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MCLA students taught a class to these “middle-schoolers” with the Mursion virtual teaching simulator. Graphic courtesy of Mursion.

Education Students Teach ‘Virtual’ Class


C:\fakepath\TeachLiVe crop.jpgThey’re part of the generation that grew up with realistic-looking video and computer games, and 3D films in movie theaters. So it’s only natural that this group of aspiring educators would have their first teaching experience in a virtual “classroom” of avatars.

On Wednesday, a group of MCLA education majors taught a literacy lesson in a Mursion virtual teaching simulator, which is built upon the pioneering work of the University of Central Florida’s TeachLiVe project. Their “students” consisted of a class of five middle-school-aged avatars, each designed with their own unique personality and strengths.

“Within five minutes, you get sucked in, and feel like these are real students that you’re teaching,” said Barbara Kotelnicki, an instructor/field placement liaison in MCLA’s education department. “It really is a unique experience. Until you get into the simulator and you try it, you don’t realize how powerful it is.”

Comparable to NASA’s space simulators, Mursion’s simulated classroom provides all the elements the students need for a virtual experience.

“It’s really cool,” Kotelnicki said. “You can move about the classroom. It has an Xbox connection, so you can change your proximity to the students. It’s a unique set-up.”

The eight field placement students came prepared with activities, including those featuring vocabulary, interactive reading, and a question and answer discussion based on a book. Through their use of the virtual teaching simulator, professors in MCLA’s education department were able to see how they delivered instruction and content, and to view their classroom management skills.

“We can pause the classroom to talk about things, so if they’re stuck or in trouble, it’s a nice, safe environment,” Kotelnicki explained of the process. “It’s designed so you can work on anything – whether it’s pedagogy or content or classroom management. You can really create it to work on whatever subset of skills your students need, so that they can practice and not affect real students in the classroom.”

The activities in the simulated classroom not only gave teaching candidates an opportunity to implement specific literary elements, but also required them to think on their feet and rephrase or probe the student avatars as they tried to teach certain concepts, Kotelnicki said.

“It felt a lot like an actual classroom as the avatars made connections, and clarified and answered questions posed by the teachers,” she added.

Future work in the Mursion lab will include other groups of MCLA student-teachers who also will teach to simulated classrooms, as well as simulated parent-teacher conferences, teacher-administrator conferences and more.

“The Leadership Academy may be able to use it in the summer, to have their students do some role playing,” Kotelnicki explained. “We also think that sociology or psychology could use it because those professionals work with teachers in the schools – whether they are a counselor or a psychologist or a social worker. We’re hoping to bridge the gap and get everyone involved.”

MCLA is one of 42 campuses across the United States to have a virtual teaching simulation lab through a pilot program with the San Francisco, California-based company Mursion, and is among the six Massachusetts universities – and one of four institutions within the state’s university system – to utilize the virtual classroom simulator.

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