Imagine, during an online Blackboard course, having your students put theory into practice by interacting with avatars in a virtual classroom. Through a mixture of human control and specific programming, each avatar has its own back story and personality. Online adult learners interact in real time in an unscripted fashion with the student avatars to apply effective practices in a safe environment where they can learn from their mistakes before working with actual students. The MS in Education with a specialization in Special Education (SPED) program at Walden University in collaboration with Laureate’s Digital Teaching and Learning (DTL) team and Mursion/TLE TeachLivE™ conducted two pilots using simulation scenarios with avatars.
Walden University provides high quality asynchronous learning experiences for students. We were challenged as special educators to find a way to provide high quality, realistic learning experiences for our online students before they moved into the real world of field experiences. When we learned from colleagues at the University of Central Florida about the use of simulations to help train teachers , we thought that this may be the answer. These simulations were provided for teachers in a special on-campus lab for on-the-ground institutions. How could we recreate the experience online?
After seeing a demonstration of the technology online via a zoom meeting, we realized that not only could we set up the same type of experience in our online classroom via a meeting link, but we could also record the sessions so that our students could view each other’s simulations and learn from one another. The company that provided the simulation demonstration, Mursion, was willing to work with us to design an online experience that they had only provided in an on-the-ground lab previously. Mursion’s technology combines the reasoning capability of human intelligence with the appropriate components of artificial intelligence to create compelling and plausible simulation experiences. We decided to pilot the experience in two sections of a Behavior Management course and partner with Mursion.
We assembled a team of individuals from the special education masters degree program (i.e., program director, coordinator, course professor) and representatives from Laureate/Walden Digital Teaching and Learning (DTL) team (i.e., Sue Subocz, VP US/UK Digital Learning Solutions Center, Kathy Strang, Director of Learning Solutions, Kelly Kelly, Learning Architect). We first had to determine the challenges we needed to address. The team reviewed and outlined all of the steps needed to use a simulation experience in an online classroom and identified the following challenges we would need to address with Mursion:
• Introduction to the simulation experience for students
• Recording and providing recording links of the simulation
• Faculty preparation
Next, we had to identify a course and an activity within the course for a best-fit match learning experience for our students. We then designed, tested, and refined a simulation experience. Simulation learning experience consist of a set of challenges that each student must meet. For example, the first challenge may be for the teacher to obtain the attention of all students in the class. If the challenge is met, the teacher moves to complete the lesson challenges. If the challenge is not met, this is a cue for one or more of the avatars to present the teacher with an inappropriate behavior challenge that must be addressed before moving further into the lesson. Avatars are able to demonstrate a full range of appropriate challenging behaviors, comments, learning issues, etc. Since the interaction is not scripted, educator participants never quite know when or what type of challenges they may face—just as they would in any, real life classroom.
It was decided that we would use a discussion in our masters level behavior management course. Why a discussion? We wanted our students to feel safe in experiencing the simulation. None of our students had ever interacted in an unscripted manner with avatars in a simulation experience. The goal was not to grade the simulation. The goal was for them to share a learning experience, identify key elements, and reflect on their own learning as well as the learning experience of others via discussion posts.
Following the completion of the experience, each student posted their video in the course and provided feedback about the use of the simulation experience to others via discussion posts.
The assessment of the first pilot experience consisted of a series of agree/disagree prompts, comment area per prompt, and a series of open ended questions regarding the technical and educational aspects of the experience. This feedback showed that students did not feel adequately prepared for the experience, so for Pilot 2, we created the following supports to orient students to the experience:
• Video of an example simulation: https://drive.google.com/a/mursion.com/file/d/0B7AzzS1TUECjbThIWS1CSXppa...
• Avatar introduction welcoming the students and providing a rationale: https://laureatena-my.sharepoint.com/personal/david_dolinsky_laureate_ne...
In order to obtain comparative assessment data and see if the revisions were successful, student participants in the second course where the simulation was piloted, responded to the same series of assessment items and open ended response prompts. Using the data from the assessments and what we learned regarding technology, scheduling and other logistical issues, we are now ready to offer the simulation experiences within and across other programs and courses at Walden. There has even been interest from key university support areas such as human resources for how they may apply and use simulations in training experiences.
