TeachLIVE and the Absurdity of “Progress”

I came across something so absurd, and so initially shocking, I almost thought it was a joke. Unfortunately, it isn't.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we have reached a new height in absurd uses of technology. I give you: TeachLIVE.

TeachLIVE...all except the "live"

TeachLIVE: We standardize the students for you!

The name itself is a joke because there is no teaching involved, and it is nowhere close to "live."

I wanted to write last night, but 24 hours later, I'm still so frustrated by this that I'm having trouble staying coherent. In short, University of Central Florida has decided that teachers learning to teach in real classrooms poses a threat to students. In fact, they believe learning to teach in a real classroom can be so harmful, they make sure you know this from the opening sentence:

TLE TeachLivE™ is a mixed-reality classroom with simulated students that provides teachers the opportunity to develop their pedagogical practice in a safe environment that doesn’t place real students at risk.

Somebody pinch me.

This program is selling snake oil at the expense of the profession of teaching. Again, from the about page:

In the TLE TeachLivE™ Lab, pre-service and in-service teachers walk into a room where everything looks like a middle-school classroom including props, whiteboards, and of course, children. However, unlike the brick and mortar setting, the lab is a virtual setting and the students in the classroom are avatars.

It makes me sad because this is being heralded as a new age of teaching teachers. Hell, if we can't make kids fit standardized tests, let's train teachers to respond to standardized kids, so it's easier to give the tests when you're in front of real children. Plus, kids are a real pain to deal with when you're learning to teach.

There's even a promotional video (which I had to keep pausing because the ridiculous jumps by a factor of 100). I posted it below, if you want to try and watch it:

Again, this is highlighting the sad fact that the teaching profession in America is being slowly eroded. I'm planning on writing a letter to UCF to express my utter dismay at the idea that training teachers on a simulator is an adequate substitute for authentic teacher preparation. I want to encourage you to do the same.

18 thoughts on “TeachLIVE and the Absurdity of “Progress”

  1. Not a TeachLIVE fan either says:

    I was part of a grad program required to use TeachLIVE, and it was a joke. The actress who played all five students was superb, but we would use material and comebacks already tested on REAL students that flew over her head. (Like she mentioned Lil Wayne, and then didn’t notice the teacher responded by calling him “Young Weezy”, something that would work as a shock and awe tactic in the classroom. (Real fourteen year olds’ jaws drop open when they realize you know about things that are cool, and they will reference it months later when they warn their friend why they can’t text in class, “it’s because Ms. Teacher knows stuff – she’s one of us.”)

    Speaking of which, there was no way in TeachMe to practice cooperative learning (they can’t move their desks), they couldn’t raise their hands in the first iteration, and it really sterotyped students – in the first iteration, there was the silent, gifted Puerto Rican; the white stoner-kid, the smart basketball playing Black kid, and a know-it-all with poor social skills. Maybe it’s because we had to do TeachME so many times, but it got repetitive in ignoring the know-it-all, giving long response times to the shy girl, and impressing the basketballer with your off-topic knowledge. Real kids aren’t so one-dimensional, nor can you successfully respond so one-dimensionally back to them,

    Finally, sessions are like ten minutes long, and there’s no focus – anticipatory hook, review questions, questioning strategies. In essence, you just chat with the kids for ten minutes on any topic (no worry if you’re not covering specific standards effectively or highlighting vocabulary), and as long as you make a hip-hop reference and don’t slight the quiet girl, you’re golden. Not Realistic at all!!!

    • ninajb says:

      It seems like most of the people who are in favor of this new technology are missing the fact that ALL of the virtual students are being “played” by the same person!! I don’t care how talented an actor she is – she is still only one person and one person cannot come anywhere close to simulating the possible actions and responses of a classroom full of real people with real lives. For example, the actress probably eats a good breakfast everyday. She probably does not take drugs. She probably does not live in an environment with domestic violence. She probably does not have a learning or physical disability. These are things that can have unpredictable effects on behavior. It seems frankly impossible that this form of teacher preparation is worth whatever it costs. I love technology, and I think it should play a major role in education, but this does not make sense.

