Turning on a Dime: Implications of an Unanticipated Shift to Online Learning for Early Field Experiences

The following  abstract, intention and research outline will be used to submit an article  to the Issues in Teacher Education journal for the special edition: Teacher Education in the COVID-19 Era: Perspectives and Possibilities During a Pandemic.

Working Title: Turning on a Dime: Implications of an Unanticipated Shift to Online Learning for Early Field Experiences.

Targeted Journal: Issues in Teacher Education



Elizabeth Buffington, MEd., Lecturer of Teacher Education San Diego State University & Instructional Designer, Pre-College Institute’s Pathways Office for Careers in STEM Education

Cynthia Darche Park, Ph. D., Professor of Teacher Education San Diego State University

Working Abstract:

This narrative offers a self-study of the instructional changes rapidly put into place for a teacher education service-learning class,  Field Work in Community Settings (TE 362), in response to San Diego Sate University’s policy decision that all class instruction was to go online as of March, 2020. This self-study narrative focuses on my ability to build on prior knowledge around digital education best practices based on my experience as a recent student in the Master of Education, Digital Education Leadership program at Seattle Pacific University, and my previous 19 years of classroom teaching.  The foundation of TE-362 is student-centered learning anchored in the facilitation toward course objectives and a curriculum of service-learning.  Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we quickly prepared for a change in facilitation and delivery due to the mandate of online-only course location and the elimination of face-to-face contact.  My self-study of these instructional shifts based on the perception of student needs and our reaction to the learning inspired me to pragmatically design future instruction that can be accessed by students outside of the traditional classroom face-to-face setting.


The intention of this self-study is to research the impact on the learners of the decisions to quickly shift to online-only learning.  The shift to virtual  instruction due to COVID-19 impacted the entire California State University system. The study of our instructional moves based on learner needs highlights where quality imporoved and access to learning broadened. Through the intentional inquiry, practice of providing service, and reflection within the curriculum of The 5 States of Service Learning (Berger, 2010 p. 47), this unique study is bounded by time and the instructional hurdles steaming from the COVID-19 pandemic during the spring of 2020. This research looks at how students reacted to the facilitation shifts for synchronous facilitation of inquiry, collaboration, and reflection to support and build upon asynchronous learning. Evaluation of instruction and facilitation are communicated through a end-of-semester seminar focused on valuing the student voice through verbal socratic dialogue and unanimous back-channeling feedback, and the formal faculty evaluation conducted through the San Diego State University.

Include- link to syllabus, rubric, interactive syllabus 

Introduction :

March  2020 rocked the world of every educator and learner in the United States. Before we could make plans with our partner schools whole systems including the California State University  were requiring instructors to shift their mode of  delivery from face-to-face to online instruction to honor social distancing required to limit the spread of COVID-19’]. This narrative self-study shares my experience during the facilitation of the Teacher Education course  (TE 362) offered through the College of Education at San Diego State University includes a self-study of my rapid decision making based on my background as a learner within the Digital Education Leadership Seattle Pacific University Master of Education program as well as an educator who values the learner that takes place within learning environments.  My success as a educator who earned a 4.88 out of 5.0 overall student perception evaluation is a direct result of the following:

  •  Modeling and practicing the synchronous and asynchronous learning strategies that could be blended to integrate collaborative, inquiry-based, and learner centered instruction building on the San Diego State University Pathways “signature” system of interaction with curriculum into a virtual learning space that could be transferred to the K-12 field experience. 
  • A intentional instructional anchor in the Five Stages of Service Learning as our curriculum impacting our inquiry,  practice, and reflection in the field, face-to-face university classroom and virtual learning community.

The serendipitous situation within the COVID 19 instructional crisis, allowed me to demonstrate my skillset in digital education building. As I took on the role of instructional designer and leader together with my team we implemented changes in instruction in our shift to focused synchronous online delivery we made quick student focused changes to accommodate student expectations. Without the the face-to-face classroom experience the TE 362 students had ‘signed up for would we see a lose in engagement? Would they be able to go back into the field to earn early field work hours vital to their success as pre-service educators? Would they even show up not that the University was changing policy around the grading system. 


I am an educator who senses energy and engagement in a learning space. I can feel when students are engaged. Over the past 20 years of teaching in one capacity or another, I have learned to listen to this ‘feeling’, as opposed to being overwhelmed by the energy.  Pushing the blame regarding ‘lack of engagement’  is common practice in education. A shift in mindfulness towards the needs of others has afforded me a new way to look at the engagement of my learners;  what life factors are they managing that make it hard to concentrate on the learning we expect them to be present for? With this background  and philosophy I began a shift in my professional experience from middle and high school teaching in underserved schools to educate and train undergraduates to become in-classroom tutors at underserved schools.
For the past 18 months, I have been able to channel my experiences as a learner within the Seattle Pacific Digital Education and Leadership Master of Education program to my practice as a fill in or substitute for a senior member of the School of teacher education to an appointed lecturer at San Diego State University. One principle remains the same within this shift in positionality, I continue to hone my senses to my learners and grow in my ability to anchor the learning outcomes of the course to each student based on what I have learned about them during the duration of the learning, anticipating the need of learners can happen virtually through intentional synchronous collaboration and focused request asynchronous course objective feedback. 

My practice as an educator and facilitator is to intetnionally anchor the learning from the perspective of the learner. Why are they taking this course? Why should they care about the learning I find so important for their individual development? What is in the experience for ‘them’? It is my duty to communicate this need no matter the physical location of the classroom or the tools I have at my disposal. 

