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KSU lab simulates classroom experiences amidst school shutdowns

KENNESAW, Ga. (Apr 21, 2020) — The Bagwell College of Education’s mixed-reality avatar lab simulates a multitude of situations that teachers can experience, but Kennesaw State faculty probably didn’t envision that one of those scenarios would be providing field experience for teacher candidates during a real-life pandemic.

After universities and PK-12 school systems throughout Georgia transitioned from classroom courses to remote learning last month, the Bagwell College and the Department of Inclusive Education configured the avatar lab for remote access. Unable to be in their actual classrooms, student teachers and master’s candidates have been utilizing the avatar lab online to simulate teaching to a group of students.

“Our teacher candidates are able to take the lesson that they were supposed to teach in the real classroom and do it in our avatar lab, from the comfort of their home,” said Kate Zimmer, an associate professor of special education and the director of the avatar lab. “By no means are we saying that the lab should replace field experience, but, especially in times like these, it definitely makes a difference and helps prepare the best teacher candidates we can.”

Since KSU went fully online last month due to the COVID-19 outbreak, 278 undergraduate students and 40 graduate students have utilized the avatar lab remotely, according to Zimmer, with some of them using it multiple times. The Georgia Professional Standards Commission, responsible for the certification and licensure process in Georgia, allows for experiences in the avatar lab to count as some field experience, Zimmer said.

Student teachers develop a lesson plan, log into the lab at a designated time and interact with the student avatars as they present their lessons. Faculty members can evaluate a student’s presentation live and in real time or they can watch a video recording later. Student avatars each possess their own unique personalities and the lab is equipped with low, medium and high settings, allowing for various scenarios and levels of problem-solving.

“The simulations are realistic and that’s what we needed for our students. They needed to be able to teach a real lesson to students that would provide real-time responses and feedback,” said Corrie Davis, chair of the Department of Inclusive Education. “Making the lab remote-accessible has been invaluable because it has kept students on track to graduate. Our students will be able to graduate and/or move on in their academic journeys without missing out on the opportunity to teach a class.”

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