Virtual reality simulates classroom environment for aspiring teachers

This camera is used to create virtual reality scenarios for the student teacher training program. Credit: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki

Two University at Buffalo education researchers have teamed up to create an interactive classroom environment in which state-of-the-art virtual reality simulates difficult student behavior, a training method its designers compare to a “flight simulator for teachers.”

The new program, already earning endorsements from teachers and administrators in an inner-city Buffalo school, ties into State University of New York Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher’s call for innovative teaching experiences and “immersive” clinical experiences and teacher preparation.

Zimpher recently told The Buffalo News that SUNY teaching programs should be offering on-campus laboratories where students can simulate being in a . The UB classroom project directly aligns with this initiative.

A collaboration of the Neurocognition Science Laboratory and the Teacher Education Institute in the UB Graduate School of Education, the virtual classroom is meant to supplement existing clinical opportunities, according to Richard Lamb, GSE associate professor and director of the Neurocognition Science Laboratory.

“This is meant as a training simulator for pre-service and in-service teachers to garner experience in dealing with situations such as difficult behaviors, teaching methods, in general and other activities as needed,” Lamb says. “So when the teaching student steps into the classroom, they have some idea of what to do.”

The training simulator Lamb compared to a teacher flight simulator uses an emerging computer technology known as virtual reality. Becoming more popular and accessible commercially, virtual reality immerses the subject in what Lamb calls “three-dimensional environments in such a way where that environment is continuous around them.” An important characteristic of the best virtual reality environments is a convincing and powerful representation of the imaginary setting.

“It’s not meant to fully replace clinical opportunities for teaching students,” says Lamb, who is co-principal investigator of the project with Elisabeth Etopio, director of UB’s Teacher Education Institute and interim assistant…

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