TeachLivE: A New Paradigm in Teacher Education
By Dr. Sally Spencer and Dr. Sue Sears
Education Associate Professor Dr. Sally Spencer, Department of Special Education
It’s common knowledge that learning a complex skill requires hours of practice to achieve mastery. For example, when pilots first learn to fly, they don’t jump into the cockpit of a 747 loaded with passengers and take off into the wild blue yonder on the first lesson. Instead, pilots are required to log thousands of hours in a simulator, and then log many more hours practicing in a tiny single-engine plane before they are allowed to transport passengers. Yet in teaching we have been employing this sink-or-swim one-shot learning model for decades. Want to learn to teach? We’ll give you some university courses, the keys to the classroom, and away you go!
Welcome to the better world of TeachLivE, a new paradigm in teacher education. Developed by educators and computer scientists at the University of Central Florida working in collaboration with engineers from Lockheed Martin, TeachLivE is designed to allow teachers the same kind of simulated support practice that pilots, physicians, and other professionals routinely employ as part of their training. In TeachLivE, new teachers develop their skills in front of five virtual students, designed to represent the archetypical students found in modern urban classrooms. These students, who run the gamut of personalities, from eager to learn to resistant and stubborn, present both pedagogical and behavioral challenges to the teacher candidates, allowing them to practice a range of skills in a safe, simulated environment. Disruptive student behaviors can be increased or decreased to provide the optimal level of challenge for each individual teacher-in-training.
In planning for the TeachLivE sessions, program faculty design a series of lessons to match specific pedagogical objectives, permitting teachers to practice discrete instructional skills in the simulator with feedback and do-over. This is one of the most unique characteristics of the system. In actual classrooms if a lesson is going poorly, the student teacher has few opportunities to stop, rethink, and try it over again. In contrast, the TeachLivE system is specifically designed to support critical thinking and redesign of instruction. If a lesson is not going well, candidates are encouraged to stop and critically examine what went wrong. When they reenter the system, they can correct their mistakes instead of practicing (and making a habit of) poor teaching skills, which often occurs in the live classroom setting. The TeachLivE virtual classroom spotlights areas where new teachers need to grow. Even the most novice student teachers are able to identify areas for development and build their pedagogical skills.
TeachLivE at California State University, Northridge
The CSUN Department of Special Education is delighted to be the eleventh university in the U.S. to implement the TeachLivE system, made possible through a $1.5 million program improvement grant from the Office of Special Education Programs in the Department of Education. After installing the equipment in July, special education faculty Drs. Sally Spencer, Sue Sears, and Rachel Friedman Narr ran a pilot of the TeachLivE system with five credential program graduates and were delighted by the enthusiastic responses and insightful feedback these students provided. After several trials and a series of round-table discussions, faculty were able to conceptualize the implementation of the system in ways that will maximize its effectiveness for special education teacher candidates.
The department will implement the system for the first time this semester in the SPED 403MM early fieldwork class under the direction of Drs. Beth Lasky and Sally Spencer with adjunct faculty member Monica Boomgard. Students will participate in three TeachLivE sessions with reflection and feedback, in addition to 75 hours of fieldwork and two classroom observations at a school site. Later this year, program faculty will begin to develop an adult avatar to use in SPED 420, the inclusive education course that is required for all credential candidates in special, elementary, and secondary education. The adult avatar will give CSUN students the opportunity to practice collaboration and problem-solving skills in a safe but authentic virtual environment.
What Did the Teachers Think?
The fledgling teachers who helped implement the pilot were excited and enthusiastic about the system. Once they understood its potential and began to focus their simulator time on improving their instructional skills, they all felt that it was highly valuable and provided an element previously missing from their credential program. As one new teacher put it, “I wish there were a home version of this system—I would love to practice with this every day!” Given their enthusiasm, the Department of Special Education faculty are looking forward with great anticipation to implementing the system for the first time this fall semester.