E-Mentoring Program Will Better Prepare Teacher Candidates for Classroom

Much like the modern football quarterback receives audio signals from his coach via a headset, teacher candidates in Eastern Kentucky University’s educator preparation program soon will be receiving real-time assists from their professors, even though they might be many miles apart.

EKU’s College of Education recently received a $10,000 grant from The Fund for Transforming Education in Kentucky to pilot a virtual e-mentoring program with a select group of teacher candidates, faculty and schools. As the participating EKU students, armed only with their knowledge, wits and ear buds, are presenting lessons in some area school, they will be technologically linked to a professor on the Richmond campus. Watching in their offices, the University faculty member can then relay helpful tips, perhaps pointing out teachable moments or potential pitfalls.

EKU was the only college or university among six Innovation Fund recipients among 50 applications received. Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday lauded EKU and the other grant recipients for their efforts to create new models of teaching and learning that prepare more students for the global competition they will face for jobs and careers.

“We have raised the bar for all educators and students and with that we need to change the way we teach and learn in Kentucky,” Holliday said. “We need innovative strategies and creative and collaborative solutions, and that is why we launched The Fund for Transforming Education in Kentucky in 2012.”

Later this fall, approximately 20 students completing clinical teaching experiences in undergraduate and graduate-level licensure programs will be paired with faculty. Schools that agree to participate will be outfitted with the requisite audio and video technology, which includes a wide-angle webcam and Bluetooth USB adapter and earpiece, and all parties will agree upon a set of objectives.

Dr. April Blakely, coordinator of the Master of Arts in Teaching programs at EKU, noted that such an arrangement will “never replace face-to-face observation time and dialogue, but will supplement it.” Nor is it required for teacher licensure or a part of the University’s program requirements.

“The Commonwealth is asking us to prepare better, more highly effective teachers who will be more successful in their early years of teaching,” Blakely said. “This is a powerful tool to create more immediate, high-quality professional practice.”

Typically, during their clinical experiences EKU teacher candidates are scattered in schools throughout central and southeastern Kentucky, making frequent visits by faculty impractical, from the standpoint of both time and expense.

“We simply can’t be in the room for as many lessons as we would like,” Blakely said. “With this, location (of the teacher candidate) is not an issue, and that’s the point. This is a way to have a more active coaching role with our students and provide instant feedback, which enables a candidate or teacher to make better decisions, rescue a shaky lesson and learn as he or she teaches.”

Any real-time instruction offered by EKU faculty watching the live lessons will be “subtle clues,” Blakely said. “We’re not going to constantly talk in someone’s ear.”

Video of each lesson will be saved for both the student and faculty member to discuss later.

Similar projects are underway on a “limited scope” nationally, according to Blakely.

“Our goal is to pilot and eventually scale the project here so that it’s usable by all our candidates and faculty,” she said.

Barbara Bellissimo, executive director of The Fund for Transforming Education in Kentucky, said: “This experience has proven what we already suspected – Kentucky’s educators have some truly innovative ideas about how to breathe new life in our education system, but until now they have lacked the funds to test and scale those ideas. We’re really looking forward to what will come from this year’s projects.”

Published on August 19, 2014