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Mixed-Reality Virtual Simulation: Where Should You Start?

Teaching with Technology

Mixed-Reality Virtual Simulation: Where Should You Start?

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Recently, the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) and Mursion, a well-known commercial vendor for virtual reality training, forged a new partnership in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic (AACTE, 2020). The pandemic has driven this kind of mixed-reality virtual simulation into the spotlight, although its use was already emerging in the field of teacher education (Dieker et al., 2014; Dieker et al., 2015). Mursion, formerly known as TeachLivE, is one such technology that uses a virtual environment to provide a sandbox for learners to safely experiment and practice skills they are acquiring or refining. This virtual environment is obviously beneficial for teacher preparation programs as limitations on in-person field experiences are limited due to COVID-19 restrictions. Students can continue working through their programs as well as gain valuable practice with real-life scenarios through the virtual simulations.

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Recently, the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) and Mursion, a well-known commercial vendor for virtual reality training, forged a new partnership in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic (AACTE, 2020). The pandemic has driven this kind of mixed-reality virtual simulation into the spotlight, although its use was already emerging in the field of teacher education (Dieker et al., 2014; Dieker et al., 2015). Mursion, formerly known as TeachLivE, is one such technology that uses a virtual environment to provide a sandbox for learners to safely experiment and practice skills they are acquiring or refining. This virtual environment is obviously beneficial for teacher preparation programs as limitations on in-person field experiences are limited due to COVID-19 restrictions. Students can continue working through their programs as well as gain valuable practice with real-life scenarios through the virtual simulations.

Mixed-reality virtual simulation is a tool faculty can use to provide preservice teachers a safe, controlled, authentic environment where they practice skills to mastery. Currently, strategies such as role play (Amobi & Irwin, 2009) and case studies (Yadav et al., 2009) are commonly used to engage learners in course content and teaching practices. Mursion’s simulated environment provides teacher preparation programs an additional avenue to meet the needs of teacher candidates trying to make connections between theories, research, and practices. Mixed-reality virtual simulation is exactly what it sounds like: a blend of virtual reality and real life where a participant looks at a virtual environment on a screen and interacts with an avatar controlled by another person in a virtual space. This article is a brief introduction to Mursion’s mixed-reality virtual simulation for faculty who want to know more about it and where to start. I’ve compiled resources from Mursion, TeachLivE, and other researchers, including links to literature, resources, and several key factors faculty might consider when wanting to know more about this technology.

Getting started

To get started, I recommend doing the following:

Key features of mixed-reality virtual simulation

There are four key features of Mursion’s mixed reality virtual simulation environment that every faculty member should know about when investigating the use of this technology:

Scenarios

Mixed reality virtual simulation is role playing in both the virtual and real-world scenario. The scenarios are designed around a desired outcome behavior. For example, if the desired objective is for preservice teachers to learn how to share assessment results during a parent-teacher conference, the scenario will include descriptions of preservice teacher desired (hit behavior) and undesired behaviors (miss behavior). Usually, there are one to three scenario objectives and behaviors. These behaviors are identified by “if” statements. For example, if preservice teachers meet [target objective 1], then the avatar will [avatar positive responses]. Consequently, if preservice teachers do not [target objective 1], then the avatar will [avatar negative responses].

There are two options for running a scenario (simulation) with the virtual technology: a bank scenario and a custom scenario. The bank scenarios consist of predesigned situations with identified target skills, student outcomes, created student materials to support the scenario (e.g., background information on an avatar, test scores). Essentially, it’s a case study that has already been written that includes specific student learning objectives and support materials. Faculty new to the technology should explore these bank scenarios as the predesigned materials help faculty develop familiarity with the technology and do not require a significant amount of time creating scenario scripts, outcomes, and materials. The bank scenarios available for purchase range from instructional content focused simulations such as introducing math content to third-grade avatars to using a specific classroom management strategy with high schooler avatars. There are many bank scenarios to choose from and offer faculty across disciplines options for incorporating the simulations into coursework.

Custom scenarios are created by faculty or university personnel and provide a great opportunity for faculty to use the virtual simulation scenario as a tool to address specific course objectives; however, the process is time-consuming and would require faculty to spend hours creating a scenario and materials (e.g., case history, specific target objectives with desired learner responses, student data or work samples). Furthermore, customized scenarios cost more and would require more practice with the interactors to achieve the desired level of consistency in helping learners meet scenario objectives by responding consistently. Both types of scenarios are useful, and faculty should determine which meets their needs more adequately.

