Virtual reality energizes pre-service special ed teachers

Avatars simulate scenarios that allow pre-service teachers to develop their problem-solving skills

Pre-service teachers at the University of North Georgia now use virtual reality avatars to prepare to work in K-12 special education.

Previously, the students engaged in re-enactments of real-life scenarios to learn how to handle behavioral issues and other situations.

The immersive mixed-reality environment, UWGLive, was introduced in fall 2020 for a course on instructional strategies for students with disabilities.

“All avatars have different personalities and mannerisms,” says instructor Jennifer Sears, an assistant professor of elementary and special education. “They also represent the area’s diverse population. For example, we have one student with Down syndrome and another with autism. We also have students who are Caucasian, Asian American and Black.”

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The avatars simulate scenarios that allow pre-service teachers to develop their problem-solving skills. In one scenario, a general education teacher is not interested in collaborating with a special education teacher.

“Our UNG pre-service teacher had to convince this avatar-created teacher that a middle school student needed help,” says the other instructor, Brooks Peters, also an assistant professors of elementary and special education, “Once we were finished with the scenario, we gave our students immediate feedback. We discussed what worked, what didn’t, and what to try next.”

The program was so popular it was used in the professors’ course on applied behavioral analysis in spring 2021. In that class, pre-service teachers observed scenarios to collect data such as students’ interrupted their classmates, ignoring teachers’ instructions or failing to complete assignments.

“Our student engagement in the courses is night and day compared to last academic year,” Sears said.

UWGLive was inspired by similar platforms at the University of Central Florida and the University of West Georgia.

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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