Emancipating our Virtual Teachers: Using Group and Peer-to-peer Coaching to Achieve High-quality Interaction

Teachers are regarded as fully educated when they have completed their teacher’s education. This is a challenge when employed. As far as the educational institutions are concerned there are rarely measures in place to ensure a professional development following employment of their teachers. As Shulman (1997, p. 504) put it:

Efforts at school-reform must give as much attention to creating the conditions for teacher learning as for student learning. Any effort at school reform will ultimately fail if it does not ask itself: “As I design this grand plan for improving the quality of learning in students, have I designed with equal care and concern a plan for teacher learning in this setting?” The effective school must be educative for its teachers.

In Nettskolen Vestfold we have employed educational technologists who coach teachers in a peer-to-peer or group setting, and thus practicing professional development of our teachers.

I will present some experiences from informants, teachers (colleagues) and pupils, in my master-thesis (in working progress). Three teachers, both alone and in a group, planned, conducted, observed and reflected on interactions in real-time tutoring in digital classrooms. The pupils were asked about their experience of learning with the interactions. These pupils are high-achieving in mathematics and take the curriculum at a higher-than-normal level. I will also present some experiences from coaching teachers (colleagues) who practice real-time tutoring in digital classrooms mostly in foreign languages at standard level. All the teachers are normally trained teachers in the Norwegian school system.

The master-thesis dealt with three different mathematics-classes in upper secondary school in three different levels. Teachers are normally best acquainted with working in solitude when developing teaching material and lesson plans. Teachers do infrequently get an opportunity to view their work from an external viewpoint. For this exact reason it will be beneficial to have teachers work in a peer-to-peer or group-setting. In my master-thesis the teachers worked along a Lesson Study / Action research like method in a group with the researcher. In addition to the coaching meetings the teachers logged their reflections in a system where everyone had read- and write-access.

Pupils must be given the opportunity to work with the subject material themselves, in not too big chunks regarding time or content. As high-quality interaction we define that what gives the pupils an opportunity to process the subject material, e.g. where the pupils interact with the subject material, the teacher or other pupils.

In my master-thesis group-work was used most of the times as a method of interaction. A provisional run-through of the teachers’ recommendation about group-work in digital classrooms are: 1) The pupils need to have more competence on cooperation in group-work and feel safe in such work 2) The size of the group matters 3) The taxonomical level on the task is important 4) Instructions from the teacher must be precise 5) Expectations on what the pupils shall produce, must be clear 6) The pupils must feel safe in using and wanting to use webcam and mic. All the recommendations but the last, touches what one will find regarding group-work in physical classrooms without technology.

A provisional run-through of the data regarding pupil’s anonymous responses on two questionnaires gave the following. On average 60% (rounded down to nearest 5%) of the pupils meant that the following helped them in their learning: To write/tell their own explanations, to hear/read other pupils’ explanations, and to tell one owns explanation after having previously written it. Regarding group-work (rounded down to nearest 5%), 60%, meant that the group-work affected their learning in a positive way. And 70% substantiated that group-work was positive to their learning by writing: Likes to hear other pupil’s explanations, thoughts and proposal for solutions, that they had to propose their own solutions, and collectively reaching a common solution to the task.

Other provisional findings from the master-thesis is that the teachers appreciate development through observations of themselves and others. One of the teachers wrote: “I have been strengthened in faith that it is important that the pupils cooperate and tries to formulate their mathematical understanding and argumentation. In the practical sense observations of own and the others’ tutoring has given me more insight in the use of the (digital) classroom.” Two other teachers stated that such work is useful to do with other teachers and a coach.

Written by Pål Simen Hem, Nettskolen Vestfold, Norway. Published in the Book of Abstracts for OEB Global 2018, ISBN 978-3-941055-49-0. Order the print version here.


Shulman, L. S. (1997). In Wilson S. M. (Ed.), The wisdom of practice : Essays on teaching, learning, and learning to teach. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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