The University of Wyoming is preparing to implement an “augmented reality” program to better prepare the next generation of teachers for a career in the classroom.
Over a 30-minute lesson, a prospective instructor would face a camera — or, potentially, wear a virtual reality headset — and “teach” a classroom full of digital students who are projected onto a screen and whose voices and actions are controlled by an offsite actor.
Each scenario is different, Watts said, and the “students” (and the actor controlling them) will try to create a real-life classroom setting for the instructor-to-be.
“Sometimes kids acts out, sometimes they ask off-focus questions,” Watts said. “Sometimes they’re purposefully challenging for the teacher.”
The program, created by California-based startup Mursion, will be rolled out at some point this academic year, Watts said, and can also be set up to simulate a 1-on-1 situation, like a principal coaching a teacher. She wants students in introductory teaching classes to have access to it.
The program is part of the university’s Trustees Education Initiative, which was established in 2014 to “elevate the UW College of Education to national pre-eminent status in professional educator preparation,” according to a press release. Essentially, the university hopes to become a leader in preparing K-12 teachers by exploring new educational innovations and teaching strategies.
The augmented reality program — which was OK’d by the board of trustees over the summer — is the first such innovation to come out of the initiative that’s been approved, said executive director Rebecca Watts.
Watts — who started at UW last September — said the trustee initiative was started after school districts and lawmakers expressed concern that graduates from UW were not adequately prepared to run a classroom. The concern extended to teachers who came from other universities, too, but officials “want Wyoming to rise above that.”
“The trustees are not just looking at addressing those concerns,” Watts said. “They want to go far beyond that. Not just have concerns addressed, but leap beyond that. We want to be a leader and an innovator in how we prepare teachers and set ourselves up as a model for how you can look at things differently in partnerships with schools.”
She said the concern that new instructors aren’t always prepared to teach isn’t unique to Wyoming, but that the state’s rural nature can make it more difficult to get classroom experience.
“The sole focus of the initiative is producing teachers to serve in Wyoming schools,” Watts said.
The initiative’s coordinating counsel will consider other proposals in the coming weeks. The new program and the initiative in general are funded by a $5 million grant from the Daniels Fund, and officials are looking at applying for more money elsewhere, she said.