      • Lynetta Powell says:

        So do we throw the baby out with the bath water, or develop the technology so that it encompasses all of your ideas here? Changes always cost more upfront, but in the end can pay off. i.e. personal computer. I don’t know about you, but I am glad they didn’t abandon that idea when the computer filled an entire room and costs thousands and thousands of dollars to run.

      • mara rose williams says:

        I’m a news reporter with the Kansas City Star (full disclosure). I’m about to write about TeachLive and have talked with professors using this teaching tool and praising it. I have yet to find those expressing points like the ones expressed here and would like to chat with some either professors or teachers who are not fans. mara rose Williams mdwilliams@kcstar.com 816-234-4419

  2. Ben says:

    There is SOOO much to discuss about this; the good, the bad, the really bad, and the horribly awful ‘Tesla pocket earthquake machine” bad. However, I can see how a lot of people with very little in the area of an ethical compass, or a complete disconnect from other human beings, might think this would be a better idea that actually working with other human beings. There’s a lot of fodder to toss into the conversation from Turkle’s Alone Together, a fascinating book that I’m glad Book Club 106 is reading.

  3. Doc says:

    Ignorance is bliss. I have no idea as the the background of Mr. Bennett. Therefore, I will be kind, unassuming, and stick to what I actually know something about, unlike his commentary on TeachLive. Preparing teachers is a profession, requiring much more knowledge and expertise in the field of teaching, than having simply taught in a classroom, or having gone to school, as most “experts” can list on their set of commentary credentials. Preparing teachers who are not cookie cutter products, and who really impact children and learning, is not an easy task, nor the typical product churned out from teacher preparation programs. As such, innovators have sought additional tools and means to develop exemplary teachers.

    First, TeachLive is not an exact replication of a classroom experience. It provides a subset of the activity and actions happening in a classroom when teaching students, without the clutter of confounding factors, so that novices can begin to develop teaching skills at a level that is optimal. Nobody learns to fly F-18s by jumping into the pilot’s seat. Most, if not all, would die, with significant casualties around them. They begin with smaller planes, and use flight simulators extensively at some point during their training. The rest of the educated world recognizes the value of simulators, and it is time the valuable aspects of simulations moved into teacher preparation.

    Second, teaching is a complex activity, with hundreds of decisions made and implemented (or not – if one lacks the skills and decision-making needed to be an exemplary teacher) during a class period, with a group of 25 – 45 students at hand. One thing TeachLive does is reduce the confounding factors, and control some of the variables, and give the current or future teacher a set of five diverse students to teach. If someone cannot effectively teach five students, then how can they ever deal with a classroom of 30? Having extensively used TeachLive, I can state without hesitation that five students is a challenge for the person using TeachLive, and it provides a valuable learning experience when attempting to improve question and responding skills, or classroom management skills.

    Third, one comment suggests 10 minutes is a waste of time. If one cannot demonstrate effective teaching strategies or interactions with students in 10 minutes, then it is time to pause, view the footage, reflect on improvements, and try it again, in a controlled environment in which no student was harmed, nor students’ time was not wasted. This simulation is perfect for novices, but not limited to such. Veteran teachers, after teaching in front of TeachLive, have found their skill level challenged, have made improvements to how they teach, in sets of 10 minutes of practice. If you are swinging the bat wrong during 10 minutes of practice, does the coach tell you to keep swinging it incorrectly for another 30 minutes, or do they have you stop, change something, and practice again?

    Finally, just because TeachLive doesn’t simulate all aspects of a classroom (cooperative learning) doesn’t mean the value is reduce for all the other things you can simulate and practice in TeachLive. And it is changing and improving in leaps and bounds. Look at how flight simulators have improved over the years. Keep at least one eye open when looking at TeachLive – if you are a skeptic now, it may be that you don’t understand what it takes to produce a high quality teacher, or maybe only know a bit about TeachLive, but someday it will mainstream in teacher education.

    • Doc,
      I appreciate your thorough comment, and I’m sorry it has taken me a few days to respond.

