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Oklahoma State University

Experience Via Avatars

Thursday, November 3, 2016

When Hollywood meets higher education, pure magic occurs. The Mursion “TeachLivE” technology allows this magic to happen inside the T.E.C.H. (Transforming Education through Creative Habits) Playground at the Oklahoma State University College of Education.

TeachLivE is a “mixed-reality teaching environment supporting teacher practice in classroom management, pedagogy and content,” according to the TeachLivE website (teachlive.org).

“OSU is an early adopter of this technology. We bought in during the early stages, and it’s proven to be well worth it,” says Dr. Kathy Thomas, the college’s portfolio specialist, a facilitator in the T.E.C.H. Playground and the coordinator of the TeachLivE program for OSU.Dr. Kathy Thomas coordinates the TeachLivE program for OSU

The TeachLivE experience allows pre-service teachers to stand in front of a large monitor and interact with a classroom of five avatar students. The avatars carry out scenarios to challenge the student teachers. Scenarios range from student behavior in the classroom or practice with a “parent” during a parent-teacher conference.

Since the technology is so new, more capabilities are being created rapidly. A “principal” avatar recently added will give OSU students the opportunity to go through a practice interview, and an elementary classroom option will soon be available along with the middle school and high school avatars.

“OSU is the only educator preparation program in Oklahoma offering the Mursion technology,” says Susan Stansberry, associate professor of educational technology. “We have set up the program with primary points for students to experience a simulation through their course of study.

The earliest field experience is during a teacher candidate’s sophomore year, once as a junior and their final interaction as a senior. We have also used it with prospective students and in freshman orientation.”

The credibility of the technology is gaining national attention, and it is now included as one of the assessment pieces in the NOTE assessment series which, according to ets.org, “aims to assess critical teaching knowledge and practices in innovative ways that call for teacher candidates to apply their knowledge and skills to the authentic work of teaching.”

The technology also provides a prime opportunity for research.

“We are conducting research by interviewing students after they have worked with the avatars,” Thomas says. “The feedback has been very positive. Students say they wished they would have done it earlier, and they have their own ideas of how they could use it more by teaching lessons they have written.”

Thomas said one student commented that five minutes of teaching avatars was better than 80 hours of observing a real classroom.

“Engaging students and keeping them focused on the lesson is something you can’t learn through observation. The TeachLivE experience puts collegiate students in the teacher’s role where they feel the stress level of keeping all students engaged and managing misbehavior. They are in charge,” Stansberry says. “When I did it the first time, it took about 30 seconds before I felt like I was teaching real students.”

Ashley Barker, a junior elementary education major from Fort Worth, Texas, found the experience “a bit weird” when she began.

“I felt a bit silly talking to a computer program. However, when they began talking, I could see their unique personalities coming through. They seemed like real children! By the end, I was having fun interacting with them and getting to know each of them as individuals,” Barker says.

The benefits of the TeachLivE experience vary based on perspective. Students see practical benefits, while faculty members see a bigger picture.

Thomas sees the technology building confidence in teacher candidates, making them feel more experienced before they are in front of real students.

“I would say the most helpful part of this experience was being able to interact as though you are actually the classroom teacher. While observing allows you to work with a cooperating teacher, this program allows you to manage and work with your own classroom,” says Ashley Brewer, a junior elementary education major from Duncan, Okla.

Stansberry says there are many more opportunities in the future for the technology to benefit other students within the college and across campus if funding were available.

“So far, we have used just the TeachLivE segment from Mursion. There is interest from (other College of Education programs) aviation and counseling that could use the technology as well. Mursion has a variety of virtual training platforms that hone in on interpersonal communication skills and that could be very beneficial for our health career majors as well,” Stansberry says.

The annual subscription for Mursion is $6,000, and Stansberry expects it to increase significantly once more applications are developed. A $30,000 investment, however, would empower OSU to develop its own scenarios and train staff members to run them.

The OSU Foundation is working to raise money to do just that. Anyone interested in contributing to the effort should contact Denise Unruh, OSU senior director of development for the College of Education at dunruh@osugiving.com or 405-385-5663.