From Classroom Reality to Virtual Classroom: The Role of Teacher-Created
Scripts in the Development of Classroom Simulation Technology
Brian CambourneFaculty of Education University of Wollongong, Australia, firstname.lastname@example.org
Jan Turbill Faculty of Education University of Wollongong, Australia, email@example.com
Brian Ferry Faculty of Education University of Wollongong, Australia, firstname.lastname@example.org
John HedbergNanyang Technological University, Singapore, email@example.com
David Jonassen University of Missouri, USA, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sarah Puglisi University of Wollongong, Australia
Faculty of Education University of Wollongong, Australia, email@example.com
This paper describes a specific kind of teacher narrative (the teacher created script) to support the
design of a classroom simulation to be used in pre-service teacher education. We intend to share our
experiences in exploring and developing the kind of narrative text which can be developed from a
large reservoir of ethnographically generated data collected from the teachers and classrooms we
have closely observed and documented over the last two decades. In particular, we explore the role
which these narratives play within the development of the kind of classroom simulation we have
Reflection has long been acknowledged as a useful process for teachers to engage with. Also, the
notion of formalising such reflections through writing has been acknowledged as a way to share,
refine and articulate teaching practice. As stated by Barth (2001:66) “…with written words come
the innermost secrets of schools”.
This prototype simulation allows the user to adopt the role of a Kindergarten teacher using a daily
literacy teaching episode we refer to as “days of the week” and encourages the user to reflect upon
the decisions they make about the organisation and implementation of this recurring teaching
experience. The range of options that occur in this simulation stem from the teacher-created script
we developed drawing from our own teaching experiences and classroom-based research to shape
this virtual classroom.
Rationale for the development of a classroom simulation
The idea for developing a classroom simulation stemmed from both research-based and anecdotal-
evidence that pre-service teacher training is not preparing beginning teachers effectively. Some studies
have shown that pre-service teacher education presents a fragmented view of learning (Hoban, 2002),
which is often presented in a decontextualised way (Entwhistle, Entwhistle & Tait, 1993). It appears that
many beginning teachers find it difficult to retrieve and apply knowledge from their pre-service teacher
education when it is required in classroom situations because of the tenuous links between the theory and
the practice (Kervin and Turbill, 2003; Bransford et al, 1990). For some time the benefits to the teaching
profession when pre-service teacher training is linked with actual classroom experience have been
acknowledged. However, as Barth (1990:118) asserts, “seldom do these two worlds converge”.
The Ramsey (2000) review of teacher education in NSW strongly recommended that
pre-service teachers receive quality classroom-based experience supervised by an
accredited teacher mentor. However, just providing more extensive classroom-based
experience does not guarantee quality experiences. Both Darling-Hammond (1999) and
Ramsey (2000) concede that school-based practical experience often consists of a series
of isolated, decontextualised lessons prepared and implemented according to the
requirements of the supervising teacher; or at worst it can be an unsupported and
Danielson (1996:2) states that classroom teachers make over 3000 nontrivial decisions
daily. This poses serious implications for pre-service teacher education and how pre-
service teachers are prepared for the complexity of teaching. It is acknowledged that
pre-service teacher learning is enhanced when pre-service teachers regularly participate
in the complex decision-making processes that teachers make in classroom settings
(Kiggins, 2001; Groundwater-Smith, Deer et al, 1996). However, pre-service teachers
experience is regularly limited by lack of regular access to quality classroom
experiences where they see expert teachers articulate their decision-making processes.
