Pedagogical agents have become an increasingly popular tool to supporting training in skills that require sustained practice and self-paced approach. Agent technology has expanded rapidly in recent years, and has been used to help students master foreign languages and improve job interviewing skills, and help children with autism develop important social skills. Teacher education programs have not yet capitalized on this technology, despite the need for teachers to practice communicating effectively in charged situations.
An innovative aspect of our project is that will be applying this technology to help teacher candidates build confidence and skill in engaging in “difficult” conversations when a bullying incident occurs by practicing first using virtual role-play. After receiving training in effective communication and bullying intervention strategies, pre-service teachers enrolled in CI405, Classroom Management, will practice applying these skills during simulated conversations.
Our web-based application will be designed so that users are provided with an overview of the bullying scenario in which the simulated conversation is to occur, a screen containing the live dialogue between the participant and agent, and a dialogue box in which users can take notes regarding the exchange. At the end of each simulation, teacher candidates can access a transcript of each session via the conversational history dialogue box, and can self-reflect on their performance by reviewing and critically annotating each transcript.
It is important to note that few teacher education programs offer self-paced opportunities for teacher candidates to practice developing communication skills during volatile situations like bullying. Traditional classroom pedagogies, like live role-play, often fail to provide teacher candidates with adequate “think-time” to make connections between content learning and applied practice.
Virtual role-play has the benefit of slowing down normal conversations so that users have time to think deeply about how the ideally would like to respond. In most classrooms, only a select few volunteers have an opportunity to engage in role-play practice and receive substantive feedback. Thus, many teachers enter the field less confident, less prepared, and therefore less likely to intervene when bullying actually occurs. Virtual role-plays overcome these limitations, as they are inherently self-paced.
Practice can occur in a private setting, everyone can participate, and performance is documented through conversational transcripts. Transcripts allow teacher candidates to reflect on their performance and help instructors to provide specific feedback to each teacher candidate.
Virtual role-play can also easily be integrated into online and blended courses to provide teacher candidates with an opportunity to engage in simulated role play that is unavailable to them or to gain additional practice.