Using mixed-reality simulations in the classroom
Students in the Mary Frances Early College of Education can practice conducting parent meetings, teaching lessons, and managing a classroom from their computers through the use of a mixed-reality learning tool.
Mursion, a simulation tool where users interact with virtual avatars portrayed by real people, allows students to gain experience applying vital skills when a practicum setting is not available, or to practice what they’ve learned before going into a school setting.
Amy Childre, a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Special Education, teaches a collaboration course where students learn to lead Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings, typically through roleplay between students.
In the fall 2023 semester, one section of the class used Mursion to simulate leading IEP meetings, with avatars playing the role of the parents. The experience helped students practice problem-solving and communicating with parents, a skill they’re not always able to practice in person.
“The outcomes were really amazing. I’ve taught that course or similar courses for years, and I’ve never had students achieve that level of development with their skill set until using the avatars,” Childre said.
Faculty also use the tool to tailor scenarios to different modes of instruction.
Bethany Hamilton-Jones, clinical professor and department head of the Department of Communication Sciences and Special Education, used the tool for an instructional methods course she teaches both in-person and virtually.
In the course, students practice a skill called explicit instruction. Students learning in-person would roleplay as classroom students with one another, while students learning online would practice the skill by teaching to whoever was at home. In both instances, the practice scenario couldn’t always replicate the behavior or potential challenges of teaching actual students in a practicum setting.
“What I found by using the mixed-reality environment is I was able to really standardize the setting for all of them,” Hamilton-Jones said. “Often [classroom] students are not paying attention, don’t know the correct answer, and the avatar, the actor behind the students, is able to replicate those behaviors.”
For students who haven’t had practicum experience, Mursion provides a practice round, said Erin Hamel, an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Psychology.
In the fall semester, a course she teaches on developmentally appropriate curriculum for preschoolers consisted of undergraduate and graduate students with varying experience in school settings. Before students implemented a lesson with preschoolers at the Child Development Lab at McPhaul Center or at River’s Crossing, they practiced via Mursion to grasp both the content they were teaching and the skills needed to manage a classroom of three-year-olds.
“If a student is brand new to early childhood teaching, they may focus more on management and inadvertently lose some of the content,” Hamel said. “But if I can give them this Mursion experience first, which is low stakes, then they can focus on practicing the content, what they want to say, how they want to present, and what strategies they want to use.”
During the sessions, students could pause the simulation to ask Hamel questions and problem-solve before picking up where they left off. Afterward, Hamel said she and students watched recordings of their sessions to reflect on the experience, and students could catch details they didn’t notice in the moment.
Kim Viel-Ruma, a clinical professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Special Education, said students expressed some anxiety about using the tool but had a positive experience overall and related it to online teaching.
“They also stated that some of those butterflies that they were experiencing were the same type of butterflies you might get when you have to really instruct to a group of students,” Viel-Ruma said.
Though Mursion is not a new tool, faculty in the College have incorporated it into multiple courses and said it has become more accessible over time. The tool also provides a safe setting for students to hone their skills and reflect on their progress.
“Our candidates weren’t perfect in these sessions, but they all completed reflections and they were able to say ‘oh my gosh, I didn’t realize this piece was harder than I expected, I didn’t think through this particular piece, I would have done things differently,’” Childre said. “So there’s a lot of self-reflection that occurs after these sessions; candidates really look at their practice and look at ways they can continue to further develop their skills.”