Further they tend to have limited opportunity to reflect on decisions and pose alternate
approaches (Ramsey, 2000). In an ideal world pre-service teachers would have
unlimited access to quality classroom episodes that are used to progressively develop
their classroom practice and associated decision making abilities. The cost of the
practicum experience, school needs, school availability and university course
requirements places limits on access to practicum experiences. Therefore other ways of
providing the sorts of experiences provided during personal experience with classroom-
based teaching episodes are needed. One such approach is to make use of a classroom
Limited research has been conducted on simulations in teacher development. However,
advances in gaming software, particularly those which involve players creating worlds
(eg The Sims), have demonstrated that it is feasible to create a motivational simulation
that should support pre-service teachers professional learning. By developing tools that
allow players to participate in the creation of a mini-classroom world, and then view
and reflect on the effects of a multiplicity of classroom management decisions and
teaching decisions our student players should be able to vicariously experience both the
teacher’s and student’s experience while engaged in a typical literacy learning episode.
A simulation can incorporate feedback and advice, through devices such as an on-line
mentor teacher, and the opportunity to pause or repeat the episode and to explore
alternative decisions and create other classroom worlds. Whilst it is understood that a
simulation is only a representation of real-life, there are features that can enhance real-
life experience. For example, a simulation can provide authentic and relevant scenarios,
make use of pressure situation that tap users’ emotions and force them to act, they
provide a sense of unrestricted options and they can be replayed (Aldrich, 2004).
Planning for the simulation
The use of simulation to support pre-service teacher education and the relevance of this
was clear to all team members involved in this project from the project’s beginning.
However, preliminary planning and discussions revealed that the interpretation of
“simulations”, what it would entail, and the perceived relationships between the
simulation and pre-service teacher education varied amongst team members.
Preliminary planning for this prototype demonstrated the differences amongst our team
members and impacted upon and directed the choices we began to make.
There appeared to be three main ‘perspectives’ amongst team members as the simulation
was planned for its initial prototype. Team members could be categorised as:
Those who looked to the simulation for instructional purposes
Those who looked to the simulation in terms of the “gaming model” (Gee,
Those who looked to the simulation as a professional learning tool
Each of these perspectives will be explained further.
Simulation as “Instructional”
As initial literature was being investigated and preliminary ideas were explored much of
what was emerging was looking towards the simulation for instructional purposes. A
basic flow with quantitative data entries to guide the direction of the simulation in the
form of outputs was investigated.
It was acknowledged at this time that software tools such Stella TM could be used to
create simulations and it became apparent that many teaching courses do use Stella TM to
develop student understanding of systems and systems thinking through the creation of
simulated models of real life situations such as population dynamics, labour supply and
demand, and learning. During this preliminary planning one member of the team used
Stella TM to create a crude model the simulation. This was progressively modified to
reflect the way that real classrooms operate and the screen capture below in figure 1
shows one of the early outputs from this development phase. It shows how one member
of the research team was trying to use StellaTM to model how teacher, student and lesson
inputs interacted to effect student engagement, intellectual quality, productive
conversations and artefacts developed.
Figure 1: Early Stella Model of the simulation
The output of this process can be represented by the interface and graphical output
shown below in figure 2. It shows how the different components of the lesson, those
represented along the top of the graph, are sustained throughout this period of time. This
relates to Jonassen’s (1993:21) notion of “contextualizing the instruction”.
Figure 2: User interface and output from the original model
These models were not used in the final version but they did serve to focus the research
teams’ ideas around the relationships among key variables.
Simulation as “Gaming Theory”
From this point it became important to revisit the literature and consider how we could
get our target audience, pre-service teachers, to engage with the simulation in a
meaningful way. Research from Gee (2001, 2003) describes how computer assisted
learning can support “…learning and mastering some extremely complex conceptual
systems, abstract ideas, ways of thinking and knowing, and then applying what’s been
learned to solve a range of complex problems” (Cambourne, 2002: 759). We realised
that the simulated classroom itself, and the organization and management of all the
components within it, can be considered as an “extremely complex conceptual system”
(Cambourne, 2002: 759).
It is recognised that computer assisted learning can allow the user to be actively
involved in the learning process as they are encouraged to make decisions about the
situations they are provided with. The development of a simulation supports Gee’s
(2003:22) argument that learning needs to be “active”. A classroom based simulation
allows pre-service teachers to experience the nature of the classroom “…in a new way”
as they “learn to experience (see, feel, and operate on) the world in new ways”; “gain the
potential to join this social group, to become affiliated with such kinds of people (even
though we may never see all of them, or any of them, face to face” and; “gain resources
that prepare us for future learning and problem solving” (Gee, 2003:23).
