, the candidates, are very much the Instagram generation. (12:05)

Preparing Teacher Candidates for Online Supervision

That’s really a fantastic and unique idea. That’s great. Since most of our audience are teacher preparation professionals, supervision seemed to be a particularly difficult hurdle during this pandemic. What has been an effective way of preparing candidates online when they’re doing field placements or have supervisions? (12:28)

Dr. James Mitchell: We use GoReact as a supervision tool. We also use Zoom for conferencing. We’ve been doing that for the past year, especially. We’re using them both in our on-campus and online programs. For synchronous and asynchronous video we’ve used GoReact so that everybody can be on the same page with an excellent platform that will allow for some really good feedback to offer in terms of classroom performance. So what we especially like with the platform we use, which is GoReact, which is why I’m here, is because it offers a great communication tool one-on-one with the supervisor and the candidate, and points in the lesson can be specifically gone to, to address a supervisor’s comment so that both the supervisor and the candidate can reflect on the practice. (12:47)

And would you say that you use a similar structure for methodology courses as well? (13:40)

Dr. James Mitchell: Yes. We also use it in our methods courses as well to teach methods and for our candidates to model methods in the methods courses. Same idea—perform the activity and get feedback on it. (13:46)

Debunking Online Education Myths

Now I have to ask, are there any pervasive ideas about online education that are misleading? So is there a myth that you’d like to debunk here and now? (14:30)

Dr. James Mitchell: Oh, sure. Well, I grew up in the Northeast and you can probably tell by the way I speak. And there was a smoker in my house as a kid and my dad used to get these matchbook covers that would say, “Learn something at home in your part-time.” Then at the bottom, you saw a little thing on the matchbook cover that said: “close matchbook cover before striking.” We used that. Well, I’m part of a community. I don’t know if everybody uses it, but my community of friends in online teaching and learning use that phrase “close matchbook cover before striking” to synopsize what the beginnings of this process were. Where you could just paste the course up, wait for the responses, and come back later and deal with the course. It was much easier to do it then. (14:39)

That’s a great myth now. That’s just not the way it’s done. I have put in over three times as much work during this transition. And I’ve been teaching online for 20 years. My colleagues who are not familiar with it are putting in much more than the three times the workload that I’ve been putting into this. So the greatest misrepresentation now is that it’s easier. I don’t think it’s easier. I think it’s fun. I think it’s really productive, but I don’t feel it’s easier, and I certainly don’t feel it’s less work. I believe it’s more work, especially in this transitionary period. (15:27)

I don't think that teaching online is easier. I think it's fun. I think it's really productive, but I don't feel it's easier, and I certainly don't feel it's less work.—Dr. James Mitchell Share on X

A Healthy Transition to Teaching Online

I think you bring up an important point. Creating sustainable online courses is really going to require a lot of extra work. So as an online veteran, do you have any tips for attendees of how they can keep a healthy work-life balance as they begin to prepare teacher candidates online? (16:03)

Dr. James Mitchell: It’s very important when you take care of ourselves first. This is a stressful period for all of us. And I will say “all” being inclusive. I usually don’t speak in those terms, but this is a stressful period for all of us. We need to be able to take care of ourselves so it’s okay to set boundaries. And the boundaries I set are I don’t respond to emails after 6 or 8. 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM every day. At 8:00 AM Monday through Friday, I maintain a Zoom virtual office from 8:00 to 8:30. All of the candidates I teach online and on-ground have that information, and they drop in from 8:00 to 8:30 if they see the need to do that. That’s to represent the old office hours concept of Dr. So-and-so being in their office, and students can just drop by. (16:18)

Our candidates know I’m going to be there every day at 8:00 AM. What that does for me is I have to be somewhere at 8:00 AM. So this is what I do, and maybe I’m the only person who will do this. But this is what I do, and it’s quite successful. It was fantastically successful last year. Last year I went to have candidates show up, like they would my usual office. We’d have five to six minutes of chat back and forth. “Well, thanks very much. I’ll see you later.” It worked just like the campus office. What it also gave to candidates was knowing that I’m there. So they actually feel like they have Jim Mitchell there, their instructor. They may never go see him, but he’s there. And I commit to being there Monday through Friday at 8:00 AM. I will also share with you that Friday is the busiest day. For whatever reason in those 30 minutes, I may see 17 people. It’s quite amazing. (17:10)

We have to take care of ourselves first.—Dr. James Mitchell #onlineteaching #teacherprep Share on X

