Volume 1, Issue 2 ISSN 1528-5804
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Herrington, T., Herrington, J., Oliver, R., &
Omari, A. (2000). A web-based resource providing reflective online
support for preservice mathematics teachers on school practice.
Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education,
[Online serial] ,1 (2). Available:
A Web-Based Resource Providing Reflective Online Support for
Preservice Mathematics Teachers on School Practice
HERRINGTON , JAN
HERRINGTON , RON
and ARSHAD OMARI
Edith Cowan University, Western Australia
A Reflective Approach to Practicum Support for Preservice
I have come, over the years, in spite of all the reform agendas,
to believe that the best we can do in teacher preparation programs,
through a variety of courses and clinical experiences in
intentionally selected schools, is to help academically able and
socially committed students enter teaching with constructive
dispositions and skills relating to young people, curriculum
content, pedagogy, and the power of collective thought;
well-developed habits of observation and reflection; reasonable
confidence and an understanding that they are entering a process of
learning something important every day, working toward the largest
possibilities they can imagine. (Perrone, 1997, p. 649)
In today’s overstretched curriculum, and with
society’s increasing demands for the teaching of a growing
body of new knowledge, a competency-based approach for learning to
teach is obsolete. Students cannot be competent in content and
skills that are rapidly changing or may not, as yet, even exist. As
Perrone (1997) argues, it is better to provide students with
generic and reflective skills that assist them in their continued
learning of any new enterprise. Connecting these generic thinking
skills to the context in which they occur is essential. If
university programs do not do this they are likely to
“prepare teacher technicians rather than reflective
professional educators” (Boyd, Boll, Brawner, &
Villaumer, 1998, p. 61).
Reflection is one aspect of a complex number of interrelated
functions, which contribute to task performance (Ridley, 1992), an
aspect that is gaining increased attention in recent years after
almost disappearing from consideration under the influence of
learning models based on behaviorism (von Wright, 1992). Boud,
Keogh, and Walker (1985) define reflection as: “those
intellectual and affective activities in which individuals engage
to explore their experiences in order to lead to new understandings
and appreciations” (p. 19). These authors stress that such
reflection must not occur solely at the unconscious level:
“It is only when we bring our ideas to our consciousness that
we can evaluate them and begin to make choices about what we will
or will not do” (p. 19). Kemmis (1985) points out that we do
not reflect in a vacuum: “We pause to reflect...because the
situation we are in requires consideration: how we act in it is a
matter of some significance” (p. 141).
Many theorists see reflection as both a process and a
product (Collen, 1996; Kemmis, 1985), and that it is action
oriented (Kemmis, 1985). Knights (1985) contends that reflection is
not the kind of activity, which its name suggests—a solitary,
internal activity—but a two-way process with the attention of
another person: “Without an appropriate reflector, it cannot
occur at all” (p. 85). This view is strongly supported
in the literature by others who point out that reflection is a
social process (Kemmis, 1985), and that collaboration on tasks
enables the reflective process to become apparent (von Wright,
An important function of reflection is that it enables the
learner to compare his or her performance or understanding to an
expert in the field (Candy, Harri-Augstein, & Thomas, 1985;
Collins, 1988; Collins, Brown, & Holum, 1991). Collins, Brown,
and Newman (1989) have also pointed out that it is important for
students to be able to compare their performance with others at
various levels of expertise. Access to expert performances and the
modeling of processes has its origins in the apprenticeship system
of learning, where students and craftspeople learned new skills
under the guidance of an expert (Collins et al., 1989). Important
elements of expert performances are found in modern applications of
the apprenticeship model such as internship (Jonassen, Mayes, &
McAleese, 1993), and case-based learning (Riesbeck, 1996). Such
access enables narratives and stories to be accumulated, and
invites the learner to absorb strategies which employ the social
periphery (legitimate peripheral participation) (Lave & Wenger,
1991). It also allows students to observe and reflect upon a task
before it is attempted. Such reflection, one might argue, is only
possible in a learning environment that provides appropriate
supports and communication channels to enable reflective learning
to occur. Yet the typical experience of preservice teachers on
professional practice is one of isolation, divorced from the
support structures of their university environment, and lacking
communication channels to their peers.
