We asked, "Can virtual meetings via interactive videoconferencing systems and desktop videoconferencing systems be as rewarding as face-to-face meetings?" One hundred and two preservice teachers met with three mentor-teachers to formatively evaluate multimedia lessons. We compared participants' sense of reward from (a) interactive videoconferences, (b) desktop videoconferences, and (c) face-to-face meetings. Quantitative analyses revealed no significant differences between groups regarding the criteria examined. In addition, outcomes in multimedia development skills were the same across treatments. Qualitative data showed that students in all groups learned about instructional design and felt that they had authentic mentoring experiences. Findings indicated that virtual meetings effectively simulated face-to-face meetings for certain purposes of school/university partnerships.
This study explored the viability of virtual field-based experiences for preservice teacher (PST) training. The sense of reward was investigated among PSTs at a university who partnered with mentor-teachers in professional development schools to formatively evaluate instructional materials developed by the PSTs. Attitudes about and outcomes from, (a) interactive videoconferences (IVC), (b) desktop videoconferences (DVC), and (c) face-to-face (F-F) meetings in an attempt to determine whether or not distance technologies can successfully substitute for live interaction between PSTs and mentor-teachers were compared.
The importance of establishing the value of distance learning for PST training arises from the movement to field-base instruction. Competence in teaching cannot be achieved independent of the context of the schools. University students learn how to teach by observing, conducting, and reflecting upon authentic activities of schoolteachers as well as from studying instructional and learning theories. The educational reform movement focuses on improving PST processes and outcomes in both teacher education and schools. As part of the reform movement, universities and schools are creating partnerships in the hope that the theoretical perspective of the university and the practical nature of schools will inform each other regarding curriculum and pedagogy (Goodlad, 1988; Lieberman, 1995; Sizer, 1993).
Partially field-based PST training is currently viewed as best practice (Hallman, 1998). Therefore, Texas Centers for Professional Development of Teachers (CPDTs) have been established that function as partnerships between universities and schools for teacher training. Prospective teachers in CPDTs spend much of their preservice training in PreK-12 schools. Research indicates that field-based future teachers are more confident in their abilities to become effective teachers than their university bound counterparts (Powell & Weaver, 1993). Another study found PSTs in field-based programs to be more competent and student-centered when compared to traditionally educated PSTs (Houston Consortium of CPDTs, 1997).
However, partnerships for field-based teacher training are not without concerns and limitations. Conflicts with costs of travel, scheduling, and space often limit participation in field-based programs. Distance learning technologies might resolve these conflicts by providing for virtual field-based teacher preparation. Schank (1997) defines virtual learning as "one step removed from a real environment." In such an environment, students can learn work skills by simulating reality. "Perhaps more to the point, [they] can learn them faster, cheaper, and more effectively in simulations than in the classroom" (p. 17). Virtual learning takes place in the context of authentic activity, in this case the activity of teaching in secondary schools. Honebein (1996) describes the aim of instructional design for authentic activity as:
not just to simulate or replicate the physical environment, calling it 'authentic.' Rather, the aim is to design an environment in which learners use their minds and bodies as they would if they were practitioners in a domain. It is the purpose of the learning environment, whether it be simulation, actual practice, or independent study, to stimulate learners so that their thinking is related to actual practice (p. 20).
Various distance technologies can facilitate connections for virtual learning. For instance, to bridge the gap between theory and authentic practice in the field during field experience, PSTs from the University of South Africa received their entire teaching practice program through tutorial letters in a workbook (McDonald, 1995). Knapczyk and Rodes (1995), found that university professors could successfully deliver field-based teacher training using low-cost audiographic technology between Indiana University and schools.
Two of the more recent innovations in distance technologies that can support school/university partnerships include IVC and DVC. Earlier investigations have revealed that IVC can successfully facilitate interactions among PSTs and mentor-teachers (Cifuentes, Sivo, &Reynolds, 1997; Gibson & Gibson, 1995). IVC systems allow people in group sizes of one to 30 to be able to see and talk to others at multiple sites. Typically in a videoconferencing room one finds two monitors, one showing the local site and the other showing remote site(s). Three cameras in each meeting room allow diverse views of subjects and objects. One camera shows the classroom as a whole, another focuses on a particular person, and the third allows for transmission of computer screens and images of printed materials. Cameras are voice activated and multiple microphones ensure voice transmission.
Similarly, DVC connects people at different sites through visual and audio transmission. The main difference between IVC and DVC is that during DVC, transactions take place on computers and typically involve only a small number of people. DVC's affordability, accessibility …