The UM School of Education is using a program that allows teachers-in-training to practice classroom skills in a virtual setting before sending them into local elementary and secondary schools.
The simulated TeachLivE classroom consists of an 80-inch monitor with five student avatars. Each avatar has his or her own personality.
“All five avatar children are actually controlled by somebody in Florida, an actor or actress,” Dean of the School of Education David Rock said. “They’re set up with equipment so that if the actor raises his hand in Florida, the avatar child will raise his hand on the screen.”
The animated students give teachers-in-training a full array of challenges they would find in real-life classrooms, from disinterested kids to overly participatory ones and children who speak English as a second language. 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.
Taylor Bousfield is the current director of research and development for the TeachLivE program at the University of Central Florida, where it was created 10 years ago.
“No students are hurt in the making of our teachers,” Bousfield jokingly said.
Bousfield said the TeachLivE program was originally created for people who already had degrees in other areas, but were about to teach. Since its inception, TeachLivE has expanded to include undergraduate students and has been implemented at over 85 campuses nationwide. UM was one of the first 10 universities to pilot the technology.
“I knew some of the people who had been working on and developing it, and when I saw it for the first time, I thought it was one of the greatest things in teacher education to come out in the last 15 to 20 years,” Rock said.
Junior education major Emily Vincente used TeachLivE in her Edci 352 class.
“I think it’s great that I was able to practice before being thrown into a classroom with real students,” Vincente said. “The thought of being put into a classroom without having done TeachLivE first is very scary to me.”
TeachLivE is also in the progress of developing new features and avatars.
“We’ll be adding some younger classroom settings to the program, like elementary levels,” Bousfield said. “We’re also developing two new avatars, Bailey and Martin.” Bailey is set to have a form of intellectual disability, while Martin will take on the characteristics of a child with autism.“