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DSU Wins South Dakota Fund Grant for Virtual Teaching Simulation

South Dakota Community Foundation

Dakota State University is receiving a $3,500 South Dakota Fund grant to support a mixed-reality teaching simulation for its education students. The Virtual Avatar Learning Experience—or VALE—gives DSU students a chance to experience classroom management before dealing with real live kids. 

The VALE at DSU is the only program of its kind in the state. During a VALE simulation, education majors stand in front of a flat screen TV that displays a classroom with five avatars representing middle-school aged students.

Dan Klumper is instructor of social sciences in Dakota State’s college of education and helped bring VALE to South Dakota. He says students present lesson plans and interact with the avatars through a web cam.

“It’s mixed reality which is, it’s virtual reality but there’s a human component. Which makes it extremely realistic when the students are talking to the avatar students,” Klumper says.

He says the simulation helps students learn to think on their feet when dealing with behavioral issues. Each avatar has a name and some pre-determined personality traits to mimic common experiences students encounter when they teach in a real classroom.

“They’ll come back and say, ‘Oh, I had a student just like Sean!’ Which is one of the avatar kids who talks a lot and is really enthusiastic,” he says.

Klumper says practicing with the VALE gives students a chance to reflect on how they can improve on their classroom management. He also says preliminary data from student surveys shows the program helps increase their confidence. 

“That’s kind of what I’m excited about because being a confident teacher is such a huge thing, versus somebody who’s really tentative and unsure of themselves," he says. "And so I think the VALE really helps them build up their confidence and belief that they can do it when they get out there and student teach.”

Because VALE also incorporates human control, each simulation presents an ongoing by-the-hour cost to the school. Klumper says the grant from the South Dakota Community Foundation will allow students to use the simulation three times a semester instead of two.