Students teach to avatars in classrooms of the future

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Just as pilots use flight simulators, University of Newcastle (UON) education students can now roadtest their teaching skills, building their confidence in a safe, supportive environment, using a simulated classroom.


TeachLive – a simulation teaching tool, uses a live performing actor who role plays a number of student avatars to respond to the lesson delivered by the student teacher.

Head of the UON School of Education, Professor John Fischetti, said the introduction of TeachLive, gives students valuable experience to begin to practice the pedagical and dispositional, and management skills needed to become effective teachers of diverse learners.

“Using the TeachLive lab, our students enter a room where everything looks like a primary or high school classroom including props, whiteboards, and of course, learners. However, unlike the brick and mortar setting, the lab is a computer-generated setting and the students in the classroom are avatars being controlled by a human moderator. This is not a game. It is a real-time simulation with the feel of ‘real teaching’.”

One of only two Australian universities to offer TeachLive, in partnership with the University of Central Florida, UON will offer the learning experience to education students from the first year of their program.

“The combination of real teaching in a simulated environment is an extension of a long-standing practice in education called microteaching,” Professor Fischetti said.

“We need more practice in teaching before we get into schools. TeachLive creates these opportunities and provides wonderful learning about teaching inside the safety net of a simulator, just as pilots use these tools in flight school and health professionals undertake in simulation training.”

In the TeachLive Lab, several teachers can instruct the simulation classroom over the course of one hour; and the avatars can be directed to respond to lessons in different ways, depending on the learning objective and the experience they bring. The moderator can simulate a variety of student responses to the lesson based on the lecturer’s goals for the course in which TeachLive is embedded.

“In addition, if the lesson doesn’t go well, our preservice teacher can re-enter the simulation classroom and try again to teach the same students the same concept or skill. We can get a ‘do-over’ and learn a lot from that experience without wasting real students’ learning time in schools.”

“We’re very proud our education discipline ranks in the top 100* in the world and that we take a new approach to learning that creates education leaders who have globally transferable skills. The TeachLive tool, is another innovative way we are supporting our teacher education students to develop into inspirational teachers.”

TeachLive is a joint research project of UON, the University of Central Florida and Murdoch University. Data being collected from this year’s pilot will help form a long-term research effort tracking participants’ teaching trajectory and assessing the impact of the TeachLive experience on that journey.

The TeachLive tool will form part of a number of innovative additions and changes to UON’s education programs from 2018, including the formation of three new Education degrees.

Ed Outreach is another new dimension for first year students, offering experiences such as shadowing students or working in a variety of community settings.

Teach Outreach is a volunteer placement program that gives students opportunities to volunteer in schools, early childhood centres and community groups.

* 2017 QS World University Rankings by Subject

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The University of Newcastle acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands within our footprint areas: Awabakal, Darkinjung, Biripai, Worimi, Wonnarua, and Eora Nations. We also pay respect to the wisdom of our Elders past and present.