$25,000 gift funds classroom simulation training for School of Education students

Gift from Bert Berkley will bring TeachLivE to UMKC in spring semester


December 16, 2014

Beginning in the spring semester, students at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Education will have the opportunity to practice teaching in a virtual environment before they enter a classroom.

The UMKC Foundation has announced a $25,000 gift from Bert Berkley to fund a pilot of TLE TeachLivE Lab, a classroom simulation program, based at the University of Central Florida.

TeachLivE lets students practice teaching in front of a video screen populated with virtual students, or avatars, whose movements and speech are controlled by “interactors.” Interactors are professional actors who have knowledge of each of the avatar’s characteristics and learning needs and can respond based on the specified lesson objectives and real-time interactions.

The result is a more realistic practice opportunity for teacher candidates, said Patty Alvarez McHatton, Ph.D., associate dean for teacher education at the School of Education.

“It is a tool that’s used to help support pre-service teachers and in-service teachers in developing a variety of skills that are necessary to be successful in the classroom in a safe environment before they interact with students in pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade settings,” she said.

Alvarez McHatton will use TeachLivE to give students in her upcoming undergraduate course — Education of the Exceptional Child and Youth — a chance to teach virtual students while peers observe.

“It’s a double-loop learning,” she explained. “The person interacting with the (virtual) kids is learning, but so are the students watching the interaction. If things aren’t going the way you’d hoped, you have the opportunity to stop the simulation and seek input and feedback from your peers, and re-enter the simulation armed with new strategies.”

Berkley is a philanthropist, successful businessman and civic leader who, with his late wife, Joan, has a long history of supporting UMKC and the School of Education. He said he is excited to support this program, which has the potential to give new teachers, as well as other School of Education students, essential skills.

“The reason this program has such appeal is because experiential learning is so important,” Berkley said. “The ability to practice what one will do, and have confidence that it will be done well, is the difference between excellence and mediocrity. We must not settle for mediocrity, and the UMKC School of Education does not. They strive to be the best and to continually improve.”

TeachLivE equipment is scheduled to arrive at UMKC before the end of the year so faculty can learn to use it and practice it before the new semester. Alvarez McHatton said the equipment will be on a cart, which can easily be moved from classroom to classroom. This way many courses could potentially include a TeachLivE component.