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Avatars: the next generation of teacher trainers

| September 6, 2013 | 0 Comments

The TeachLiveE laboratory at the University of Central Florida’s College of Education is a virtual classroom comprising student avatars. Teachers-in-training use the technology to learn strategies like higher-level questioning or behaviour control. Lisa Dieker, a professor at the facility, likens the experience to novice pilots using flight simulators. “Just as a pilot may want to perfect landing, so we can break tasks down for student teachers to practise.”

Ten minutes in the virtual classroom equals one hour in a real learning environment, estimates Dieker, adding that research undertaken by her faculty suggests that after four sessions, would-be teachers have altered some of their techniques permanently.

Dieker and her colleagues programme in deliberate mistakes for the teacher trainees to navigate. The virtual class has also been designed to incorporate typical student behaviour, like students talking among themselves or using their cellphones. The avatars are always the same students, says Dieker, who are ‘fed’ information daily about popular culture in order to render a typical classroom atmosphere for each training session.

Post each ‘class’, teacher trainees can analyse valuable data, such as how much time they spent with each student.

Plans are underway to expand the lab and its capabilities to institutions across the nation. “Five years from now, I hope we’ll have 200 kids and you’ll call in and say ‘I would like a bilingual classroom with French and Spanish’,” Dieker explains. “We would substitute thirdgrade kids [or] eighth-grade kids and ninth-grade kids, and people can customise the system.”

Category: e-Education, Spring 2013

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