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Training in virtual school classrooms

Imagine a student teacher gaining virtual on-the-job training through augmented reality. This University of Wyoming project allows college students to fine-tune their teaching skills with a roomful of virtual students animated by an actor, says Rebecca Watts, executive director of the university’s Trustees Education Initiative.

The 2D augmented reality teaching interface, which went into operation in fall 2017, is open to approximately 1,000 undergraduate and graduate students in UW’s teaching programs.

The teacher-in-training faces a camera and teaches the class of digital students projected onto a screen. The number of simulated students is limited because an off-site actor impersonates students with voices and puppeteering.

The goal is to embed the program in a range of teaching courses to correct mistakes before they become habit. For example, when the undergraduate leads a discussion on a poem, the actor will portray the students as indifferent, staring out the window or misbehaving. The students’ body language can also change based on the undergraduate’s words and actions.

A faculty member can stop the scenario to make observations and give guidance.

Watts says a long-term goal is to also make the interface available free of charge to school districts that want to provide peer coaching or to help teachers struggling with specific skills. The initiative received an initial $5 million grant from Daniels Fund, a private foundation focused on K12 education reform.