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Chapter 22
Using a Mixed-Reality Micro-teaching
Program to Support “at Risk”
Pre-service Teachers
Debra Donnelly, John Fischetti, Susan Ledger, and Gideon Boadu
Abstract Pre-service teachers attain a higher sense of professional preparedness and self- efficacy as a result of the impact of vicarious experiences, hands-on teaching activities, verbal instruction, and feedback from experienced teachers (Clark and Newberry in Asia-Pac J Teach Educ 47:32—47,2019). In a regional Australian univer­sity, pre-service teachers who had not attained the required placement performance standards were supported by a program that combined these elements with micro­teaching in a virtual environment that allows them to rehearse classroom perfor­mances with interactive student avatars. This paper reports on a research project that used surveys and self-made filmic responses to gauge the impact of this targeted and needs-based intervention. Results indicate that the program supported underper­forming pre-service teachers to become more confident and skilful in the classroom environment.
Keywords Micro-teaching • Virtual • Avatars • Intervention • Confidence
22.1 Introduction
Despite the evidence that pre-service teachers have an awareness of the difficulty of their chosen profession ( Watt et al., 2014), the transition from initial teacher education to classroom practice is often not smooth, as pre-service teachers confront tensions between theoretical knowledge and its application in practice. As many pre-service and graduate teachers come to find that their high expectations are unrealistic, they face a situation that can cause them to 'redefine’’ their notions of teaching. Weinstein (1988) calls this realisation 'reality shock’’. The gap between teacher expectation and classroom reality can lower teacher morale and lead to teacher burnout in the early years of teaching.
While it is impracticable for teacher educators and teacher-education programs to change the conditions pre-service teachers experience in school contexts, it is possible
to assist them to manage the expectations they have about the teaching profession (Buchanan et al., 2013; Voss & Kunter, 2019). To understand, and possibly overcome, the reality shock, it is imperative to consider prospective teachers’ conceptions of the teaching profession (Weinstein, 1988). Further, pre-service teachers’ reality shock and its associated attrition rates also require teacher educators to reconsider their approaches to developing pre-service teachers’ resilience to help them navigate the demands and challenges of the teaching profession (Schuck et al., 2012).
In a regional Australian university, a program known as Teach Ready was devel­oped to support pre-service teachers who had not attained the required place­ment performance standards, and so risked being excluded from the teacher­training programs. Initial trials found that this group of students had difficulty in producing and enacting effective teaching episodes in both traditional and the abridged micro-teaching formats. It was observed that without guidance these pre-service teachers independently developed ineffective micro-lessons that were unstructured and lacked clear teaching strategies. Further, feedback indicated that their teaching demeanor often lacked confidence and their oral communication skills and questioning techniques were under-developed.
The Teach Ready program used micro-teaching episodes in a virtual envi­ronment termed Micro-teaching 2.0 (Ledger & Fischetti, 2020), which sees pre­service teachers rehearsing classroom performances with interactive student avatars. Preparation for these virtual encounters as made using a Cognitive Apprenticeship approach to model, scaffold, and practice the skills of the classroom. This staged approach was coupled with shared reflection on their previous teaching placements, which in some cases has been a stressful and demoralising experience. These, along with the input from highly accomplished teachers and peer feedback, aimed to improve the teaching performance of this under-performing group.
    1. Micro-teaching in Teacher Education
Traditionally, teacher education has been characterised by face-to-face practice, where pre-service teachers learn the theory of teaching in university classrooms and embark on enacting the theory by teaching within practical placements in schools under the guidance of a supervising teacher (Brown, 1999; Dieker et al., 2014). For a long time, this practice has been the method for assessing pre-service teachers’ perfor­mance. However, advocates have been vocal against the reliance on the teaching­practice approach to teacher preparation and have sought for alternatives to augment it. The move to alternative approaches was predicated on the fact that pre-service teachers tend to copy the habits and methods of in-service teachers without judge­ment, and make ill-advised or ineffective instructional decisions, which can put students at risk (Brown, 1999). To mitigate this risk, micro-teaching sessions in which teacher candidates engage in reflective teaching experiences with their peers have been implemented widely in teacher-education programs to prepare pre-service teachers for teaching practice. Primarily, micro-teaching provides a scenario-based approach to practice and rehearse specific elements of teaching. It offers opportunity for increased feedback to improve practice and to maximise pre-service teachers’ preparation for actual teaching practice (Dixon et al., 2019). It also addresses some variabilities associated with real-life experiences associated with PEx placements (Ledger & Fischetti, 2020). Even though peer-based micro-teaching is noted for its role in developing pre-service teachers’ skills and reflective practice, it has been crit­icised as not sufficiently replicating real teaching situations, such as engaging with school students and managing behaviour issues (Dieker et al., 2014).
