While Covid-19 has presented Initial Teacher Education (ITE) with many challenges, it has also presented opportunities to develop our digital capabilities. A specific opportunity it presented at the University of Aberdeen came from a need to consider how our September school experience placement would take place for our Primary PGDE cohort.

Having reflected on the how teachers across Scotland transitioned to online teaching in March 2020, we wanted to capture this learning and support the next generation of teachers with understanding teaching and learning, while developing their digital literacy so they could support pupils in their future classrooms (digital or in school). Within this reflection, the idea of our Virtual Practicum was born.

We were keen that our Virtual Practicum would link well to The National Framework For Digital Literacies In Initial Teacher Education (2020) and also provide our ITE students with key learning that they could use in schools later in the PGDE course. We also wanted the Virtual Practicum to be adaptable enough so that we could also use elements within our MA Primary Education programme.

The team, Ingrid Stanyer, Fraser Hepburn, Mhairi Freeman, George Drew and John Mynott collaborated on the creation of the Virtual Practicum under 4 key themes:

1.Digital platforms: their design and usage

2.Observation and Noticing

3.Task Development

4.Mirco-teaching

Each of the four key areas links particularly with reference to 1. Digital Skills Development, 2. Pedagogy in the Digital Domain and 6. Career Long Professional Development. Although the other three strands of the Digital Literacies Framework are present.

The four key Virtual Practicum themes also interact throughout the placement so students are able to see how they can draw on skills they develop digitally in class, and how their in-class skills can improve their digital practice.

What follows is a breakdown overview of the four weeks of the Virtual Practicum.

Week 1. Developing a Digital Classroom

The core theme of this week is that students learn about digital classrooms, how they are constructed, developed and organised. Students will design and build an online classroom throughout the week that will become the basis of their tasks in the subsequent weeks of the Virtual Practicum.

Colleagues for schools across the School of Education’s partnership will meet with the students online to share their own experience of working through digital classrooms.

An introduction to observation and how to notice other teacher’s pedagogy using videoed lessons forms the final focus of this week. This theme develops alongside the other key themes, linked the students learning back to relevant practice, theory and policy.

Week 2. Task Development

The core element of the second week is to design, develop and present a task using the digital classroom constructed in week one. The learning in this week looks at how tasks are prepared, their purpose and their usage. Students then collaborate and build on this learning to develop their own task which they present to their professional studies group at the end of the week.

Alongside their task development students will consider additional support needs, and accessibility, with reference to digital platforms and consider ways they can support the learning of all pupils in their task development.

Week 3. Micro-Teaching

The third week will develop the students’ ability to present and teach in a digital environment. This experience draws on micro-teaching already present within our ITE courses, but in this Virtual Practicum it is focused on students sharing and teaching their professional studies group at the end of the week.

Sequencing and ordering linked to careful observation are also key aspects of this week’s learning with student building on their previous learning in this area to support their thinking in their micro-teaching.

Week 4. Reflection

The fourth week develops the students’ reflections and learning from the preceding weeks. Colleagues from the partnership add additional learning from the perspectives of teacher, parent and pupil to wider the students understanding of how effective a task can be. This links well with evaluations and thinking about how they can develop tasks in future teaching.

As part of this week student will consider their digital platforms and the applications they have for their teaching beyond the Virtual Practicum.

We look forward to sharing our learning from the Virtual Practicum in a later blog post and how it will be adapted for use within our other ITE courses at Aberdeen.

Blogpost by Dr John Mynott, University of Aberdeen