In the past, she says, she would go into the classroom, watch the instructor teach, and then “look for a time when we could go over the lesson.” But “sometimes that didn’t happen until the following week,” Shirey says.
The delayed feedback was far from ideal. “It’s much more effective when you can say in the moment, ‘Here are some things you can do better,’” she says.
Now, Shirey uses a tablet mounted on a motorized Swivl base that automatically tracks a teacher moving around the classroom. From a computer in her office, or through any device with an internet connection, Shirey can observe a teacher over a live Zoom video feed and provide live feedback through a Bluetooth-equipped headset.
“The teachers love it,” she says. “The students barely notice what we’re doing because I’m not disrupting the class with my presence, and the coaching is just a lot more relevant because they can take my suggestions and try them out right away.”
Looking ahead, Shirey says, she can imagine using the same setup to allow teachers in one Pinecrest school to observe and learn from their colleagues on other campuses in the charter school network.
“The beauty of this is the versatility. If someone is doing something really well, we could connect anyone who might benefit from watching without having to travel or bring in a substitute.”
READ MORE: Find out ways to build a team of tech-savvy educators.
Prepping for the Classroom with Virtual Students
While Pinecrest and JCSD are on the leading edge in their use of technology for professional development, another institution — the University of Mississippi — can say the same about its work training the teachers of the future.
At Ole Miss, prospective teachers use a virtual reality training platform to practice working with students before they step into a classroom, says David Rock, dean of the university’s school of education. On the platform, prospective teachers interact with five student avatars powered by artificial intelligence and manipulated by human actors. The teacher in training, who sits before a screen, interacts with the digital children in real time as the actors control their movements and speech. The program can be run with professional actors, or universities can use their own actors and refine the experience as they see fit.
“A lot of our students are skeptical before they try it, but once they get started, they forget where they are and it’s just like they’re teaching an elementary school class,” Rock says.
Every semester, Rock adds, one or two students go through the VR experience and decide that teaching isn’t for them. For most, however, their time with the technology shows them where they need to improve and proves they’ve picked the right profession.
“It’s not easy, but neither is real teaching,” he says. “This gives our students a chance to see what teaching is really like, and I think they appreciate that.”