Engaging Learners in Collaborative Communities of Inquiry through the use of Mixed-Reality Immersive Spaces

Concurrent Session 2

Brief Abstract

Discover how one university uses student avatars in a virtual reality immersive space to engage online graduate students in developing inquiry skills such as observations and individual/focus group interviews in a collaborative environment.  Participants will view recorded sessions using Mursion virtual reality environment and Zoom video conferencing. 

Sponsored By


Dr. Holly S. Atkins is an Associate Professor of Education, and the Chair of the Undergraduate Education Department at Saint Leo University. She joined the Saint Leo University faculty in 2011; prior to coming to Saint Leo, Dr. Atkins was a middle grades language arts teacher for the Pinellas County School District. Dr. Atkins teaches the education technology course and the methods course for English Education majors, as well as courses in middle/secondary school curriculum and philosophy and teaching the adolescent learner for the undergraduate teacher preparation program, and the teacher inquiry course for graduate education. Dr. Atkins is the principal investigator for the digital backpacks grant, the co-principal investigator for the Robert Noyce STEM grant, and is the director of Saint Leo University’s Teacher Technology Summer Institute. Her research interests include adolescent literacy, technology pedagogy, and adolescent identity development. Dr. Atkins has presented at the state, national, and international levels and is a contributing author to the text, The Apple Shouldn’t Fall Far from Common Core.

Extended Abstract

The image of the solitary researcher, collecting and analyzing data in an isolated laboratory is certainly at odds with the principles of teacher inquiry in which classroom educators pose questions on their own practice, and engage in the research process with and for their students (Cochran-Smith, M., & Lytle, S.L., 2009).  The characteristics of teacher inquiry as practitioner-based and situated within authentic classroom environments with PK-12 students are essential for educators pursuing advanced degrees to understand and be able to apply as they grow as classroom and school-based leaders.  At our university, all of the graduate education programs are fully online, and run throughout the school year.  The challenges of providing authenticity and modeling application, always present in online learning environments, are heightened during the summer when graduate students will have limited access to classrooms and students.  Our solution?  Engage students in the collaborative use of an online, virtual reality simulation featuring PK-12 avatars. 


Avatars offer much more than a simple replacement of actual, “real” students.  Avatars and simulation tools offer instructors the ability to engage participants in rehearsal of skills in safe, low-risk environments in which feedback is given, received, and applied immediately.  The result is improved knowledge and performance of those skills (Barmaki, R., & Hughes, C.E. 2015; Behrens, C. & Franceschi, J., 2015; Dieker, L.A., Hughes, C.E., Hynes, M.C., & Straub, C., 2017).  Our courses are designed with a foundational belief of the power of collaboration and forming interactive communities of practice.  Participation in these synchronous sessions has the additional benefit of enabling our graduate students who are classroom teachers to actively experience collaborative teacher inquiry, and to hone their leadership skills through providing feedback to their peers.


Typically, an interview occurs between one researcher and his subject, limiting the amount of collaboration that can occur. This process is structured so that all students are able to observe the same interview while individually collecting qualitative data and identifying themes. Students to then compare and contrast their data with the data collected by others, illustrating the variations that can occur during qualitative data collection.


Through the use of the video conferencing tool, Zoom, graduate students enrolled in two teacher inquiry courses (one for those pursuing a Masters in Reading, the other for those pursuing a Masters in Instructional Leadership) actively participated in data collection focusing on observations and the use of researcher reflective notebooks.  Participants in this interactive session will be introduced to the “what” and “how” of Mursion’s virtual reality environment and understand the “why” through viewing samples of actual sessions. Participants will discover ways that they can use technology to extend student collaboration and understanding in research data collection that would have normally occurred between an individual researcher and his subject.


While our work as teacher-educators has focused on using the Mursion simulation tools in reflecting education settings, faculty in other departments/disciplines have utilized the other environments available.  Faculty in the criminal justice program, for example, have created scenarios in which an adult avatar in an office setting becomes a potential juror.  Criminal justice students, then, have the opportunity to apply interviewing skills – again, with modeling, support, and coaching in real time from the professor and peers.  Faculty in marketing have also used this simulation tool to support students in applying sales skills.  The adult, small group office simulation environment Mursion offers provide faculty in the social work department with the opportunity to engage their students in applying small group counseling skills.  Participants will be briefly introduced to those expanded options and provided resources. 


Far from a “sit and get” presentation, this session will be introduced as one in which participants are encouraged to ask questions at the point of need, rather than in a separate question session at the end.  We will encourage participants to continue the conversation by engaging with us on Twitter, with the hashtag used at the conference so that a wide range of conference attendees can participate.


Conference attendees who have a need for a tool that will support engaging students (PK-12 or adult) in real-time, collaborative, supportive development of a range of interpersonal skills will benefit from this presentation.




Barmaki, R., & Hughes, C.E. (2015). Providing real-time feedback for student teachers in a virtual rehearsal environment. Proceedings of 17th International Conference on Multimodal Interaction (ICMI ’15), 531-537.


Behrens, C. & Franceschi, J. (2015, June). Year Two: TeachLive for Instructional Coaches. In Bousfield, T., Hynes, M., Hughes, C., Straub, C., Dieker, L. & Ingrahm, K. (Eds.), Proceedings of 3rd National TLE TeachLive Conference 2015: Dissecting Education, Orlando, FL: University of Central Florida, 7-10.


Buckridge, H. (2016). Mixed Reality Experienced in the M.Ed. Educational Leadership Program: Student Perceptions of Practice and Coaching through TeachLive. In Bousfield, T., Dieker, L., Hughes, C., & Hynes, M.C. (Eds.), Proceedings of 4th National TLE TeachLive Conference 2016: Virtual Human Interactive Performance, Orlando, FL; University of Central Florida, 5-7.


Cochran-Smith, M., & Lytle, S.L. (2009). Inquiry as stance: Practitioner research for the next generation. New York: NY: Teachers College Press.


Dieker, L.A., Hughes, C.E., Hynes, M.C., & Straub, C. (2017). Using simulated virtual environments to improve teacher performance. School University Partnerships (Journal of the National Association for Professional Development Schools): Special Issue: Technology to Enhance PDS, 10 (3), 62-81.


Dieker, L.A., Lignugaris-Kraft, B., Hynes, M., & Hughes, C.E. (2016). Mixed reality environments in teacher education: Development and future applications. Online in Real Time: Using WEB 2.0 for Distance Education in Rural Special Education, EDS. B. Collins & B. Ludlow, American Council for Rural Special Educators, Chapter 12, 122-131.


Storey, V.A., & Cox, T. (2015). Utilizing TeachLive (TLE) to build educational leadership capacity: The development and application of virtual simulations. Journal of Education and Human Development. (4)2, 41-49.