Credit: To a fledgling teacher handling a classroom for the first time may be a daunting experience. Children are unpredictable. There’s no guarantee that they’ll be diligent listeners or heed instructions.

But with the advent of computer simulation technology, teaching programs can harness the power of the digital world to show their student teachers how to manage unruly behavior and refocus students’ attention.

A student training to be a teacher “might feel a little bit funny for the first minute or two because they’re interacting with a computer screen, but because the avatars are so real in their behaviors, with their voices, and in their interactions, it seems very real,” Prof. Catherine Bradshaw, of the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, told R&D Magazine. “What we want to do is help teachers practice these strategies so that they can use them more flexibly in a real-world setting.”    

Bradshaw and her colleagues are utilizing Mursion’s TeachLiVe, an immersive training simulation that allows student teachers to interact with a classroom of five avatars. The technology was developed by University of Central Florida researchers. 

“I believe there are about 70 universities across the country that are using this particular product for pre-service training,” Bradshaw said. “I had some other colleagues at other institutions that were using (it) and spoke highly of its utility.”

Currently part of a pilot program, the immersive tech was made available to students enrolled in the school’s behavior-management class. During a 10-minute session, a teacher stands in front of a video monitor in a small studio space. While the teacher is giving his/her lesson, a digital student may deviate from instruction by pulling out a cellphone, among other behaviors.

If the students become disruptive, the teacher can practice some of the strategies learned to refocus the students, said Bradshaw. “We’re using it more in the behavior area, but it could also be used to help a student learn math, or science, or any particular content.”

Meanwhile, an interactor is able to control the students’ responses to the student teacher’s actions.

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 try again.

“It’s a guided practice environment,” Bradshaw added.

Additionally, the student teachers wear Fitbits to monitor their physiological responses to stressful situations.

“When behaviors are unpredictable or become somewhat unmanageable, people’s physiological reactivity kicks in, and that sometimes can influence the way that we make decisions,” Bradshaw concluded. “We might make some snap judgments, or act a little bit differently than we would if we were feeling nice and calm.”

Bradshaw said she has a few research projects ongoing using the Mursion technology, including one funded by a $1 million grant from the National Institute of Justice to test the technology’s efficacy handling classroom bullying.

Bradshaw said the University of Virginia is actively seeking ways to implement simulations throughout its academic programs. Mursion’s technology has a variety of applications, including customer service training and healthcare professionalism.