      Having been a classroom teacher, I feel like part of my commentary has to do with my experience and preparation program. While I agree that teacher prep programs need some serious revamping across the country, I disagree that more technology as a practice tool is a viable (or realistic) solution.

      The program I went through had us in classrooms in our first semester as education majors. While we weren’t in front, we were there, observing, being mentored by master teachers, learning by example. One requirement of that first semester was to teach in small groups, with real students, even though there was a risk of “harming” them. I learned more by working with children than I ever could in front of a computer.

      I agree that simulators are helpful in some cases, but when it comes to working with people, especially students, it is not the best method. You cannot prepare for things that happen in the classroom…that only comes with real-life experience. Effective teaching is more than knowing how to deal with a group of students. It begins and ends with relationship, and that’s just not something any simulation can provide.

      • doc says:

        Mr. Bennett,

        Having also been a classroom teacher, and over the course of a couple of decades, directed and taught in one of the better teacher prep programs, I can agree with you on how critical it is to develop relationships with students in order to be a successful teacher. And, we can agree that a component of learning how to teach is working directly with students from beginning to end in a teacher education program.

        But your statements of absolute (“best method” and “I learned more by working with children than I ever could in front of a computer”), are flung out there with what appears to be no experience with TeachLive in any manner. Note that you are just simply, and ignorantly wrong about the value of TeachLive. Your blog is like the news reporter who writes a story based only on what was written in a couple other newspapers, without the benefit of any direct knowledge of, or experience with regard to the topic. To label something as “snake oil” with such limited knowledge or absence of experience is disturbing considering you value your opinion enough to take such a rigid stance. Perhaps you would like to comment on your experience with inter-planetary travel?

        I have not heard anyone say TeachLive is the only thing needed to prepare teachers – of course it is used in conjunction with working directly with students. Perhaps you are one of the few people we might label as a natural teacher, and even when first starting to learn how to teach, could easily jump into working with small groups, and perhaps you were magnificent in front of a whole classroom and quite successful as a novice teacher. However, due to the complexity and challenges of teaching, whether it is small groups or whole class settings, most folks lack those skills, and can benefit from scaffolding up, developing and improving on the many things that can contribute to being a more effective teacher (and yes – conversely do less “harm” to children). Using a teaching simulation, either before, or concurrently with field experience, is one of the benefits of TeachLive. It is a tool for preparing teachers, used when appropriate, and used in a manner that has been noted as effective through research, as opposed to personal opinion.

        But one wonders how statements of absolute about learning how to teach, and such a close-minded stance such as yours with regard to TeachLive, could ever positively correlate with effective teachers, who tend to keep an open mind about their students, and who are also receptive to the possibilities that new and different things may offer. I wish you well and I look forward to reading your next blog about the exact formula needed to prepare the most effective teachers, so that I may cast aside some of the meaningless experiences provided to my students and forge ahead to new levels of preparing exemplary teachers.

        • Lynetta Powell says:

          In this entire debate, I completely agree with Doc. He wins hands down. Brian, your point of view seems limited and not of a teacher who is a lifelong learner. When used appropriately (and not replacing completely the current effective techniques) technologies like TeachLive can make us better. Why not at least try it instead of completely disregarding it? It’s like you know just enough to be dangerous. In the end the baby gets thrown out with the bathwater because of folks like you with a strong opinion who don’t understand something fully before writing it off as a waste of time or another misuse of technology. When I come in contact with this mentality in my adult education classes that I teach for the military, I always say “I am glad you weren’t around when humans were transitioning from rock and chisel to paper. “This is stupid! Eventually we will run out of paper because we will run out of trees. We need the trees to breath, we shouldn’t be cutting them down for paper. Paper is a bad idea, there is nothing wrong with rock and chisel.” #evolvealready

          • I don’t see this as a debate I’m trying to win or lose. What I see is an argument for the responsible use of technology where it can help us, not for the sake of using it. TeachLIVE makes no mention of the benefits of using this *in addition* to other methods, and in fact goes so far as
            to say that they are helping universities spare unwitting children from dangerous pre-service educators.

