2020 Teacher Education Research

Key questions facing researchers and policymakers are whether teacher education programs are effective in changing teachers’ knowledge and practices and whether such changes, if they occur, increase student learning. Answers to these questions will help determine the characteristics of effective programs for reading teachers.

Because there are multiple layers of causal relationships, encompassing teacher educators to students and including materials and environment, researchers typically focus on a few processes of teaching and learning at a time, usually using a specific method to answer the research question. Research on instructional variables, for example, generally examines the interactions between teachers and students in particular contexts of learning.

Experimental vs. Non-experimental Studies

The number of non-experimental studies far exceeded those of experimental and quasi-experimental studies. There were also far more studies of pre-service teachers than of in-service teachers. Experimental studies provide causal evidence of teacher improvement and sometimes of concurrent student achievement, and non-experimental studies use a variety of approaches and methodologies, providing multiple perspectives and rich contextual descriptions of teacher learning. Correlational data suggest that certain aspects of teacher quality characteristics such as certification status and degree in the field to be taught are positively correlated with student outcomes. However, this does not tell us if these characteristics ultimately lead to better student achievement.

Findings of Experimental Research

Some pre-service experimental studies revealed improvements in the knowledge of prospective teachers, but it is unknown whether their new learning impacts classroom practice and student learning. A longitudinal study would have to follow pre-service teachers into their first year of teaching and beyond. Given the differences between sites where teachers from the same programs teach, the power of such a study would be relatively slight, so few of these studies have been done.

The problems are not as severe for studying in-service education because these sites are identifiable and accessible. However, only some in-service experimental studies reported both teacher and student outcomes. The majority of studies that measured either teacher or student outcomes showed significant or modest improvements in either teacher knowledge or student achievement. Those that measured both provide clear evidence that in-service teachers do learn from professional development programs focusing on specific types of reading instruction and that students of those teachers benefited from improved teaching.

Findings of Non-experimental Research

Non-experimental designs predominate in pre-service studies because of researchers’ interest in relating teachers’ learning processes, both individually and collectively, to prescribed coursework, field experience, or combinations of these. In general, these non-experimental studies affirm the importance of providing field-based experiences in conjunction with coursework in order to help teachers connect theory and practice. The majority also report favorably on pre-service teacher change, but it is uncertain if this change leads to application, though some research suggests that the use of pre-service training becomes increasingly evident in the first two years of teaching. Still uncertain is the effect on student learning. Few of these studies measure or report student outcomes.

In concert with trends in pre-professional preparation of teachers, substantial numbers of non-experimental studies have focused on the variously conceived practice of reflection to examine the process of change in prospective teachers’ beliefs and attitudes in relation to a host of instructional issues. Similarly, the importance of technology has stimulated numerous non-experimental studies of the impact of new technologies on literacy teacher education largely ignored by experimental research-multimedia, hypermedia, and computer-mediated communication. Non-experimental studies have also been instrumental in foregrounding the under-researched issue of teaching reading to culturally diverse learners.

Non-experimental studies of in-service professional development, as with experimental studies, focused on more specific instructional methods and issues compared with pre-service studies. Conceptual tools supported with practical strategies prove to be the most influential, and conferencing with mentors and supervisors is also important.

Future Directions

Experimental research provides evidence of teacher change and its effect on student achievement. To guide change more effectively, we must also understand more deeply teachers’ attitudes, beliefs, and conceptualizations of literacy and the changes they undergo while studying practices and outcomes; knowing about the beliefs and attitudes of teachers is important because it indexes a source of teacher behaviors. In one study, for example, correlational analyses indicated that teachers’ philosophical acceptance predicted their use of instructional methods. Improving and non-improving teachers were different in their self-efficacy and willingness to experiment. Because non-experimental studies ask questions different from those asked by experimental studies-focusing on the processes of change and reflection-both kinds of studies are needed. The findings of the non-experimental studies of teacher change do not contradict those of the experimental research, but they need to be designed and reported better to facilitate parallel or follow-up studies. Furthermore, more longitudinal studies that track teachers through their initial years of teaching and studies investigating diversity need to be rigorously pursued.

Conclusion

One of the key assumptions held about teacher education and professional development is that, if it is effective, it should produce “better” instruction (changes in teacher behaviors) and “better” reading by students (higher achievement). However, this assumption does not drive much of the research. Only some experimental studies compared groups as well as outcome measures, but both are needed for establishing links between interventions and performance. Improvements in research conceptualization and design would allow such analyses to be conducted-analyses that are key for policy work, for example, in establishing the relative costs of raising reading achievement through different professional development programs.

Improvements in methodology and reporting could also lead to a more integrated and holistic understanding of teaching reading. Some of the imbalance between the numbers of experimental and non-experimental studies and between pre-service and in-service studies can be accounted for by costs, by the questions being asked, or, regrettably, by assuming that researchers chose a methodology and then found a problem to study. This latter tactic may become less attractive because of the current national policy, which has adopted as its exemplary standard the experimental research design. It must be acknowledged that non-experimental methodologies may be preferable for certain problems. Integration of knowledge would be facilitated, at least, by authors making their assumptions explicit when reporting studies and by journal editors requiring explicit statements of the relationship between questions, methodology, and data. Finally, we observe that researchers rarely cite relevant research from paradigms other than their own. But much can be gained by having authors broaden their view to include research from different methodologies. Blending data from research conducted using different methodologies has the potential to enrich the knowledge base.

Talking Avatars in Education – The Virtual Teacher Comes of Age!

