Learning to teach — with avatars

No children were harmed in this teacher training exercise. Prospective teachers can practice their teaching skills on avatars in the Teach LivE lab, writes Sarah Butrymowicz on the Hechinger Report.

“We’re really hoping to make a first-year teacher look like a second-year teacher before they get started,” says University of Central Florida Professor Lisa Dieker. Ten minutes in the simulator is equivalent to one hour in the classroom, UCF estimates.

Teachers-in-training submit their lessons, so the lab staff can program the avatars to make mistakes.

“When we get a request for a lesson on multiplying fractions … then we need to make sure that our students make the errors that are typical,” said Michael Hynes, director of the School of Teaching, Learning and Leadership at UCF’s College of Education. “So [the teacher candidates] know they can react to them.”

The software collects data during each training session, tabulating how much time the teacher spent talking to each student. It also records how the teachers responded to certain behaviors so that teachers can review their reactions afterwards.

If teacher candidates are not using good classroom management techniques, students might start to snicker or take out cell phones. Even though the class is small, it’s possible to lose control of students quickly

Each avatar student has a distinct personality from the overachiever to the slacker.  UCF has only five middle-school avatars more, but plans to expand to different grade levels and go into principal training.

“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 said. “We would plop in third-grade kids [or] eighth-grade kids and ninth-grade kids, and people can customize the system.”

The story is part of the Hechinger Report’s teacheredpalooza, which includes stories on recruiting the best people to teaching, evaluating the quality of teacher education in Florida and in California, Do new exams produce better teachers? and alternative routes to teaching.

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