Virtual Technology Gives Education Students Dose of Reality

August 19, 2016

Picture this: it’s your first day on the job as a secondary school teacher. You have to direct a school wide writing assignment that the students are not invested in completing. How will you motivate them to produce their best work? How will you get them on task without losing valuable time?

Thanks to a grant from the Massachusetts Department of Education and San Francisco-based technology startup Mursion, education students at Stonehill are able to practice teaching techniques before they are the educator of record.

This grant, awarded to the College last spring, allowed the Education Department access to Mursion’ s immersive training platform. The simulator gave students the opportunity to manage a classroom, deliver educational content and practice interpersonal strategies in a low-stakes virtual reality setting.

Impactful Preparation
Kathy McNamara, education department chair, said the College was awarded this grant to help Mursion evaluate how “the technology would be impactful in teaching preparation programs.”

“It’s a relatively new technology,” she said. “This company has grown and evolved and we are part of that growth. The scenarios are part of targeted Education courses so students benefit from the experiences from multiple perspectives. Sometimes students will be part of a co-teaching team; other times they will participate as the sole “teacher". Whenever classmates are in the simulator, classmates are the audience and will provide feedback during the follow-up reflective conversation."

When students take part in a training session on the Mursion platform, they stand before a video monitor and teach their lesson to on-screen avatars, who bear a resemblance to characters in a Pixar movie. These avatars react and respond in real-time to the teacher candidate’s directions.  

For the purposes of teaching her secondary education students, McNamara (pictured on the right) worked with Karen Anderson, professor of education, to develop two virtual classroom scenarios for the platform. One is set at a parent-teacher conference, the other in a secondary education classroom.

McNamara said her students have found engaging in these virtual scenarios to be jarring, but valuable.

Helpful Feedback
“Students say it is stressful, but also beneficial to them,” she said. “They get feedback before they actually have to go into the classroom. It is insightful for them to see classroom life unfold. When they react to students, they see how and why it resulted in a particular outcome. They usually do about six or seven minutes and they’ll tell you it feels like an eternity. But they do find it beneficial.”

McNamara admitted that getting the program up and running was confusing initially, but Stonehill’s Informational Technology department has been an invaluable resource to her.

“The IT department has been helpful. They have been positive and have shown their support by hauling up to our building multiple times to do set up and upgrades,” she said.

Pre-Service Experience
As the world continues to transform, so does the field of education. As an expression of their commitment to providing students with the best opportunities available, the Education Department is making strides to integrate contemporary tools-of-the-trade into their lessons.

“Working with the facilitators and the Mursion platform is another way for us to give pre-service teachers a cutting edge experience to develop their skills,” McNamara said.