Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Teachers Learning in a Virtual World

October 27, 2011

Ever wonder whether you have what it takes to be a teacher? 

At the University of Central Florida (UCF) we are using a new tool, TeachLivE™, to help students decide if being a teacher is right for them, or to help practicing teachers retool their skills. 

Imagine walking into a classroom where students talk, look and even act like students from real classrooms, but who are not real. What do I mean by “not real”? More than eight years ago, through collaborative efforts across campus at UCF, my colleagues Mike Hynes, Charles Hughes, and I created a virtual learning environment that allows teachers to practice their skills on virtual children instead of on actual students. We are excited about the potential of this cutting-edge technology. 

Every day the TeachLivE™ Lab is used not only by UCF teacher education majors, but by pre-service and in-service teachers in ten universities across the United States to impact teacher learning. 

Just like medical doctors or lawyers, teachers frequently have to retool their skills. Yet teachers tell me again and again how they are given training that is not relevant or too late for what they need. 

I kept these teachers’ comments in the top of my mind, just this past week,when 21 faculty members in higher education spent two days at the University of Central, along with UCF technical faculty, and doctoral students, talking about the future of virtual environments in teacher education, with a specific focus on the potential of TeachLivE™. 

We focused on practicing teachers and their personalized professional development, and most importantly on how our existing virtual environment could be used to change teacher behaviors to positively impact student learning.

We developed a synergistic research agenda across the ten  universities, with a focus on supporting new and practicing teachers; using our “virtual classroom” to target effective teaching behaviors.  

The partner universities pushed even harder to determine what student learning outcomes we could measure related to teacher outcomes; and challenged each of us to evaluate how our work is creating and supporting more effective teachers. 

We collectively decided to create a model where we could influence critical teacher behaviors. The TeachLivE™ Collaborative will create a template to be used to plug in the findings from the Measure of Effective Teaching study currently being conducted by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and help us target future behaviors and content skills in the virtual classroom.

To impact teacher practice, we plan to develop studies related to increasing teachers use of praise, open-ended questioning, wait time, and high level questioning. We want to make sure TeachLivE™ is aligned with what we know is most important: impacting teacher learning to, in turn, impact the learning of each and every student in today’s classrooms.

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