The Impact of and Key Elements for a Successful Virtual Early Field Experience: Lessons Learned From a Case Study

Jul. 01, 2010

Source: Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 10(3), 309-337. (2010) 
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this case study, a pilot field experience centered on the topic of Virtual School (VS) was created and offered virtually.
The central purpose of this case study was to understand what impact this virtual early field experience had on the teacher candidates’ understanding of VS.

Two general questions were developed to guide the data analysis and interpretations:
1. What impact did the virtual early field experience have on the teacher candidates’ response to VS?
2. What elements of this virtual early field experience were effective and how can it be improved?

The participants were two preservice teachers, one graduate student, and one VS cooperating teacher who participated in the pilot field experience.
A university field placement director was also included as a participant.
The first author played the role of a participant researcher. Observations were conducted concurrently with the first author’s responsibilities as the field experience supervisor.


A qualitative case study methodology was employed.
Data were collected through students’ reflective journals, postings online, and discussion forum responses to the selected readings.
Semistructured interviews were also conducted with the participating VS teacher and the field experience director at the participating university.
Additionally, the researcher’s journal was used to provide additional insights.

Course Structure in the VS Field Experience Course(s)
Two versions of this virtual early field experience course were created.
Both versions were created in the university’s learning management system, WebCT, and access was granted using each participant’s university ID and passwordBoth versions ended with a summary report from participants.


Five key elements were identified as contributive to the successful experience.

Personal Experience and Practice
The teacher candidates in this study were less familiar with VS compared to the traditional format of schooling that they had experienced as students. The students had misconceptions and preconceptions that resulted in concerns about VS.
However, because they were given the opportunity to experience a different type of field experience, they were able to conclude that VS is not better or worse than traditional schooling but it is an alternative format of education that is becoming prominent in the 21st century.

Information Gathering and Documentation
The findings show that the external information the teacher candidates received through the selected readings and demos, as well as the carefully structured synchronized observations, helped greatly in enhancing their understanding of VS.

Reflection, Analysis, and Personal Theories
The internal method of information gathering through reflection allowed the teacher candidates to address their personal beliefs and attitudes toward VS and to make meaning of their field experiences.
Their reflections showed some evidence of analysis. They compared their own prior experiences to their VS observation, and they addressed their attitudes and expectations prior to and after the virtual field experience.

Informed Action
In this case study, the teacher candidates identified their personal beliefs and used their newly gathered experiences to address the discrepancies between their perceptions and realities.
The process of reflection pushed them to analyze critically the possible reasons for the discrepancies, resulting in their professional development. Based on their conclusions, the teacher candidates formulated new personal theories regarding VS that subsequently led to positive informed actions, ranging from expressing an interest in pursuing a career related to VS to printing out the selected readings for future reference.


Overall, the results showed that this pilot study had positive impact on the teacher candidates. The completion of one cycle of experiential learning helped them gain a better understanding of VS, the key VS teaching skills, the VS teacher’s responsibilities, and the role of technology in VS. It also helped the teacher candidates to address their preconceptions and misconceptions, which minimized their concerns about VS.

Updated: Jun. 27, 2012