Virtual reality comes to the classroom

Gabrielle Harrison

Students are often criticized for being too involved with technology, but what if technology could teach the students?

Pena Bedesem, a Kent State associate professor in the lifespan, development and educational sciences department, is using a virtual reality simulation to help future educators learn how to interact in a classroom.

This past week, Bedesem demonstrated the TLE Tech Live Lab.

Kent State’s Tech Live Lab is a room in the College of Education, Health and Human Services’ White Hall where education students and teaching candidates practice interacting with students without being in an actual classroom setting.

“It allows them to get used to it,” Bedesem said. “They can get their feet wet.”

Individuals can come in multiple times to experience the lab because of the multitude of versions of the simulation, she said.

A teaching applicant can come in and practice their pedagogy, then come in to focus on student behavior and behavior management. If they come in for a third time, they can combine their teaching techniques with the virtually simulated student behavior.

“It gives them a really great opportunity to practice those things without being in front of a classroom,” Bedesem said. “Until you actually experience it you don’t understand the power.”

Bedesem does not work alone. Her graduate assistant, Tracy Arner, an educational psychology grad student, helps with the demonstrations as well.

Arner became involved with the lab — and, ultimately became Bedesem’s grad assistant — because she is interested in the specific technology being tested out.

“I think this is a really great experience,” Arner said. “Students have the freedom to make mistakes and learn from it because of the feedback from the students (that are in the simulation) themselves … they are real time interactive avatars. It’s as close to real life as you can get.”

The technological idea was initially developed at the University of Central Florida, and was recently commercialized.

Bedesem works with the company Mursion — based out of San Francisco — that developed the technology and allows people to “practice and develop the complex interpersonal skills they need to be effective in high stakes careers,” according to Mursion’s website.

Bedesem uses the technology for teacher preparation.

“Pre-service teachers have opportunities to practice skills in the virtual environment in low stakes ways,” said Sloane Burgess, associate professor in the lifespan and educational sciences department. “It also allows students to review what they did and identify ways to improve their techniques.”

Kent State just received the technology, and is planning to integrate it into the special education program, along with intentions to integrate it into the special education mild and moderate program. Bedesem also hopes to use it every semester for teaching applicants who come through the method courses.

“It’s so exciting and we want people to know we have (the technology),” Bedesem said.

Mursion is also advancing the tech to be used in a variety of ways, including integrating it into other disciplines such as business, in which the company would develop an adult avatar so students can do mock interviews and prepare for the business world.

Bedesem is also “looking toward the future,” and hoping to integrate counseling so future counselors can practice their techniques as well.

She and Arner would like to see the technology used more on campus. They are currently working to get more momentum behind the program.

Contact Gabrielle Harrison at [email protected]