The Virtual Future of Educating Teachers

Kent State Works Stacked Graphic

Most teacher training programs today utilize classroom videos to train future teachers. Many of these videos are recorded from a single focus set at the back of a classroom. This form of video often makes it hard for viewers to interpret students' reactions or understanding of a subject matter.

Three Kent State University professors are developing a solution to this issue through the use of extended reality (XR) technology and 360 video. 

360 video, which records video from every angle in a spherical fashion, allows the viewer to feel like they are moving around a space instead of standing in a stationary position.

Karl W. Kosko

Karl Kosko, Ph.D., associate professor of mathematics education; Richard Ferdig, Ph.D., Summit Professor of Learning Technologies and professor of educational technology in the College of Education, Health and Human Services; and Qiang Guan, Ph.D., assistant professor of computer science, were awarded a three-year, $1.48 million grant from the National Science Foundation for their research.

“The grant was set up to explore how 360 video, both single-perspective and multifocal-perspective, can affect how elementary teachers attend to and interpret students' mathematical thinking,” Kosko said.

Richard E. Ferdig, PhD

The goal of this research is to help education students develop their ability to assess student reasoning techniques in the classroom and to develop the basic skills of navigating a classroom.

Kent State students in the early childhood education program are exposed to XR technology early on in their education, and utilize its abilities throughout their time at Kent State.

The researchers on this project have created a system that gives students a more realistic look into what classroom teaching is like, without physically being there. 

Photograph, or headshot, of Dr. Qiang Guan

The process of creating these XR environments is multifaceted. Setup consists of anywhere from one to six 360 cameras in a classroom, along with ambisonic microphones to capture spatial audio. Then the video and audio files are edited together to create the virtual reality space that students can enter and interact with.

“It allows our future teachers to start developing the habits that very experienced teachers have,” said Kosko. “We’re trying to get students to develop those skill sets.”

Today, with more than 30 peer-reviewed publications, Kosko, Ferdig and Guan are recognized as leaders in the field of teacher education with regard to XR technology. 

Through this research, they have discovered several interesting facets about how XR technology can change the way our future teachers are learning. One major difference that XR technology provides is that when a future teacher can walk around the space and see student reactions, they are more likely to focus on the content that is being taught in the classroom. Whereas when single-perspective videos are used, they will often focus on the teacher and their classroom management or the way they are teaching.

Juxtaposition of 1914 teaching observation versus 2019 with VR headsets

“One of the interesting things that we've learned from our studies is that when future teachers look at students in the center of their field of view, they talk more about the actual math content that they're learning,” Kosko said. “If they shift their focus and look more at the teacher, they don't talk about the content. They talk about classroom management.”

Through this research, they have also begun to look at eye-tracking technology, Kosko said. Eye tracking uses infrared lights and a camera to track where a person’s line of sight is. Kosko said they have tested this technology on students in the education program as well as experienced teachers to find the differences.

“One of the things we actually found with less experienced teachers is they look at the kids' faces,” Kosko said. “When a kid's doing a math problem, they look at the kid, but they don't actually look to see the work they're doing.”

By incorporating XR technology into the curriculum for future teachers, it is easier to teach education students how to understand a student’s reasoning skills and understanding than it is with normal video, Kosko said.

With the use of XR technology, students graduating from Kent State’s early education program graduate with the same amount of in-class experience as a first-year teacher.

Kosko, Ferdig and Guan hope to continue their research and even expand XR technology into other fields of study. Kosko mentioned the potential that XR technology can have in the education of nursing students.

Kosko said that the researchers are in the process of applying for future grants to expand their understanding of XR technology in the education field.

“We built a platform that allows us to move around the room and be able to look at students anywhere in the classroom,” Kosko said. “That is more realistic of what a teacher is going to be doing in a classroom, they're not just going to be standing still with their head pointing in one direction.”

Kosko said that while 360 video has been a great learning tool for students, there is still more to achieve.

“That technology is great, but I think the future of this goes beyond just 360 video,” Kosko said. “Volumetric video, holograms, that's the next step. I think the challenge is going to be getting others to realize how useful this technology is.”

Learn more about the Extended Reality Initiative at Kent State.

Learn more about Kent State’s Early Childhood Education program.

POSTED: Thursday, March 23, 2023 10:39 AM
Updated: Friday, April 21, 2023 11:34 AM
Taylor Cook, Flash Communications