Developing an Immersive Virtual Classroom: TeachLivE – A Case Study

Developing an Immersive Virtual Classroom: TeachLivE – A Case Study

Kathleen M. Ingraham (University of Central Florida, USA), Annette Romualdo (University of Central Florida, USA), Angelica Fulchini Scruggs (University of Central Florida, USA), Eric Imperiale (University of Central Florida, USA), Lisa A. Dieker (University of Central Florida, USA) and Charles E. Hughes (University of Central Florida, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4960-5.ch006
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As virtual reality (VR) technologies continue to improve and become more accessible, educators are increasingly incorporating VR learning experiences in teacher education contexts. This chapter is a case study of TeachLivE™, a virtual classroom platform designed for practicing teaching in a safe virtual space. This chapter describes the system, development, and challenges faced when incorporating immersive VR technologies. Recommendations are provided for future research, development, use, and facilitation of immersive VR learning experiences.
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The immersive VR classroom can provide a dynamic medium to promote meaningful learning. Since the early 1990s, VR has been promoted as a vehicle to facilitate learning across subject domains (Helsel, 1992; Psotka, 1995). The blank canvas nature of the virtual classroom enables developers and users to adapt the classroom, with “active participation, high interactivity and individualization” (Mikropoulous & Natsis, 2011, p. 770) as integral components of the dynamic space.

One such use of the virtual environment has been to prepare preservice teachers for the 21st century, accountability-driven classroom. As background, teacher preparation programs (TPP) ready novice educators for placement; well-prepared beginning educators enter the classroom with a strong background in evidence-based instructional practices and classroom management techniques (Brownell et al., 2010; Every Student Succeeds Act, 2015; Scheeler et al., 2016).

However, high rates of teacher turnover and burnout indicate novice teachers often are under-prepared for the challenge (Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2019). First-year teachers may struggle to implement best-practice in both instructional methods and behavior management (Ingersoll, 2001; Cochran-Smith, et al., 2012; Hong, 2010; Lankford et al., 2002). To mitigate this gap, researchers at the University of Central Florida (UCF) implemented an innovative means to prepare beginning teachers (Dieker et al., 2008). Within a VR simulator (TeachLivE™), participants are immersed into a classroom of virtual students. The abstract spaces of the physical room fade (Mikropoulous & Natsis, 2011), and beginning educators use the classroom and its avatar residents to rehearse and hone research-based strategies of teaching practice (Dieker et al., 2007; Dieker et al., 2008; Dieker et al., 2014; Dieker et al., 2017).

This section discusses the evolution of VR, components and characteristics of current VR systems, and VR use in education. VR is described as an interactive virtual environment simulating real-life experiences accomplished in one of two ways: non-immersive and immersive. Non-immersive VR is displayed through traditional media or technologies, such as computer, keyboard, mouse, and/or screen. Users in the non-immersive environment are not required to wear any special equipment (Freina & Ott, 2015; Suh & Prophet, 2018).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Mixed Reality: The space where the physical and virtual worlds co-exist. Within the reality virtuality framework, a generic MR environment is a space in which real and virtual objects are presented together within a single display.

HMD: Head-mounted display. This is a display device worn on the head that regulates the user’s vision to one (monocular) or two (binocular) digital displays, allowing only computer-generated imagery (CGI) or video input to be seen rather than the physical world.

Kinect: A Microsoft motion-sensing device equipped with cameras, projectors, microphones and sensors in order to function as a natural user interface peripheral. Some capabilities include real-time gesture recognition, speech recognition and body skeletal detection for up to four people at a time.

FOV (Field of View): The open observable area a person can see through their eyes or via an optical device.

Dynamic Difficulty Scaling (DDS): Adjusting the level of challenge in a game or simulation based on the skill level of the player or learner.

Artificial Intelligence (AI): The theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages.

Foveated Rendering: The technique of reducing the rendering workload by reducing the image quality of objects viewed outside the zone of the eye’s fovea (which makes up the peripheral vision).

Augmented Reality: Technology that enables users to engage with virtual information superimposed on the physical world. This mediated immersion places digital resources throughout the real world, augmenting users' experiences, and interactions.

Non-Immersive Virtual Reality (VR): The VR content is displayed via a computer screen. Traditional media, such as keyboards and mice, are used for the interaction. Non-immersive VR does not require users to wear any equipment.

Human in the Loop: A type of simulation where a human operator plays a role in controlling the events of the simulated scenario.

MYO Gesture-Type Platform: A platform that utilizes input from a MYO gesture control armband. A MYO gesture control armband is a wireless device worn around a user’s forearm that detects muscle activity in the forearm to provide touch-free control of technology via hand gestures and motion. The term MYO is derived from the Greek “mys”, meaning mouse or muscle.

Immersive Virtual Reality (VR): Users are required to wear a head-mounted display and are completely encompassed by the virtual environment. In an immersive VR environment, user responses can be observed and recorded in a controlled situation .

Sensorama: One of the earliest prototypes of immersive, multimodal technology. Introduced in 1962 by inventor Morton Heilig, it is considered one of the first virtual reality (VR) systems.

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