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College teachers-in-training prep with virtual students

University Business, December 2017
DIGITAL TRAINING GROUND—Institutions increasingly use mixed-reality platforms with virtual students to give pre-service teachers an opportunity to hone their instructional skills.
DIGITAL TRAINING GROUND—Institutions increasingly use mixed-reality platforms with virtual students to give pre-service teachers an opportunity to hone their instructional skills.

The University of Wyoming now uses an augmented reality platform with a simulated class as part of its teacher education program. To use the program, a teacher-in-training faces a camera and teaches a class of digital students that’s projected onto a screen. Offsite actors impersonate students with voices and digital puppeteering.

Presenting a lesson in front of the virtual students—each of whom has a unique personality and reacts to instruction in real time—gives teachers practical experience before ever stepping in front of a class and helps them to prevent mistakes from becoming habit. Other institutions offer similar immersive teaching environments.

TeachLive, developed at the University of Central Florida, is a mixed-reality simulation currently used by more than 85 colleges. Pre-service teachers training with Penn State University’s First Class put on a virtual reality headset to interact with six artificially intelligent students in a standard K12 classroom.

“These immersive environments provide students the opportunity to fail many times in a low-stakes situation,” says Kyle Bowen, education technology services director at Penn State.

During simulations, educators work on honing various aspects of instruction, such as proximity to students, eye contact, vocal command and line of sight.

Virtual platforms allow for repetition and practice without needing a lot of other people involved or affecting real students. Programs can usually 
be altered to accommodate different student ages, cultural environments and subject disciplines.

The immersive environment also provides a new way to engage pre-service teachers and offer a point of discussion for users to share their experiences. Established teachers can use such tools to brush up on classroom techniques.

Augmented and virtual reality environments may also be used to test new teaching environments. For example, when designing a classroom, various alignments of desks and tables can be tried to determine what arrangement is best for line of sight and maneuvering.

As technology evolves, developers will experiment with different formats, such as incorporating 360-degree video to add a more authentic feel to simulations, Bowen says.

“A lot of the technologies out there now are first-generation tools,” says Bowen. “What we’re seeing today is just the beginning of this revolution of immersive experiences.”

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