    1. Technology-Driven Teacher Education
With the rapid advancement of modern technology, educators have sought to make the most of the opportunities presented by technology-based environments for education and training (Kaufman & Ireland, 2016; Ledger & Fischetti, 2020). Virtual environ­ments hold great promise for supporting the preparation of future teachers, as they build skills and confidence in teaching and classroom management in unrushed, less pressured, and relatively risk-free environments (Dalgarno et al., 2016; Ledger et al., 2019; McGarr, 2020). Consequently, several higher-education institutions around the world are investing time and funds in virtual environments to achieve highly functional and flexible teaching and learning systems (Dalgarno et al., 2011; Dieker et al., 2015; Gregory et al., 2015). For example, in Australia, some universities employ simulated teaching environments such as TeachLivE™ and SIMLab™, which present real-life opportunities for teacher candidates to rehearse teaching skills and improve teaching quality in a synchronous virtual environment (Ledger et al., 2019; Rappa, 2019).
'Mixed reality,’’ as it is termed, integrates lifelike elements into a virtual space It represents a set of technologies that provides access to and interaction with a real-life environment mostly through auditory and visual media (Kirkley & Kirkley, 2005). Of the several mixed-reality technologies in use, TeachLivE appears to be gaining increased application in teacher-education programs, perhaps due to its facility to influence thinking about how teachers are trained across multiple disciplines Teach­LivE employs a 3D animation modelling technique and artificial intelligence to create and control avatars whose humanlike characteristics provide a safe ground for rehearsal and reflection. With the aid of a white board or projection screen, pre-service teachers engage with avatar students virtually on a target topic, content, or skill (Dieker et al., 2015). Off-site interactors manipulate the avatar students to engage with the pre-service teacher to create an immersive experience comparable to the experience in a real classroom.
    1. Australian Research on Mixed Reality in Teacher Education
In Australia, Ledger et al. (2019) mixed-methods study showed that the simulated teaching environment affected pre-service teachers’ teaching styles, self-confidence, and teaching quality. Further, Ledger and Fischetti (2020) introduced the concept of Micro-teaching 2.0, which combines traditional micro-teaching and human-in- the-loop simulation technology to create opportunities for practice, rehearsal, and reflection on teaching. Results showed that the implementation of Micro-teaching 2.0 presented opportunities for the identification of strengths and weaknesses, which improved their self-efficacy and professional preparation. Likewise, a study by Rappa (2019) on the application of SIMLab to teacher education revealed that the simula­tion experience was effective in building pre-service teachers’ capacities to navigate complex teaching situations, and that the opportunity for multiple trials enabled them to reflect on their practice and receive feedback from university supervisors.
    1. Cognitive Apprenticeship Approach to Course Design
The Teach Ready program used the cognitive apprenticeship framework (Collins et al., 1989; Collins et al., 1991) in its teaching design. As the name suggests, this framework incorporates the traditional and well-established model of apprentice training, based on observation, coaching, and imitation, with cognitive modelling protocols. The framework elucidates a progressive learning design from modelling to coaching and collaboration, and finally to fading of support, independent problem­based exploration, and reflection (Parkes & Muldoon, 2010). These elements were integrated into a series of workshops, as outlined in Appendix 1, followed by mixed-reality micro-teaching sessions. The phases of the Teach Ready program are described in Figure 22.1.
      1. Debrief and Cognitive Modelling
A cognitive modelling strategy with experts serving as cognitive role models is a key characteristic of a cognitive apprenticeship approach. The expert situates abstract tasks in authentic contexts, highlighting the relevance, and uses varied examples, while articulating the underlying tenets. The experts explain guiding principles, narrate deliberative processes, and outline procedures, in the process disclosing the cognitions that would usually remain invisible and inaccessible to the novice ( Collins, 1991).
This approach saw the delivery of a series of pre-teaching workshops in the Teach Ready program that served as a debrief of past teaching experiences, an instructional
 
 

Fig. 22.1 A diagrammatic representation of the teach ready program. Source authors
workshop, coaching, and communal preparation time. The group explored the chal­lenges of professional placement and devised strategies for using opportunities and navigating the challenges in school environments. The workshop instruction used explicit teaching to theorise, demonstrate, and exemplify a particular teaching skill, and then shifted to scripting and applied rehearsal.
