Virtual Classrooms are the Future of Teacher Education
Preparing education students to become classroom teachers is a challenging task. There are lots of skills that are easy to teach—how to write a lesson plan, or the best method for teaching basic reading skills, for example. But there are just as many skills that are nearly impossible to teach in the classroom. How can a professor teach future educators how to manage a classroom of behavioral challenges or keep their cool when a student challenges their authority? The answer may lie in the virtual classroom.
The virtual classroom is a brand new technology that’s quickly spreading to teacher education programs across the nation. The concept is a bit like a flight simulator that a pilot might use before getting into a real plane. Teachers are placed in a virtual classroom full of virtual students and must teach as if they were really in the classroom.
There are two main options for teacher education programs looking to implement the virtual classroom in their curriculum. A company called Mursion has developed a virtual classroom that is used by school districts and teacher education programs around the U.S. There’s also TeachLive, a virtual classroom program developed at the University of Central Florida. Both programs are fairly similar, offering some of the same benefits for teachers in training.
In the virtual classroom, the students are avatars programmed to act like real kids. Each one is programmed with their own personality and comes with their own challenges, just like students in the real world. Some may call out of turn, get distracted, or try to get the teacher off task. Others may have special needs that the teacher must attend to during the lesson. The teacher’s job is to successfully teach their lesson without students getting too far off-task or exhibiting behavior problems.
For teachers in training, this can be a valuable experience. Classroom management is one of the most difficult aspects of teaching, and many teacher prep programs ignore this key skill. Using the virtual classroom allows future teachers to practice addressing difficult situations.
Practicing with the virtual classroom simulator can build a future teacher’s confidence. Once they’ve mastered the virtual classroom, stepping into a real classroom with real students may be less intimidating. The virtual classroom gives future teachers a chance to practice delivering lessons to an audience that’s similar to the classroom full of kids they’ll soon face.
Another benefit to the virtual classroom is the ability for teachers to get instant feedback. While real students can’t tell you exactly where you went wrong in teaching them, the virtual classroom can.
Virtual classrooms can also be tailored to the needs of the individual teacher. While in the real classroom, the difficulty setting is always on “hard”, in the virtual classroom is can be turned down to allow teachers in training to practice. As education students develop their teaching skills, they can use the virtual classroom to target areas in which they want to improve or simply to practice in a more challenging environment.
General education teachers can use the virtual classroom to practice working with students with disabilities, too. Thanks to laws regulating the inclusion of students with special needs in the general education classroom, more teachers are faced with the challenge of teaching students with special needs. The virtual classroom can be a place for teachers to practice responding to students with various special needs.
Virtual classrooms are a new technology that is sure to continue to grow as it develops. As the technology improves, teacher education programs will be able to use virtual classrooms to teach all kinds of skills. If developers can create a virtual classroom that simulates all the challenges of a real classroom, they could truly revolutionize the way teacher education programs work.
What do you think of the virtual classroom? Could it really be the future of teacher education programs? Give us your opinion!