New technology helps WVU Online train much-needed teachers

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New technology is helping pre-K teachers studying online at West Virginia University to complete their student teaching in their home communities.

With a new “virtual” system, professors are using video to observe student teachers in the classroom and computer technology to meet with them remotely to discuss their teaching.

WVU professor Ashley Martucci, program coordinator for WVU Online’s Bachelor of Science degree in child development and family studies, said it is helping the program train much-needed teachers.

“This new technology is for students who are studying to become public school pre-K teachers,” she said. “For certification, they are required to have a minimum of 12 weeks in the classroom.”

“Because our program is online, the only way to observe their teaching is to use a virtual observation system.”

Martucci worked with instructional designers at WVU Online, Literacy Education and the WVU Teaching and Learning Commons, to figure out the best way to set up the new system.

The student teachers are recorded in the classroom with a smart phone and the video is run through a program called VoiceThread, a cloud application that is already part of WVU eCampus and that can be used from any computer or web browser.

With this technology, Martucci can watch the students and make written comments as things are happening.

For the virtual, face-to-face meetings, they use Collaborate Ultra, a real-time conferencing tool, that is now embedded into eCampus.

WVU student Taylor Mazelon, who grew up and currently lives in the small town of Rohrersville, Maryland, was one of the first student teachers to use the new observation system, while completing her student teaching at a school in Hagerstown.

“We do a video observation every other Friday, so every other week, I record myself teaching, upload it, send my written lesson plan to Dr. Martucci, and then a few days later we virtually meet,” she said. “I enjoy observing my own teaching because I notice things that I never would have noticed before. By watching yourself teach, you can play it back and catch things that you can do differently.

“The main part that helped me improve my teaching was when I virtually met with Dr. Martucci and she gave me feedback. She was able to point out things that I needed to change or add, which helped me to change my teaching strategy for the better.”

Martucci said the WVU Online bachelor’s degree program has students from all over the United States.

“I have one student who is doing her student teaching in Georgia and another who will do her student teaching in Texas. Students are finding our online program because it’s convenient for them. They can go to college, but stay in their communities, and that’s a real asset for a lot of people who can’t uproot their family or who already have a job.”

She noted that there is a shortage of pre-K teachers right now, especially certified teachers, not only in West Virginia, but around the country.

“Research tells us that if we can impact the lives of children early, we’re better off in the long run,” Martucci said. “Educating quality teachers is part of that. In pre-K, the children learn through play. These children, even at ages four and five, are able to manipulate stories, create cartoons and even make mini movies.

“In the videos we can see development happening in the classroom during this time. Our teachers are leading them to do extraordinary things and to explore the world. It’s exciting to watch.”