Teacher Education

Tips & Tricks From 20 Years of Preparing Teacher Candidates Online

A webinar featuring Dr. James Mitchell from California State University, East Bay

Dr. James Mitchell, Director of the Online Single Subject Credential Program at California State University, East Bay, shares advice and tips to help you and your candidates excel in a virtual environment.

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Hillary Gamblin:

Hello everyone. Thank you for joining today’s workshop on preparing teacher candidates online. My name is Hillary Gamblin. I’m a GoReact employee and the host of the teacher education podcast. Today I’ll be interviewing a pioneer in online education. Dr. James Mitchell. Jim, can you introduce yourself?

Dr. James Mitchell:

Sure. Thank you, Hillary. Hello and thanks for having me today. I’m Dr. James or I prefer Jim Mitchell. I am 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 and I direct the single subject credential online program, a program we’re about to launch our second year in next week.

Hillary Gamblin:

Thank you, Jim. Now I would like to take a minute to outline how this webinar will be structured and state or learning objectives. For the first 30 minutes I’ll be asking Jim questions about what he’s learned from 20 years of preparing teacher candidates online. After interviewing Jim, we’ll do a live Q&A session. If you’d like to submit a question for the Q&A, there’s a tab just below the video feed. And if you see a question someone else posted that you like answered to you can use the upbeat feature. I’d also recommend taking advantage of the chat feature, which is located on the right side of the video feed. As conference events are being canceled because of the pandemic webinar chats are an excellent place to share ideas and connect with other teacher prep professionals. So, please take advantage of that.

Hillary Gamblin:

As for the webinar learning objectives, as Jim and I prepare for this workshop, we realize that 45 minutes isn’t enough time to fix the individual problems of all of our attendees. So, to use our time wisely, we devise a series of questions to give you things to think about and ideas of how to develop as online instructors. In the end, the goal of this workshop is that you’ll walk away being more excited and confident about moving online. And of course, that you’ll be inspired to learn more. Now let’s get started. Jim, you started working with teacher candidates online in 1999. I can’t imagine using dial up to prepare teacher can candidates. Can you tell us about your first experience?

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 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 NiceNet.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 an old friend in Harvard Square and said to him, “I have to teach my course right now because I put them online.”

Dr. James Mitchell:

He was very unfamiliar with it and he said, “well, can I watch you?” And so we went over to Kinko’s in Harvard square at the time, you probably remembered Kinko’s. And 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, exclamation point or just an exclamation point. And he looked at me and said, that’s not really teaching. And I totally agreed with him. And I said, let’s see what happens going forward. So, that was my initial feedback, just okay. Exclamation point. I would never do that today and I think it’s an interesting place to begin.

Hillary Gamblin:

I love that anecdote teaching online as you’ve 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?

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. Collectively we are experts.

Dr. James Mitchell:

So, we need to apply threes 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 death, 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 this shift is going for them. They are our greatest resource

Hillary Gamblin:

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

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 apply to the candidates you 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.

Hillary Gamblin:

What are three tools or resources you found particularly useful?

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 and 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 gives 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 K12 transition program cited on their website at quality matters. So, those are the resources I would offer today.

Hillary Gamblin:

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 experience, I’m sure a lot of colleagues have been reaching out to you 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?

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 are the expert to help us make it. So once you publish a course online, you can’t change it. And as long as you’re endorsing your changes, you always make adjustments to your online courses.

Dr. James Mitchell:

It’s okay to not know what to do. And, 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 K12 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.

Hillary Gamblin:

Some experts are referring 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?

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 the community that we’re going to 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, the grade 12 partner.

Hillary Gamblin:

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?

Dr. James Mitchell:

Well, the three A’s I would offer in response would be; access, affordability and accommodations. I offer to volunteer for this interview because I feel very strongly that GoReact reaches those three criteria, offer tremendous access, it’s affordable, and it has strong Americans with disabilities act compliance pieces to it. So, GoReact is one. 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. And then we know we know and then we just know. And so, I would just say, give yourself, sometimes GoReact as 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.

