At the University of Central Florida in Orlando, teacher-candidates can now practice in a virtual classroom before ever entering a real one.
The university uses a system called TeachME in which the “students” are actually avatars—computer-generated characters whose movements and speech are controlled by a professional actor. Just like real-life students, the characters have distinct abilities, personalities, psychological profiles, and even names.
Real-time classroom simulations like TeachME, supporters say, offer promise for a host of teacher-training applications. Through them, candidates could gain hands-on practice with diverse students or practice a discrete skill such as classroom management.
Most significantly, such simulations give teachers in training the ability to experiment—and make mistakes—without the worry of doing harm to an actual child’s learning.
It allows the teacher to fail in a safe environment, says Lisa Dieker, a professor of education at the University of Central Florida and one of the designers of TeachME. Real kids, trust me, will remember in May what you said to them in August. You cant reset children.
A version of this article appeared in the April 04, 2011 edition of Teacher PD Sourcebook