Future teachers reached an unprecedented obstacle during the COVID-19 pandemic: fewer options to get valuable practice time in front of a classroom.
Anne Mulligan, Ph.D., associate chair and assistant professor of adolescence education at SJC Brooklyn, used a virtual reality teaching program to help simulate a real-life teaching experience for her students.
“It was a good experience,” said Chris Green, a senior history adolescence education major. “All the experience is necessary. This hit a lot of basics — teaching, presenting a lesson, classroom management skills. In that regard, I think it helped a lot. “
It was Green’s first time teaching in front of a class. For his lesson — which he said he rehearsed “several times” — he introduced a new unit on manifest destiny, the 19th century belief that it was destiny for American settlers to expand across North America.
The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education partnered with Mursion, a company that develops virtual reality technology for the workforce, to create alternative experiences for student teaching candidates, explained Dr. Mulligan.
The technology simulated a classroom with a class of five student avatars. During the lesson, student avatars had different levels of interest and attention spans, just like a typical classroom. It gave SJC students the chance to practice using the skills they learned in class, including student engagement, conducting classroom interaction and classroom management.
Each SJC student had five minutes to teach their lesson live through Zoom. At the end, they critiqued one another’s performance and discussed ways they could improve for the future.
Virtual Reality Teaching
Green said he enjoyed the activity, explaining that the more practice he gets, the more comfortable he will be when he graduates in the spring and gets a classroom of his own.
Teaching to student avatars, instead of humans was initially “a little off-putting,” he said, but he got used to it.
“It was simulating how different students would react,” Green explained. “In that aspect it was really good experience, testing what we would do in those situations.”
Dr. Mulligan said she saw obvious benefits to using a virtual reality simulation to help prepare teacher candidates as they work on developing the craft of effective teaching. It’s a low-stakes way for students to practice their skills and gain confidence in front of a class.
“Since the students’ experiences in a face-to-face situation have been limited,” Dr. Mulligan said, “this was a way for them to practice not only how they would respond to student avatars but to reflect on ways to improve their interactions with real students, and handle unexpected behavioral issues that may arise while teaching.”