Gee (2001, 2003) further describes specific learning principles that need to be built into
“good video games”, principles which can be taken into account when thinking about
the design of any computer assisted learning, this simulation being an example.
Cambourne’s (2002:760-761) analysis of these learning principles identified three
common features for their success as learning enterprises.
• “They involve socially shared intellectual work that is organised around joint
accomplishment of tasks. This allows elements of whatever skills are involved
to take on meaning in the context of the whole.
• All of them have inherent elements of the traditional apprenticeship process. For
example, they make explicit much of the covert invisible know-how that has to
be acquired; they encourage student observation and commentary; and they
allow skill to build up bit by bit, yet permit participation even for the relatively
unskilled, often as a result of the social sharing of tasks.
• They are organised around particular bodies of knowledge and interpretation …
This subject matter is structured and presented so that students can engage in
processes of meaning construction and interpretation.”
With these understandings of the benefits associated with more active learning, the use
of computers and associated software to support this, and the learning principles that
needed to be evident within the design, became accepted as a reasonable and justified
approach to the simulation.
Simulation as “professional learning”
There is a large amount of literature surrounding professional learning. Such literature
encapsulates and emphasises professional learning as an on-going process beginning
with pre-service teacher training right through to retirement from the profession. Fullan
(1991: 326-327) defines professional learning as “the sum total of formal and informal
learning experiences throughout one’s career from pre-service teacher education to
retirement”. Likewise, Guskey and Huberman (1995:133) state professional learning
“…can also be viewed as a dynamic process that spans one’s entire career in the
profession, from preparation and induction to completion and retirement”. With such
definitions in mind, it was acknowledged amongst team members that this simulation
could be designed for teachers both at the initial level of pre-service teacher training and
also in-service capacities.
Much of the literature acknowledges that not all professional learning experiences result
in positive experiences, usually labelling experiences as being “unsuccessful”. Since as
early as 1991 it has been argued that professional learning “has been a somewhat
neglected area and that it has been under-resourced, under-researched and under-
financed … the complexity of the process has not been fully understood by employing
authorities and those responsible for providing professional development programs”
(Conners, 1991:78). Identified characteristics of professional learning that are
considered to be “unsuccessful” provides us with insight into what we as educators have
to consider with regard to the design features of the simulation.
Professional learning is regularly criticised for being “one-off” opportunities relying
solely on the individual teacher. Hargreaves and Fullan (1992:6) refer to such
opportunities as “skill-based teacher development” which is “…too often imposed on
teachers rather than developed with them”. Hoban (2002:68) refers to such situations as
being “isolated … based on limited conditions for teacher learning … the presentation of
new content over a relatively short time”. Whilst the simulation involves the teacher
primarily working alone, making decisions about the operation of the classroom, the
need to build support structures into the simulation became evident. We acknowledged
that such conclusions would add to the depth of the professional learning experience for
The integration of support materials within the simulation responds to Darling-
Hammond’s (1997:319) argument that theory and practice or application cannot be
separated for effective professional learning.
“Teachers learn just as their students do: by studying, doing, and reflecting; by collaborating with
other teachers; by looking closely at students and their work; and by sharing what they see. This kind
of learning cannot occur solely in college classrooms divorced from engagement in practice or solely
in school classrooms divorced from knowledge about how to interpret practice.”
In addition, Darling-Hammond (1997:322) claims that by integrating theory with
practice in professional learning opportunities, teachers are more likely to remember and
continue applying what they have learned.
