30 January 2017

Imagine standing in front of a classroom full of energetic children whose behavior is spiraling out of control. This scenario is all too familiar to many new teachers, and it terrifies them. Now imagine giving those teachers the opportunity to practicein a low-stakes, virtual settinghow to successfully manage challenging classroom scenarios while keeping students’ attention.

This is the concept behind the Curry School’s classroom simulator program. Using a computer-based simulator, student teachers interact with avatars on a video monitor. The avatars, which are controlled by an offsite actor, demonstrate common behavioral challenges; then teachers-in-training apply strategies they learned in their Curry School courses to reengage their pupils or redirect distracting behavior. Student teachers receive immediate feedback from onsite faculty advisors and are able to repeat the simulation if they falter—an opportunity a real classroom can never offer.

This groundbreaking pilot program helps new teachers enter the classroom with confidence rather than trepidation—and it is made possible by the generosity of donors like Paulette Katzenbach, chair of the Curry School Foundation Board of Directors. Katzenbach’s seed funding subsidized the technology licensing fees that the Curry School needed to successfully complete its pilot testing. “This simulation program is one of the most innovative projects I have seen recently,” she said. “It will certainly be a game changer in the area of teacher training for future generations of educators.”

While the simulation technology will benefit new educators, it could also easily be adapted for other professionals-in-training whose effectiveness relies heavily on skills that are challenging to practice, such as psychologists, administrators and consultants. “We are excited about the possibilities of the simulation,” said Bridget Hamre, a professor of education at the Curry School and director of numerous innovative projects in teacher preparation at the state and federal levels. She added that with this progressive technology, the Curry School is entering a new frontier in training and supporting teachers at the school and on a national scale.

Funding for the program’s next phase is increasing steadily as more donors recognize how the simulator could transform the future of teacher training. With their support, the Curry School is moving ahead with plans to create scalable, fully immersive, algorithmic-based simulators by partnering with companies in the artificial intelligence, virtual reality and simulation technology sectors. Additional funding will enable faculty to capitalize on these new technological innovations as they generate content and modules for other teacher education programs nationwide. Once the right technology is available, the Curry School will be well-positioned to establish an endowment-funded national center for teaching simulation.

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