Northern State University Uses Virtual Reality to Prepare Education Students for the Classroom

Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota is using virtual reality to help new teachers learn how to manage a classroom of students!

While the education students are not in a VR headset themselves, they interact with students in a custom social VR platform. The avatars in the virtual classroom are students, with real people behind the avatars, giving education students a chance to practice their skills in a low-risk environment before entering a real-life classroom.

Dr. Anna Schwan shows how the virtual classroom training works

Kelli Volk of KELO TV reports:

A virtual reality tool is helping education students prepare to teach in the classroom.

Northern State University senior Sarah Schafer begins student teaching this fall.

Before she enters the classroom she’s getting an idea of what it’s like to interact with students thanks to a Mursion virtual reality simulation program.

“It’s basically real people behind avatars and my teacher candidates are able to join the classroom as the teacher and they’re able to engage with the avatars,” NSU assistant professor of education Anna Schwan said.

“It was nerve-racking, but that’s exactly what it’s going to be in the classroom, so it was really good to just jump right in and just dive into it with the students,” NSU student Sarah Schafer said.

NSU assistant professor of education Anna Schwan says the simulations are customizable.

“For example, for classroom management, I can choose classrooms that have students who have been identified with having behavior issues or I can even set the behavior to a different level,” Schwan said.

Schwan says it’s safe practice for teaching candidates before they encounter a real classroom.

“I can say all the things and I can tell them this might happen, but when you’re dealing with human beings you can’t prepare for everything, so this helps them practice it a little bit without having the constraints of a full classroom where somebody needs you right now and this is happening and you’re trying to figure everything out,” Schwan said.

“It’s like a stepping stone between what you learn in a textbook and what goes on in the classroom,” Schafer said.

You can also watch a second video about the program here.

An October 2020 news article from Northern State University about the project says:

The Mursion Virtual Reality Simulation offers an innovative approach for teacher candidates to acquire and practice new skills, said NSU Assistant Professor of Education Dr. Anna Schwan. Schwan brought the technology to Northern after trying it out at a conference in Maryland.

“As a former secondary classroom teacher, I would have given anything to be able to practice before I stepped into the classroom,” Schwan explained. “I knew right then that I had to do whatever I could to offer this simulation technology to our students at Northern State University. We are the teaching university in the area; it’s only right that we give our students everything we can think of to help them be successful as teachers.”

To help implement the technology, Schwan wrote and received the NSU Extended Realities Grant. Now, teacher candidates in her Classroom Management Course are trying out the Mursion Virtual Reality Simulation, which allows them to enter a world where students are virtual (avatars) but the teaching is real. They can practice privately or in group settings, teaching avatars ranging from elementary through high school age. 

The software used is called Mursion. Here’s a one-minute promtional video of how it works in an education setting:

In addition to teacher training, Mursion also offers solutions in workplace learning (diversity training, customer service, sales, etc.), healthcare training, and other areas.

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