            I know I don’t have the years of experience that Doc and others have, but I do know that my most formative times in my preparation to become a teacher were in a classroom with real students. I had to work in nuance and subtlety, fostering relationships unique to every child. This system exacerbates the idea that kids come in five stereotypes that teachers have to learn to deal with, and that disgusts me.

            I’ve never used it, and this post is quite old, so I’m hoping there have been improvements. But, the information page on the TeachLIVE site is quite old as well. Perhaps Doc and some of the others who have used it have given constructive feedback that will be incorporated, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

    • Marc Seigel says:

      I have a some issues with a few things you have said. First, if you ask any good pilot, he/she will tell you that while a simulator is good for your initial preparations, it does not equal what you would encounter in a real situation. I think a better alternative for teacher preparation would be to pair the new teacher with a classroom teacher with sound pedagogy. Then have a solid mentor when the new teacher is hired and given his/her own classroom. New pilots are not taken from a simulator and shoved directly into a pilot’s seat without a veteran pilot with him/her.

      Second, it has taken me years to perfect my teaching strategies, many of which required me to fail over and over again to get it right. The idea that if what you are doing doesn’t work in the first 10 minutes the simulator will stop is ludicrous as that isn’t at all what will happen in real life. In a real classroom, the teacher will struggle explaining something for a period, the students will leave confused and the teacher will be required to reflect on what happened that night. In no real-life scenario would the students just stop you after 10 minutes and allow you to redesign your lesson to make it work better. You need to think on the fly. And your analogy about batting practice is out of place because it is PRACTICE. Of course the coach can stop you and tell you how to fix what you are doing. Have you ever seen a coach call time out in a real game, walk up to the hitter and give him advice on how to swing differently? Never because it is the game. Teaching is the same. There is no practice; every game counts.

      Finally, it bothers me that you believe that this will become the mainstream because it means that we are taking the personal connections out of education. By training teachers on computers with simulations you are not teaching them how to connect with their students on a personal level. As the comment about Lil’ Wayne below mentions, you need to learn your students and show them that you are a person too. The best teachers that I have had and have worked with have been the ones that are real people. This type of training regime will create robots: teaching machines that deliver content, grade scantrons, and shuffle the students on to the next grade. Right now the trend in education is to move away from the factory model of schools and this is going in the opposite direction.

  4. Teacher says:

    I just wanted you to know that TeachLive has won the best new technology award presented by the number one research group in the country AERA and is so effective that the Gates Foundation is on board and providing funding for further research on its effectiveness.

    • Would you mind sending a link announcing the award? I can’t find it on the AERA site or the TeachLIVE site. The “Recent Press” section’s most “recent” article is from March.

      And, I still stand by my original point: our students are people that cannot be stereotyped into simulator personas. The history of the Gates Foundation and public education is rocky at best, and I’m wondering why they don’t pour their vast resources into helping teachers improve their work in schools with real children. It’s just another case of turning to technology for solutions because of the lack of faith in public educators.

    • Ben says:

      Just as a word of caution, don’t assume that if the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is helping fund it, that they’re “on board”. The foundation is so large that it funds a great number of projects that may or may not pan out. It’s sort of like fishing for potential startups that could have a huge impact later. I help advise the Playful Learning project (http://beta.playfullearning.com/) that receives funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, and other than the money, it’s been pretty much just “do your thing” thus far, not even sure what parts of the research they’ll look at, if at all.

      And regardless of awards, TeachLive takes all the great ideas and interactions that happen in an internship or teacher preparation course, and then adds an unnecessary level of anonymity and digital layers. Sure, it’s great to put someone in that position where they might feel more comfortable, but I fear what might be lost through the interaction, or worse, what message is being sent. If you have the actors playing students already, why not just have them interact with the teacher face to face? I’m asking seriously, because I want to know more about TeachLive. If the only advantage is that it’s not putting “real students at risk” of poor teaching, I’m not sure that’s a strong enough case for a mass deployment of this; Can teachers damage students permanently? Sure, but when the pre-service teacher has minimal contact with the students, under the guidance of a master teacher, during an internship, the TeachLive system just comes off as more of a “we don’t trust people” sort of a device, like Brian said. And teaching is about building trust among individuals.