But having those boundaries for me is critically important because candidates have a way, and students have a way of finding me. I don’t have to feel like I’m listening to email all the time and having to reply to email. It’s the constant email communication, which can really tire all of us out. So we set boundaries and we commit to honor them. Now I will share with you that when I get an email during the day, I make every effort to reply as soon as possible. I may be in a meeting. I’ve had two emails come in while we’re doing this. I’ll reply to them later this morning. But I never let it in an email just sit there for more than six hours. (18:05)

So have boundaries for ourselves because we have to take care of ourselves first. I’m really looking forward to this weekend because this has been a very, very stressful week for me at work. I’m sure I’m not the only person on the webinar who feels that way. Having those boundaries gives me something to hold onto, and it’s really good for my health. (18:47)

Q&A Session

Thank you. I think that’s so important that we especially address that. Sometimes I think the instructors can be forgotten as we focus so much on the students as we’re transitioning online. Right? So remember yourselves and keep a healthy balance. Now, thank you for answering my questions. Now we’d like to take a few minutes to do a Q&A so you can address our participants’ questions. My colleagues have been monitoring your questions and selected a few that we could ask Jim. The first is: What are ways to create and give pre-service teachers, virtual field experiences, especially in regards to special ed? (19:09)

Dr. James Mitchell: Well, I would go back to the GoReact model I demonstrated and also to just share with you that it’s about communication one-on-one in terms of being available for your candidates that you’re working with, to make sure that you can have one-on-one communication with them. I also take phone calls in this process too, so that people know I’m accessible. So what are the ways to do it? It’s really going to be designed by you and the community that you serve, knowing that there are parameters of teaching involved in everything that we do. I want to emphasize again, I do not profess to be an expert. I just have 20 years of experience. (19:44)

Okay. The next question: How can activities that demand physical props be explored online? I’m thinking of materials that might be used in elementary teaching, like exploring children’s books, using concrete materials, manipulatives. (20:29)

Dr. James Mitchell: We would need to use some video observation in that case. Zoom or whatever modality you use would be the way to go. In terms of testing it out with the learners at your site, see how using the virtual conferencing ability can help you in terms of working with the learners at your site and modeling via virtual instruction. There are many, many programs out there, especially in terms of science, math, and the performing arts. I would ask you to investigate those because those are constantly in redevelopment. With 5K technology coming I believe that that specific question will be addressed directly. (20:43)

The next question is: When observing or evaluating instruction in an online setting, what are some ways to capture what we can’t see as observers? (21:27)

Dr. James Mitchell: You know, I go back to the on-campus observations. I think I’ve done over 3,000 on-campus observations in my life. I haven’t tallied them up. We miss things on campus, and so I start with that piece too. There are many things that happen in a classroom observation that the supervisor may not see because they’re working elsewhere. How do we capture activities in the virtual sense? One can have two different phones set up to record their activity. In our learning space, many use their cell phones. For their video recording at the back of the class, they use their iPad, their tablet. You can have a couple of different devices set up to catch different aspects of the classroom from different perspectives. (21:37)

That’s a great answer. The next question is: How can we use GoReact to create field experiences for our pre-interns and our student teachers? (22:22)

Dr. James Mitchell: Well, we’ve incorporated it into our department and it really is a matter of establishing your culture within one’s faculty to use GoReact or whatever mechanism you’re going to use. I get back to the point where supervisors generally are people who’ve been in the field quite a long time, and many supervisors may have had high-level administrative positions. People would constantly go to them for answers. They’re not comfortable with using anything new, but they won’t say it because they’re such professionals. They don’t want to be difficult. So what I would say is everybody starts at the same place and just give yourself a few weeks to learn. I go back to the old unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence, conscious competence, unconscious competence. That level of skill development. Many of us are just finding out that we’ve been unconsciously incompetent for years, and now we’re consciously incompetent. And that’s uncomfortable because we’re supposed to be good at what we do. What’s going to happen? We’re all going to learn this together. (22:31)

Many of us are just finding out that we've been unconsciously incompetent for years, and now we're consciously incompetent. And that's uncomfortable because we're supposed to be good at what we do.—Dr. James Mitchell Share on X

Great. Thank you. The next question is: When candidates not allowed in schools, what are you observing in the videos? What are some ways to help candidates learn about teaching and get feedback when they cannot be in the classrooms with the schools closed? (23:40)

