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Majors & Degrees

Virtual learning brings classroom management to life

October 16, 2017

Every classroom has that one “chatterbox” personality, a talker whose constant monologue can interfere with a teacher’s lesson. Learning how to deal with this and other personality types can be a challenge for a new teacher.

To help Dakota State University education majors gain experience with classroom management, Dan Klumper, social sciences instructor in DSU’s College of Education, has launched a new teaching technology for education students. They are calling it the Virtual Avatar Learning Experience, or VALE. An avatar is a computer-generated figure which represents a person.

A few years ago, Klumper saw a presentation for Teach Live, a University of Central Florida mixed reality classroom with simulated students. He immediately knew it would be advantageous for college students, so when he started teaching at DSU, it was his number one priority to bring the technology to campus.

“This really simulates the feeling of walking into a classroom full of kids,” Klumper said. “There are emotions which the student teachers need to learn to deal with before they practice teach, but they aren’t something you can simulate with lessons in front of their college classmates.”

VALE can simulate this experience, using a computer, a monitor, and an Xbox web cam to bring five avatar students to life. The college students have eight minutes to teach a pre-determined lesson plan to the students who move, talk, and respond to the presented curriculum.

Dakota State is the only institution in the state to offer the avatar teaching experience. It has been made possible through a DSU Provost’s Innovation Grant for the equipment; a Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation Grant has made it possible to activate the technology, which is provided by the University of Central Florida.

Senior education majors will use VALE twice this semester, once in October and once in November. Klumper says it will be a very valuable tool to help DSU students be more prepared and ready for their student teaching experience.

“The more practice they get, the better, because it grows their confidence immensely for interacting with students,” Klumper said.

Not knowing what to expect from VALE, the DSU students were initially a bit nervous when the program kicked off on October 6, but they reported it was a good experience. Chelsea Kroger, an elementary education major, said it was a “great learning experience for classroom management.”

Jacob Habeger, an elementary education major from Dell Rapids, S.D., said “The students acted a lot like middle schoolers, with a wide spectrum of kids’ personalities.” He learned that “it helped to have a stern voice to control the classroom.”

Kennedy Wagner, an elementary education major from Chamberlain, S.D., said “It definitely makes you teach.”

The students were not the only ones curious about the new technology. Instructors Katie Anderson and Jennifer Nash stopped by the Kennedy Hall classroom to watch some of the first students using VALE. They were impressed.

Instructors can talk about classroom management, and students can watch it being modeled, said Anderson “but seeing and doing are two different things,” so “this is the perfect way to simulate classroom management,” Nash said.

Other teaching strategies can be addressed with VALE, Klumper added, such as questioning skills and critical thinking. VALE also gives students the opportunity to think about ways to improve their teaching. The students worked in pairs, and each filled out a reflection page on their teammate’s efforts; each student also recorded themselves teaching, and critiqued their own performance.

“We want our education students to have that reflective mindset,” Klumper said, because “being a reflective practitioner is such an important, powerful thing for a teacher.”