Teaching avatars: BGSU is the only university in Ohio using Mursion, a cutting-edge technology that lets students practice teaching in a low-risk setting
Estimated Reading Time:
The live virtual simulation helps BGSU education majors prepare for human students in the classroom
By Laren Kowalczyk ‘07
Future educator Grant Gilkey was standing in front of a classroom about to begin a lesson when a student got up from his desk and walked away.
At another point, a student fell asleep.
Gilkey carefully navigated through both situations, using techniques learned in the nationally-ranked teacher education program at Bowling Green State University to guide the students back to focus.
Despite feeling incredibly lifelike to Gilkey, those experiences were part of a live virtual simulation called Mursion that lets students practice their teaching skills in a simulated classroom environment.
“We’re going to have to deal with all kinds of situations in the classroom, and it’s really helpful to have a safe environment to practice and get more comfortable in those scenarios,” said Gilkey, a BGSU senior majoring in middle childhood education.
BGSU is the only university in Ohio using Mursion, a mixed reality platform that blends artificial intelligence with live human interaction to provide students with authentic application of course content.
As one of Ohio’s largest producers of teacher education graduates, BGSU has long been regarded for the caliber of its education graduates — a reputation that has been bolstered with the addition of Mursion. BGSU teacher graduates also log more than 1,000 hours of field classroom experience before graduation, far exceeding the state's minimum requirement of 100 hours.
“If you ask administrators and teachers around the region and throughout the state of Ohio, they’ll tell you BGSU teachers are among the most highly prepared,” said Dr. Art Lewandowski, assistant teaching professor in the School of Inclusive Teacher Education and coordinator of the adolescence to young adult social studies education program.
Practice makes perfect
The College of Education and Human Development began using Mursion in Fall 2019, and it has grown in popularity every year since.
Nearly 200 simulations were run during the 2022-23 academic year, and that number is expected to increase this academic year, said Beth Ash, project manager for Project IMPACT, the initial funding mechanism for Mursion.
There are more than a dozen education-focused virtual simulations, which allow students to practice classroom management, student engagement and small group work techniques, among many other skills.
“Students are still nervous when they do the simulations, but it’s not the same level of nervousness of being in a classroom,” Ash said. “That’s why it’s so beneficial for them. They can work through various scenarios and get more comfortable in their future roles as teachers.”
Providing students with the ability to apply what they’ve learned in a low-risk environment like a simulation significantly enhances their confidence and competence, said Dr. Tracy Huziak-Clark ’94 ’96, interim director of the School of Inclusive Teacher Education and director of Project IMPACT.
“It’s difficult to be good at classroom management without practice,” she said. “Practicing with the avatars allows the students to make mistakes and learn from them before they’re in a real classroom.”
In addition to the classroom experiences, students can use Mursion to participate in a parent-teacher conference, meet with a classroom mentor teacher or interview with a school district administrator.
How it works
A BGSU virtual simulation specialist uses a video game controller and joystick to control the avatars’ movements and interactions while speaking for the avatar, with their voices disguised to sound like elementary, middle or high school students.
Each avatar - or student - has its own personality and academic profile. Although scripts are provided for each simulation, Jarod Mariani, one of the University’s simulation specialists, said improvisation is a significant part of the encounter.
“We want these interactions to mimic real life as much as possible,” Mariani said. “As a simulation specialist, I memorize the scripts and character profiles, but I also improvise when needed.”
Mariani can see the BGSU student during the simulation, which adds another level of authenticity to the interactions. He said he often comments on the student’s clothing or hairstyle, just as a student in a real classroom might.
Additionally, Mariani said he’ll have an avatar use their cell phone or one may fall asleep, allowing the BGSU student to practice various skills throughout the simulation. Mariani can adjust the avatars' behavior to range from low pushback to high.
“We try to vary the avatars’ behavior based on the goal of that simulation,” Mariani said.
Instructors and fellow students are in the room observing when a student is doing a simulation. Huziak-Clark said the ability to pause a simulation to provide students with feedback is incredibly impactful.
They can try a different approach and immediately see the results of that technique.
“The on-the-spot feedback is so powerful,” Huziak-Clark said. “I’ve witnessed a student struggling with a particular skill, so we stopped the simulation and provided feedback. Their ability to then go back and try it in the moment gives them the confidence they didn’t have coming into that practice.”
Similarly, Lewandowski has observed many students build on what they learned during a challenging simulation to improve their skills.
In one case, a student struggled in a small group simulation when one of the avatars, Ethan, kept interrupting the class to talk about his love of Star Wars.
Lewandowski said the student incorporated Star Wars into the lesson during the next simulation, which helped keep Ethan and the other avatars engaged.
“He knew the student’s background and interests and was able to use that to turn his focus to learning versus disrupting the class,” Lewandowski said. “Situations like those really underscore the value of Mursion in providing BGSU students with the experience to understand how to navigate various scenarios they’re going to encounter in the classroom.”
Expecting the unexpected
BGSU senior education major Bob Haney said he values that Mursion provides exposure to a broad range of scenarios.
He has participated in two parent-teacher conferences and observed in another, each presenting various challenges he could face as a teacher.
In one simulation, a new student had recently moved in with his grandfather, and in another, an overwhelmed mom was struggling to deal with her daughter’s behavior.
“It’s a very valuable experience because you can never walk into a parent-teacher conference fully knowing what’s happening in the child’s life at home or issues that may come up,” Haney said. “Mursion prepares us to expect the unexpected.”
Expanding the use of Mursion
Although the University initially began using Mursion to help prepare future teachers, its capabilities extend far beyond that.
Ash said the University’s Life Design program, exercise science and Doctor of Physical Therapy programs have used Mursion, and there are plans to make it available to the entire BGSU learning community.
There are simulations beneficial for those in healthcare, hospitality, business and many other industries. Environments range from a medical exam room to a living room to a board room.
“It’s such a robust platform that can benefit students in many majors, so our goal moving forward is to open up simulations for departments and colleges across the University,” Ash said.
Updated: 11/29/2023 03:39PM