Bridging theory and practice has long been considered key in preparing future administrators in educational leadership programs.
Principal investigators Sara Dexter, assistant professor of technology leadership, and Pamela Tucker, associate professor of administration and supervision, are helping build that bridge using multimedia case studies. Their project is funded by a $945,624 grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education.
“Field-based experiences are considered the ideal avenue for administrators-in-training to develop a context-sensitive understanding of leadership issues.” says Dexter. “However, the logistical challenges of providing high quality field experiences demand that students are fully ready to make the most of those opportunities when they arise.”
Dexter and Tucker believe an effective way to prepare students for their field experiences may be a set of cases accessed through an online learning environment called ETIPS. The ETIPS platform allows the application of a decision-making model guided by key professional knowledge within virtual yet realistic school settings.
“At the heart of the ETIPS case exercise is the decision it asks of learners,” says Tucker. Through ETIPS, administrators-in-training practice reasoning with professional knowledge related to the case topic. They then develop an understanding of how the different school contexts in which the cases can be set might influence how the theory is applied in practice. By taking school context into account when making decisions, Tucker says, the learners gain a sense of the complexity of a school environment and the many factors they may encounter—an essential skill needed to make the transition from classroom teacher to school principal.
The project is currently in its second year, with 10 case topics covering organizational leadership, instructional leadership, and relational leadership topics already developed and a cadre of 25 faculty members representing 15 institutions across Virginia piloting the cases in their programs.
Implementation and student performance data collected in this phase will be used to refine the cases, as well as the assessment measuring decision-making skills, the case methods of instruction, and teaching guides.