      1. Coaching, Rehearsal, and Feedback
The next phase of the learning design features coaching. In this phase, the expert observes students while they attempt a task and offers hints, feedback, modelling, and reminders to bring the novice performance closer to that of the expert. Coaching is interactive, targets specific problems or issues that arise in the performance of the set task, and allows the novice to develop heuristic strategies through problem-solving while still under expert guidance.
Graphic organisers, in the form of planning templates, are used to facilitate struc­turing and skill praxis. The templates feature temporal and strategic prompts that scaffold the phases of micro-teaching performance and provide a lesson sequence.
The pre-service teachers are encouraged to script the lesson and highlight key words and phrases, and to use these annotations in a paired peer rehearsal activity. These scaffolds deconstruct the tasks so the students can gain confidence by achievement and, by practice, develop the required 'strategic knowledge' of the expert (Collins etal., 1991, p. 13).
Multi-level collaboration is another feature of this coaching phase. The pre-service teachers not only learn from their coaches/lecturers and from their own explorations, they learn with and from each other. Informal tutoring and support relationships in the peer group provide students with further avenues of guidance and encouragement, and through critiquing one another’s work, the students articulate their knowledge, reasoning, and problem-solving processes, and the group learning outcomes are enhanced. The coaching phase is pivotal to the success of the endeavour, with the tasks being pitched just beyond the competence of the learner. This phase concludes with the supports for learning being 'faded' as the novice develops disciplinary understanding and skills to execute the work of the expert effectively.
In preparing for the micro-teaching, the pre-service teachers are encouraged to develop their lessons following the structure outlined in the template. Then they rehearse their presentations of the lesson with a peer partner, who in turn presents their work. The partners then use a tuning protocol to give 'warm' and 'cool' feedback on their lesson and performance, which is then incorporated into the lesson planning. Hattie and Clarke (2019, p. 5) claim that feedback is 'arguably the most critical and powerful aspect of teaching and learning'. This feedback loop helps the pre-service teachers to use constructive criticism and work to improve aspects of their preparation and performance. At this stage, the pre-service teachers are moving to independence and are responsible for the development of their plan and the organisation of any required teaching resources.
      1. Teaching Simulation
Prepared for their micro-lesson by the program as described, the pre-service teachers teach the avatars their planned micro-lesson. These avatars’ behaviour can be pre-set from cooperative to disruptive, and the pre-service teachers are challenged by an increase in intensity at each encounter. Feedback is given by peers and mentors, and a reflective evaluation is written for each teaching session.
    1. Research Design and Analysis
Evaluation on the preparation, performance, and reflection of the Teach Ready program was gathered in the form of pre and post surveys and Flipgrid film responses (n = 35).
This research project sought to answer the following research questions:
  1. Does the cognitive apprenticeship scaffolded approach enhance the teaching performance of under-performing pre-service teachers? If so, can effective elements of the support program be identified?
  2. Does mixed-reality micro-teaching assist this group? If so, in what ways?
      1. Data Gathering and Analysis
Multiple data-collection activities and analysis were conducted. The data was gath­ered in two stages. The entire cohort (ท = 35) completed pre and post surveys and were asked to film a response to their experience in Flipgrid. The pre-program survey ascertained the participants’ preparations for and expectations of the program, while the post-program survey provided a reflective space in which they could visit the perceptions of the experiences and what they learned about teaching practice.
Fewer than half of the participants submitted the Flipgrid short “to-camera” film summations of the program and the Teach Ready experience. The numerical data was analysed using percentages, and the qualitative responses were transcribed and coded using NVivo software, which enabled “trees” of interrelated ideas and themes to be identified and developed.
      1. Limitations of the Study
It is acknowledged that this research has some limitations. This was a small-scale project, and it is possible that such a purposive sampling method could skew the data. As participants were self-selected, it was probably those who felt more positively connected to the Teach Ready program who volunteered to fill in the survey and who filmed their responses to the micro-teaching experience. Another threat to the integrity of the data is the degree to which the respondents gave honest answers. When a group of pre-service teachers are asked questions about a recent program, some may give the answers that they think a researcher would want to hear, making it at least possible that some of the answers will be influenced by what the respondent views as “best practice”. Also, although the Flipgrid short films were a novel way to collect data, more than half of the participants did not comply with the request to produce a response, and so their data from this source was lost to the project. However, the results so far are thought to be of sufficient interest that the decision was taken to publish the preliminary findings at this early stage of the research, with the intention of a follow-up paper when these pre-service teachers return to school to repeat their placements. It should also be noted that some of the researchers were involved in the design of the intervention, but not in the collection of the data.