With such expectations in mind, the development of the simulation was perceived as one
way in which professional learning of teachers could be encouraged and supported. As
such, the literature surrounding professional learning and our collective understandings
of this provided us with another framework to consider in the development of the
Using teacher narrative to create teacher-created scripts
The three guiding ‘perspectives’ and their impact upon preliminary planning for the
simulation have been described. Once each of these had been acknowledged and team
members availed of the opportunity to share their thoughts, areas of expertise and
“hopes” for the simulation we were then faced with the challenge of how to bring these
insights together to create the simulation prototype and to best employ our collective
areas of expertise. To do this, we began to explore the notion of teacher narrative in
order to design teacher-created scripts.
“Living educational theories” developed by Whitehead (1989, 2000) explains the role of
the knowledge teachers have and its impact on their classroom practice. Pre-service
teacher education often presents “abstract” knowledge, removed from the reality of the
classroom. When in the classroom, teachers are called upon to integrate and apply this
knowledge with what they do in the classroom, incorporating this into their “narrative of
experience” – “this process of weaving abstract theory into a narrative of learning from
experience generates an embodied living theory of practice” (McNiff and Whitehead,
2000:38). We began to construct our own narratives with the focus on teaching “the
days of the week” in a Kindergarten classroom. We drew upon our own classroom
teaching experiences and the data we had collected from the many teachers we had
observed and documented. Each of us worked on “…fitting the data together so that the
story achieves coherence” (Clandinin and Connelly, 1998:170).
From our research and own classroom experiences we have repeatedly found that
teachers regularly engage in oral storytelling as they retell their classroom experiences.
Teachers are the creators of an oral tradition where “…stories are shared daily …”
(Anderson, Herr and Nihlen, 1994:35). We drew upon the stories that we knew in the
construction of our narratives. The stories that teachers told explored the “personal
practical knowledge” they have gained, that is “knowledge which is experimental,
embodied and based on the narrative of experience” (Connelly and Clandinin,
Our challenge in the development of our narratives was to capture the “personal
practical knowledge” of teacher stories and based on our own experiences and from
those of the teachers we have observed in our research. Discovering and making explicit
the “personal practical knowledge” embedded in these stories then provided us with a
framework to showcase and explore the reality of a Kindergarten classroom. As we
continually shared our drafts within the team we were able to draw upon those who had
technological expertise to plan how this could ‘look’ in the simulation. Reflection has
long been acknowledged as a useful process for teachers to engage with. Also, the
notion of formalising such reflections through writing has been acknowledged as a way
to share, refine and articulate teaching practice. As stated by Barth (2001:66) “…with
written words come the innermost secrets of schools”. Capturing this in the simulation
would allow pre-service teachers to be both exposed to and able to interact with the
richness of these experiences.
These narratives we developed supported the “vicarious experience” of the teaching
accounts we were drawing upon as they typically emphasised time, place and person and
the relationships among these (Stake, 1995:87). The sharing of our individual narratives
within out team highlighted the differences and similarities between our experiences and
allowed for the three ‘perspectives’ to come together. This then enabled us to highlight
issues around classroom organization and classroom management along with four key
teaching episodes that could be incorporated within the simulation. These narratives
supported the “vicarious experience” of our teaching accounts as they typically
emphasised time, place and person and the relationships among these (Stake, 1995:87).
We were confronted with the question of how to best learn from these stories, how to
analyse them, how to keep the teacher voices intact and most importantly how to get
others with limited classroom experience to interact with these. The narratives that we
had composed were interwoven into each other and one story – a teacher-created script -
with many different options evolved. This teacher-created script then became the
framework for the flow of the learning and teaching of literacy practices within the
virtual Kindergarten classroom to be focused on in the simulation. We had used
narrative as a way of reflecting upon our experiences and viewpoints to communicate
what we know to team members and those who would engage with the simulation.
Using our teacher-created script to shape the virtual classroom
The one teacher-created script that we developed provided us with an emerging
framework that we could use to structure the virtual classroom contained within the
simulation. For the purposes of this script the teacher was given a name, “Sharon”. We
then modelled the simulation around this teacher and what the possibilities were for her
in this virtual Kindergarten classroom. The teacher-created script enabled us to identify
a basic flow for the simulation, this is represented in figure 3.
