Virtual classroom to revolutionise teacher training

October 27, 2017

The SimLab virtual reality tool is revolutionising teacher training at Murdoch University.

Pre-service teachers from Murdoch University will be among the best prepared in the nation after the launch of a new virtual reality classroom tool.

Launched earlier this week, the SimLab™ technology is a mixed reality learning environment, with classroom students being represented by avatars that respond in real time to a teacher’s direction or instructions.

Associate Dean for Engagement in the School of Education Dr Susan Ledger said the technology was a game changer in teacher training.

“Currently pre-service teachers practice their behaviour management and communication skills in classrooms that are unpredictable and offer delayed feedback opportunities,” Dr Ledger said.

“This virtual reality technology enables students to practise their classroom skills in a micro-teaching environment that covers a range of situations and can prepare students for a real classroom setting far earlier in their training without the stress.”

The SimLab initial teacher education program provides a virtual classroom, complete with middle school-age avatars which demonstrate a wide range of personalities and learning needs. As the real-life student teacher leads the class, the children respond accordingly, and the scene progresses. Each scenario is set up in advance according to the goals of the lesson.

Murdoch University has employed three Australian actors trained to work as the professional interactors wired up behind the scenes to operate the avatars.

“This unique blend of virtual reality technology and live human performance creates powerful and immersive learning simulations for both pre-service teachers and practicing teachers,” Dr Ledger said.

“The addition of adult avatars as school parents and principals also allows other training scenarios for school leaders to take place within an education setting.”

Teachers in SimLab’s virtual reality classroom can rehearse all types of instructional techniques, and scenarios can also be customised for ‘hard talks’ with students, parents and teachers.

“SimLab is not intended as a replacement for classroom experience, but simply to better prepare and build confidence of preservice teachers to practice and rehearse the art/science of teaching before entering real classroom contexts,” Dr Ledger said.

“The SimLab technology enables pre-service teachers to try various approaches to manage behaviour and get immediate feedback. These sessions can be paused to discuss what’s happening and suggest different tactics.”

Murdoch University ran a successful pilot trial of the technology developed by University of Central Florida Simulation Institute in collaboration with its commercial company Mursion last year. Murdoch holds the first site license for the product in Australia.

The technology is widely used in the United States with more than 65 universities applying it to prepare pre-service K-12 teachers for the challenges of teaching in today’s classrooms.

Murdoch University adapted the technology to the Australian education environment and is now offering the service to other universities around Australia to better prepare pre-service teachers.

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Media contact: Pepita Smyth
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Categories: General, Teaching and Learning, Future Students, Schools, School of Education
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