The Use of Second-Generation Case Studies in Online Discussions in Teacher Education

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

One of the major components of any field-based, teacher preparation program is field observation. Field observations are designed to provide students with a first-hand account of the daily life of a teacher; and to help students bridge theory and practice. Field observation provides preservice teachers with models that help them understand how to teach (Clift & Thomas, 1996; Rauch & Whittaker, 1999). It often includes classroom observation, small-group, and one-on-one tutoring. Students have the opportunity to apply theory to the actual classroom situation and to practice different teaching strategies in a relatively low-risk environment.

However, one challenge that many instructors in teacher-preparation programs face is developing assignments that enable students to take full advantage of the field observation experience. It is not uncommon to hear students say "We really don't know what to watch."; such comments indicate that reflective practice does not occur spontaneously (Pryor & Kuhn, 2004, p. 249). Thus, there is a need for intervention to prompt the reflective process (Schon, 1987 and Sprinthall, Reinman, & Theis-Sprinthall, 1996). Further, if students are not placed in an active role during their observations and are not actively seeking information, they can miss many of the more subtle aspects of the classroom environment.

One way to prompt the reflective process is to have pre-service teachers develop case studies based on their observations. The value of field experience is enhanced when it is integrated into formal coursework (Metcalf & Kalich, 1996). The use of student developed case studies or storytelling not only allows students to take full advantage of their field observation experiences, it also allows them to become reflective practitioners. Storytelling, as a means for connecting theory to practice allows and encourages teachers to be active participants in the observation process (Cooner & Tochterman, 2004). Storytelling is the most basic way human beings generate meaning from their experiences (Clandinin & Connelly, 1999). Teachers recognize their experiences in terms of stories; they live stories and tell stories as a basic way of communicating best practices. Through the process of telling and retelling the stories, teachers reflect on their experiences and learn new and different lessons each time. Therefore, storytelling combined with reflective practice can be used to enable teachers to bridge theory and practice.

Although numerous studies have demonstrated the benefits of the use of case studies in teacher education, the majority of these studies focus on first-generation case studies or teacher-developed case studies. Few studies have focused on "second generation" or student-developed case studies. This paper discusses the results of a study in which students were asked to 1) write a comprehensive case study, or "tell a story" based on their field observation experiences; 2) post it to an online discussion; 3) read and respond to at least one other case study; and 4) complete a survey at the end of the semester regarding the perceived benefits and challenges of the case study assignment. This study provides educators with guidelines for writing effective case study assignments and describes what factors students need to address and what directions instructors must provide to enable their students to write effective case studies.

METHOD

Subjects

During the Fall semester of 2004, 58 students enrolled in a secondary education program at the University of Texas--Pan American took a course titled "EDCI 4307: Secondary Curriculum--Internship I". The majority of the students were Mexican American, and they were between the ages of 23 & 45 years old. In terms of gender, 49% of the students were male and 51% were female. All of the students were either in their junior or senior year of college and were enrolled in Block I of the teacher preparation program. …