Figure 3: Basic flow of the simulation
This basic flow coupled with the teacher-created script assisted us in identifying key
decision points for the user. Drawing upon each of the three “perspectives” previously
discussed allowed for these to be expanded in terms of student updates and support
material (in the form of excerpts from core textbooks, Department of Education and
Learning and Teaching
End of literacy
learning and teaching
Training web links, and additional reading material) to ensure that the user was informed
and supported in their decision-making.
What follows are three excerpts from this script along with an example of associated
screens developed for each within the simulation. An example for each of the focus
areas of the simulation - classroom organisation, organising the teaching and learning
experiences and classroom management - is provided. Each example will be discussed
in order to demonstrate how the teacher-created script provided the framework for the
concepts within the “virtual classroom”. Additional reference will be made to how
specific “perspectives” from the team members were incorporated into this.
The furniture comprises, student-sized tables and chairs which are arranged in “islands” at
various locations in the room. The room was dominated by six “islands” of two tables each,
(placed back to back), with four chairs at each “island”. It means that at each island two pairs of
students face each other across the width of two tables. Slightly behind these islands is another
comprising a couple of hexagonal tables back to back with a some chairs on opposite sides. This
“island” served as a work space.
Along the wall opposite the entrance to the classroom there is a range of furniture which serves
different purposes. There is one large un-recessed cupboard which containing craft and art
supplies. This is jammed up close to a series of tote-tray cupboards which poke out into the
centre of the classroom at right-angles to the wall. Another row of tote tray shelves continues to
about half way along the wall. Each of these has a student’s name card attached near the top of
the opening. Students seemed to make a bee-line for these shelves to unload the contents of their
school bags and to find materials they know they will use during the course of the morning
session. A large electric heater and some shelves for teacher’s books and materials fill the rest of
the space along this wall.
Excerpt 1 from teacher-created script
This description from excerpt 1 of the teacher-created script encapsulates one classroom
layout the user is presented with. Figure 4 illustrates the options available to the user –
two typical classroom layouts we have observed used in classrooms. Additional
reference material is provided to enable the user to engage with the considerations that
need to be made by the teacher.
Figure 4: Classroom Organisation screen from the simulation
Like most modern infant school teachers in local schools Sharon organises her literacy teaching
time using “ Blocks” and “Episodes”
A “ Literacy Block” is typically 90 minutes - two hours in length and usually occurs in the first
or morning session of school each day ( e.g between 9..00am and 11.00 am)
This “ Literacy Block” is divided by Sharon into a series of shorter sessions, which she refers to
as “ Episodes”
Episodes are Units of teaching-learning behaviour which the teachers purposely plans and runs
for the purpose of creating opportunities for her students to learn the skills of reading and writing.
These vary in time from 10 minutes to 20 minutes.
Excerpt 2 from teacher-created script.
Excerpt 2 demonstrates this teacher’s organisation of teaching and learning experiences
according to a “literacy block”. The screen capture from the simulation represented
below in figure 5 demonstrates how this teacher-created script has been used. The user
is presented with a situation where they have to select possible teaching “episodes” for
the Kindergarten class. An additional link is available to additional reading material
about a “literacy block”.
Figure 5: Teaching and Learning decision screen from simulation
9.32 am: The kids are finished packing up and putting things and, except for two girls, all are
seated in the WCF position, looking at Sharon who is sitting on the teacher’s chair .
Harley asks Sharon something which is drowned out by the last few getting ready.
She focuses her gaze on the couple who are still not fully settled and who are still carrying out an
audible conversation as says:
“Hands in laps, close your lips; You two were talking at the wrong time and I couldn‘t hear
Harley. Most of you were a lot better than yesterday but there are still some children having a big
chat. When you come to the floor you must sit with lips closed and hands in lap.”
