Teachers. They guide us through our education and answer all of our questions, but there is still one that remains: How do teachers learn to teach?
At UCF, a team of researchers has been working for more than 10 years to develop technology that helps answer that question.
TeachLivE is a mixed reality-virtual environment that has been developed to work as a simulator and allow teachers-in-training to practice engaging with various people they may be working with in the classroom. Avatars have been created to virtually represent parents, middle school and high school students, as they can hear and speak with lifelike personalities, some portrayed as sassy teenagers, according to a press release.
The technology is mainly being used by both college students and already-practicing teachers in middle and high schools.
Last Thursday, at its annual conference at UCF, TeachLivE announced that it would be entering a public-private partnership with Mursion, a California-based organization that has purchased the commercial rights to develop the simulator technology.
The organization received $1 million in seed funding from New Schools Venture Fund to help speed up the commercialization process.
According to a TeachLivE press release, the project began in 2005, but three years ago it was awarded a $1.5 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation — with part of that money to be used to commercialize the program — to study how effective the technology actually is. So far, it appears to be working.
TeachLivE has been applied in 42 colleges across the country, and has had representatives from four other countries test the technology.
"We call it sandbox technology because you can play in the sandbox any way you want," said Lisa Dieker, a UCF Pegasus Professor and one of the simulator's co-creators.
She also said that after just four 10-minute sessions with the simulator, students and teachers showed significant improvements in the way they handled themselves in front of a class, outperforming those using traditional training methods.
One of the biggest potential benefits from working with the technology will be the experience of interacting with students who have autism or special needs, Dieker said. The simulator will allow teachers-in-training to learn how to handle multiple issues, such as social skills and bullying, freeing them from the possibility of accidentally saying or doing the wrong thing with an actual student.
"The biggest benefit of the TeachLivE program is that aspiring teachers do not need to worry about compromising a real student's education during their training," said Derrick Greenspan, a senior computer science major and member of the program's technical support team.
"If a teacher makes a mistake, it is not permanent, and the teacher does not need to worry," he added.
However, Greenspan said that one of the biggest challenges with implementing the technology has been a problem with scale. But with the new Mursion partnership, the TeachLivE program is able to reach a larger audience.
"Teachers are clamoring for just-in-time professional learning opportunities to practice and master their craft. The same can be said for other professionals in high-stakes careers that rely on complex interpersonal skills," said Brentt Brown, Mursion's director of communications. "We purchased the commercial rights to the TeachLivE technology because we think it has incredible potential to disrupt how professionals in high-stakes careers hone their skills."
While the primary use for this technology has so far been in the education field, the new venture into the private sector has opened new revenues for the simulator.
Brown said that Mursion is working on creating virtual environments and avatars for sectors outside of education. He also said that the technology could be applied in a variety of fields, such as health care, security, counseling, sales training and hospitality.
Through this program, teachers-in-training will climb into that sandbox, free to play and build a future of success for students.
Deanna Ferrante is a Contributing Writer for the Central Florida Future.