Katherine Leigh, director of simulation innovations and applications, oversees the vision, implementation and continuous improvement of these simulation efforts through the School of Education and Human Development’s Simulation Lab.
"The Simulation Lab continues to expand, supporting more than 20 courses, three research studies, and 550 students this school year,” Leigh said. “In total, we ran more than 2,000 simulations during the past 10 months. Instructors and students regularly share their appreciation for low-risk practice in environments that do the least harm to real students, families and colleagues.”
Preparing Education Leaders
The school’s Administration and Supervision program, where students are studying to become leaders in schools and districts as teacher leaders, principals and superintendents, began to emphasize virtual practicums in 2020.
“The Mursion simulator provides students a fail-safe chance to practice communicating as the leader in difficult situations,” Sara Dexter, associate professor and the program coordinator, said. “And connecting the virtual exercises through debriefing with course materials is critical for students’ success.”
For example, after reading a book that highlights the value of trust in educational leadership, students encounter an avatar named “Mr. William Emler.” Mr. Emler is very upset about his daughter encountering a safe sex curriculum in her middle school class. UVA students, as future educators, must establish a respectful conversation with Mr. Emler and offer policy-aligned options for his daughter.
As planned in the simulation, Mr. Emler cannot be satisfied and storms out of the meeting.
During debriefing, students grapple with the implications of the exchange. They do the same on a host of other controversial topics. They draw upon course content to frame future encounters.
The Administration and Supervision program uses simulations to practice discussions on topics such as social media, cyberbullying, budget crises and human resources staffing.
“Simulations allow an instructor to count on all students getting a similar practice opportunity," Dexter said. “This is impossible to do if the chances for applications occur in-person in various sites where students work and get field experiences. The course instructor, for example, cannot fabricate the experience or be there to witness it.
“With these planned experiences, instructors can ‘peek into’ the students’ thinking. This allows instructors to provide feedback to students on their performances.”
One common assessment used in elementary schools is testing a student’s ability to read out loud, and understand what was read, by having the student answer questions about the passage. To prepare teacher candidates for this type of assessment, associate professor Latisha Hayes provides students with multiple approximations of practice, including the simulator.
UVA students are paired with an elementary student avatar to administer the passage that gauges fluency. The future educators ask questions to assess comprehension, then compile data to determine instructional priorities. This information is combined with other assessment data to complete a case study. Hayes helps the UVA students to examine the data across an entire hypothetical class, simulating the process teachers go through.