Study shows simulator, combined with app, helps teachers correct mistakes before entering classroom

LAWRENCE — When pilots, surgeons or others with high-stakes professions are learning their craft, they have simulators with which to practice. Now, a new study shows that a simulator, when combined with software to provide data on performance, can help teachers learn what mistakes to avoid before working with children in a real classroom.

Joseph R. Pearson Hall

A new study co-written by a researcher from the University of Kansas examined TeachLivE, or TLE, a simulator that allows pre-service teachers to deliver lessons in front of a virtual classroom of avatars. The avatars represent a diverse background of students with various personalities and academic skill levels. The simulator was combined with SeeMeTeach, or SMT, a recently developed web-based teacher observation app that provides real-time data on teacher performance. The results showed the simulation experience combined with personalized feedback data can support teachers’ practice of skills of their profession free of judgment while improving their performance.

The study, co-written with researchers Craig Berg and Raymond Scolavino from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, was published in the journal Education Sciences. Co-author Lisa Dieker, Williamson Family Distinguished Professor in Special Education at KU, said the use of a teaching simulator can help future educators learn from their mistakes before leading a classroom of their own.

“We humans make mistakes, especially the first time we do things, and unfortunately for teachers, those mistakes are made on children,” Dieker said. “We want to ask, ‘How can we use this combined technology for developing targeted skills and helping teachers make the changes necessary?’ If you’re going to have a crash landing, let’s have it in front of an avatar.”

The mixed-reality technology features avatars that operate via AI combined with a human-in-the-loop as a user practices delivering lessons, calling on students, detecting inappropriate behavior and more. That is combined with a human user who can provide responses from students, based on the nuance of the situation and the users’ performance. SMT gathers real-time data on the teacher such as how many times they call on a certain student, how long they provide wait time for an answer and what section of the classroom draws the most attention.

Study results showed that users of the combined simulator and teaching data app used the data and feedback they gained to avoid repeating mistakes and even showed “teaching fingerprints,” or bodies of data on what they did right, and their strengths that indicated a unique teaching style.

Teacher training has traditionally relied on observation and written and verbal feedback. That method has stood the test of time, but the authors said it can be supplemented with technology that provides specific data about their performance.

“When teachers get specific information in the simulator, it not only helps them change their behaviors but to understand why they should,” Dieker said. “This work allows a lot of empowerment of the individual without being judgmental.”

The study found that teachers offering even a 15-minute lesson to avatars in TLE showed enough variation in how they interacted with student avatars to provide practice opportunities in a low-risk setting. And the data provided by the SMT app showed to be effective in helping them avoid repeating mistakes and taking lessons learned into practice. That can help all teacher educators achieve their goal of preparing great teachers who can provide students their best possible experiences from the beginnings of their careers, researchers said.

Dieker plans to continue researching ways teaching simulators and technology can help educators hone their craft before entering classrooms. That can prove especially important to students with novice teachers.

“A teacher can make or break your future,” Dieker said. “All other simulators take a logical, linear pathway. This simulator can do things you can’t through methods like role play or classroom observation. I want to help make a first-year teacher look like a third-year. Our most vulnerable students often have new teachers. I am confident emerging technology in simulation, artificial intelligence, biometrics and neurophysiological data collection can help us understand the differences between expert and novice teachers to better prepare and support all teachers.”

Image credit: KU Marketing

Thu, 09/21/2023


Mike Krings

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