The Covid-19 pandemic and its effects on teacher education in England: how teacher educators moved practicum learning online


Source: European Journal of Teacher Education, 43:4, 542-558

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The focus of this qualitative research is specifically on the multiple challenges arising from school and university shutdowns, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Teaching in formal practicum (school) contexts was completely removed for all, yet in this ‘practicum vaccum’, new forms of practice emerged.
The findings show how educators made sense of the situation and how students were supported to develop their professional learning.
This involved challenges of (re)locating and (re)framing the spaces and practices of learning, challenges which were particularly acute in an Initial Teacher Education (ITE) system, like England, normally adhering to an extreme version of the ‘practicum turn’.

Research methods
Stage one of this study was designed to be small-scale and is characterised as ‘first and rapid reponse’ research.
It drew on established qualitative research methods and ethical guidelines (BERA 2018) and the requirements of the university employing the researchers.
The study looks at the period March–July 2020, exploring educators’ experiences and perceptions.
Focuses included the challenges and opportunities around swift, often ad hoc and sometimes radical alterations to the established curriculum, teaching methods and assessment modes.
An initial purposive sample of twenty educators was asked to complete an online questionnaire.
In all, fourteen educators did this at a time of high stress and multiple demands.
The final sample group (10 women, 4 men) was diverse.
During a normal practicum, their work would have included visiting schools to monitor and assess students’ progress, working in partnership with school colleagues.
The first section of the questionnaire focused on collecting demographic information (for example, gender, age phases of programmes taught, years of experience);
the second asked participants to list words to summarise their main experiences during the timeframe.
The third and main section of the questionnaire consisted of open questions, giving opportunities for free-text responses.
These questions explored issues around how teacher educators felt at the start, during and end of the time-period covered by the research.
The questionnaire was then essentially chronological, asking first about early experiences, and challenges in the period of ‘emergency elearning, followed by enquiries about any growth in confidence and the development of more secure or creative practices.
Volunteers were then asked to undertake individual semi-structured interviews, exploring their experiences in more depth.
11 online interviews, lasting between 45 and 80 minutes, were completed.
The interviews were a ‘conversation with the questionnaire’ – structured in the same way and covering the same basic areas – but designed with space to explore educators’ written responses in more detail, asking for clarification and following up on the personal examples of practice given.
Data was analysed using coding techniques and thematic analysis pragmatically adapted from the work of Charmaz (2014).

