WW Academy: Simulating the Classroom with Mursion

Middle school classroom avatars from Mursion (photo courtesy Mursion).

More and more of us these days interact with AI, virtual reality, or some kind of digital simulation for even basic tasks—smartphones, responsive voicemail systems, VR games or stories from our favorite media outlets.

But how could one ever use such technologies to practice teaching?

“Could you imagine trying to teach Siri complex content?” asks Carrie Straub, Executive Director of Educational Programs and Research at Mursion. “Siri doesn’t have emotions and she’s not tired because she hasn’t eaten lunch yet—you’re not dealing with the whole interpersonal side of teaching.”

The Woodrow Wilson Academy of Teaching and Learning has partnered with Mursion, a virtual reality simulation platform, to develop a set of competency-based simulations to prepare teachers.

While other teacher preparation programs are exploring the use of simulation, the WW Academy is taking it a step further by developing specific simulations that reflect the Academy’s competency-based curriculum—the set of skills and information that a teacher candidate must master before entering the classroom.

By building these tailored simulations, says Dr. Straub, the WW Academy is giving prospective teachers a space to learn: “Here’s a skill we want you to demonstrate mastery in, and here’s a simulation where you can do that in a safe environment, and you can do it multiple times until you’ve developed mastery in that skill.”

Mursion’s virtual reality blends AI with human intelligence by placing human actors, called simulation specialists, behind each student avatar in a simulated classroom. The specialists drive the avatars’ responses to the teacher candidate.

More than making the simulations more lifelike, the human-driven avatars also make it easy to customize content. “It’s very agile,” says Dr. Straub. “The WW Academy can say, ‘These are the skills the school systems are saying they want, so we can design scenarios that are custom to what the school system’s current needs are.’”

Because Mursion’s technology is no substitute for classroom practice—at least, not yet—the WW Academy will continue to blend simulation with real-world clinical experience. This ensures prospective teachers can practice a range of classroom competencies, whether they happen during their clinical placement or not. These could be expected situations, like a student needing extra attention, or unexpected ones, like conferencing with an angry parent—the kind of exchange that a teacher candidate rarely has in the classroom, even though teachers must be prepared for it. WW Academy simulations, with Mursion’s help, can create those challenges and test candidates’ readiness for the classroom in new ways.


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