Telepresence gives students new view of teaching

[Telepresence is being used at Grand Canyon University to let teachers-in-training learn by ‘being’ in a remote elementary school classroom; this story is from Grand Canyon University Today, where it includes several more images. –Matthew]

Telepresence gives students new view of teaching

February 08, 2017
Story and photos by Jeannette.Cruz, GCU News Bureau

Three Grand Canyon University educators in the College of Education are exploring a new way to virtually provide students with an opportunity to get their feet wet in the profession.

The initiative – a live, telepresence practicum pilot – engages students in an elementary school setting through video conferencing technologies. A camera inside a kindergarten classroom at Paradise Valley Unified School District, paired with a computer, allows faculty and students to see and hear without being seen. A unique feature is the mobility of the camera, making it possible for students to zoom in closer to a table or to pick up dialogue.

“This way we can also control the quality of what they’re seeing, too,” professor Kay Hansen said. “I’ve been in education for a long time, and it really is cutting-edge stuff for us to help our students become better future teachers. We want to enhance that reputation, and this application does everything that we need it to do.”

Through the one-hour tele-observation sessions, students also are able to obtain practicum hours with on-the-spot discussions linked to course assignments and objectives as well as talk with certified teachers following the tele-observation. Students enter the classroom and sit before two large screens. A faculty supervisor, who is also in the room along with other faculty during the session, begins the tele-observation and the screens come to life.

Assistant professor Jena Akard, begins her session by establishing classroom learning theories with a question such as, “What are some things that you are learning right now?”

According to Akard, the practicum experience is necessary to give teacher candidates an opportunity to apply the theories and concepts learned in program course work. With the telepresence practicum, faculty supervisors and learners watching the elementary teacher live also are evaluating, by talking to each other and writing their questions on a white board, how classroom management strategies are implemented. Upon completion of the live observation, students take turns asking the elementary teacher questions relating to their observations.

One students asked if the toddlers could see or hear the camera moving in the classroom. Others asked questions related to literacy and classroom arrangements.

“Those are the kinds of things that are supposed to happen in practicums, but oftentimes one of our learners will walk into the classroom and they have an hour and a half to be there, but they don’t get that great one-on-one conversation with the teacher in the end because it’s just a busy day,” said Hansen. “In the past, students have done phone interviews, emails or have scheduled a time during their lunch to ask questions. But we have this time frame really built in.”

Each week is dedicated to focusing on different topics that affect the professional development of future teachers, including classroom questioning, lesson planning, types and purposes of assessments, and how to provide feedback to students and their parents.

Assistant professor Dr. Nydia Palomino was thrilled to see how learners responded during one telepresence practicum when the elementary teacher sang a song to get her students to transition into cleaning up.

“When students witnessed that modeling, they were eager to know what the name of the song was, and then they learned that the teacher made up the song — it was really cute,” Palomino said.

Hansen said the experience is also enjoyable for staff because “students’ questions give the elementary teachers we work with a chance to reflect on why they teach the way that they do.”

“Most of the day, they are having conversations with 5-year-olds and not college-level students, so this reflection portion allows room for growth,” she said.

In December, numerous students took a field trip to Pinnacle Peak Elementary, where they had a chance to meet the students they had been observing.

“Our GCU students were dying to jump in to meet the kids,” Palomino said. “Even though the kids didn’t know who these big people were, our students – because they’d been watching them for so long – felt they had that connection. I’m not sure they would have felt that confident and comfortable to implement the tools they have been taught if this were their first day of practicum.”

Juniors Hope Tedro and Alyssa Duncan agreed.

“I’ve picked up a lot of strategies from all of the practicums that I’ve done, but with this, it is especially cool to talk about them with other professors like Ms. Akard and Dr. Hansen who are knowledgeable in the field,” Tedro said.

Tedro has participated in six telepresence practicums. She is most impressed by how the number of students has increased from about eight students to full room of about 40.

“It’s nice to see other students who are eager to share their ideas – that makes things fun and engaging,” she said.

Duncan, a transfer student from Paradise Valley, was not new to practicums. In fact, she had done numerous in-person practicums before recently experiencing her first telepresence practicum. She saw an immediate difference.

“My practicum hours have only consisted of me and a teacher, and they couldn’t always give me a ton of attention,” she said. “In-person practicums are important. However, I think getting both is extremely beneficial because you don’t always get to focus on strategies and pay closer attention to the things you’re seeing (in person). Here, we have professors who are drawing our attention to strategies we otherwise wouldn’t have noticed.”

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