Latest teaching technology comes to TWU
DENTON — Texas Woman’s University is using the latest technology to prepare new teachers for the classroom.
TeachLivE™, an interactive computer-simulated classroom developed at the University of Central Florida, allows teacher candidates to practice their skills on “virtual” children rather than actual students.
TWU is the only university in Texas – and one of only 40 universities in the nation – to implement a TeachLivE™ lab. The lab, housed in the TWU Department of Education, resembles a classroom without desks. The desks appear on a screen on the front wall of the room. Seated at the desks are five “students” that actually are avatars controlled by real trainers and made to ask and answer questions, sit quietly or misbehave. Each “student” has a name and his or her own personality.
“This technology mirrors what teachers see in the classroom with their students,” said Dr. Heather Haynes-Smith, TWU assistant professor of teacher education. “Many times, early teaching experiences leave teachers feeling frustrated and unprepared. These students (who use the lab) will be ready to go into the classroom.”
Maria Peterson, a TWU doctoral candidate in teacher education and TeachLivE™ research coordinator for the university, has received positive feedback from students who have used the simulator.
“They loved being in the lab,” she said. “They’d go home and think about what they could have done differently, and they wanted to try again. Their confidence levels increased many times over.”
Blessed Onaiwu, a senior general education major from Frisco, recently participated in the lab for the first time.
“I really enjoyed it,” she said. “You get to see the different characteristics of the students, which is what you’ll find in the classroom.” For example, the “Maria” avatar was “quiet,” Ms. Onaiwu said. “You have to draw her out before she’ll talk to you.”
Jazmine Beadle, a junior special education major from Houston, said the lab sessions benefit teachers in all areas of the field. “I can explore different strategies in working with students who have learning disabilities, such as allowing them more time to respond and letting them talk with other students.”
Ashley Burnworth, a sophomore bilingual and English as a Second Language (ESL) major from San Diego, Calif., said, “Now that I’m doing substitute teaching, I know how real (the lab experience) is.” She described a lab session that represented a “typical” ESL class, with one student who spoke no English and another who spoke Arabic.
“It was a good experience for me, having to incorporate a language that’s unfamiliar to me,” she said.
TWU is using the TeachLivE™ lab for more than teacher education, according to Dr. Haynes-Smith. She and Dr. Sandra Westmoreland, TWU assistant professor of biology, were awarded a subgrant from UCF’s nationally funded project to study professional development for practicing teachers. TWU has partnered with the Fort Worth Independent School District to work with ninth-grade biology teachers in the lab.
Though TWU is applying the technology to multiple areas, the university’s primary focus is on integrating TeachLivE™ into its pre-service educator preparation program. Dr. Haynes-Smith said the goal of the program is to improve the quality of pre-service experiential learning opportunities to prepare TWU students for positions in rural and urban school districts.
“We believe that use of this technology in teacher education programs could better equip educators for teaching in the inclusive classroom, supporting diverse groups of students – including English language learners and students with learning disabilities,” Dr. Haynes-Smith said. “This could improve teacher retention and success in rural and urban schools.”
page updated 4/27/2015 4:56 PM