Excerpt 3 from teacher-created script
Excerpt 3 begins to identify some possible classroom management issues to be included
within the simulation. The screen captured in figure 6 identifies some of these issues the
teacher is faced with. Again, additional information is provided for the user to peruse in
the form of a “classroom management summary”. Subsequent decisions follow this
screen where the user has to make decisions about how they will address classroom
management issues that they are presented with in this simulated classroom.
Figure 6 – Classroom management screen from the simulation
These three examples highlight the way that the key issues of the organisation of
teaching and learning experiences, classroom organisation and classroom management
issues have been addressed within the creation of this virtual classroom through the use
of the teacher-created script. It is anticipated that the design of this virtual classroom
will capture the expertise of team members and the “perspectives” they offered the
development of this prototype to provide a worthwhile and meaningful tool for pre-
service teacher education.
Trial of the Prototype Simulation
Our first trial of the simulation with a cohort of twenty four pre-service teachers enrolled
in their first session of the Bachelor of Teaching program identified that the simulation
appeared to support them with these key issues. The data collected in this trial indicated
that while the participants were immersed in the virtual classroom created from the
script, these pre-service teachers engaged in processes of connecting experiences,
problem solving, critiquing the simulation teacher and reflective practice.
The findings from this trial indicated that the classroom story communicated within this
on-line simulation provided an avenue for the participants to connect their university
studies to those simulated experiences within the virtual classroom. Belisle (2002)
suggests that pre-service teachers tend to focus solely on pedagogical issues, that is
teaching and learning experiences, during practicum placements. What became
interesting from the analysis of this trial was the focus of the participants on classroom
organisation and classroom management in addition to teaching and learning
Organisation of Teaching and Learning Experiences
Analysis of the collected data demonstrated insight into some of the beliefs these
participants had in relation to teaching and learning experiences. The participants
recorded and reflected their beliefs as they interacted with the simulation whether they
were justifying their choices or critiquing the simulation teacher. These beliefs appeared
to stem primarily from what participants had seen in their first weeks of classroom-based
Darling-Hammond (1999) reports that well-designed simulation environments have the
potential to assist pre-service teachers to apply their professional knowledge to real
problems, thus supporting their abilities to problem solve like teachers. The data
collected from this trial indicated that the participants did utilise their professional
knowledge and past experiences to solve problems and make decisions as Darling-
Hammond suggests. For example, when organising the layout of their classroom, some
of the participants cited past classroom experiences as an influencing factor on their
decision. One participant selected a horseshoe layout during his first use of the
simulation, however reassessed this decision after talking to his peers and considering
the age of the students within the simulated classroom. When this participant engaged
with the simulation again this decision was altered. This data supports the assertions of
McMahon (2000:663) who suggests that simulations are conducive of this testing of
decisions, as they provide a “safe and self contained scenario”.
The findings from this trial revealed that the on-line simulation prompted the
participants to make links between the classroom management strategies implemented in
the simulated environment and those from theory and employed in the real classroom
settings they have been exposed to. One participant reflected on her classroom-based
experiences, reporting that when her classroom management plan was not working she
was able to reflect on what worked during a simulated lesson. She implemented one of
the ideas she had gained from the simulation, and it “ended up being [her] best lesson”.
Another participant reflected on a new management idea gained from the simulation as
she wrote “this is really interesting- i [sic] think i [sic] will remember this and try to
incorporate it into my own teaching because it seems like a relally [sic] great activity
and is a way that the teacher has effectively stopped the fidgeting around her”.
The trial of this prototype version of the simulation software suggests that the teacher-
created script provided the users with a meaningful context within which to engage. The
research and anecdotal evidence base from which the script was created appeared to
provide depth in the classroom “story” allowing the participants to explore the
intricacies of this virtual classroom environment.
The simulation will undergo further refinement before the next trial. We have plans to
increase the interactivity of the simulation by adding more choices and additional
challenges to users. We also plan to explore literacy teaching throughout all the stages
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