TeachLivE from New York: Developing Innovative Practices in Immersive Teaching Technology

SUNY , State University of New York , IITG , Innovative Instructional Technology Grants , Virtual Labs , TeachLive , virtual simulation lab
In teacher preparation, more effective pathways and practices are needed for preparing, placing, and supporting beginning teachers and principals (Darling-Hammond, 2010; U.S. Department of Education, 2009). A common issue in the field of special education teacher preparation is the lack of skill transfer from one setting to another (Dieker, Hynes, Hughes, & Smith, 2008). It has been posited that “practicing up” is not ethical in that novice teachers must attempt to teach with a limited knowledge of appropriate pedagogy and skill (Dieker et al., 2008). The new challenge becomes finding an effective mechanism that provides essential learning experiences and opportunities to refine teaching techniques to the highest standards of fidelity in a safely controlled and coordinated environment (Odom, Boyd, & Hall, 2010). Immersive virtual environments have the promise of serving as intensive learning laboratories for pre-service and practicing teachers by providing unique advantages such as the ability to facilitate teacher training without the possible harmful consequences involved when practicing a teaching skill with children (Dieker, Hynes, Stapleton, & Hughes, 2007). The TeachLivE™ virtual classroom stands for Teaching Learning Environment: Teaching and Learning in an Interactive Virtual Environment. The TeachLivE™ virtual classroom is an immersive mixed reality environment. Technology for this platform was created and is maintained at the University of Central Florida (UCF). TeachLivE™ is an innovative avenue to provide practicing and pre-service teachers to meet the needs of students with diverse needs by providing 21st Century skills in high need local education agencies (LEAs). A short video demonstration of the lab is available by visiting: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=61sT8ViHesQ . Within the space of the lab, users interface with the virtual classroom and software applications allowing real time interaction between a live human instructor (the teaching participant) and computer-generated, animated avatars (the students). By facilitating an immersive environment where teachers and teacher candidates can safely hone their skills in a controlled space, the environment becomes especially conducive for targeting specific learning objectives in pedagogy, content, and behavior management, as the teaching candidate is able to repeatedly proctor a lesson or activity to proficiency without negatively impacting actual students (Vince Garland, Vasquez, & Pearl, 2012). Classroom scenarios may be adjusted or changed with a minimal pause, thereby adding to the efficiency of the simulation setting. In the spirit of systemic support, it is the intention of this application to create a cadre of invested faculty from a range of departments within Buffalo State, k-12 school personnel, and two other SUNY colleges (Fredonia, SUNY at Buffalo) that will explore the concept of integrating experiences within the TeachLivE™ virtual classroom into course curricula. The versatility of TeachLivE™ allows for an array of teaching experiences that may range from activities with one student avatar, to whole group instructional lessons, and across a range of academic subjects. Faculty can also arrange for students in their courses to gain experience in behavior management, and select the level of inattention or inappropriate behaviors as a mechanism for proficiency in maintaining a productive classroom. Likewise, low frequency behaviors can be incorporated into sessions to prepare teacher candidates to correctly respond to critical situations that may occur when teaching a student with exceptional needs. Buffalo State has recently acquired a TeachLivE lab, which will be fully functional by the end of April 2013. As the TeachLivE™ virtual classroom laboratory becomes more widely utilized at Buffalo State, so does the potential for reaching across departments, disciplines, and colleges, to foster the spirit of collaboration within the SUNY system. Because of the low start-up cost of the technology platform, TeachLivE™ holds strong promise for replication across other campuses, with Buffalo State serving as a model of support and a resource for professional development. The goal of this project is to pilot the TeachLivE™ virtual simulation classroom laboratory among interested departments at Buffalo State, local k-12 school administrative personnel, and other SUNY Institutes of Higher Education (IHEs). This project seeks to explore the opportunities for leveraging the power of SUNY to create an innovative academic program through which students and faculty across a range of disciplines and SUNY colleges collaborate to infuse in-vivo learning within the safety of the simulation lab that will effectively prepare teacher candidates and enhance teacher preparation programs within the SUNY system. Five objectives are detailed in the effort to attain this goal. Objective one: three separate missioned full day sessions will occur to assist stakeholders in the development and infusion of TeachLivE™ into curricula. The project will investigate design facility, and disseminate an innovative and replicable preparation model of seamlessly infusing pedagogy with evidence-based teaching techniques and classroom management strategies. A TeachLivE trainer will be present at all workshops; in person for the first session and virtually via skype for the following two. Objective two: undergraduate students in an exceptional education curriculum course (Block II) will design and teach a class lesson within the TeachLivETM lab setting. The PI will collect teacher candidate impact data via teaching rubric and survey instrument for evaluation. Objective three: conduct a Mixed Methods Research Study. This study will investigate stakeholder learning experiences and best practice patterns among the disciplines. Personnel will examine the utility of the TeachLivE™ simulation lab as a primer to classroom instruction in a variety of related courses; and determine the impressions of feasibility in establishing a TeachLivE™ simulation lab within various participants’ departments. Objective four: artifacts and results of research study will be disseminated through campus and SUNY-wide channels, including SUNY Learning Commons. Artifacts may include but are not limited to agendas for workshops, power points from workshop sessions, sample curricula, sample activities, project templates, and activity guides. Objective five: findings from this project will be presented at the SUNY CIT conference, as well as state and national level conferences. A manuscript on the research project will be developed and submitted to relevant peer reviewed journals for publication. Project Outcome: In addition to project outcomes, the website describes the functions and application of the "TeachLivE" simulations in service of teacher preparation.
Support of three full day workshops within a virtual classroom to explore a mixed methods research study, and disseminate information from findings to stakeholders. Artifacts from this project will include the development of template curricula to guide other SUNY departments considering the establishment of a TeachLivE simulation lab to support teacher training. Project website: https://teachlivebsc.wixsite.com/teachlive