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How UK College of Education Students Are Completing Field Experiences During COVID-19 Closures

Student teacher holding a book and reading to young children in a classroom.
When student teachers can’t be in the classroom, what happens next?

What happens when K-12 schools and universities pause traditional instruction in the middle of students’ required field experiences (such as student teaching) in response to COVID-19? Dr. Margaret Mohr-Schroeder, professor & associate dean at the University of Kentucky College of Education, is blogging about the behind-the-scenes work faculty are doing to keep our students on track. This information is being shared to potentially help others undergoing this quick transformation.

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photo of Margaret Schroeder
Dr. Margaret Mohr-Schroeder

As the COVID-19 pandemic started taking hold stateside, our immediate concern turned to our students. At the University of Kentucky College of Education, like many colleges of education, about 75 percent of our students have some sort of field experience requirement within their coursework. As K-12 schools began to announce closings, our challenge was broad, yet simple: How can we continue to engage our students in the practice of teaching during uncertain times?

We first divided our students into categories based on where the experience took place in their program (e.g., before admission to the teacher education program, after admission, or student teaching). This helped provide structure for our tasks.

Initially, the university announced it would suspend in-person classes for the two weeks that followed spring break. Our first plan was written with the expectation that our students would eventually return to campus. However, due to growing concerns about the spread of the virus at the state and national levels and K-12 school closures, the university announced during spring break that it would move to online or alternative formats for classroom instruction for the remainder of the semester. We expected this could happen, andmade some quick decisions. You can find our full plan here,but to recap:

  • Field experiences were canceled for students not yet admitted into a teacher education program.
  • For students who had been admitted to a teacher education program, field experiences were initially suspended. However, after it was announced that we would be in an alternate delivery mode for instruction for the rest of the semester, we developed an online Canvas course to enable students to complete modules.
  • Student teachers were encouraged to stay in their school until that school made a decision to close. Once that happened, they switched to completing modules in Canvas.

Student Teachers

First, we set expectations for how this was going to look for our students. Our biggest struggle was deciding on the amount of time each week they should be spending on material. On the one hand, our student teachers are in a school for 8 to 9 hours a day. But, we felt it was unreasonable to expect students to complete online modules for that many hours, especially given the uncertain circumstances. We studied SACS-COC contact hour requirements. We also studied Kentucky Department of Education regulations for “non-traditional instruction,” or “NTI” days (the program many Kentucky school districts use to continue to provide instruction to students through virtual or other non-traditional means when schools must cancel days due to health or safety reasons).

In the end, we settled on 3-4 hours a day for a minimumof 18 hours a week. Our state tracks days for student teaching, and so we landed on 210 minutes = 1 day. You can view our expectations here.The key takeaways: (1) student teachers need to engage each weekday and (2) student teachers cannot work ahead. When we thought about how we prepare our teachers and the standards to which all our programs ascribe, we knew we had an obligation to ask our students to engage in the practice of teaching each weekday.

We held YouTube LIVE sessionsfor our student teachers to orient them to our plan, to assure them we were keeping them on track for graduating, and to answer all their questions. We chose this format for ease of access and familiarity of our students to this platform. It was hosted as an unlisted event, which allowed a measure of privacy without requiring students to log in to view. It also allowed for students to watch the recorded session later, with closed captioning, if they needed to review the information presented. Students submitted questions using the live chat module, which faculty helped to monitor during the sessions so that we could ensure that we answered questions as they arose. We divided the sessions into four categories based on the number of students involved and similar interests and questions they might have. We encouraged program chairs to be with us in person or online to help field questions and make sure we were all on the same page. You can view the sessions here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ugbuFZjdSaI

A basic script of what we followed can be found here.

Our university uses Canvas as our learning management system. We created a special Canvas Course and put every Spring 2020 student teacher in it. It is modules-based. Some are self-created, while others are pulled from Canvas Commons. We invited students to tell us what else they wanted; we wanted to be sure their voices were included in what we were doing. Some have sent us additional online PD they would like to complete. That student teachers themselves have advocated for what they need to be successful in completing their requirements and learning plans. We gave them a lot of choices in the Canvas course, and I think that’s what makes it unique. Many of their cooperating teachers are still engaging with their classroom students through various means. Some of the student teachers are engaged in that work, and they get credit for that (e.g., online Zoom sessions for students, YouTube read-a-louds, packet planning for homework). Others are working on Google Level 1 and 2 certification. Others are engaged in high-leverage practices. Still others are working through modules on implicit bias, cultural competency, and growth mindset. This resource continues to grow daily. All 188 of our student teachers have engaged every day for a minimum of 3-4 hours. They are excited about the opportunity to stay engaged, and we’re thrilled to be able to offer a stable, alternate method during a time of such uncertainty.

Practicum Students (e.g., 1-3 semesters before student teaching, but after they are admitted to a program)

Our practicum students were in the middle of their placements (most spend 4-5 continuous weeks of the semester in their school) when COVID-19 began to swiftly spread through the Commonwealth. We first suspended their placements, holding on to the faint glimmer of hope that our K-12 schools would return some time this spring.

However, when the university made the decision to suspend in-person coursework for the remainder of the semester, we created a Canvas Course similar to the one designed for our student teachers. All of our teacher education students in the state must earn 200 hours after they are admitted to the teacher education program and before they can do their student teaching. Therefore, most of our courses are pretty well-defined in terms of the number of field hours expected. In our new plan, they simply need to complete the remaining number of field hours in the online module environment. The expectations (found here) are a bit different for this group as they are still engaged 2-3 times a week with their methods course instructors. We are allowing students to complete the number of hours they need at any time prior to the end of the semester.

We know this is not a perfect solution. We know we will probably have to pivot and create contingencies for other challenges (I’m looking at you Educational Testing Services…). However, we think the systems we’ve put into place for our students (a) allow for flexibility and encourage self care; (b) allow them to stay engaged in the practice of teaching while also taking care of things most important to them right now; and (c) allow them to complete course requirements and teacher certification requirements so they can be eligible for graduation and certification at the end of the semester.

If you have questions or have suggestions for us, please reach out to Dr. Margaret Mohr-Schroeder, Associate Dean for Clinical Preparation and Partnerships and Professor of STEM Education, at m.mohr@nulluky.edu.

This work would not have happened without the teamwork and effort of Dr. Rosetta Sandidge, Senior Associate Dean; Dr. Sharon Brennan, Director of Field Experiences; and our Program Chairs and Supervisors of our Teacher Education Programs (http://education.uky.edu). 

To read more about UK’s response to the coronavirus, please visit http://www.uky.edu/coronavirus.