Games and Simulations in Teacher Education

Concurrent Session 1
Streamed Session

Watch This Session

Brief Abstract

Computer simulations hold great utility in the area of teacher education; however, very few teacher education programs utilize them, despite excellent training outcomes and low cost. This session will provide attendees with a comprehensive and engaging overview of innovative games and simulations in the area of teacher training.


Dr. Elizabeth Bradley is an associate professor in the School for Graduate Studies at SUNY Empire State College. She received her Ph.D. in school psychology from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and she is a licensed psychologist and nationally certified as a school psychologist. Prior to teaching at Empire State College, Dr. Bradley worked as a school psychologist and conducted research in the areas of substance use interventions, child neuropsychology, and school-based interventions for at risk youth. Dr. Bradley's recent research focus has been on the use of online simulations in pre-service teacher training. More specifically, Dr. Bradley has investigated the use of simulations for teacher training in the areas of classroom management, identifying at-risk students, plagiarism prevention, and bullying prevention.

Extended Abstract

Teacher education has been criticized for a number of gaps in learning. Darling-Hammond (1999) and Ramsey (2000) agree that classroom training experiences are inadequate for pre-service teachers as they usually focus on lesson planning more than student behavior and functioning. Groundwater-Smith (1996), Cambourne (2003), and colleagues have shown that the best way to train pre-service teachers is for them to have unlimited time in the classroom and to be involved in the complex decisions that teachers make every day. However, this is difficult to achieve due to budget and time constraints. Simulation training provides a natural solution to this issue (Wood, Turner, Civil, & Eli, 2016). Computer simulations can provide guided practice for a variety of situations that pre-service teachers would not frequently experience during their teacher education studies (Mason, Jeon, Blair, & Glomb, 2011; Mason, 2011). Training pre-service teachers in a classroom requires patience from the students as a less than competent teacher in training makes mistakes. Classroom simulations can help pre-service teachers develop the skills that it takes to properly run a classroom without the high-stakes risk of causing harm to actual students (Matsuda, 2005).

Pre-service teachers use simulations to turn the knowledge they have gained in their coursework into real experience (Office of Postsecondary Education, 2005; Peterson-Ahmad, 2018). Simulations can allow pre-service teachers to see their students from a different perspective and thus gain insight into the best ways to manage their future classroom. Simulations also help pre-service teachers understand how they must feel their way, both cognitively and emotionally, through their decisions each day, and they can provide insight into the direct consequences of the teacher’s actions in the classroom (Brookfield, 1995). Correction and feedback are built into most simulations, allowing learning without real consequence (Ferry et al., 2004; Judge, Bobzien, Maydosz, Gear, & Katsioloudis, 2013).

In active learning, students work together in cooperative groups to engage in experiential, analytical, critical thinking, and problem solving tasks as opposed to simply reading, taking notes, or listening to course lectures (Zapalska, Brozik, & Rudd, 2012). Simulations provide the opportunity for active and higher order learning through role-playing with students, as users are presented with realistic scenarios, engage in conversations with students, encounter a variety of student responses depending on their actions, and receive feedback for remediation. Computer simulations can help pre-service and new teachers experience active and deeper learning through role-playing without the high-stakes risk of working with real students and potentially causing (or experiencing) harm (Matsuda, 2005).

Across various disciplines, simulations have been used to remove the risks of real life learning experiences, while allowing the user to gain needed perspective. Computer simulations have been used in many complicated or high-risk situations (Ward et al., 2006) such as medical surgery (Haluck et al., 2001), civil law (Rivera & Goldscheid, 2009), and aviation (Allerton, 2000).  The business world is one of the most widely developed areas of simulation training. Computer simulation training tools are used in many strategic management courses to help students develop skills in strategy formation, implementation, and team management (Ritchie, Fornaciari, Drew, & Marlin, 2013). Research on the use of computer simulations for management training suggests that simulations are a more favorable choice than the use of case studies, a popular alternative in management training programs, in skill development (Wolfe, 1997; Pasin & Giroux, 2011). Some businesses are using Second Life as alternate offices by which employees can meet and share materials. Companies may use the virtual meeting place to display ads, posters, and other designs live in 3D to clients all around the world and can save thousands of dollars through piloting campaigns in the virtual world, rather than creating expensive, lifelike models (Hof, 2006). Likewise, virtual reality has a number of applications for pedagogy and teacher training (Tondeur, Pareja-Roblin, van Braak, Voogt, & Prestridge, 2017).

Current research on simulations has revealed multiple important factors in determining whether the simulation will be useful. The extent to which the simulation bears resemblance to real life, as well as the method in which it is used in coursework, has a meaningful impact on how effective it is (Ward et al., 2006). Research on the Curry Teacher Simulation has revealed that the more life-like the program is, the more likely it is to translate into practical use (Office of Postsecondary Education, 2005). Kraiger and Jung (1997) determined that the salience of a simulation is not determined by how well the users liked the simulation, but by how much they learned from the simulation and applied it to their jobs. Kirkpatrick (1959, 1996) proposed that trainings need to be evaluated based on reaction, learning, behavior, and results. In addition, design features are a crucial part of the simulation process. Merely participating in a simulation is not enough for meaningful learning to take place. The instructional design features that hold the most weight are performance assessment, task analysis, scenario design, instructional feedback, and participant reflection (Salas et al., 1998).

Teacher simulation training has come a long way over the past few decades. Allen and Ryan developed “microteaching” in the 60’s as a way to help pre-service teachers develop their skills. In the 80’s, Yoshizaki proposed the “Stop Video Method,” a technique in which the instructor plays a video of a classroom situation and pauses the video to allow the pre-service teacher the opportunity to respond to the situation in the manner that they see fit. These methods were instrumental in encouraging the next step towards computer simulations, but did not provide the real life feedback that a student would give to the situation (Matsuda, 2005). They were used more as a method of testing and researching teacher behaviors than as a means to educate the teacher. In addition, more recent computer simulations do not require the use of a facilitator because the simulation does the explaining and guiding on its own.

Currently, a number of simulations are available to teacher educators, and they fall into the categories of virtual puppetry simulations, Multi-User Virtual Environments (MUVEs), and single user simulations. Virtual puppetry simulations are synchronous, as the pre-service teacher interacts with actors who comprise the class of students in the virtual environment. Multi-User Virtual Environments allow multiple students to interact synchronously in virtual environments. In single user simulations, the simulation has pre-programmed responses to complex threads of interactions between the pre-service teacher and the simulated student. This session will include simulations from each of the above categories. Some of the information discussed will be related to the simulation origins, including theoretical underpinnings, goals, characteristics, relevant research/program evaluation results, discussion of benefits and limitations as well as dissemination, recommended use, and scope of practice, etc. of the game or simulation. 

The field of computer simulations is ever changing. Thus, it is impossible to include a fully complete and exhaustive record of all simulations related to teacher training. However, this session will include a large and representative sample of simulation offerings at present time, in the hopes that session attendees will find several that match their educational interests and needs. This session will provide an overview of more than ten simulations that cover a myriad of topics ranging from bullying prevention of LGBTQ youth, to using simulations to help special educators learn about the experiences of students with disabilities, to effective classroom management training, to trauma informed school-based practices and more. Session attendees with see a number of simulation visuals and learn about the goals, experiences, and outcomes of each game or simulation, coming away with an increased understanding of the potential utility of simulations in PK-12 teacher training.