Study to be implemented Fall 2015 - Pre-service teachers (PST) are novices in their field and go through an apprentice like experience when they are placed in schools under the supervision of a cooperating teacher (CT). The pre-service teachers have the opportunity to observe the CT instructing their class, participate in small group activities, and eventually the PST takes over the entire class instruction for a few weeks. This model follows a guided participation format; the learner is able to develop skills needed to participate in the activity but is still under supervision of a qualified, experienced person (Rogoff, 1990). Though this is a great model, the pre-service teacher is never fully prepared for their first teaching job.
Having pre-service teachers participate in a virtual classroom environment, where they can participate in different professional teaching scenarios, will help them hone their skills in a safe space. The virtual classroom can also increase the PSTs' likelihood of having a larger variety of experiences. The PST will be faced with choices that they have to make concerning student behavior, academics, and lesson planning that will allow them to see the effects of their actions and choices on their virtual students. The virtual environment allows for failure, reevaluation, and practice. The virtual environment also has a social network component embedded into it. The PSTs can view others' interactions with the game and see the outcomes of the choices others make in the virtual environment. Participants are also given the opportunity to comment and discuss each other's outcomes and choices. These discussions could lead to a greater understanding of how the pre-service teacher should act or react in a given classroom situation.
This project proposes that pre-service teachers would benefit from having the virtual environment experience in conjunction with their real-life field experience placements. The virtual environment takes the solitary and isolated pre-service teacher and immerses them into a network of peers going through the same experiences. The PSTs would have their own individual knowledge gained through their field experience placement, but they would also have a shared experience through the virtual environment. The virtual environment gives the PSTs a network through which they can collaborate thus increasing their knowledge base about teaching.
The social network space in particular will allow the PSTs to see each other's' progress and movement through the virtual community. The social network space also will allow the PSTs to comment on the activities that each participates in. This will give each PST an opportunity to discuss with a peer how to handle the different teaching scenarios. The social network interface will provide the platform to create the community of practice. There is also a mentoring feature in the virtual environment that interacts with the participants and posts comments to their social page within the game. The mentor component happens within the game simulations on an individual level.
Hypothesis 1: Pre-service teachers in the virtual environment of Quest2Teach (Q2T) will create a community of practice/professional learning community. The PSTs will build a network among the participants of the virtual environment by encouraging and supporting one another as they navigate through the virtual environment and the associated teaching tasks.
Hypothesis 2: The biweekly group meetings with the university supervisor and pre-service teachers will reinforce the community of practice of the virtual environment and support the creation of a culture of collaborative teachers. Study