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  1. Jamie Mikeska
  2. Senior Research Scientist
  3. Presenter’s NSFRESOURCECENTERS
  4. Educational Testing Service
  1. Heather Howell
  2. Research Scientist
  3. Presenter’s NSFRESOURCECENTERS
  4. Educational Testing Service
  1. Pamela Lottero-Perdue
  2. Professor
  3. Presenter’s NSFRESOURCECENTERS
  4. Towson University
  1. Calli Shekell
  2. Post doctoral fellow
  3. Presenter’s NSFRESOURCECENTERS
  4. Educational Testing Service

Online Practice Suite: Practice Spaces, Simulations and Virtual Reality Envir...

NSF Awards: 2037983

2021 (see original presentation & discussion)

Undergraduate, Adult learners

The nation’s educational system is suffering from extreme challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has resulted in a significant reduction of practice teaching experiences within schools, which means that universities must find alternative ways for preservice teachers to practice teaching, despite little to no interaction with real students. In this video, we will describe how our project is directly tackling this critical challenge and expanding opportunities for preservice teachers to continue to engage in high-quality, content-intensive practice teaching experiences. This video will introduce viewers to a suite of practice-based activities that can be used for synchronous and asynchronous integration within online and face-to-face elementary and secondary education courses in mathematics and science. These activities are designed to help preservice teachers learn how to engage in one high-leverage teaching practice: facilitating argumentation-focused discussions. The practice-based activities include: (1) interactive, online digital games that create targeted practice spaces to engage preservice teachers in considering and responding to students’ content-focused ideas and interactions; (2) performance-based tasks that provide opportunities for preservice teachers to practice facilitating discussions with a group of five upper elementary avatars in a simulated classroom; and (3) a virtual reality environment that allows for verbal, textual, and non-verbal interactions between a teacher avatar and 24 student avatars in an immersive whole classroom environment. The video will highlight the project’s main development work across the elementary and secondary spaces, the research questions being addressed, and the opportunities for substantive collaboration with teacher educators across science and mathematics teacher education. 

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Discussion from the 2021 STEM For All Video Showcase (18 posts)
  • Icon for: Jamie Mikeska

    Jamie Mikeska

    Lead Presenter
    Senior Research Scientist
    May 10, 2021 | 10:01 a.m.

    Welcome and thank you for viewing our video! During our project’s first year, our project team has been busy developing various online practice suite activities and piloting them with preservice teachers within mathematics and science method courses. We are interested in hearing what you think about the three different practice-based activities that are part of the online practice suite and how they could be used productively in teacher education and professional development settings to support teacher learning. We would also love to hear about possible ways you could see applying what we are doing on this project to your own context or work.

  • Icon for: Nancy Songer

    Nancy Songer

    Higher Ed Administrator
    May 11, 2021 | 09:25 a.m.

    I really liked your innovative ways to engage pre-service teachers in activities to help them practice in the challenging practices of, for example, guiding sense-making discussions. I realize you are only completing your first year and I imagine development consumed the bulk of the work this year, but I would love to hear about what you learned with your piloting of the activities. For example, what kinds of feedback or prompts appear to be most helpful?

  • Icon for: Calli Shekell

    Calli Shekell

    Co-Presenter
    Post doctoral fellow
    May 11, 2021 | 01:08 p.m.

    Hi Nancy. Thank you for checking out our video. 

    We haven't dug into the data on what pre-service teachers actually learned, but we did strategically design the math and science tasks to try to invite argumentation. The student solutions that we created to guide the actors in the simulated environments are nuanced in ways that call pre-service teachers' attention to supporting the student avatars to provide evidence and reasoning in explaining their work.

    With the four teacher educators that we have observed this spring implementing our Online Practice Suite in their elementary math and science methods courses, we have found that opportunities for pre-service teachers to self-reflect on their questioning and the ways in which it elicits students' thinking have been helpful. The teacher educators are also providing models of productive practices (either directly from our simulations or in other forms) that the pre-service teachers have mentioned are helpful to their learning. 

  • May 12, 2021 | 02:11 p.m.

    This is interesting.  I will look forward to hearing more about how teachers are benefiting from the use of your tools.

  • Icon for: Andres Colubri

    Andres Colubri

    Facilitator
    Assistant Professor
    May 11, 2021 | 11:38 a.m.

    Hi, having used virtual environments for social interactions myself during the pandemic (such as Mozilla hubs: https://hubs.mozilla.com/) made me quite excited about the premise of this project. However, one thing that is not entirely clear to me is whether the avatars the teachers interact during the training sessions represent real students or synthetic characters?

     
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    Corinne Brenner
  • Icon for: Michael Chang

    Michael Chang

    Facilitator
    Postdoctoral Research
    May 11, 2021 | 12:08 p.m.