Findings and discussion
Findings indicate that, in these unprecedented global times, these educators developed students’ learning about practice while they were no longer in practice.
This is positioned as a matter of the (re)locating and (re)framing of professional learning in the absence of the practicum to new digital places/spaces, constructing new online and hybrid communities of practice.
As such, it is a matter of spatial geography (Massey 1994; Bhabha 1994) since the space of the practice is essential for its framing.
Here, in these new spaces, whilst an immediate pedagogic discomfort was felt by all, the values underpinning practice allowed significant and meaningful adaptions beyond the initial, simple ‘emergency elearning’ responses.
More considered solutions were then found, which required a renewed ‘pedagogic agility’ (Kidd 2020b) from the educators to accommodate meaningful practice in these new spaces.
These online and local solutions created a sense of both sameness and difference in some of the immediate and innovative pedagogies developed on the (g)local level.
Over time, with the move to new online spaces, many educators recognised the adaptations this had brought to their practice and, within this, their innovations within ‘the reconceptualised familiar’. With the removal of the practicum space, the new ‘online-at-home-working-spaces’ were inevitably framed as replacements, but these new disembodied spaces built upon existing relationships and ethics of care.
In this way the online (re)contextualised the familiar, but it was a familiar built upon the reconstitution and revitalisation of previous relationships.
Whilst it was clear that the boundaries and practices of academic work were being (re)constructed during this time, previous values helped navigation through these spaces.
In this research we see the closure of schools and the removal of the practicum as a matter not just of ‘pedagogic agility’ and technological innovation but also as a matter of spatial re-orientation: the ‘move’ to online and private-become-professional spaces through ‘online-at-home-working’.
Here as these educators reinvented their pedagogies and curricula, they created new types of second order practices (Murray 2002) in these spaces, but practices that drew on pre-existing and shared values and visions and constantly referred back to the now-vanished space of the practicum as it once was.
During the pandemic, the new spatialities afforded by technological opportunities, led to a re-imagined or reenvisaged ITE (MacPhail In press), albeit one forced by the extreme circumstance into a reimagination of practice not planned for but accommodated.
In this perspective, the movement to ITE online was bounded, relocated and, in terms of community, renewed.
The new disembodied spaces for learning online were constructed, not of immediate design but of necessity and serendipity.
They also created a ‘third space’ for reflexivity in professional learning and the creation of new epistemologies of practice in Zeichner’s (2010), use of the term, that is they created new online and disembodied spaces bridging between the previous, embodied and remembered learning spaces of the university and the school practicum.
In this sense then these new disembodied spaces referred back to previous ITE values and practices, but extended and enhanced them.
Here the educators were conscious of the newly developing ‘spatial imaginations’ that they were applying to these new pedagogies and locations.
While the new spaces were ‘forced’ into existence, they were nonetheless embraced, leading at times to improved and innovative practices.
These practices were recontextualised by the new spaces which required ‘design’ decisions on how to proceed and innovate (Laurillard 2012).
Importantly, regardless of the spaces and technological vehicles, many of these decisions were still underpinned by a language of values and vocation, and hence the recontextualised practices still instantiated clear cultural and social purposes in ensuring that students became the ‘good teachers’ of the future.
Nationally and internationally, the future remains deeply uncertain, of course, dependent above all on the likely continuation of the pandemic and the consequent reconfigurations of the spaces in which our national systems for ITE can happen.
Asked about planning for the academic year 2020/21, participants in this study understandably expressed anxiety and uncertainty.
In England, new guidance has been provided by the government offering flexibility around the usual regulations around ITE.
Universities plan mixed mode teaching (that is, both synchronous and asynchronous online learning, with a limited number of students physically present on campus) for 2020/21.
But the government is asking schools to return to full face-to-face teaching on pre-pandemic models, albeit with considerable diversity of interpretation and many local variations of what this means for ‘recovery’ of missed time and relationships (Kidd 2020a, 2020b).
Due to all this, the continuation of the practicum on pre-pandemic patterns is a further uncertainty.
But whatever comes next, all in ITE need to continue to explore the meanings of these moves to the new spaces, remembering the ways in which these global experiences of teaching and learning during a pandemic have, as one participant said, 'grounded and humbled us – (placing) stress on the important things’.

Bhabha, H. 1994. The Location of Culture. London: Routledge.
BERA (British Educational Research Association). 2018. “Ethical Guidelines for Educational Research.”
Charmaz, K. 2014. Constructing Grounded Theory. New York: SAGE.
Kidd, W. 2020a. “The Rise of the Flexible and Remote Teacher: A Primary School’s Response to the Covid-19 Context in London.” [Blog post].
Kidd, W. 2020b. “Agility, Return and Recovery: Our New Covid Context for Schooling and Teacher Education?” [Blog post]
Laurillard, D. 2012. Teaching as a Design Science. London: Routledge.
MacPhail, A. In press. “Time to Really Re-envisage Teacher Education.” Research in Teacher Education 10 (1): 52–56.
Massey, D. 1994. Space, Place and Gender. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Murray, J. 2002. “Between the Chalkface and the Ivory Towers? A Study of the Professionalism of Teacher Educators Working on Primary Initial Teacher Education Courses in the English Education System.” Collected Original Resources in Education (CORE) 26 (3): 1–550.
Zeichner, K. 2010. “Rethinking the Connections between Campus Courses and Field Experiences in College- and University-Based Teacher Education.” Journal of Teacher Education 61 (1/2): 89–99. 

Updated: Apr. 12, 2021


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