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Student Avatars Join in Inauguration Week Activities

Student Avatars Join in Inauguration Week Activities

Posted: October 14, 2014

Imagine you’re teaching a class and one student interrupts you repeatedly. As you respond to him, other students start to chat. Your lesson plan instantly unravels. You want nothing more than to take a deep breath and start over.

At Buffalo State, student teachers will be able to do exactly that. "We are really excited about this technology," said Kevin Miller, chair of the Exceptional Education Department. The technology, called TeachLivE, was developed at the University of Central Florida where Krista Vince Garland earned her Ph.D. She is now assistant professor of exceptional education, and director of the SUNY Buffalo State TeachLivE lab.

TeachLivE allows pre-service and novice teachers to hone skills by using interactors, hardware, software, pre-programmed student behaviors, and real-time interactions between students and the teacher. The students are represented by avatars—on-screen images—each of whom has a distinct personality. The avatars are animated in part by the interactor, an actual person working behind the scenes.

On Thursday, October 16, at 3:00 p.m., the School of Education, in collaboration with the Exceptional Education Department, will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the TeachLivE Lab in Ketchum Hall 211. The event is part of the inauguration week events; President Conway-Turner will offer brief remarks and experience TeachLivE herself.

"It’s also a great way to celebrate the Year of the Innovator," said Miller. Buffalo State was the first SUNY campus to partner with TeachLivE, and it’s one of just 42 campuses around the country using the technology.

Vince Garland emphasized that the lab does not replace student teaching; it supplements it.

"We call it a mixed-reality teaching environment," she said. "The avatars appear on a screen, but they respond in real time, in real ways, to the actions of the live person who is delivering a particular, specific lesson."

That specificity is necessary because it is key to collaboration between Vince Garland and the TeachLivE interactors in Florida. "Faculty members who want to use the lab first complete forms describing the objectives of the session," said Vince Garland. Those objectives may include mastering skills such as using a new pedagogical technique or managing disruptive behaviors. The avatars’ behaviors can be set to range from cooperative to disruptive, enabling teachers to learn to manage behaviors before encountering them in real students.

In a recent class offered as part of the Buffalo State/UB joint doctoral program in exceptional education, a master teacher noted that using TeachLivE meant that she could allow a student teacher to make a mistake. "In a real classroom," she said, "I would intervene immediately. In the lab, however, I could allow the lesson to continue, and then stop the session, coach the student teacher, and let the student try again."

To stop the session, the person presenting the lesson simply says, "Pause classroom." The on-screen image moves away from the students to the hallway door, so the participant can quickly review his or her progress before proceeding or starting over. The technology was first used in teacher preparation programs by scientists and engineers who were studying to become teachers in the STEM disciplines.

"Preparing student teachers is just one way to use TeachLivE," Vince Garland said. "In-service teachers can also use it to develop new skills. Adult avatars are available, too, so students can practice holding a difficult parent-teacher conversation. And we have Austin, an avatar who represents a student on the autism spectrum."

Miller and Vince Garland invite the campus community and area educators to participate in lab simulations to be held every 15 minutes after the ribbon-cutting ceremony concludes on October 16. "Come and see how it works," said Miller. "You may be able to use it in your own classroom."

Teacher education faculty, school administrators, and faculty from other disciplines are encouraged to attend. Please e-mail teachlive@buffalostate.edu or call the Exceptional Education Department Office at 878-5317 if you have questions or would like to register for a lab simulation session on October 16.

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