Dr. James Mitchell: Well, it’s a great question and we’re going through it right now. We have some summer school supervision going on elsewhere. And it really is a matter of maintaining oversight in the virtual classroom with the same principles. We’re going to walk through that piece together, but we intend to use GoReact as a part of that process. And we intend to use Zoom. But we have supervisors who work with candidates who are teaching virtually, and that’s how we’re going to do it. We have people who are completing the summative evaluation and they’re doing it virtually. It’s an interesting process for all of us, but it’s the same principles that we use to all the other teaching that we do. (23:58)

Yeah. That was a concern that I’ve heard quite often. So I’m glad that question was asked. The next question, it’s a bit long so it’ll take a little bit: While I’ve taught several of my courses online for years using both asynchronous and synchronous dialogue, my concern is providing quality field experiences for all my intro to education students. I scrambled to come up with some alternatives for the second half of the semester, but I’m concerned about having a plan for the fall for them to observe and teach since not all the K-8 classes went online. Do you have some insight to share? (24:38)

Dr. James Mitchell: The first thing that strikes me as I hear you ask, the question is let’s not forget that our candidates may be better at doing this than we are, because they come from a generation of learners that technology was a part of many of our candidates. We obviously have some candidates who do not fall within that spectrum, but many of our candidates know how to do this technology stuff better than we do. So understand that they know this, and if we just incorporate them into the process, we can develop an alternate solution together. So what are some of the strategies? I would say ask the candidates where are they in terms of accessibility, in terms of having their accommodations met, to make sure they can be a part of the teaching plan. (25:13)

Going to the students. I like that. That’s a great answer. The next question we have is: What are ways to develop community and networking relationship building for assisting pre-service teachers with their future professional networks in an online environment? (25:58)

Dr. James Mitchell: There are going to be so many webinars available for people to join. There’s going to be so much change coming to us in the next couple of years in terms of what we used to do to network, to what we’re going to be doing. This is an excellent opportunity for anybody to start getting involved with that. These kinds of activities will be available for everybody to participate in and become part of the online teaching and learning consortium, which I’ve been a part of the last several years. I expect these online teaching organizations to just take off and the networking will be far, far different than what it’s been in the past. There’s going to be a great opportunity to network with people from all over the country. I have people from all over the world watching me right now. And that’s just amazing. More of that is going to come. (26:12)

A little anxiety-inducing as well. (27:05)

Dr. James Mitchell: No, I’m just talking to you. It’s just you and I. (27:07)

The next question is: What are specific actions a teacher can do to make for high engagement and how does GoReact help in ways with high engagement that Zoom does not, or maybe vice versa? (27:11)

Dr. James Mitchell: One of the basics… I don’t see GoReact and Zoom as competitors by the way, I don’t see that. I see them as partners… But when you were asking the question, I initially thought the first thing I learned about being an online teacher was always to address our candidates or our students in the platform, address them by name. Use their name as frequently as you can so that that gives them ownership in the process. I always address people first by stating their names and then answering their question. On discussion boards or even if it’s on a virtual conference, people like to hear their name. It gives them a sense of ownership. (27:25)

Set up criteria in your courses as to what you expect them to do to take part in the process. For instance, I’ll have people blogging this year in my courses because I want them to feel engaged and I want them to be able to have a voice in the course. I offer a weekly video every week. And what I do is I generally don’t respond to too many emails on the weekend unless it’s an emergency. But I do send a video recording of myself every Sunday morning to start the week to our candidates. And I make a Zoom meeting with myself. I have a recording. Zoom produces the link that has the ADA compliance necessary for me to send out. Then I send it to my candidates. And with that link I also transcribe what I say in that Zoom call with myself so that they can also watch what I’m saying and then read if by chance they don’t have access to a video setup. (28:03)

So what I would say is keep reaching out the way I stated. Let them see your face as much as possible. It’s great to have your students put their faces right next to their names on the roster. They at least can see what we look like. And continue to work with this process. F is for flexibility now more than ever. (29:04)

Well, that was actually our last question. So thank you so much for answering all of our participants’ questions, and thank you for submitting them. (29:26)

Jim, thank you for sharing your experience and expertise today. You did this workshop voluntarily. You were not paid for your contributions. We’re so grateful that you volunteered your time to help teacher prep professionals across the country excel online. (29:33)

Dr. James Mitchell: Thank you very much. (29:47)


That’s it for today. Don’t forget to subscribe. If you like what you heard, please rate and review this podcast to help others find us. The Teacher Education podcast is brought to you by GoReact. This episode was hosted by me, Hillary Gamblin, and produced by Danielle Burt, Joseph Winter, and Jordan Harris. Chad Jardine is our executive producer. Guests on the podcast are expressing personal opinions for informational purposes only. They’re not acting as official representatives for their universities or organizations.