Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Simulation for teachers

Iavante operating theatre. CC BY-SA Alastair Creelman
As part of the EFQUEL Innovation Forum we visited Iavante, an extremely impressive simulation centre for training medical staff and students in emergency situations. The centre had clinics, operating theatres, treatment rooms and waiting rooms where students and hospital staff could realistically practice realistic emergency situations with the help of sophisticated computer controlled dummies and real life actors. They even had a street where car accident scenarios could be re-enacted as well as a mock living room for emergency treatment in the home. All these rooms had cameras for filming the simulation from all angles for later analysis. This type of facility is of course very expensive but this type of training can save real lives later since the staff will be able to make mistakes in the simulation and get the chance to improve through practice and analysis.

Teachers are not involved in such life and death situations but it struck me that simulation training could save a lot of unnecessary pain and suffering in the classroom. Student teachers are often thrown in at the deep end and find themselves in front of classes of pupils who do not react in the ideal way no matter how pedagogically sound the student’s lesson plan may be. Students seldom get the chance to work out strategies for dealing with difficult classroom situations. The first experience is when it’s for real and of course there is a high risk that the situation will not be dealt with in a professional way. This can easily lead to students losing confidence in themselves and sometimes to dropping out of the course completely.

That’s why I was particularly interested in another session at the conference from a project called SimAULA. They have produced a computer simulation for trainee teachers to help them deal with difficult classroom situations. The simulation uses avatars in different types of classroom. The teacher can choose different classroom layouts to suit different pedagogical approaches and can plan the lesson using a wide variety of variables. The classes react in unpredictable ways and the students can try different tactics to deal with the situations that occur.

"SimAULA will setup a virtual practicum in the form of a three-dimensional, online world adapted in the context of teaching-learning in school. Both active teachers and teachers-to be will interact with avatars, develop lesson plans, and teach in the virtual classrooms. In order to provide interesting and effective learning activities, this project will focus on the pedagogical side based on the knowledge of teachers and pedagogic and psychology experts to define the behaviour model of the virtual students and create simulations and situations that are both pedagogically and educational sound."

A simulation like this not only gives students the chance to test different strategies but also plenty of scope for group discussion and reflection with the teacher afterwards. Computer simulation in teacher training offers the chance for students to make mistakes and learn without the stress of interacting with real classes. SimAULA show what can be done in this field and I'm sure more advanced and sophisticated simulations for teachers are on their way.

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