The data that the team collected for the two simulation experiences illustrate the effectiveness of the self-paced modules. Overall the percentage of students who responded that they thought the simulation experience was a very worthwhile learning challenge that engaged and improved their learning experience increased from an average level of agreement of 80% for the first pilot to a 95% at the conclusion of the second pilot. Additional findings include:
Section one: Pre-experience Information and Instructions
• The two elements with larger percentage increases were
• Throughout the experience I was able to access the help that I needed to complete a task. Pilot 1: 73% to Pilot 2: 94%
• It helped to have an Avatar introduce and walk me through the experience before I began. Pilot 1: 91% to Pilot 2: 100%
Section Two: Completing the experience
• There was a slight decrease regarding agreement for the following item: I was able to easily locate the recordings of at least two other classmates in order to complete the discussion. Pilot 1: 100% to Pilot 2: 97%
• Other than this item, the rest of the elements had little variation.
Section Three: The Learning Experience
• Although there were increases in agreement across the section, four sections should be noted.
The use of avatars for the discussion was an engaging learning process. Pilot 1: 86% to Pilot 2: 94%
I was excited to be applying the content knowledge to facilitate my learning prior to entering the discussion forum. Pilot 1:
77% to Pilot 2: 91%
Because I knew that I would be teaching a group of avatars and that others would be viewing my video recording, I dug deeper
into the concepts associated with the discussion in order to be better prepared for the task. Pilot 1: 82% to Pilot 2: 97%
I believe that the process of researching and implementing the evidence based practices in an Avatar based classroom furthered
my skill sets as an educator. Pilot 1: 73% to Pilot 2: 91%
Section 4: The Avatar
I believe that the use of Avatars for selected assignments and/or discussions throughout the program would greatly enhance my
learning experience at Walden. Increase in agreement from Pilot 1: 64% to Pilot 2: 91%
Simulation experiences have been used and have demonstrated their effectiveness as a feature of training programs in numerous professional fields and the military for years. The use of simulation experiences combines the reasoning capability of human intelligence with components of artificial intelligence to create compelling and plausible simulation events that produce high quality learning experiences. Participants are actively engaged in non-scripted learning experiences that allow them to acquire skills sets and master learning outcomes before they ever set foot in a real classroom.
The core work to create a process for offering simulations online has been completed and will be scalable and cost effective when used throughout Walden’s degree programs. Modules that can be readily adapted for simulations already exist throughout Walden’s programs. Walden has a robust assessment team that can use the initial pilot assessments and adapt them on a program-by-program basis. Materials to orient online learners to simulation experiences were created and enhanced throughout the pilot experiences.
All a student needs to engage in an online simulation is a computer and an Internet connection. A Zoom meeting link is sent to students and they join at the time they have chosen. Student technology support is also available 24 hours a day. Students schedule their own times and are free to reschedule the experience as long as it is completed by a module assignment due date.
Faculty members who have experienced working with simulation experiences are enthusiastic about the ability of the simulation to capture and hold student attention and provide students with realistic practice on key skill sets prior to sending them into the field.
Overwhelmingly, our review of the data collected from the two pilots from student participants showed positive support for the use of simulation experiences throughout their courses. Student comments of note include:
• I liked that students could respond to you in real-time and answer questions. I liked that students were different from one another in personality, strengths, and needs.
• I did not realize, until speaking with the “principal” avatar, that I was literally interacting with real people. I thought the student avatars were preprogrammed with responses, or something of that nature.
• The simulation was interactive and the students were able to respond to my directives. I also appreciate that time was taken to include a diverse group of students who had different interests, talents, and needs.
• This simulation allowed me to see myself in a situation that was out of my comfort zone.
• I like the fact that the students could respond in real time with their on responses this allowed me to make better use of my intervention strategies.
• I liked that I had the option to choose the subject in which I would be teaching in advancing, allowing me to further plan for my interventions. I also liked how each student had their own personality and I was required to provide further interventions to students on the fly, as it would be in a real classroom, rather than just using one intervention and completing the simulation. I
Server and network equipment already in place for online learning
Cost Estimate for MSED SPE pilot (15-30 hours simulation service)
*Note: With agreement to a larger number of programs/hours, we could negotaite pricing
Scenaraio Desing - $2000 - $3000
Scheduling - $500
(Pliot Fee Only) Project 44600
Management 10% - $693 - $1100
Totaol Capex - $3193 -
15 – 30 hours simulation service @ $150 /hr (OPEX) - $2250 - $4500
Total Including Opex - $5443 - $9000
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