The purpose of this article is to outline the development of a
web-based resource that provided reflective support and
communication that assisted preservice teachers learn about
teaching in the context of their school practice. Early childhood,
primary, and secondary education student teachers enrolled in
Bachelor of Education and Graduate Diploma of Education courses at
Edith Cowan University (ECU) were required to attend between 10 and
18 weeks of school practice during their training. These practices
varied from continuous blocks of time in a school to distributed
practice where, for example, students attended a half-day a week
for one school term. In the context of reducing University and
Faculty budgets, coupled with increased pressure on academic staff
to increase their research output, there was a dramatic reduction
in university staff involvement in the supervision of students on
school practice. This necessitated developing alternative
approaches to assisting students on school practice.
Using the Internet to Provide Reflective Support
This project provided an improved framework of support for
student teachers during their involvement in school practice by
providing them with a range of resources that increased content and
skill knowledge, and to enabled them to reflect on their teaching
practice. Initially, the content focus centered on teaching
mathematics, however, the generic nature of the skills being
developed meant that these abilities could easily be transferred to
other areas of the school curriculum. To support and develop
generic teaching skills it was believed that students would benefit
by having access to rich sources of lesson ideas, particularly
those type of lessons that reflected constructivist pedagogy; and
guidance and support through communication with content experts and
their peers. In addition to their supervising teacher, students
would be adequately supported in their practicum settings by having
immediate access to quality curriculum materials to guide lesson
planning, examples of exemplary teaching, and open communications
channels with peers and lecturing staff.
Providing support along these lines was effected through an
appropriately designed internet-based database and information
delivery system. The process of using e-mail and the Internet to
successfully communicate between student teachers on school
practice and university supervisors has been reported (Casey 1994;
Hutchinson & Gardner 1997; Roddy, 1999). Recommendations from
these reports include extending the process of communication to
students’ peers and school supervisors. This project provided
such a system with the construction of a website with the following
components and attributes:
open communications channels, to discuss
problems and difficulties, with peers and lecturing
a database of prepared lesson plans
accessible through a simple search engine;
links to other web-based resource
materials for use in lessons;
video clips of teaching and assessment
strategies with teacher and student commentary; and
answers to frequently asked questions by
students on school practice.
All entering students at ECU are provided with an e-mail address
and access to the Internet through the university modem pool. The
vast majority of students would have access to the Internet in the
schools in which they perform their practice. The benefits provided
by this resource included: immediate access to required
information; the ability to collaborate in a virtual community
during the practicum, and be relieved of the sense of isolation so
often experienced; the ability to contribute to the database by
posting successful materials of their own; and the problems and
queries posted by the students provided a significant resource for
instructors and students in their preplanning for school
Using the Resource
To ensure the successful application of the resource, students
were made familiar with its structure and organisation before going
on school practice. They gained a sense of how the resource could
be used and the real advantages that could be gained through its
use. Student use of the resource on school practice can be ensured
through prior activities at the University where students were
required to explore the resource and all its features and
capabilities and to use the resource in simulated practicum
conditions by preparing sample lessons. They were encouraged to add
materials of their own to relevant sections of the database and to
learn appropriate procedures for online discussion and
communication through computer mediation. Through inservice
activities, school supervisors were also informed of the resource
and encouraged to contribute and use the email facility to
communicate with University supervisors.
The site interface (see Figure 1) reflects the forms of
information contained, and provides an intuitive organisational
storage and retrieval structure. The interface resembles a
well-equipped office space incorporating metaphors to access the
elements of the site.
1. The interface of the web resource
Clicking on the elements in the interface gives access to the
Clicking on the drawers of the desk gives access to a range of
lesson activities (see Figure 2 for an example). Instructors in the
department of mathematics education initially created over 20
lesson activities in each of the categories: pre K-2; 3-5; 6-8;
9-12 (and this grows dynamically as the students contribute their
own lesson ideas).
2. A sample lesson plan
The activities reflect the type of pedagogy encountered in the
University methods classes and the directions advocated in such
documents as the National Statement on Mathematics for
Australian Schools (AEC, 1991) and the National Council of
Teachers of Mathematics Curriculum and Evaluation Standards
(NCTM, 1989). Many activities have accompanying graphics and
images, including images from real classrooms where the activities
Students can access short video clips of over 50 teaching and
assessment strategies performed by real mathematics teachers in
real classrooms by clicking on the television on the desk (Figure
3). For example, if a student wishes to use role play, peer
tutoring, or modeling while on professional practice, he or she can
observe the activity being demonstrated in a classroom within a
mathematical context. Students can also access other perspectives
on the use of each strategy, by clicking on the link to the
teacher’s perspective or a student’s comment. A text
description of the strategy is also provided.
