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SimAULA: Training our teachers through innovative methodologies based in serious games

© simAULA

16.01.2013

SimAULA is a European Lifelong Learning Programme project aimed at offering a virtual medium for initial and lifelong teacher training. The project’s originality lies in the tool that its participants have designed, a simulation of the serious game variety which enables users (teachers in training, in this case) to put their skills into practice in an environment that faithfully recreates the reality of teaching. Additionally, as a simulation, SimAULA makes it possible to avoid the negative consequences that teachers’ actions could have in the context of a real classroom. Possibilities for SimAULA’s future development include enabling users to customise teaching scenarios, so that classroom activities can be steered towards work related to different values or ethical or social issues of interest within a given curriculum.

When using the SimAULA platform, the teacher in training controls an avatar that interacts with student avatars (controlled automatically by SimAULA) in a virtual classroom, where lessons are taught and a series of situations liable to arise in a face-to-face environment are played out. By way of a specific example, the first version of SimAULA features a simulated biology class in which the teacher avatar has to help student avatars fulfil various learning goals.

As might be assumed, SimAULA requires a model for its student avatars’ behaviour and reactions to the teacher avatar’s decisions. Another factor in the platform’s complexity is its scope for applying different teaching strategies, assessment types, classroom structures, resources, etc. All those elements made it necessary to carry out an in-depth initial study of pedagogical and psychological aspects in play in classrooms. Even so, given the tremendously complex nature of human psychology and the practice of teaching, the resulting model represents only a small range of the possibilities that exist in a classroom.

The vital role of the teacher in facilitating values in the classroom

Undoubtedly one of the main functions of the teacher is related to the formation of knowledge, skills and competencies in students, i.e. – their cognitive development. Explicitly or implicitly, however, the teacher is a facilitator to construct the public and own values in the classroom environment and with his/her role models has a significant impact (positive or negative) on the emerging personalities of pupils. The important question here is whether universities prepare future teachers adequately in order to play their role of values facilitators in a way, which positively influences the formation of good and moral citizens. 

The study, carried out within the SimAULA project on the key issues of practical preparation of future teachers showed that the value aspects of pupils’ personality development are not in the focus of the practicing students when teaching in the classroom. The priority objectives for them lie in the cognitive area and their main efforts are focused on the knowledge transmission. Objectives related to the values/character formation of the pupils appear to be the most difficult to implement in practical environment.

The research revealed that some serious issues and difficulties are experienced in the practical preparation of future teachers who rank the formation of pupils’ values as the least of the priorities in their practical preparation. On the one hand, the formation of values is an important mission for each teacher while on the other, the way that teachers’ practical preparation is structured and takes place do not allow teachers to learn the appropriate strategies for the formation of the pupils’ personality and be role models for transmission of values.   

In this sense it is logical to seek new approaches for the development of such teacher skills, role models and strategies. In this aspect, what functions can take a virtual learning environment such as SimAULA to support development of such skills having in mind the complexity and invisibility of the nature of human values and their formation?

SimAULA’s potential and specific uses of SimAULA and other serious games for work related to values

The current version of SimAULA is intended to demonstrate that it is possible for part of teacher training to take place via a virtual platform based on a serious game. The aim is not to virtualise the lifelong teacher training curriculum in its entirety, as some of the learning that such training involves stems from direct contact with students and the experiences that arise therefrom. The current version of SimAULA thus has a number of limited functionalities, basically enough for the purpose of such demonstration. The platform’s envisaged evolution encompasses a whole further range of possibilities that develop the initial concept behind SimAULA, paving the way for greater openness, customisation, control and collaboration. Work related to values takes on particular significance in the light of all our ideas for continuing to develop the platform, as a future version must enable any user to configure their own classroom scenarios by introducing their own curriculum, teaching strategy, student characteristics, etc. The ways in which our platform has the potential to contribute to work on humanistic and social aspects in the classroom are listed below.

  • Customising learning scenarios

  • Reducing the need for physical presence in classrooms

  • Interoperability with other virtual training systems

  • Introducing different types of teaching content and goals

  • Increasing the complexity of behaviour, the student modelisation, etc.

  • Creating and testing new teaching strategies

  • Collaborative platform, exchange of best practices

  • Proposing a Multiplayer mode

  • Working on interculturalism

  • Including ‘singular students’ in classrooms

  • Exchanging best practices among teachers

  • Playing with pedagogical strategies or settings created by other teachers

  • Training for teachers who live in remote locations or are unable to travel to placements for work or health-related reasons

  • Training teachers around the world

  • Assessing the performance of teachers in training

Authors:
Carles Fernandez has a Degree in Pedagogy by the UAB (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona) and a Master in Multimedia Design by the UPC (Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya). Since 2001, he has been working at the UOC (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya) developing several roles in the e-learning field, namely that of researcher, project manager, instructional designer, online teacher, e-learning consultant, project coordinator in several European projects and other International projects, etc.   He has a large number of publications in several journals, conference contributions and chapters in various books. Currently, he is participating in European projects (Alice, SimAula, UptoUs, etc.) and other UOC funded projects. He is a member of the UOC Research group in Affective Learning (e-learning and emotions).

Associate  Professor Roumiana Peytcheva-Forsyth is a lecturer at the Faculty of Education, Sofia University in Educational technology and online pedagogy. She is a Head of Elearning center of Sofia University since 2009 year. She is involved in several international and national projects in the field of Elearning and ICT in education. (phone: 359 896 72 50 60; e-mail:R.Peytcheva@fp.uni-sofia.bg).