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DIGITAL PRACTICUM: EXPLORING AUGMENTED REALITY, REMOTE CLASSROOMS, AND VIRTUAL LEARNING FOR ONLINE MENTORING

J. Mena 1, M. Flores2, P. Hennissen3, M. Ulvik4, S. Kaldi5, A. Clarke6, T. Barkatsas7, L. Orland-Barak8

1University of Salamanca (SPAIN)
2University of Minho (PORTUGAL)
3Zuyd University of Applied Sciences (NETHERLANDS)
4University of Bergen (NORWAY)
5University of Thessaly (GREECE)
6University of British Columbia (CANADA)
7Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (AUSTRALIA)
8University of Haifa (ISRAEL)
The teaching practicum is widely understood as the internship practice training student teachers have in the schools before they take full responsibility as full teachers. The practicum is usually carried out under the supervision of an expert teacher referred to as a teacher mentor. Teacher mentoring is widely considered as the support given by expert teachers to student teachers during their practicum (Hudson & Hudson, 2018).

The present paper explores the teaching Digital practicum (PRAC3) under an ERASMUS+ project (2020-1-ES01-KA226-HE- 096120) financed by the European Union. A consortium of five European partners comprises the PRAC3 project: University of Salamanca (USAL, Spain), Zuyd University (ZUYD, The Netherlands), University of Bergen (UiB, Norway), University of Minho (UMinho, Portugal) and University of Thessaly (UTH, Greece), plus three associate partners: Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT, Australia), The University of British Columbia (UBC, Canada), and the University of Haifa (UH, Israel). PRAC3 is a unique initiative to test the efficacy of an online teaching practicum and the changed mentoring roles that arise from that initiative. The COVID-19 pandemic shifted teaching from the physical classroom to digital online environments for most teacher education programs. However, for preservice teachers, the face-to-face component of the practicum was largely suspended. This project explores online teaching resources for an on-site school practicum context using web 3.0 resources (including innovations such as augmented reality and remote classroom learning settings).

However, numerous constraints impede carrying out the practicum under optimal conditions. According to the Education at Glance education report (OECD,2019) and the TALIS 2018 report (OECD, 2020) four major challenges are foreseen in the Eurozone:
(1) Budget cutbacks that directly affects the practicum programs,
(2) No universal teacher training for the practicum and lack of high qualifications among expert teachers,
(3) Fewer teaching hours in the practicum.

However, the most pivotal reason has surfaced from the COVID-19 pandemic emergency: governments around the world have temporarily closed educational institutions impacting over 89% of the world’s student population (UNESCO, 2020). Most of the Teacher Education programs have moved to online formats but the practicum could not be completed in such a way. Consequently, Teachers and mentors have been asked to fully immerse in online teaching even though some do not feel sufficiently prepared to do so.

The main outcomes of the PRAC3 project can be summarized in the following three ways:
1. Designing an online tool for the practicum: Practicum Profiles Tool (PPT). The PPT is a semantic web that will enable us to identify and match professional and training profiles.
2. Digital resources for teaching in the practicum. Classroom real-classroom scenarios feeded in augmented reality contexts, Live Remote Classroom System (LRCS), and digital Repositories.
3. Developing a shared set of indicators for the online practicum within the European context.

This project considers new ways for teacher mentors to guide student teachers through innovative tools and online methods for the practicum. It promotes new approaches and solutions to enhance teachers' readiness for e-learning (Mena & Cutri, 2020) and facilitate the interface between schools and universities.