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May 3, 2004

Technology helps student teachers make the grade

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Purdue University faculty have learned how to be a "fly on the wall" when observing student teachers.

Hirra McNeal
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In a pilot project this year, School of Education professors are using digital video equipment to observe student teachers in the classroom via the Internet. Traditionally, faculty observe student teachers for two-hour periods several times during their teaching assignments.

Gerald H. Krockover, a professor of curriculum and instruction and earth and atmospheric sciences, said the approach is more cost-effective, efficient and yields better results than traditional methods.

"I see this model growing and being very useful for schools and universities that have the technology infrastructure in place," Krockover said. "If it grows, it could really change the way student teaching supervision is done."

For the evaluations, each classroom was outfitted with digital video equipment connected to a television monitor. The equipment uses the Internet to send real-time video of the classroom to a computer on Purdue's campus where professors watch student teachers. Similar equipment sends video of the professor back to a screen in the classroom so that students know when they are being observed.

Purdue faculty members have piloted the project at three local schools – an elementary, middle and high school.

Wanda S. Fox, an associate professor of curriculum and instruction, said the project was originally conceptualized because of the potential savings in money and time. At many universities, student teachers work in schools throughout the state, requiring professors to travel for regular in-class observations.

For Fox and other Purdue faculty members, this can mean round trips of two to four hours, but to faculty in sparsely populated areas around the country these trips can be even longer.

"I spoke recently to colleagues in Idaho and Montana, and they are very interested in this project and technology," Fox said. "The population in some areas is so sparse that they have to fly to evaluate their students. Being able to watch from campus would make a huge difference for them."

Universities and schools have used similar distance-learning technology to connect in the past, but both Krockover and Fox said they are not aware of any other university using the technology to help evaluate student teachers.

Fox said another benefit is that the technology helps provide a more accurate view of the student teacher's work.

"When I go into a classroom to observe, I always wish I were a fly on the wall," Fox said. "Just by sitting in the room while a student teacher interacts with the younger students, I change the dynamic of the interactions. This system gives us a much purer look at what happens in the classes."

Fox said the system also allowed her to manipulate the camera in the classroom to zoom in on a student teacher working with individual students or a small group. Had she been in the classroom, she said, there would be no way of watching as closely without disrupting the group.

Heather L. Parrilli, a Purdue senior in elementary education from Wheaton, Ill., said being observed via the Internet made no difference in the way she taught.

"From my perspective, it worked very well," she said. "Once we got started, I didn't think about it too much. Either way you know you are being observed, and you just try to go on as if no one were watching."

Krockover said that despite the success of the Internet-based evaluations, he doesn't think in-person observations should ever be completely replaced. This is particularly true with initial visits that are vital to building relationships with mentor-teachers, he said.

"It's so important to actually meet with the teachers and others at the schools where our students will be working," Krockover said. "As long as that interaction is never lost, this technology can be just as successful as traditional methods, if not more so."

Mary Griffin, a Purdue Department of Curriculum and Instruction program specialist, also used the technology to observe student teachers.

To become certified to teach in Indiana public schools, students must complete a student teaching assignment, during which they teach full time in an Indiana school while working under a professional teacher. During that time, they are subject to frequent observations of at least two hours from a supervising professor.

Purdue's School of Education places approximately 600 student teachers in schools throughout the state each year.

The distance-learning project was funded through Purdue's P3T3 program. P3T3 – which stands for Purdue Program for Preparing Tomorrow's Teachers to Use Technology – was designed to help prepare education students to use technology in their future classrooms and to prepare faculty members to teach these concepts. Other program projects have included the development of e-portfolios and electronic field experiences for students. P3T3 is funded in part with a grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

Writer: Matt Holsapple, (765) 494-2073,

Sources: Wanda S. Fox, (765) 494-7291,

Gerald H. Krockover, (765) 494-0491,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

Note to Journalists: Internet-based observations were carried out at Murdock Elementary School, Tecumseh Middle School and Jefferson High School in the Lafayette (Ind.) School Corp. Anyone interested in speaking to representatives from the schools can contact them directly or through Matt Holsapple, (765) 494-2073,

Purdue student teacher Hirra McNeal, a senior in elementary education from Indianapolis, works with Tori Misner, a student in a mixed-age first- and second-grade class at Lafayette's Murdock Elementary School, as professor Gerald Krockover watches via a television monitor. McNeal is one of several Purdue student teachers who were observed via the Internet. (Purdue News Service photo/Dave Umberger)

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