For the past 20 years, I have taught middle-aged- senior adults how to use basic computer programs and systems, high school students in intervention, social studies, & AVID classrooms, adult educators within teacher professional development settings, and college-age undergraduate students. All of these teaching opportunities were my experiential learning that shaped my philosophy of equitable student-centered education. A common thread that pulls my audience together is anchored in diversity. Within my classrooms and learning environments, you will find multiple backgrounds in language, ethnicity, socioeconomic class, and college & career readiness. I go back to my principle of the power of a sense… to me, it doesn’t matter if I am facilitating an employee who works with their hands every day how to use the computer to access the new benefits system on the internet, professional development around using digital spreadsheets and document creation, a 60-year-old on ways to access social media at the neighborhood senior center, a high school senior on the importance of sexual health, a future first-generation high school graduate within college readiness skill-building, a classroom teacher on best practices around collaboration and inquiry, or a current first-generation 4-year university student on the principles of service-learning.

I am an educator who senses the room and uses what I learn from the experiences of my students students and their experiences to constantly refine my instructional practice within the theory of reflexivity. 

The Impact on Learning:

We started the semester like the semesters before. Through the building of relational capacity I prepared to build on the expertise within our learning community. The instruction of the course would be anchored in the learning objectives designed and revised each semester based on the intentional observation of student engagement and application.  With notes from the prior semester student feedback, mentor feedback and instructional shifts made based on observations of my learners I entered the room and outlined the course that would be facilitated using slides to walk through each day as outlined in the syllabus. Through blogs, presentations, and collaborative learning the students of TE 362 would be anchoring the experiential learning of K-12 tutoring in the Five Stages of Service Learning model

On March 10th, 2020 I met with my mentor to discuss how we would deal with the minute by minute changes occurring on our campus and in our communities due to COVID 19. At her kitchen table we planned for how we would move our course over to the virtual setting. I have acted out of need before, as we planned to ‘turn on a dime’ It was time for my positionality as a student of the Digital Education Leadership program to provide support for the students. With the support of the  San Diego State University Pathways Service Learning  instructional team, my mentor, and the trust of my students  I was taking a leap into familiar virtual synchrouus and asynchronous waters. Instead of being a student I was now the facilitator and instructional expert, My decisions were directly impacted by my sense of responsibility to my students; it was my duty to ensure they would experience the learning targets as I intended. 

Informing my Practice: 

Teaching is fluid. The interaction between the learners is facilitated by the teacher as opposed to the imparting of knowledge. My internal teacher voice has a litmus test of sorts. If I can visualize the collaboration within my classroom like a game of ping pong between me and one or two students I needed to shift the delivery in support of collaborative inquiry; my teaching heart soars when my learning community looks more like 10 ping-pong games are happening at the same time across the room from different angles. 

MulticoloredPingPongBallsPhoto by Ellen Qin on Unsplash

I made a commitment to the collaborative inquiry I felt made my class a unique experience for everyone who entered; this commitment would not be lost as we shifted to virtual learning to support the physical health of our community. 

In retrospect the first few sessions of virtual synchronous learning was a true testament to experiential learning. Within two class sessions it became clear students were coming back to the community because of the foundation of relational capacity built those first few weeks. However the routines needed work based on our new reality. The power of routine would only be solidified by our regular synchronous session that started with a sometimes lengthy check-in on each student. We discussed what was happening in their lives, where they were living and often made referrals to the campus resources designed to support the learners during the pandemic. 

The introduction of the interactive agenda built in collaborative roles that engaged learners throughout the entire synchronous learning session; my ideal game of classroom ping-pong was slowly emerging within our new reality of class sessions in a virtual setting; learners were supporting each other without waiting for me to prompt thinking and response. During several times I felt my job had shifted to the observer who would shape the future class objective to meet the needs that appeared during the student-centered learning. 

Personal comfort with reflection in addition to the  solicitation of feedback from stakeholders in a true testament of confidence; the opportunity to execute humility is in the actions an educator takes to make the learning better for everyone. My students felt valued by the opportunity to provide feedback.  Mindfulness of the student voice throughout the entire semester, regardless of the learning setting in correlation awareness around the trends in the assignments submitted, immediate feedback from my mentor and the Pathways instructional team, and observation of student talk within the collaborative inquiry structures informed my daily practice as we focused on new avenues to support K-12 students in virtual service learning field work as well as the interaction within the SDSU classroom. 

Moving Forward, A New Reality:

 Through anticipation of student need, instructional theory, service-learning best practices and an ability to sense the need of the learners I am ready for the hybrid TE-362 learning experience on the Fall 2020 horizon. Synchronous learning and hopefully face-to-face instruction will support the connection and collaboration needed to support the building of a learning community so that the asynchronous learning can prove to be beyond a task to an opportunity to learn, communicate and share thinking in the spirit of growth of self and others for the good of the field of education. 

Learning is an experience and virtual learning can be rich in interaction, collaboration while inviting others to share perspective and voice. The value of a learning environment stems from the participants. As a facilitator I have come to the conclusion that I will always perform a self-study when I teach. Through this practice of personal reflection and reflexive practice I hope to meet the needs of my learners because they deserve a experience that models for them that the experience of learning takes intentional planning and reflection to ensure needs are being met for ALL students.


Comments are closed.