3. Video clips of teaching and assessment strategies
Students have access to the message board when they click on the
notice board above the desk (Figure 4). The communication
capability of the site enables students to cross-post messages and
documents providing the full capacity for information and materials
exchange. They can post in general comments about their school or
classes, request information or suggestions on how to approach a
particular problem, or contribute ideas and strategies that they
have tried successfully. The class teacher also monitors and
contributes to the message board. Such communication is an
essential component to enable the “development of a rhetoric
for interchanges” (Dede, 1996, p. 168), which is so important
for the effectiveness of the students’ learning support
4. Threaded discussion board
Clicking on the telephone on the desk in the interface gives
students access to information about the instructor’s phone
number and availability, together with an e-mail link to enable
messages to be sent directly if required.
A myriad of useful mathematics-related sites exists on the World
Wide Web (WWW or Web). Clicking on the computer screen on the desk
gives students access to annotated websites with general or
specific applicability (Figure 5). For example, links exist to
lesson plan sites with numerous resources, and also to specific
sites, such as one that allows students to print graph paper.
Students can also add any sites that they have found by
browsing, together with a short description of why they find the
5. List of useful websites and links
Outcomes for Students
Student teachers using this resource gain a diversity of
expected learning outcomes developed within the context of
mathematics education. These primarily relate to planning for
teaching and applying appropriate teaching strategies and generic
strategies developed using electronic forms of information.
Students practice generic planning skills, such as planing lessons
and series of lessons, being able to select suitable learning
experiences, and selecting and preparing resources and contexts for
all pupils’ needs. They are able to improve their teaching
skills by becoming aware of, and applying a range of teaching
strategies, and by adapting strategies for individual pupils’
needs. They also practice a range of skills associated with the use
of communication technologies and the Internet, for example, being
able to access, create, and evaluate online information, uploading
messages and URLs, and communicating online.
With a dynamic and responsive medium such as the WWW, formative
evaluation is an ongoing feature, and necessary changes to meet the
growing needs of the preservice teachers using the resource can be
made at any stage. Prior to, and during development, the resource
was evaluated formatively in two ways:
Focus group discussion with
student users: Focus group discussions were conducted with;
small groups of students from the target
population—undergraduate teacher education students—to
ascertain students’ views on the difficulties associated with
the professional practice, experience, and how an Internet resource
might help to ameliorate those problems.
Students and instructors were consulted in the early stages of
development of the program and were asked to comment on screen
design, navigational buttons, and ease of use.
Trial implementation :
Students were asked to examine the site in small groups when it was
first made available, and they were asked to advise on any
navigational problems or other difficulties together with suggested
The results of the formative evaluation enabled the resource to
be specifically designed for the particular needs of the
professional practice student. Interestingly however, many students
agreed that the site would be of equal value for neophyte teachers,
who in many ways face a more daunting task when placed in schools
in their first year, many in rural and remote communities with few
resources and little support. Students suggested that the ability
to maintain contact with classmates and teachers would be
invaluable during this period. The option of having discussion
boards for groups with different needs can easily be accommodated
within the resource.
With a dynamic and responsive medium such as the Internet,
evaluation is an ongoing feature, not only of the design, but also
of the implementation of the resource. Necessary changes to meet
the growing and changing needs of the users of the resource can be
made at any stage.
This article describes the development of an online resource for
preservice teachers while on professional practice in schools.
While the resource can be used just-in-time, such as the night
before a lesson, the resource has been designed to support
reflective practice by these students as they prepare and teach
their practice lessons. The value of reflective practice and its
potential to be assisted through the web site comes from several
sources. First, the site enables reflection by providing a variety
of resources from which to gain alternative perspectives on any
teaching task. Second, communication technologies allow students to
establish communication in the language of the culture, and to
share stories and anecdotes of their experiences. Third, the site
provides exemplary performance, to provide the modeling of
processes, and to enable students to reflectively compare their own
performance to that of experts.
A resource such as this has the potential to transform the
professional practice experience from an isolated and anxious one,
where students work with minimal resources and supports, to one
which is dynamic, collaborative, resource-rich, supportive, and
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