Looking around in the classroom: Developing preservice teachers’ interpersonal competence with classroom simulations

Hanneke Theelen

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


Many preservice teachers (PSTs) experience feelings of anxiety in their classrooms, also referred to as professional anxiety, despite being prepared via theoretical lectures and practical workshops at their teaching education institutes. Classroom management in particular is a major concern for PSTs. A strategy to handle these classroom management struggles is creating positive teacher-student relationships, also known as PSTs’ interpersonal competence. When dealing with professional anxiety, PSTs’ self-efficacy is an important coping resource. PSTs gain classroom management self-efficacy by teaching experiences in classroom management and instructional preparation for classroom management.

In this dissertation we answer the question if computer-based classroom simulations could offer PSTs the possibility to extend their teaching experiences at the teacher education institute, while preparing for their internships. Classroom simulations are simplified representations of real classrooms and give PSTs the opportunity to safely familiarise themselves with the teaching practice, without having full responsibility of an actual classroom.

This leads to the main research question of this dissertation: How can computer-based classroom simulations be used in teacher education to train preservice teachers’ interpersonal competence to reduce their professional anxiety and increase their self-efficacy?

 For the first study two virtual internships were designed as classroom simulations. PSTs were engaged in a scenario-driven online learning environment and were confronted with authentic tasks. They had to think and act as a teacher to complete these tasks. The purpose of both internships was to familiarise PSTs with the actual teaching practice and this way reduce their professional anxiety. This study was conducted at a teacher education programme and included two courses (N  = 27 and N  = 16). A mixed-method design was applied, using pre- and post-intervention questionnaires, a focus group (n  = 6), and interviews (n  = 9).

Results of this study showed that virtual internships appeared to be useful for teacher education institutes to familiarise PSTs with the actual teaching practice, and consequently reduce their professional anxiety. Virtual internships worked best when there was personalisation, collaboration, the possibility to work at their own pace, and when video fragments were used.

The second study presents a systematic literature review focusing on the main issues regarding computer-based classroom simulations, affordances, interpersonal competence, professional anxiety, and self-efficacy emerged in the field of research on teacher education.

Databases Scopus, ERIC, PsycINFO, and Web of Sciences were used to find peer-reviewed studies within the period of 2000 and 2016. Fifteen empirical studies were found eligible for inclusion. Results of this study showed that little is known about the use of classroom simulations in teacher education to reduce PSTs’ professional anxiety and increasing their self-efficacy via training their interpersonal behaviour. The included studies focused on single interrelations between the concepts or used broader concepts. The included studies mostly reported positive effects of simulations on PSTs’ classroom management and teaching skills in general, rather than specifically on interpersonal competence. Professional anxiety was not reported in the included studies. This literature review strengthened the idea that simulations are promising tools to improve their interpersonal competence and reduce PSTs’ anxiety.

The third study was a large-scale study and consisted of a series of three more specific investigations concerning the use of 360-degree videos in combination with theoretical lectures (the Virtual Classroom), providing PSTs with real-life authentic cases by capturing the richness and complexity of classrooms.

 The 360-degree videos contained classroom events with interpersonal teacher behaviour that PSTs typically struggle with, such as disruptive student behaviour. To create a more immersive learning experience, the 360-degree videos were watched using a VR-headset. Additionally, PSTs received theoretical lectures about the teacher interpersonal behaviour theory. Enrolled in this intervention were 141 first-year PSTs of a teacher education programme.

The first sub-study focussed on the influence of the Virtual Classroom on PSTs’ professional anxiety and self-efficacy. This study used a mixed-method design containing questionnaires and individual interviews (n  = 12). The results showed that both PSTs’ professional anxiety decreased, and that their self-efficacy increased significantly after the video-lecture combination. Observing exemplary behaviour of experienced teachers in the videos made PSTs more familiar with the actual teaching practice which reduced their anxiety and increased their self-efficacy.

The second sub-study investigated if PSTs’ interpretations of noticed classroom events could be improved by the Virtual Classroom. For interpersonal competence it is important that students observe and interpret classroom events before responding to them. PSTs’ interpretations of noticed classroom events were measured by tagging video fragments of classroom events at a pre- and post-test. Results showed that PSTs improved in noticing classroom events and in applying a theory-based terminology to describe these events. This indicates that PSTs used more knowledge about interpersonal teacher behaviour when interpreting noticed classroom events. Furthermore, findings of this study do emphasize the importance of good quality VR-environments to improve the immersive experience.

The third sub-study investigated the Virtual Classroom, by analysing PSTs’ interpersonal knowledge structures and application via concept maps and vignettes before and after the video-lecture combination. Social network analysis, including measures of structure and conceptual relevance, comparisons with an expert map, and interviews (n  = 12) were used to analyse PSTs’ concept maps. This study showed that PSTs developed their interpersonal knowledge structures and application after the Virtual classroom.

In conclusion, all the consecutive studies of this dissertation showed promising results for the use of classroom simulations in teacher education. The results of this dissertation imply that interpersonal teacher behaviour can be trained with classroom simulations. Furthermore, both classroom simulations had a positive influence on PSTs’ self-efficacy and were useful to reduce PSTs’ professional anxiety. Classroom simulations appeared to be valuable tools to provide PSTs with a more realistic image of the teaching practice and student behaviours they could expect in classrooms, and how they could act as a teacher. Therefore, classroom simulations could smoothen the transition between teacher education institutes and the actual teaching practice and offer the opportunity for PSTs to practice their interpersonal competence in a safe learning environment.

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • den Brok, Perry, Promotor
  • van den Beemt, A., Promotor, External person
Award date12 May 2021
Place of PublicationWageningen
Print ISBNs9789463956895
Publication statusPublished - 2021


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