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Mixed Reality Simulation for Teacher Education Project

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05.28.2024

Introduction

In a highly technology-driven world, artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming entrenched in many spheres of learning, including teacher training. The Mixed Reality Simulation (MRS) using Mursion software provides a simulated teaching environment, an effective form of instruction that complements initial teacher education (ITE) and serves as a bridge to the intricacies of a real classroom experience.  Teacher education in South Africa is highly varied, with varying levels of quality. This results in large numbers of newly qualified teachers facing challenges in the classroom, which in turn leaves learners struggling to grasp what is expected of them. This then contributes to poor year-on-year educational outcomes.

Overview

The Mixed Reality Simulation for Teacher Education Project uses avatars to improve the face-to-face teacher practice component of the BEd degree at the University of Johannesburg (UJ). UJ has been involved with MRS since 2022 and this programme has shown promising results. Zenex Foundation, UJ and Oppenheimer Memorial Trust (OMT) are funding this Mursion MRS Project between from 2024 to 2026, offering exposure to 240 BEd students. The MRS module forms part of and compliments a larger teaching practice component in support of students.

The simulation uses postgraduate students, briefed on the subject matter beforehand, to serve as live actors trained to mimic children in manipulating the behaviour of the programme’s avatars. They create an interactive environment where student-teachers engage realistically with the avatars, which take the varied dynamics of child personalities typically encountered in the classroom into account. There are three sessions per semester (six per year) in which students teach for 10 minutes and observe their peers teaching, followed by individual and group reflection sessions with the supervising coach. This enables continuous tracking of progress.

 Objectives

The Project seeks to improve the quality of the teacher practice component in the classroom by enabling adaptive learning for student-teachers to exercise their pedagogical and classroom management skills. The interaction with the avatars allows them to apply these core teaching practices in a safe and controlled environment. This form of input is especially useful if student-teachers do not receive adequate support and guidance during their teaching practice.

Outcomes

The Project will yield the following:

  • Sharpening student-teachers’ skills in lesson delivery by gaining experience in:

– Fielding learners’ questions appropriately;

– Managing interruptive, disruptive and distractive learner behaviour;

– Dealing with isiZulu vocabulary focusing on the Foundation Phase.

  • UJ customises a platform so that avatars and the environment reflect the South African context.
  • Data collection via video recordings, observations, focus group discussions and questionnaires.
  • Evaluation by the implementing team around the effectiveness of MRS in teacher education, focussing on user experience, impact on teaching skills, challenges and opportunities for continued use of MRS in teaching education.
  • Ways of reducing the cost of the MRS Mursion software by exploring possible uptake by other local universities.

Conclusion

Zenex has long recognised the importance of alternative approaches to ITE in the production of quality newly qualified teachers. Zenex’s work in this field includes supporting projects focusing on internships, re-curriculum, teacher practice and development of policy standards. The MRS Project is, however, the first such project to use technology to improve teaching practice in the classroom. This initiative augments Zenex’s ongoing efforts within the ITE sector and paves the way for higher education institutions to explore innovative methods of bridging pedagogical gaps.

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