Meet Nate and the Mixed-Reality Teaching Simulator
by Allyssa Haygood-Taylor
Nate is a middle school student who exhibits characteristics of a student with Autism Spectrum Disorder. A team of researchers at Clemson wants to help pre-service teachers learn how to work with students just like him. Nate is not just any student; he is an avatar created by the Pre-service Teacher Instruction Using Mixed-Reality Simulators Creative Inquiry project led by Dr. Shanna Hirsch and Sharon Walters in the College of Education. The team launched this simulation to offer future special education teachers a virtual classroom experience.
Mixed reality simulation is a promising technology in teacher training. In simulator scenarios, pre-service teachers practice instructional techniques with student avatars. This simulator fills a critical gap in teacher training by giving these future teachers the chance to pause, reflect and repeat teaching scenarios in a controlled, non-threatening environment.
This Creative Inquiry team is part of the Mixed-Reality Teaching Simulator Work Group led by Hirsch and Walters. The group is comprised of Creative Inquiry students, doctoral students and special education faculty members. This year the team focused on the simulation topic of the system of least prompts. This instructional method uses a prompt hierarchy rather than a single prompt to deliver supports to students. When a student responds incorrectly, the teacher provides increased assistance until the student responds appropriately. As a result, students are more successful, and the negative effects learners may experience from incorrect responses are decreased.
This spring the students conducted a randomized controlled trial. Thirty pre-service teachers were randomly assigned to practice the system of least prompts in the mixed-reality simulator (experimental) or to receive traditional instruction in a university classroom setting (control). The study started on campus but moved online due to COVID-19. The team was able to run the simulator through Zoom seamlessly. Preliminary results indicate the mixed-reality simulator group performed significantly better than the traditional instruction group.
Though this project is new, the Creative Inquiry team presented their research at two conferences this spring. The students presented their work at the Learning Sciences Poster Session, hosted by the Learning Science PhD program in the Department of Education and Human Development, and at the annual meeting of the South Carolina Council for Exceptional Children Conference in Myrtle Beach, SC. “It was interesting to present our research because it is a topic that hasn’t been touched on a lot and generally can be very useful for any pre-service teacher,” Marianne Beck, a junior elementary education major, said.
Looking forward, Creative Inquiry students will be assisting the Mixed-Reality Simulator Work Group design additional simulation experiences during the 2020–2021 school year. Whether the sessions are conducted in person, on campus or online through Zoom, Clemson pre-service teacher candidates will have additional opportunities to hone their instruction in a virtual classroom.
Barbara J. Speziale