Avatars, Talking Web Characters and Virtual representatives are growing in popularity for one critical reason … “they work”!

With Broadband becoming the standard access to the Internet in all four corners of the world, the benefits and possibilities of utilizing rich media and interactivity in marketing are starting to become a reality if not the norm. One of the most active areas is in the so-called Animated Avatars know by many names such as: Talking Web Characters, Virtual Representatives, Virtual Characters and Web Compares. Their popularity growing every day, it’s not by accident, one critical reason is… “they work” , but when it comes to using them to deliver training, presentations or integrated into CBT and education the Virtual Teacher rises eminently to the challenge. 

Assisted Education Delivery using the ubiquitous Virtual Tutor comes of age.

Virtual Teachers, educational presenters and tutor can have a new face, available 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year, with the same happy disposition, virtual, animated, automated lip-syncing and compelling content combined with contextual delivery. We know that retention is improved, we know that “lean back” education can be effortlessly absorbed and we know that there is nothing more powerful when it comes to delivering complex ideas or facts than the spoken word. Virtual Teachers can be available in different forms, ages, sexes and even fantasy. The flexibility is endless. Education creators can concentrate on the subject matter and choose the ideal Virtual Tutor to assist in the process. Literature assignment can be delivered in context and even brain teasing science and math education can become more precise when you have the help of a virtual tutor that has the power of “voice”. Un-attended education across the web or operated locally makes virtual education delivery highly effective and manageable. CBT has a new face, interactive courses can have virtual assistants and guides. Many training and formal educational environment incorporate media within their presentations and educational content, and it’s not by accident, why? because it works! The ability to concentrate on content and its compelling and memorable delivery is the reason that Virtual Teachers and Tutors are common place in establishment high in the corporate stratosphere and junior schools alike, they both have something in common, the recognition that compelling animated virtual teachers can give results in a planned and precise manner, where achievements can be accelerated at all learning levels. This is no accident, its technology at its best, with a face and a purpose. Take a PowerPoint presentation, graphs, facts, figures and images, nice enough, add a virtual full animated teacher into the mix and you now have a new breed of educational delivery.

In an educational setting it’s a proven fact that information retention and concentration is enhanced when faced with compelling content. So what should you look for in your animated talking character.

1: The Avatar Look

Is your talking animated character “attractive”, or does it look as though it has fallen out of the ugly tree, is it well crafted and generally compelling, or amateurish and poorly animated. Does it suit your image and delivery requirements… is the quality something you are comfortable associating with.

2: Automated Lip-Syncing

Is the avatar lip-sync accurate? there is nothing worse than watching a virtual representative that resembles a badly dubbed movie, it is critical, our brains react in micro-seconds when faced with something that doesn’t look right! It seems bizarre but most animated talking character offerings have less than convincing lip-syncing to say the least. Simple tests include; Does the virtual tutors lips stop moving when silent? Does it shape the phonemes correctly or is it just a random selection of gibberish?

3: Virtual Teachers Ambient animation, Less is more.

Animations during the narration should be kept to a minimum and be subtle, almost invisible. When watching a news broadcast you would feel uncomfortable is the compares eyes rolled from side to side and they exhibited strange and seemingly un controllable head movements. It is the content being delivered by the speaking avatar that is important, and all animations should be kept to a minimum to avoid distraction. Less is definitely more.

4: Virtual Tutor – The Voice

Text to speech may seem convenient but it has a tendency to sound really bad. Remember! this is a virtual representative, your own animated web or media compare it is an extension of your image, unless you sound like a robot steer clear of synthesized voices. Use your own voice, or a friends, or shell out for a professional voice over artist, they are not as expensive as you think! In the future TTS will probably improve but at the present it should only be used if you have no other option.

5: Tailoring your Virtual Character

Some offerings give you loads of tailoring options, they even allow the visitor to play with the character during its narration. Generally you should try and restrict tailoring to clothing and backgrounds for the best effect. You want your visitors and users to build a rapport with your virtual teacher, so changing its looks continually does not offer continuity to the visitor or student. Having a Virtual tutor that the visitor can mess with only detracts from their message.

6: Integration and Hosting your Virtual Teacher

Consider that many education delivery requirements may be remotely across the internet. Give a great deal of thought to this area as its rife with potential additional charges and risks. If you are on a Pay-for-view contract, a contract that charges you a monthly fee for so many streams, the risk is your growth in visitation, you end up with one of two potential problems; you have to pay more because you had a higher visitation as your site grows in popularity, or, you can’t afford to pay more, so your talking avatar disappears and leaves a block with the suppliers logo in place. The same goes for supplier hosting, you have no control over their hosting facility, if you rely on your web compare and your service suppliers servers go down you have lost your “voice”. If you own internet service goes down at least the whole site is no longer visible. Always try and use a solution that will give you total control, create your composition in your time, generate industry standard output (Flash, Flash Video or conventional Video ) and have total flexibility when it comes to integration.

7: Flexibility gives your choice.

Is flexibility important, would it be nice to have access to the native output of your efforts in an industry standard format such as Flash, Flash Video, AVI etc so you could integrate your work into other environments such as Powerpoint, Camtasia, youTube etc. Are there any other services that can assist you from the supplier such as Voice-Overs, integration and bespoke services. Can your composition work off-line, can you create them off-line. Flexibility adds to the return on your investment.

Summary

Doing any job badly is not a good idea, many people grab hold of a new technology and throw it at their audience with little thought. Implementing a bad Animated Virtual Representative is detrimental and could reflect on your business and/or educational requirements, take your time in the creation and don’t settle for second best.