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UW’s TEI Innovation Helps Virtual Teaching Contest During Pandemic

December 2, 2020
young woman using technical equipment with a screenshot of virtual students
Brooke Wright, a sophomore at Worland High School, who recently won the inaugural UW Agricultural Education Teaching Contest, presents a lesson to virtual students using a live video feed and the Mursion augmented reality software during the contest. (Grace Godfrey Photo)

An innovative teacher education program that creates virtual classrooms for University of Wyoming students played a key role in a statewide teaching competition for high school students.

Lindsey Freeman, a UW assistant lecturer in the School of Teacher Education, leveraged UW’s Zoom subscription to connect with contestants from the agriculture shops at their high schools in a virtual classroom using Mursion augmented reality software. Each contestant in the Agricultural Education Teaching Contest presented a 15-minute teaching segment based on one of the learning activities from their submitted lesson plans to the Mursion avatars. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the competition had to be conducted online rather than in person.

The UW Trustees Education Initiative (TEI) made this tool available to the College of Education as a way to better prepare teaching candidates for field experiences and their teaching careers. This system not only enabled the contest to take place virtually, but it also enhanced the realism of the experience for the participants. Similar contests that take place in other states do not use the Mursion augmented reality software that is available at UW.

The UW College of Education’s Agricultural Education Program and Freeman organized the recent competition.

“I am interested in teaching, so it was fun seeing what that career could be like for me,” says Brooke Wright, a Worland High School sophomore who won the Agricultural Education Teaching Contest. “It made it seem like I was a real teacher and helped me see what our teachers have to go through. I liked it a lot, so it is a career I can see myself doing.”

The Mursion system provides a virtual classroom complete with four student avatars. These digital students can “see” the participant and the environment they are in, allowing them to react to the teachers and the lesson in real time. The behavior of the students creates an environment that mimics what a teacher might find in a real classroom. The student avatars will get off track and have side conversations, pull out a cellphone or speak without being called to answer a question.

“The virtual students in Mursion each have their own personalities and behave like real kids. Although the students in the competition only worked with the avatars for 15 minutes, they got to know their personalities,” Freeman says. “Mursion made it a more authentic experience for the students and ensured it was a teaching competition instead of just a teaching presentation.”

Luke Voss, a junior at Worland High School who finished third in the recent competition, also discussed the Mursion system.

“I had to tell students a couple of times to pay attention because they were doing random stuff,” he says. “I had to say their names and ask them to please pay attention, and they would get back on track.”

Another Worland student says the system will be beneficial for future careers.

“Being able to have a real scenario, where people don’t know what you are teaching, shows you how you can open people’s minds and show them what they can do in life,” says Efrain Deniz, a senior at Worland High School who placed fourth in the competition.

Freeman isn’t the only College of Education team member who has been experimenting with using Mursion as a powerful tool to get high school students interested in teaching careers. The system has been used during career fairs at high schools and at recruitment events on campus. TEI also has provided Mursion access to the Wyoming Teacher Cadets programs that have been initiated at high schools across the state.

“Mursion augmented reality is a wonderful tool for our Wyoming teachers to bring to the Teacher Cadets classroom,” says UW Enterprise for Elevating Educational Excellence Director Curtis Biggs. “It creates a captivating, realistic and less nerve-wracking practicum experience for high school students beginning to explore the field of teaching.”

Faculty and staff members in the College of Education have been discovering a variety of novel uses for the Mursion system. Although it was originally envisioned as a tool to provide pre-service teachers with an environment to practice classroom skills, faculty have been developing scenarios outside the classroom.

These experiences give pre-service educators extra practice leading parent-teacher conferences or holding meetings with school administrators. Counseling faculty members also have begun creating ways to use Mursion to enrich the student experience and provide additional opportunities for their students to apply new-found knowledge to practical experiences.

TEI also is working with groups in the College of Education that are developing ways to use Mursion to provide professional learning opportunities for current professionals across the state.

“Mursion can enhance the reflective practice that is necessary for good teaching. Participants can pause the simulation to think about the direction of their lesson, receive real-time feedback from observers and reconsider questions they have asked the avatars,” says TEI Managing Director Colby Gull. “It is not possible to pause a real classroom, so these simulations open up a world of new possibilities for enhancing professional practice.”

To learn more about the Mursion system and to view UW agricultural education students use the system to present a lesson, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=umndAtWV77c&feature=youtu.be.

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