simSchool began over 10 years ago as a research question among educational scientists at the University of North Texas and the University of Vermont. Their question, “can you learn to teach, or teach more effectively, with a simulation,” served as the impetus for a decade of research and development of one of the most scientifically sophisticated artificially intelligent simulations ever developed. Now used in hundreds of educational programs and schools in over a hundred countries around the world, simSchool has become the most broadly used and continuously evaluated simulation-based tool for teacher training and improvement in the world.
What makes simSchool unique is the underlying science. Drawing upon familiar and well-published models of learning, cognition and emotion (including the OCEAN Model of Psychology, Cattel Horn Carroll, structural functional and constructivist learning theory and more), simSchool provides a safe environment where teachers can explore familiar concepts in a new and innovative way: creating and teaching virtual, artificially intelligent students that behave as real students would. The students are virtual, but the learning is very real.
In simSchool, educators can create and practice teach any type of learning profile they might encounter in the classroom – simSchool can create 10 trillion different student profiles on demand. Gender, class size, ethnicity, and learning needs are all customizable. Educators can also create over 10 trillion instructional tasks to embed in sim classrooms and evaluate first hand how different types of students perform. Task design, sequencing, pacing, and conversational interventions are all within the control of the teacher-player. There are no scripts. There are no barriers to the types of classroom situations and learner needs that teachers can experience. There are no restrictions on how often teachers can teach a sim class, refine strategies, and evaluate results. There is rich real-time reporting and analysis of effectiveness throughout every minute of simulated teaching.
So, really, the sky is the limit on what can be explored in simSchool.
simSchool is incorporated into institutions across a wide array of uses in teaching and learning, as well as to meet local institutional goals, legal, and compliance requirements.
Because simSchool is a fully-scalable, data-rich, persistent, and flexible simulation and content authoring platform, there is no practical limit to the ways in which it can be used. Each day we learn of new and innovative ways partner institutions are finding value and meaning in simSchool experiences, including:
Outcomes of using simSchool in pre-service teacher education include increased confidence in teaching, increased technology self efficacy, increased retention in education courses, increased knowledge of instructional strategies, increased knowledge of classroom management techniques, improved understanding of student learning needs and differentiation of instruction, and increased understanding of learning theory. For a sample of the published research on simSchool, refer to last page of this Higher Education overview.
Content authoring tools enable users to create any type of virtual student, task, and classroom to explore.
The simSchool Library allows community members and subject matter experts to share content they’ve created for others to use. Thousands of pieces of content are freely available to students and instructors.
Forums and profile-building features encourage students to connect and reflect with experts and peers in the field.
The sim engine allows any user to play any simulated classroom as many times as they like and to benefit from highly granular reporting after each session.
Course management allows instructors to align content to course goals and to track student progress while still giving every user autonomy & opportunity to shape a self-paced experience and pursue personal teaching and learning interests.
Modern educational research is always central. simSchool regularly posts newly published research studies and new sim content to help students keep current and practice concepts.
Mozilla Open Badges and Micro-certifications to help reward students for their learning & accomplishments
Photo Courtesy Photographer / Clinton Global Initiative
Today's schools face enormous challenges. In response to an increasingly complex society and a rapidly changing, technology-based economy, schools are being asked to educate the most diverse student body in our history to higher academic standards than ever before. This task is one that cannot be "teacher-proofed" through management systems, testing mandates, or curriculum packages. At its root, achieving high levels of student understanding requires immensely skillful teaching — and schools that are organized to support teachers' continuous learning.
– Linda Darling-Hammond