Dr. James Mitchell:

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 so Americans with disabilities act and other material to make sure that our courses are compliant.

Hillary Gamblin:

Thank you for pointing out those resources. That’s really important, especially as we’re moving online and face to face courses, just being in the same room as your candidates can help develop strong one-on 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?

Dr. James Mitchell:

Well, first of all, we can ask our candidates to take ownership in the process as well. They can have their own blog set up in their courses, or you could have a program blog site so that they can vocalize with guidelines for appropriate 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 and some of our courses next semester as a teaching tool and that will be quite interesting. We’re also going to keep on aware of the emerging social media trends. There are people on this webinar, I’m sure who could speak to about 5k technology and how that’s going to transform everything we do. So, stay honest open minded and willing to change because change is just starting for us.

Hillary Gamblin:

I’m curious. Can you tell us a little bit more about the Instagram? What are you guys doing with Instagram?

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 our learners can have them accessible. And we’ll be teaching through Instagram because people are going to be using their phones and the people we’re teaching now, the candidates are very much the Instagram generation.

Hillary Gamblin:

Interesting. That’s really fantastic and unique idea. That’s great. Since most of our audience are teacher preparation professionals, supervision seem 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 supervision?

Dr. James Mitchell:

We use GoReact as a supervision tool. We also use zoom for conferencing. We’ve been doing that for the past years especially, we’re using it in both our own campus and online program. 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 address a supervisor’s comment so that both the supervisor and the candidate can reflect on the practice.

Hillary Gamblin:

And would you say that you use a similar structure for methodology courses as well?

Dr. James Mitchell:

Yes. We also use in methods courses as well to teach methods and for our candidates to model methods in the methods courses, same idea, perform and get the feedback on it.

Hillary Gamblin:

Fantastic. 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?

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 he, my dad used to get these match book covers that would say, learn something at home, in your part-time. And at the bottom you saw a little thing on the match book cover that said close match book cover before striking. We use that. Well, I’m part of a community that I don’t know if everybody uses it, but my community of friends in online teaching and learning used that phrase close match what covered before striking to synopsize what the beginnings of this process was, where you can 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 that’s a great myth.

Dr. James Mitchell:

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 of the workload that I’ve been putting into this. So, the greatest mess representation 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 transition, every period.

Hillary Gamblin:

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 our attendees of how they can keep a healthy work life balance as they begin to prepare teacher candidates online?

Dr. James Mitchell:

It’s very important we 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 said are, I don’t respond to emails after 6:00pm or before 8:00am. 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM everyday. At 8:00 AM. Monday through Friday, I maintain a zoom virtual office from 8:00 AM-8:30 AM and all of the candidates I teach online and on ground have that information and they drop in from 8:00 AM-8:30 AM. If they see the need to do that’s to represent the old office hours concept of Dr. So and so being in her, their office and students can just drive by.

Dr. James Mitchell:

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, but maybe I’m the only person who will ever do this, but this is what I do and it’s quite successful. It was fantastically successful last year. Last year, I would 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 work 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 Friday is the busiest day. For whatever reason, in those 30 minutes, I may see 17 people.

Dr. James Mitchell:

It’s quite amazing, 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, if we set boundaries and we commit to honoring 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 an email just sit there for more than six hours. 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 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 help.

Hillary Gamblin:

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, 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 ad.

Dr. James Mitchell:

Well, I would go back to the GoReact model I demonstrated and also to, 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 a 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 ways to do it? It’s really going to be defined 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.

Hillary Gamblin:

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.

Dr. James Mitchell:

We would need to use some video observation in that piece. The zoom or whatever activity of 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 programs out there, especially in terms of science, math in the performing arts. I would ask you to investigate those because those are constantly in redevelopment with 5k technology coming. I believe that specific question will be addressed directly.

Hillary Gamblin:

Perfect. 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?

