Online courses give teacher candidates unique teaching practice

The transition to online classes has given Brock University’s teacher candidates an unexpected professional development opportunity by adapting their teaching demonstrations for online delivery.

“This has been a really steep learning curve for me as well as for teacher candidates,” said Shelley Griffin, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education. She says she’s never taught online before the COVID-19 pandemic.

First-year teacher candidates in Griffin’s Music Education class suddenly found themselves planning online lessons designed to teach music principles to elementary school-aged children. The course allows students to learn pedagogical strategies as well as the elements of music.

“A big part of this transition piece was the reality that we weren’t going to be in the classroom,” said Alexa Boyd, a first-year Teacher Education student. Boyd, along with fellow first-year teacher candidates Katlyn Wildfang and Alex Henderson, had just a few days to rethink their assignment and design an engaging, online teaching demonstration on timbre.

Teacher candidates developing online teaching demonstrations are facing challenges now familiar to their own instructors, as well as their fellow colleagues teaching in schools across Canada.

Boyd’s group made use of best practices for structuring engaging lessons and encouraging students to apply their understanding by creating humorous videos, some starring their pets, and designing creative activities to help their classmates learn more about timbre with objects found in their homes.

Griffin, along with her teacher candidates, have explored student-led engagement and accountability tools such as padlets, which are discussion boards where students can reflect and collaborate online.

As well as developing the content for their demonstrations, teacher candidates have had to quickly master new tools to practice teaching online. They also have to complete courses on the use of technology in education and models of teaching for face-to-face, blended and online environments.

Griffin’s students are already thinking about the ways this experience will prepare them as future teachers and utilizing this challenging time as an opportunity for professional development. The move to online teaching presentations has also allowed her students and those in the Faculty to identify with their faculty and instructors.

“A lot of them are trying to navigate this uncertain time and trying to figure out what is the best technology, how are we going to do this,” said Wildfang. “It is really just going back to that collaborative approach and trusting that our instructors have our best interests in mind and at the forefront of every decision that they’re making in terms of their instructional strategies and choices.”

For Griffin, that meant ensuring her students felt a sense of community and checking in on their mental health as well as their academic concerns. She has been overwhelmed by the positive feedback from her students and the ways she’s seen them support each other through this experience.

“This was a difficult time for so many people, and the way Shelley handled it, we all felt connected and supported,” said Jessica Dale, first-year Teacher Education student.

Dale said Griffin was in constant contact with students and that using Microsoft Teams allowed the class to see and hear each other to stay connected.

Griffin encouraged her students to adapt a growth mindset, a familiar topic for Brock’s teacher candidates, and to try new things when developing their online teaching demonstrations.

“This is what we do when we’re teaching in classrooms,” said Griffin. “Things don’t necessarily work the first time you do them. Or maybe the 10th time you do them. And you know what? That’s okay.”

While helping her students navigate the transition to online learning and teaching, Griffin has also been encouraging them to tap into music as a source of comfort. She strives to help each student connect with the role music plays in their lives.

Griffin shared her love of music with her students by playing the flute at the end of a recent online Music Education class. After the class, one of her students, Michael Agati, asked if he could join her in a duet. Agati, a first-year Teacher Education student, played along on his guitar and shared a video on the Brock University Vinyl Society’s Instagram account.

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