    Thanks for sharing this project! I am a part of the Institute for Student-AI Teaming, and we have been spending some time thinking about what it means for an AI to to help students collaborate in a classroom environment. I would love to know what are the underlying “cues” that your software looks for from teachers in order for the student avatars to respond to their queries. Are pre-teachers trained beforehand to give certain types of statements (that are deemed to be conducive to facilitation) and are then tracked by the software? Also, in practice, how do you imagine this being a part of teacher training? What sorts of in-classroom facilitation experiences do you think are not possible to emulate because of current technological limitations?

  • Icon for: Heather Howell

    Heather Howell

    Co-Presenter
    Research Scientist
    May 11, 2021 | 01:36 p.m.

    Hi Michael,

    Great questions, I would love to hear more about your work. The majority of our simulations are driven by non-artificial intelligence at the moment (ie, human beings). That said, the training for the interactors who drive the simulations behind the scenes is extensive, and the human training does set parameters that could be thought of as similar to cues. The way we embed this in teacher training is within methods courses, so there is also a lot of non-artificial intelligence being used by the teacher educators as they help their students (the preservice teachers) make sense of an reflect on their experiences. However, I think there's the potential for diverse approaches, including PD and school-based lesson study types of situations.

    We've thought a bit about AI and NLP interactions and there's probably a couple of productive directions. On related projects we've been exploring how to analyze performances and produce meaningful feedback automatically, but this work is emergent. Eventually one could imagine automating the actors, but my hunch is that before the tech gets there its likely it might get to an intermediate step in which automatic analysis provides prompts or information to the human actors allowing them to activate various paths without having to do all the work themselves, so maybe semi-automated.

    We've selected a classroom practice that is pretty difficult - facilitating argumentation - so I guess I would say we are ambitious with respect to what can be emulated. That said, I think there are some things that are really hard to imagine doing well, such as practices that unfold over time (setting norms, building trust with students). I'd be curious from your perspective where you think the limits are.

     
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    Karl Kosko
  • Icon for: Karl Kosko

    Karl Kosko

    Higher Ed Faculty
    May 11, 2021 | 04:37 p.m.

    Thanks for this question Michael & the response Heather.

    As a follow-up, is the immersive classroom something that can be engaged with a laptop or with a VR headset (if the latter, what headsets are supported)?

  • Icon for: Jamie Mikeska

    Jamie Mikeska

    Lead Presenter
    Senior Research Scientist
    May 12, 2021 | 08:00 a.m.

    Hi Karl -- Thanks for the question and for taking a look at our video. We have two immersive classrooms that we are using on this project. The avatar-based simulations use the Mursion classroom environment with a small group of student avatars; this classroom can appear on either a television or a laptop screen. The virtual teaching simulator (the immersive classroom with a whole class of students) can be engaged with using a laptop or a VR headset. However, due to the pandemic, we are currently only able to use the virtual teaching simulator on a laptop since all of our sessions have been conducted virtually at this time.

     
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    Karl Kosko
  • Icon for: Adam Maltese

    Adam Maltese

    Higher Ed Faculty
    May 12, 2021 | 08:16 a.m.



    Hi and thanks for the questions about VTS. Right now the application is only computer-based. Now that much of the initial development is out of the way we are planning to move to develop for headsets, probably for Oculus and Vive. Please let us know if you have further questions. 




     

  • Icon for: Calli Shekell

    Calli Shekell

    Co-Presenter
    Post doctoral fellow
    May 11, 2021 | 01:09 p.m.


    Thank you, Andres, for your question. I'm not familiar with Mozilla hubs, but will have to check that out. In the virtual simulators, graduate students are acting as the student avatars. They are trained to respond in ways that typical elementary school students might respond to the math and science tasks that we designed. Early feedback from pre-service teachers suggests that they did feel the avatars' responses were close to what they would encounter with actual elementary students. 

  • Icon for: Jonee Wilson

    Jonee Wilson

    Assistant Professor
    May 11, 2021 | 07:03 p.m.

    This is pretty cool! The online practice suite sounds like it could be one way to support teachers in approximating specific practices and particular teaching moves. This work makes me think that at some point we could team up to think through how these virtual classrooms could be used to support pre-service (and in-service) teachers in developing the practices that we are investigating with the Equity and Access Rubrics for Mathematics Instruction (EAR-MI). I'm not sure in which stage you all are in terms of this work, but I would be interested in thinking through different ways the student avatars' scripts could be adjusted to present teacher candidates with opportunities to learn to navigate some of the more impromptu aspects of classroom dynamics while rehearsing ways of implementing specific equitable instruction practices. 

  • Icon for: Heather Howell

    Heather Howell

    Co-Presenter
    Research Scientist
    May 11, 2021 | 09:48 p.m.

    That sounds like a great idea for a grant proposal Jonee- we should talk!

  • Icon for: Jonee Wilson

    Jonee Wilson

    Assistant Professor
    May 12, 2021 | 10:16 p.m.

