Mentoring in an Online Simulation: Shaping Preservice Teachers for Tomorrow’s Roles

Summer, 2014

Source: Teaching & Learning Volume 28, Number 2, pp. 62 - 79


This article explores how preservice teachers can develop mentoring capacities (i.e., perspective taking, connection with students, and self - reflective opportunities on their roles as teachers) by participating in a historically - based online simulation game with middle school students. The arena for this exploration, the Jewish Court of All Time (JCAT), is a web - mediated learning platform that utilizes character play to enhance historical and cultural understanding. Through the description of three preservice teachers/mentors in JCAT, we illustrate how the preservice teachers/mentors work to support the learning of the middle school students while developing their teaching skill set. Our research explores the ways in which participation in the dual roles of character and mentor shapes the university students’ development as preservice teachers.


Findings revealed two major tensions in the mentor experiences: tensions related to preservice teachers/mentors’ desire to stay in character while supporting middle school students’ learning and tensions related to preservice teachers/mentors’ focus on attending to the learning of middle school students while also attending to themselves as learners. Through this complex process of shifting perspective taking, preservice teachers/mentors had to strike a balance between these roles in order to be active members of an ever - changing community. Their energetic membership, in turn, supported the action of the simulation and the development of the middle school students. As such, this study offers teacher education programs a new model for helping preservice teachers learn the essential capacity of understanding multiple perspectives.


Conclusion and Implications

The JCAT experience provided a creative opportunity for preservice teachers to practice mentoring skills in a safe environment with direct and indirect feedback from middle school students, preservice teacher/mentor peers, middle school teachers, and teacher educators/project directors. Through the preservice teachers’ mentorship, middle school students were guided in the simulation toward perspective - taking, reflection, experiential consideration of contexts, and social interaction. Equally importantly, the preservice teachers/mentors’ efforts provided them with practical experience in attending to students and encouraging them in their educational growth while providing insight into how these skills should be carried forward into their future teaching. Despite tensions raised by the context of the simulation, which required preservice teachers/mentors to portray a role, they developed strategies that utilized the social nature of learning to connect with their middle school student mentees and suggest actions for the student mentees to undertake in JCAT. This opportunity to experiment with different mentoring strategies, even within a highly - constructed and somewhat artificial atmosphere, provided preservice teachers/mentors with practical skills that they later reported were applicable in their face - to - face student teaching contexts.

As the teaching profession becomes more demanding and 21st century preparedness becomes a necessity, educators must learn to navigate complex, technology - rich learning environments (Darling - Hammond, 2006; Smith & Israel, 2010). Furthermore,we must continue to investigate our own cultural, religious, and ethnic understandings as educators (Bullough & Pinnegar, 2001) in an effort to recognize the ways in which practice — as teachers and teacher educators — supports and impedes the participants’ learning (Schön, 1995). The outcomes of this research strengthen the ability of teacher education programs to equip novice educators and preservice teachers for just such environments. An important finding from this study suggests that JCAT offered the preservice teachers/mentors an in - depth and extended experience focused on perspective taking — especially the perspectives of the middle school students. Being able to look at an experience through the eyes of a young person is essential work for all educators, and especially important for new teachers. Through this scaffolded experience, where preservice teachers/mentors receive feedback from all of the participants in the game, they engaged in and reflected on perspective - taking opportunities in an unusually focused manner.This study offers preservice teacher education programs a new model for the development of such essential capacities.


Finally, our study illuminates the ways in which the essential partners in the learning process — students, teachers, and texts, or in David Hawkins’ terms, I, Thou, and It — move dynamically to support the construction of new knowledge. In JCAT, these roles are fluid. At one moment the preservice teacher/mentor might be mentoring a middle school student, and at another moment s/he might be mentored by a teacher educator/project director, middle school teacher, preservice teacher/mentor peer, or middle school student in the game. Experiencing the role of “teacher” as someone who moves fluidly between the role of “I” and “Thou” offers new teachers the opportunity to understand teaching as a complex, relational process requiring humility, confidence, curiosity, and leadership.

Updated: Feb. 19, 2015