SimAULA is a project focused on the development of a virtual practicum for teacher training in the form of a 3D virtual world. Both current and future teachers will have the opportunity to interact with avatar-students, develop lesson plans and teach in virtual classrooms. We talk with the project coordinator, Eva Vázquez de Prada.
What’s the objective of Simaula?Simaula’s main objective is to develop a virtual practicum for teachers and future teachers. This virtual environment will provide Higher Education institutions and schools with a very innovative training platform to enable the enhancement of teaching abilities through result-driven classroom practices.The knowledge of teachers and pedagogy and psychology experts helped us define models to create simulations and situations that are both pedagogically and educationally realistic. Could you describe how a virtual classroom look like?The project developed a 3D virtual classroom where the teacher can interact with avatars (the students), develop lesson plans, and teach.The training platform replicates typical situations where teachers face common problems that happen in real classrooms. The teacher will have to select different options for each situation taking into account the teaching strategy, the pupils profiles, their level of attention, the classroom type, etc.Students (avatars) will automatically react to the teacher selection depending on their behaviour model, the teaching strategy, their classmates, the duration of the class, ...At the end of the game, the teacher gets a score that is calculated according to the global involvement of the students during the class (this depends on the students' behaviour and how the teacher deals with their interruptions during the game), the choices made by the teacher regarding teaching methodology, the learning resources that the teacher uses, the learning activities and the time spent on each activity.Besides from the score, the teacher also gets a final feedback describing why he got that score and how he can improve it. Does this programme respond to a demand from teachers?The idea of developing Simaula came from the specific demand of different universities that were implementing the new Bologna Process. They realised that they were experiencing different problems managing the increase of the number of in-school practicum hours.We also conducted a research during the project and we identified several problems of a different nature that the students, tutors and host teachers face during the teaching practice: administrative barriers, organizational barriers, pedagogical, psychological and methodological barriers. We believe that Simaula can help in many ways to overcome these barriers. Why use serious games to train teachers?Several studies demonstrate the efficacy of serious games for training in particular through behavioral change.Serious games help to create a good simulation of real-life learning situations, allowing trainees to go over the same situations, settings, contexts in a low-stress environment. Simaula also promotes experimentation with various techniques and allows meeting learners’ individual needs, interests and abilities, all this in a safe environment.We also believe that learning how to teach can also be a fun and entertaining activity Is it possible to virtualize the pupils’ behaviour?We are aware that modeling students' behaviour is a very complicated task and there are many researches going on now in Europe focused on this. But that’s not Simaula's main objective. We modelled the five most characteristic behaviours of students in 6th grade (Talkative, Skeptic, Moaner, Joker and “Flower pot”), based on our own research. We wanted the teacher to learn how to react to the most common situations that can occur in a classroom. But we also modelled the classroom types according to the different teaching methodologies (Learning through experiment, collaborative learning and Problem based learning), the choice of ICT and learning resources. And finally, we designed the pedagogical model based on the choice of the available learning activities in order to achieve a particular learning objective. Do you think game-based learning will replace classical training?In the specific case of Simaula project, we believe that this training platform could be a very powerful tool to complement the in-school practices for future teachers. Simaula provides universities and schools with a very innovative simulation system that enables them to be more flexible (with less barriers of time and distance), more efficient and to better adapt to the Bologna process. This is because Simaula provides opportunities for professional training in safe, multimodal, and personalised settings. The students engage in learning activities from their homes or from the university computer labs. Simaula can help to develop trainees’ confidence and increase their motivation (the feelings of uncertainty, fear of failure are minimized). Simaula can also support the transfer of acquired knowledge and skills from the controlled educational setting to the real classroom and provide the opportunity for development of professional skills and their transfer to new contexts, including a variety of constructivist models of learning: collaborative learning, learning through experiment, problem based learning etc.
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