    Agreed! Our group has an email address (vearmiproject@ncsu.edu) but let me know if you have a better idea for connecting

  • Icon for: Jeremy Roschelle

    Jeremy Roschelle

    Facilitator
    Executive Director, Learning Sciences
    May 12, 2021 | 07:48 p.m.

    Really enjoyed all three scenarios you showed. They have very different ease of use for the teacher and complexity to develop. It seems to me that typing text might be easiest. Moving about in VR seems the hardest. I am wondering what you are learning when its worth going for the greater complexity and realism? How far could you push the simplest technologies (like a chatbot) before really needing to go into full VR? What do you think the tradeoffs among these three things are?

  • Icon for: Pamela Lottero-Perdue

    Pamela Lottero-Perdue

    Co-Presenter
    Professor
    May 13, 2021 | 08:59 a.m.

    Hi Jeremy,

    Great question. In addition to serving as a Co-PI, I am also a teacher educator on the project who has used this directly with my own pre-service teachers (PSTs). Each of the three components has its own strengths. The chatbox had less of a steep learning curve. In my experience, it was a very helpful tool for my PSTs to start considering how they can ask questions to try to elicit one student's thinking at a time; this was the Eliciting Learner Knowledge tool by my colleagues at MIT who lead the Focused Practice Spaces (FPS) work on the project. Using this tool, they were able to practice asking open-ended questions, asking for claims and evidence-based reasoning, and trying to do these things without telling, evaluating, or funneling the discussion towards a right answer. While this was a terrific tool, I was eager to move to the next one, the Avatar-Based Simulations (ABS), which utilized the Mursion classroom of five students that my colleagues at ETS, I, and my graduate students at Towson University support. For ABS, my PSTs needed to not only elicit student knowledge, but do so across a range of students/groups - and then move onto engaging those students in critique and eventually consensus. This tool enabled my PSTs to practice in real time how to engage multiple students in an argumentation discussion. Finally, the third activity in our Online Practice Suite, the Virtual Teaching Simulator (VTS) supported by my colleagues at Indiana University and UNC Chapel Hill, enabled my PSTs to learn to transition from small group discussion to whole class discussion. This enabled them to practice multiple skills, including monitoring, before shifting into the whole class argumentation discussion. While I am a big fan of the chatbox (FPS) technology and feel that it has much to offer, I greatly appreciate the additional affordances that the other tools provide.

    You asked about tradeoffs and there are some, of course. There is more of a learning curve for the PSTs to learn how to use and be comfortable within the real-time avatar simulations - ABS and VTS. They require our PSTs to connect to or logon to different systems in order to participate remotely, as they have been all semester. Also, on the back end, ABS and VTS both require one or more actors who are trained to "be" the avatars; this takes a significant amount of training and time (and thus money) to train these actors and then coordinate and deliver the sessions that the PSTs facilitate.

    Thanks for your excellent question. Please let us know if you have others!

    Pam Lottero-Perdue

  • Icon for: Corinne Brenner

    Corinne Brenner

    Researcher
    May 13, 2021 | 10:10 p.m.

    Hi team, very interesting work!  How do the pre-service teachers receive feedback during the training? Are there automated responses, or a summary after the scenarios, or trainers discuss what they observed, or something else? In other contexts receiving prompt, contextual feedback can be very powerful to promote learning in complex settings, so might be a good fit to make this an even more powerful tool.

  • Icon for: Heather Howell

    Heather Howell

    Co-Presenter
    Research Scientist
    May 13, 2021 | 10:25 p.m.

    Its a bit different across the three activities. FPS naturally affords some feedback, offering the participants in the eliciting student thinking activity, for example, information at the end asking the "student" and "teacher" the same questions and letting them know whether or not they match, and it provides a transcript of the interaction for reflection. The teacher educators used this one in class, and this allowed them to immediately engage their PSTs in reflection, in some cases then having them go right back in and repeat the activity to see if they could make changes. Each of the two avatar simulations finishes with an opportunity for the PST to reflect on the discussion - in ABS for example, after leading the discussion among the student avatars, the PST is dropped back into a room with an adult avatar who was earlier introduced as the guide to check that everything was working and get them started. The adult asks them a few questions about how things went to capture their reactions in the moment, and this is part of the video-record the PST receives later. We haven't systematically analyzed these self-reflections, but we do have some evidence from past project work that the in the moment reflection is a bit more raw and honest compared to after the fact reflections, which provides some interesting instructional material the teacher educator can choose to make use of. We aren't providing automatic feedback on the avatar simulations (or non-automatic feedback for that matter), although in related work we did do provide human-generated feedback and found, as you suggest, that it was a powerful driver of PST learning. So for this project, its really up to the teacher educator whether or how they make that happen.

    We are hoping in future work to press hard on the problem of how one might generate automatic feedback that is sufficiently accurate and actionable to support learning, although at the moment, its still a use of machine learning that is exploratory, not fully developed. Important to develop though, because feedback is so important, and the cost of producing it is a significant challenge to scale!

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