Dr. James Mitchell:

I go back to the on campus observations. I think I’ve done over 3000 on campus observations in my life. I have 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 looking elsewhere. How do we capture activities in the virtual sense. One can have two different phones set up to record their activity. In our learner’s case, many use their cell phone for their video recording at the back of their 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.

Hillary Gamblin:

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?

Dr. James Mitchell:

Well, we’ve incorporated it into our department and it really is a matter of establishing a 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 there many of 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 this. I go back to the old unconscious and competent, conscious and confidence, conscious incompetent, unconscious incompetent, 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.

Hillary Gamblin:

Great. Thank you. The next question is when candidates are 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?

Dr. James Mitchell:

Well, it’s a great question and we’re going through it right now. We have some summit school supervision going on elsewhere, and it really is a matter of maintaining an 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 will. We have supervisors who work with candidates who are teaching virtually, and that’s why we’re going to do it. We have people who are completing the summative evaluation and they’re doing it virtually. And 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.

Hillary Gamblin:

Great. 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 of my intro to education students. I scrambled to come up with some alternatives for second half of the semester, but I concerned about having a plan for the fall for them to observe and teach since not all the K through eight classes went online. Do you have some insight to share?

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’re because they come from a generation of learners that their technology was a part of many of our candidates upbringings. Obviously, we 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 strategies that I would say is, ask your 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

Hillary Gamblin:

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? How many more would you… Oh, sorry. Yeah,

Dr. James Mitchell:

I’ve lost you a little bit. Could you restate the question please?

Hillary Gamblin:

Yes. What are ways to develop community and networking relationship building for assisting pre-service teachers with their future professional networks in an online environment?

Dr. James Mitchell:

There are going to be so many webinars available for people to join. There are going to be so much. 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 activities will be available for everybody to participate in and become part of the online, learn teaching and learning consortium, which I’ve been a part of for the last several years. I expect these online teaching organizations to just take off and the networking will be far different than what it’s been in the past. And 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.

Hillary Gamblin:

A little anxiety inducing as well.

Dr. James Mitchell:

No, I’m just talking to you. So it’s, if you and I.

Hillary Gamblin:

The next question is what our 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 by-

Dr. James Mitchell:

Oh. One of the basic is I don’t see GoReact and zoom as competitors, by the way. I don’t see that. I see them as partners. But one of when you were asking the question, I initially thought the first thing I learned about being an online teacher was always address our candidates or our students in the platform, address them by name, use their name as frequently as you can. So, that gives them ownership in the process. I always address people first by stating their name and then answering their question on discussion boards or even if it’s on a virtual school conference. People like to hear their name. It gives them a sense of ownership, set up criteria in your courses as to what you expect them to do to take [inaudible 00:29:29] pardon in the process. For instance, I’ll have people blogging this year and my courses because I want them to feel engaged and I want them to be able to have a voice.

Dr. James Mitchell:

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, listen to an emergency, but I do send a video recording of myself every Sunday morning to start the week to our candidates. And I make the zoom meeting with myself. I have a recording. Zoom produces the link that has the ADA compliance necessary that for me to send out, and 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 set up. 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.

Hillary Gamblin:

Well, that was actually our last question. So thank you so much for answering all our participants’ questions and thank you for submitting them. 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 teach your prep professionals across the country excel online. We know that this webinar will be particularly valuable for our participants as they prepare for fall semester. So, we’ll make a recording of this workshop with captions available as soon as possible. We’ll also be releasing a special episode of this in of this interview, on the teacher education podcast.

Hillary Gamblin:

So, please check that out when that is released. And finally, today you’ll be receiving an email from us with a short survey about the workshop experience. If you could please take a minute to complete the survey. We’re eager for feedback so we can make future workshops even more instructive and enjoyable. So, that’s it for today. Thank you to our participants. Thank you for those working behind the scenes. And of course thank you to our guest today, Dr. Jim Mitchell. See you next time.

Dr. James Mitchell:

Thank you very much. Thanks for having me.

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