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UCF teaching technology spreads to 33 universities

By Sarah Ortega
On January 5, 2014

A UCF teaching software is improving education across the country and taking teaching into the future.

TLE TeachLivE™ is a cutting-edge classroom simulation software designed and created by Charles Hughes, professor of electrical engineering and computer science; Mike Hynes, professor in UCF’s College of Education and Human Performance; and Lisa Dieker, education professor and Lockheed Martin Corp. Eminent Scholar chair.

“My role was asking if it was possible that you can simulate teacher practice aid, teacher education and research and development,” Dieker said, regarding who thought up the idea for the program.

They were aided by two teams, one being the Synthetic Reality Laboratory consisting of faculty and students of computer science, and the other was the Institute for Simulation and Training.

The latter team consisted of faculty members and education students.

Hughes said this program has already begun making a difference in classrooms all around the nation.

“TLE TeachLivE™ is noteworthy and significant in that it is being used in 33 universities and has already made a positive difference in the practice of over 10,000 teachers and as a consequence over half a million school children,” Hughes said.

TLE TeachLivE™ has received top honors at the nation’s leading training and simulation association, the NTSA.

At the I/ITSEC, the world’s largest modeling, simulation and training conference, held in December in Orlando, TLE TeachLivE™ received the 2013 Governor’s Award for Excellence in Modeling and Simulation.

Although the I/ITSEC is known to recognize achievements in modeling and simulation in various agencies, military applications and simulations have seemed to be the most prominent.

Hynes said an educational program receiving the top recognition in the conference is a demonstration of how advanced TLE TeachLivE™ is.

“The focus of I/ITSEC in the past has been the military applications of modeling and simulation. Awarding TLE TeachLivE™ with the Governor’s Award is an indication that the industry is recognizing that there are other applications, such as education. It’s an honor to be awarded for being on the cutting edge,” Hynes said.

Hughes said TLE TeachLivE™ is primarily a virtual classroom software designed to help teachers train and prepare for an actual classroom setting.

“It is a mixed reality simulator [where] teachers can practice teaching in an environment that doesn’t put any students at risk. The main goal of the program was that teachers need to practice, and I see teaching as a life and death situation for kids.

A great teacher can change your life, so I wanted somewhere that teachers could practice specifically targeted skills without having to put students, especially those with disabilities, at risk of feeling upset or bad and putting more responsibility on the teacher," Dieker said.

Teachers can learn how to address students with special needs and better attend to these needs.

“What has evolved is a mixed reality classroom that allows prospective, pre-service and in-service teachers the opportunity to hone their pedagogy, content and classroom management skills with virtual children that act like real children but can never be damaged by bad experiences,” Hughes said.

According to the NTSA website, the NTSA Modeling and Simulation Awards are “given to individuals or groups for outstanding achievements in the development or application of models and simulations.”

Every year the winners from the NTSA Modeling and Simulation categories of training, analysis and acquisition are nominated for the Governor’s Award, with most programs being militarily based.

The UCF program won in its training category and was then chosen among the winners of all categories to receive the prestigious Governor’s Award for being noteworthy, significant and innovative, as outlined by the NTSA website.

Hughes said that the program is unique in that it easily merges human and computer-based elements while allowing users to review their performance, which is a large component of teacher training.

Its system also allows for control of many aspects of the human avatars, such as the personalities of the virtual students.

The TLE TeachLivE™ unique system of virtual interaction is also being used by many others besides teachers.

Hughes said the system helps individuals such as mentors and counselors work with children with autism.

Another use of the program has been to help prepare students for their first college or job interview, while helping interviewers develop interpersonal skills needed when addressing people who may have experienced some sort of trauma.

Effective cross-cultural communication is greatly improved by this program, while an extensive use of the software has been in the Veterans Administration to incorporate trainees in team simulation and help trainers perfect trainee debriefing.

“The significance of our approach to teacher education has been recognized not only by its awards but also by funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and most recently, from the NewSchools Venture Funds,” Hughes said. “These organizations are among the most sophisticated in the world when it comes to assessing the quality and innovativeness of new approaches to education.”

As for the question of whether virtual classrooms can be used to one day replace an actual classroom setting, Hughes said that he does not see that as a goal.

"It is intended to improve human performance, not replace it. It can and should be used in conjunction with other forms of educational experiences,” he said.

 

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