Simulations in Teacher Education: Analyzing the Potential of a New Tool for Teacher Development and Assessment
Julie Cohen

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



University of Virginia

Primary Discipline

Teacher Education/Teaching and Learning
The proposed research will examine the degree to which virtual reality simulations (VRS) provide a useful platform for developing and assessing prospective teachers. Simulations have intuitive appeal—they give prospective teachers practice with student avatars before practicing with real students, and they can be used to ensure licensing decisions are based on prospective teachers’ actual skills interacting in simulated classrooms. As such, they are being incorporated in nearly a hundred teacher preparation programs and utilized as a tool for consequential licensure exams. However, the utility of VRS for improving teaching depends on how well experiences in the virtual environment generalize to actual classrooms. Similarly, effectively using simulator performance as a screening mechanism for entry into the profession requires a meaningful relationship between the practices demonstrated in VRS and those used in classrooms.Despite the rapid roll-out of VRS into teacher preparation programs, little research has examined how VRS support prospective teachers’ development and/or relate to practice in real classrooms with real students. Avoiding the trap of technology for technology’s sake necessitates systematic empirical research into how these technologies are being used, and the degree to which and ways in which the technology supports the purported goals. This mixed-methods study will trace the development of teaching practices in VRS over the course of a two-year teacher preparation program, and analyze the relationship between the skills candidates exhibit in VRS and those they display in real classrooms.
About Julie Cohen
Julie Cohen is an assistant professor of Curriculum, Instruction, and Special Education at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education. Her research focuses on the conceptualization and measurement of teaching quality, the ways in which accountability and teacher evaluation systems shape teaching practice, and the development of effective instructional practices in pre-service teacher education and professional development. Her work has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and the Overdeck and Schusterman Family Foundations. Current research includes a cross-institutional study of teacher preparation in three states, as well as a multi-year study of the implementation and effects of Washington DC’s content-focused professional learning curriculum, Learning Together to Advance our Practice (LEAP). Recent publications have been featured in Educational Researcher, Teaching and Teacher Education, Teachers College Record, Child Development, and the Journal of Teacher Education. A former elementary school teacher, she received her doctorate in Curriculum and Teacher Education at Stanford University and was a post-doctoral fellow in the Center to Support Excellence in Teaching at Stanford.

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