Virtual reality hits the classroom in an Australian first

November 21, 2016

Murdoch Uni has hosted Australia's first trial of TeachLivEIn an Australian first, pre-service teachers will be able hone their skills without stepping foot in a classroom.

Murdoch University has hosted a pilot trial of TeachLivE, a virtual reality environment for pre-service teachers.

The project is the brainchild of Dr Susan Ledger, who believes it will offer some unique opportunities to prepare early career teachers for real-life classrooms.

“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 practice their classroom management skills in a micro-teaching environment that covers a range of situations and can prepare students for real classroom setting far earlier in their training without the stress and opportunity for point of need feedback”.

“TeachLivE was first developed at the University of Central Florida and now is successfully used in teacher training at universities throughout the United States.”

During the mixed reality learning environment pre-service teachers manage a classroom of five student avatars each with their own persona and with five levels of behavioural responses.

Murdoch University trialled the program with a group of ten teaching students.

“The students enter a mixed reality environment where they teach a group of five avatars. Each of the five student avatars has his or her own personalities. They even have avatar parents that can be interviewed,” Dr Ledger said.

“These avatars are controlled by an interactor who can adapt the reactions of the students in the session to the various strategies used by the pre-service teacher to control or engage with the class.”

The animated students (avatars) give teachers-in-training a full array of challenges they would find in real-life classrooms, from disinterested kids to overly participatory ones and include children who speak English as a second language and those with learning difficulties. The avatars include Sean, who is very talkative and distracted, and Maria, who tends to be quiet and needs to be pushed into engagement, among others.

The student avatars are able to disrupt the class in a range of ways that teachers may encounter such as pulling out mobile phones or losing their pen during class.

Dr Ledger said one of the main advantages of TeachLivE was that students had a chance to gain instant feedback and correct their mistakes.

“While the technology won’t replace real-world training experiences with real students, it provides an opportunity for a student teacher to try out strategies, make mistakes, and improve their practice,” she said.

“The technology will enable our pre-service teachers to gain confidence in their abilities well before they encounter a classroom.”

Murdoch University is looking at launching the program in 2017.

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