  5. LuannLee says:

    I see a huge opportunity for total misuse here. Let’s play “TFA” and do all student teaching via this mostly unrealistic simulator….. I do see this as a possible way for preservice teachers to learn to think on their feet. I’d be more impressed if there were 30+ kids in the classroom, some of them intentional nonlearners, if the door opened occasionally with a messenger, there was a fire drill, a student came in late….. but that’s just me….. the goal here is to teach student relationship building, and questioning, right? Then where’s the girl who comes in late, crying, because her boyfriend dumped her, her parents are divorcing, her friends are spreading rumors…. where’s the child who speaks no English? The autism spectrum child?

  6. Bethany says:

    Hello! I’m a special education major that does TeachLIVE multiple times a semester (9 experiences so far and I’m preparing for number 10 now). I thought I’d share some input from someone who has experienced the program.

    PROs of TeachLive
    *Every child has different ability levels and behaviors similar to a real classroom (i.e., there are cell phone interruptions, students can be rude, students may refuse to participate, etc.)
    *The behaviors and abilities of the students can be controlled by the administrator of the experience so it is not the same experience every time (like a real classroom).
    *Students can behave like general education students or like students with the special education labels of Learning Disabilities, Emotional Impairments (Emotional Behavioral Disorder), and Cognitive Impairments.
    *Students have unique personalities that you will most likely see in your classroom (I.e., the suck-up, the mouthy one, the apathetic one)
    *You can break for feedback and reset the experience so the material is fresh to the students and you can immediately change or experiment with teaching strategies.
    CONS of TeachLive
    *The students do not look real. It’s very video-game like.
    *When the difficulty is set to high, it gets a little crazy.
    *There are a whopping five students.
    *Students can not get out of their seats, do thumbs up/thumbs down, and a host of other things that they aren’t programmed for which limits the types of lessons you can do and does not correspond with an actual classroom full of students.
    *You have to put a lot of work into an experience that usually last less than 10 minutes.
    *Being graded on how you teach imaginary students is ludicrous.
    *It’s very rare that a really classroom would contain so many people judging how you teach (typically 1-2 professors and 10-30 peers) and that is the most stressful part about it.
    What I have learned from TeachLive:
    When I’m in a real classroom, I find myself connecting student behaviors with TeachLive student behaviors and I know what to do (or at least what to try) to help that particular student. I’m more aware of the individual student and his/her personality as well as how I can use that information to teach them more effectively. I was also able to practice teaching strategies that I didn’t fully understand.

    I would say that anything that gives me an edge… that helps me be just a slightly better teacher… that can help me reach just one more student… is worth doing.

    Hope this clarified the TeachLive experience for you.

  7. mrschwen says:

    Brian–well said. Looks like you’ve drawn some anonymous TeachLive consultants into the comments here too. So much of teaching is not realized until you enter the classroom for real. My ed classes in college never prepared me for what I’ll see and it was hard to be passionate about relationships with students by reading case studies. The best teacher prep program in my mind is one where a teacher acts as an intern with a real teacher and works alongside them in a real classroom. Book smart doesn’t always equate well to a good classroom teacher and I think that goes for someone who is successful in completing a program like this from the sounds of it.
    Until this year I also heard a school in Flordia gave their students Mountain Dew prior to a state test to stimulate their brains so I take what comes out of this great state lightly. Tech awards and the Gates foundation raise more flags for me as a teacher than anything else. Tech conferences are known more for bells and whistles and less for good pedagogy.
    Be encouraged and keep the good critique coming. Education as a field needs more grassroots people asking the right questions.

  8. Caitlin Pierce says:

    Hi all,

    I’m a radio journalist and am working on a story about TeachLive. If any or all of you are interested in sharing your opinion with me about TeachLive, please email me at CaitlinHPierce [at] gmail.com

    Thank you!

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