Monday, April 6

Technology and Teacher Training: Utilizing Simulated Environments for Real Practice

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by Melanie Forstall Lemoine, Ph.D

The thought of technology in the classroom typically conjures up images of students utilizing computers or tablets to support classroom activities, extend learning, or support access to the curriculum. In an effort to differentiate access to the curriculum, the use of assistive technology may also be used. In all of these scenarios, the students are utilizing the technology to learn content. In new, innovative ways, technology is being used in higher education for clinical practice. 

Technology in Higher Education

While technology is a staple on most college campuses, the teacher preparation program at Southeastern Louisiana University is utilizing technology in a very unique way. By going beyond computer labs and tablets, the faculty is using a mixed-reality lab as a driver to support a more comprehensive teacher preparation.

Simulated environments are widely used for training in other disciplines such as aviation and medicine in which learners, often pre-service practitioners, have multiple opportunities to practice specific skills in safe, controlled environments. The Department of Teaching and Learning at Southeastern Louisiana University (SELU) is capitalizing on this same technology to improve teacher candidate effectiveness in instruction, lesson delivery, and classroom management. SELU utilizes the Mursion© mixed reality classroom environments throughout the teacher preparation program.   

Through the use of technology — including a computer, internet, microphone and speakers, and a projection screen — a mixed reality classroom environment is created. In a classroom on campus, teacher candidates face what looks like a typical elementary classroom. Students are seated at their desks in a classroom filled with artwork, work tables, and large windows looking out to the tree-filled recess yard. These students have individual needs, interact in real time, and may (or may not) cause disruptions and misbehave just as students would in any typical classroom. 

In this setting, teacher candidates suspend reality and practice the complex interpersonal and pedagogical skills necessary to be effective practitioners. SELU utilizes this platform as an added way to offer teacher candidates the opportunity to practice precise skills related to lesson delivery, behavior management, and parent-teacher conferences.  

Mixed reality classroom

What Drives Effective Teacher Preparation?

According to the National Center for Teacher Residencies (2016), there are 4 drivers for effective teacher preparation:

  • Building competency through practice, 
  • Continuous improvement, 
  • Effective teacher educators, and 
  • Partnerships with schools and communities.

With the use of mixed-reality classrooms, teacher candidates are given additional opportunities for continued and repetitive practice, as well as ongoing improvement. Part of both continued practice and continuous improvement includes specific, targeted feedback. Through the use of the mixed reality platform, students are given the opportunity to reflect on their practices as well as the practices of their peers. Additionally, teacher candidates can reflect on the feedback and coaching provided by the instructor. 

Success Through Practice

Practitioners in any field become successful by having multiple opportunities for practice. Ideal conditions for preparing teachers to become effective include training in a safe, highly controlled environment with immediate feedback. If we want them to become skilled in implementing evidence-based practices with fidelity, then they need the opportunity for frequent, repeated practice (Vince Garland, Holden, & Garland, 2016).   

However, despite valiant efforts between universities and K-12 school systems, finding multiple opportunities for repeated practice is becoming increasingly difficult. Resources including field experience opportunities, time, and supervising faculty can be scarce when multiple repetitions of specific skills are required. However, teacher educators at SELU are able to enhance the next-generation of teacher candidates by using virtual environments, especially as the supply of these resources change. 

The Next Generation Classroom

In the days when K-12 classrooms are busier than ever, it is important that teacher preparation programs continue to find new and varied ways to offer clinical practice. In many ways, as teacher preparation continues to evolve, clinical practice is evolving too. 

Simulated environments allow individuals to engage in repeated trials involving both general and high-stakes situations without risking the excessive use of resources (Dieker, Rodriguez, Lignugaris/Kraft, et.al, 2014). Additionally, as teacher candidates are practicing new skills, the use of simulated classroom environments reduces the potential ‘risk’ associated with practicing a new skill in an actual classroom. 

As an immeasurable benefit, this technology allows for intermittent breaks within the lesson delivery or practice, to pause the interaction for feedback and direct coaching. Unlike in a traditional field experience setting, within the simulation lab instruction can be stopped, discussed, and redirected if needed. Instructors have the opportunity to give critical coaching and guide the teacher candidate through next steps or change of course. 

Additionally, the simulated classroom setting is highly customizable to meet the needs of the teacher candidates and learning objectives for the course. At the basic level, teacher candidates can teach by grade level; either lower elementary or upper middle school. 

The level of student behavior can be also be customized. For example, the classroom can be set at low or no behavior disruptions; or it can be set at a higher level in which the teacher candidate has to deal with ongoing outbursts from the students, talking out, and general failure to comply with directions. This custom option is especially helpful for teacher candidates who need additional practice in classroom management.   

How Does It Work?

As with many things, the more you put into it, the more you get out of it. The faculty at SELU are committed to making simulated environments a valuable tool for teacher candidate success. Whenever simulation is used, whether it’s education, medicine, or aviation, there must be a commitment to and belief in its value in order for it to be successful. 

SELU contracts with Mursion© to deliver customized mixed reality training simulations that recreate the most demanding interpersonal challenges, and precise classroom realities that educators confront on the job every day (Mursion© 2018). Highly skilled and highly trained individuals work as an interactor to simulate the students in the classroom within the education platform. This component is key, as this is what creates a real-time interaction between students and teacher candidates. Nothing about these environments is canned or scripted; all interactions between student and teacher-candidate are real-time and dynamic, as in any typical classroom setting.

To assist with buy-in, the exact method of delivery is withheld from teacher candidates to ensure their ability to suspend reality and engage fully in the teacher-student interaction. This suspended belief is key to practitioner buy-in, therefore candidates are only told that there are both human and technology components involved in the delivery. Knowing very little about how the interactions happens, teacher candidates are able to fully immerse themselves into the interaction and commit to it just as if they are in a typical classroom setting. 

As the needs of students change, and education continues to evolve, teacher preparation programs must remain nimble and willing to look at alternatives to ensure teacher candidate success. Incorporating virtual environments adds a diverse and compelling layer of opportunity for teacher candidates to enhance their skills. In this new age of technology, programs can provide simulated environments for practice, which result in very real outcomes. 


About the author

Melanie Forstall Lemoine has a doctorate in education and is a member of the Special Education faculty at Southeastern Louisiana University. Shas worked in the field of education for over 20 years as a teacher, grant writer, program director, and higher education instructor. She is a freelance writer specializing in education, and education related content. Additionally, she has co-authored book chapters specializing in providing services for students with disabilities. She can be reached at her Facebook page: Melanie Forstall – Stories of Life, love, and Mothering

Sources

Dieker, Rodriguez, Lignugaris/Kraft, Hynes, C. and Huges, C.E. (2014) The Potential of Simulated Environments in Teacher Education: Current and Future Possibilities. Teacher Education and Special Education, 37(1) 21-33. 

Mursion, Inc. https://mursion.com, 2018 

National Center for Teacher Residencies. Drivers of Teacher Preparation. September 2016.

Vince-Garland, K.M., Holden, K., and Garland, D.P. (2016) Individualized Clinical Coaching in the TLE TeachLivE Lab: Enhancing Fidelity of Implementation of System of Least Prompts Among Novice Teachers of Students with Autism. Teacher Education and Special Education, 39(1) 47-59.

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