Roles

The avatar, learner, and facilitator are the three main roles faculty need to consider when using this mixed-reality virtual simulation technology. The avatar is portrayed by an actor known as the interactor and is projected on a screen for the learner to see and interact with. The interactor uses a headset and hand control technology to puppet the avatar and respond to learners in real time, using a webcam to see them. The learner interacts with the avatar playing the role of a teacher or administrator and carries out the scenario target objectives for the simulation. This role would be played by students in the course or fieldwork experience. Faculty members usually play the role of the facilitator, stopping and starting simulations and offering coaching and feedback. For example, in a parent-teacher conference scenario, the avatar is a father who meets with his daughter’s third-grade teacher. The learner is the preservice teacher playing the role of the third-grade teacher and the facilitator is the instructor of the course.

Cost

Despite the technology’s potential to offer repeated practice learning opportunities to students in a safe practice environment, the cost of the technology is a potential obstacle to use. Some faculty are fortunate to have had their university purchase simulation hours for them or perhaps even a site license that allows the university to deliver their own simulations with specialists trained in house. But faculty interested in using this technology without a university site license will need to acquire some kind of funding. The pricing options for the technology differ depending on the vendor, the number of simulation hours needed, and the type of scenario chosen; however, approximate pricing begins at around $130 per hour. Additional costs that include scenario usage fees, training sessions, and customizations might also be required. Faculty should plan how they intend to use the technology very carefully so they can efficiently manage costs. Faculty interested in research using this technology might consider partnering with other universities who already have access to the technology, writing internal grants for funding, or seeking external funding opportunities.

Planning

This brings us to the final feature of using this type of mixed-reality virtual simulation: the planning required. Faculty should plan to spend time creating an instructional rubric to support learners during the simulations and evaluate their performance after simulations (Andrade, 2000). They should also plan to familiarize their students with the scenario and avatars prior to engaging in the simulations as some students have neither background knowledge of nor experience with this kind of technology. Furthermore, the simulations can initially create anxiety in students, and conducting informal experiences with the avatars (e.g., Avatar Meet and Greet) can allay students’ fears and give them a basic understanding of how the technology works. Finally, faculty should plan their simulation usage in advance and in detail to ensure that they maximizing their students’ time with and the cost required to use the simulations. A planning form that incorporates information such as the class date, hours of simulation time, number of student participants, format for student participation, the scenario purchased and your intended focus for the scenario, and additional notes would be helpful for faculty using the technology.

Overall, mixed reality virtual simulation is a promising tool for faculty to consider and is especially relevant during this time of social distancing. Faculty can use this kind of technology to provide students a safe, controlled, “real-life” simulated environment where they practice skills to mastery. Like all strategies and tools, there are limitations to the technology and how it can be used, but the possibilities are still emerging, and faculty interested in investigating this mixed-reality simulation environment might just find another tool to add to their instructional toolbox.

References

AACTE. (2020, May 7). AACTE and Mursion collaborate to support teacher preparation through coronavirus. Ed Prep Matters. https://edprepmatters.net/2020/05/aacte-and-mursion-collaborate-to-support-teacher-preparation-through-coronavirus/

Amobi, F., & Irwin, L. (2009). Implementing on-campus microteaching to elicit preservice teachers' reflection on teaching actions: Fresh perspective on an established practice. Journal of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 9(1), 27–35.

Andrade, H. G. (2000). Using rubrics to promote thinking and learning. Educational Leadership, 57(5), 13–18.

Dieker, L. A., Hynes, M. C., Hughes, C. E., Hardin, S., & Becht, K., (2015). TLE Teach LivETM: Using technology to provide quality professional development in rural schools. Rural Special Education Quarterly, 34(3), 11–16. https://doi.org/10.1177/875687051503400303

Dieker, L. A., Rodriguez, J. A., Lignugaris/Kraft, B., Hynes, M. C., & Hughes, C. E. (2014). The potential of simulated environments in teacher education: Current and future possibilities. Teacher Education and Special Education, 37(1), 21–33. https://doi.org/10.1177/0888406413512683

Yadav, A., Bouck, E., Da Fonte, A., & Patton, S. (2009). Instructing special education pre-service teachers through literacy video cases. Teaching Education, 20(2), 149–162. https://doi.org/10.1080/10476210902878510

Sara Luke, PhD, is an assistant professor of special education at the Tift College of Education at Mercer University. Her research interests include virtual simulation in teacher education and qualitative research methods.


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