Interesting: teaching virtual students in teacher training

© Peter Holgersson

Practice makes perfect, but organizing practice in teacher training can often be a burden for everybody involved. Schools do want teacher trainees but are also responsible for the learning of their pupils. We’ve known for a long time that micro-teaching can be very effective, but fellow trainees taking the role of pupils can sometimes become a bit of a drag. Maybe the approach of working with virtual pupils can help. There has been previous research, e.g. check here. Do also note the study is small and has its limitations. Further research is needed for sure.

From the press release:

Teacher training students who practised teaching virtual pupils developed greater confidence in their teaching ability, according to a study from Linköping University. In the long term, simulation can make the students better prepared for their workforce debut.

Teacher training programmes often have difficulty offering their students sufficient teaching practice for their future profession. Many teaching graduates feel unprepared when they start working, and some decide to change career path, despite good employment prospects caused by a teacher shortage.

A group of researchers at Linköping University investigated whether teaching virtual pupils could make teacher training students better prepared for teaching in a real classroom.

“By teaching virtual pupils, the students felt that they were better prepared and had more confidence in their ability”, says Marcus Samuelsson, associate professor at the Department of Behavioural Sciences and Learning at Linköping University.

The results of the study were recently published in the Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, JTATE.

The researchers compared three different teaching methods, and the effects of these on the teaching students’ belief in their ability to teach. The students were divided into three groups, and then taught a mathematics class to real pupils, to their student peers, or to virtual pupils. The students’ efficacy beliefs in their teaching ability was measured before and after the training.

The results showed that training with virtual pupils was more efficient than training with real pupils. Three hours of training with a simulator increased the students’ confidence in their ability just as much as three weeks of training with real pupils. Compared to training with their student peers, training with virtual pupils led to considerably higher efficacy beliefs in teaching ability.

The advantage of virtual training is the ability to get direct feedback, from the virtual pupils, from the student peers who take part in the virtual classroom and from the two teachers in attendance. Training with virtual pupils made it possible to discuss classroom management and different mathematics teaching situations, when they arose, in a way that cannot be done over the heads of real pupils, and which the teacher training students are not used to.

“Virtual pupils cannot replace encounters with real pupils. Our study is quite small, but in the future I think we will see more simulations as a complement in teacher education” says Marcus Samuelsson.

The study calls for more research that studies pre-service teachers in virtual classrooms in various school subjects.

Abstract of the study:

Teacher education programmes offer pre-service teachers limited opportunities to realistically practise and develop skills and strategies for teaching pupils, without the risk of adversely affecting pupils’ learning. The purpose of this study was set to contribute with knowledge concerning how pre-service teachers develop self-efficacy beliefs from different sorts of teacher training Three sorts of experience – teaching virtual characters, teaching peers and teaching pupils in schools – were compared. The results show that three hours of simulation training in a small group setting with virtual characters develops pre-service teachers’ self-efficacy beliefs in teaching mathematics just as much as three weeks of training with real students and significantly more than teaching colleagues during a seminar. The pre-service students especially mentioned the feedback from the instructors as being valuable for creating an efficient professional learning environment, with respect to development of teaching efficacy beliefs.

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