Virtual Simulations to Support Practice-Based Opportunities

Mursion Virtual Classroom

In March, when news of the coronavirus began to spread, one of our first tasks was to decide what to do with the hundreds of candidates who were in schools completing clinical experiences. This was new territory for everyone and no procedures for this type of situation had ever been developed. The decision was made to continue full-time internships, but all other field-based work was halted to allow P-12 teachers to focus on their own instruction and students. Through the strong partnerships we have with our school districts, we were able to navigate the situation and successfully graduate over 400 interns Spring 2020.

As we plan for the fall semester, while we now have some experience and advanced knowledge of the situation, the P-12 landscape will be even more varied—both within and across school districts. It has quickly become apparent that we will need to supplement our field-based work in other ways. We are assembling a range of options, including organizing a video repository, creating data-rich case studies from previous assignments, and building a tutoring network to offer virtual tutoring services to children in our local communities while simultaneously allowing candidates the opportunity to plan, implement, and evaluate their instruction. Another important option we will be utilizing to provide practice opportunities to candidates is SIMTeach@TU, our Mursion simulation system.

Towson University started using Mursion in Fall 2017 and was one of the first institutions to purchase a site license, allowing us the flexibility to engage faculty in developing custom scenarios focused on strengthening our practice-based curriculum. We hired our own simulation specialist who works on campus, which allows us significant control over the content and structure of our interactions. Faculty work closely with the simulation specialist to develop and plan each scenario, aligning it with their specific curriculum and candidates’ needs. Research has shown that candidates benefit from practice in a simulated environment in which complexity and variation of key challenges are carefully designed to provide them with multiple opportunities for feedback and practice (Dieker, Rodriguez, Lignugaris, Hynes, & Hughes, 2013). Following this model, faculty at TU have implemented SIMTeach@TU in a whole class setting, using a “fishbowl” approach, allowing peers to offer feedback as they watch others teach the virtual class. The plan for fall is to offer these same types of interactions, but in an online format. The simulation specialist will offer sessions through Zoom, still allowing for a full class to observe and participate in the simulation as well as to give feedback.

In an effort to address the limited availability of school-based opportunities this fall, faculty are investing significant time this summer developing additional scenarios to support candidate practice across more courses. For example, literacy faculty are working collaboratively to develop three scenarios that can be used in place of a 30-hour field experience that is part of the course. The scenarios will focus on phonics instruction, modeling, and building relationships with students. Faculty in the math department are developing scenarios focused on modeling and eliciting and interpreting student thinking to replace the field experience that is part of the methods coursework. Our simulation specialist is also creating a few “generic” classroom scenarios that can be customized by faculty throughout the semester. This will be a shift in our practice at TU as we have always prioritized the faculty member’s lead role in developing the content, but given the current situation, need to offer additional support to both faculty and candidates in order to create these new practice opportunities. We are also developing scenarios concentrating specifically on classroom management. Traditionally, we have not used the system to practice classroom management, but rather the opposite—we used the simulation as an opportunity for interns to practice without any behavioral distractions so they could spend their energy focused on rehearsing the instructional practice. The addition of classroom management scenarios was a direct request from our candidates and district partners and was based on the concern that these candidates may not see a “traditional” classroom for the remainder of their preparation programs and that SIMTeach@TU is the closest they may get to that experience.

None of us in teacher preparation fully knows what this upcoming year will hold for our candidates, but we know and understand the value of practice-based preparation (Ball & Cohen, 1999). With this priority in mind, Towson University plans to broaden its use of SIMTeach@TU, leveraging the power of virtual simulation to continue to offer practice-based opportunities to candidates.   

Laurie Mullen, an AACTE Board member, is dean of the College of Education at Towson University and Laila J. Richman is associate dean and professor.


Ball, D. L., & Cohen, D. (1999). Developing practice, developing practitioners: Toward a practice-based theory of professional education. In G. Sykes and L. Darling-Hammond (Eds.), Teaching as the Learning Profession: Handbook of Policy and Practice (p. 3-32). San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Dieker, L. A., Rodriguez, J. A., Lignugaris, B., Hynes, M. C., & Hughes, C. E. (2013). The potential of simulated environments in teacher education: Current and future possibilities. Teacher Education and Special Education: The Journal of the Teacher Education Division of the Council for Exceptional Children, 0888406413512683

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