Questions Answered About Virtual Reality and Early Childhood Teacher Preparation (Guest blogger: Dr. Anni Reinking)

If you attended the Higher Ed. Forum in Bloomington, IL in 2018, you are able to see the early childhood virtual learning environment in action or if you read the VLE blog in 2017, you learned more about the VLE experience. However, you might still have many questions. In this blog, four of those questions will be answered.

  1. What is Virtual Learning Environment (VLE)? If you have not heard of VLE before, here is a brief overview. A VLE experience provides:
  • a safe and low-stress environment for learning and refining best practices
  • practice with no harm/risk to others
  • an actively construct knowledge and apply in context
  • immediate Feedback; Debrief process where critical feedback can be incorporated in future practice
  • suspend (pause) session, regroup/discuss better options, restart session and practice new techniques (pause classroom)
  • avenue for self-reflection

Essentially, VLEs blend artificial intelligence with human intelligence. Overall, the VLE is an indispensable training tool. Studies show that simulations are more effective than other instructional methods, because they simultaneously engage participants’ emotional and cognitive processes.

  1. How do you pay for it?

Currently, Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville “owns” a license which provides full access to most scenarios (parent, administrator, classrooms, office visit, etc.). SIUE purchased the license and all needed technology and materials using administrative support and grants. If teacher preparation departments have a desire to use the VLE at SIUE (it is transportable), SIUE charges $125/session. If you choose to purchase a license it is $25,000/year, along with technology costs.

How do universities pay for per hour charge? Some programs charge a student fee, others have applied to grants, and others have secured administrative support based on the transformational application of the experience.

  1. What have you found with the research completed in the early childhood VLE?

Overall the last year, Dr. Reinking has collaborated with the University of Central Florida and Illinois Action for Children to implement the early childhood classroom scenario. These are the preliminary results:

The Spring 2018 cohort overall remarked positively to their experiences using the virtual simulator (TeachLivE). Many participants’ comments focused on two areas: ability to work with others and their peers and wishing they had more time to practice in the simulator.

Three main themes emerged when participants were asked to comment about what they liked about the professional development: 1) Interacting with an avatar/using virtual learning environments, 2) practicing techniques in the simulator before they taught in the classroom, and 3) ability to ask questions and receive feedback. These three themes suggest the participants felt safe with the avatars, they were able to make mistakes and learn from them, and could transfer skills into their real classrooms.

Participants were asked if there was anything they would change about the professional development, and most said the experience was great and did not need to be changed. Other comments were very constructive, including requests of interacting more in the simulator and explanations of what the avatars can and can’t do.

Overall, participants’ comments and Likert scores suggest positive experiences with the professional development using virtual simulators. Virtual simulators:

  1. Provide a safe environment for participants to practice, learn, make mistakes, and try again before interacting with students in their classrooms.
  2. Provide a unique experience for co-teachers to practice lessons together to find which co-teaching model works best for their instruction, as well as best for the lesson they will deliver.
  3. Participants expressed the desire for more time in the simulator to hone their skills to effectively teach their classrooms.

Here is a video of one participant in the VLE at Illinois Action for Children:

In this video you see the benefit of pausing the classroom, providing, feedback, and the interactions the avatar students are able to do.

  1. How do you incorporate it into teacher preparation programs?

Currently SIUE incorporates the VLE into several courses including, but not limited to:

  • Parent teacher conferences: pre-service and in-service teachers practice engaging in parent teacher conferences, specifically focused on difficult conversations.
  • IEP Meetings: pre-service and in-service teachers practice engaging in IEP meetings. This is in collaboration with the special education program.
  • Co-Teaching: pre-service teachers engage in co-planning and co-teaching in the VLE.
  • Classroom Management: pre-service and in-service teachers practice developmentally appropriate behavior management practices.
  • Classroom Instruction: pre-service and in-service teachers practice various classroom instruction strategies.
  • Feedback: pre-service and in-service teachers practice providing impactful feedback (link to edTPA).

The students interact in the VLE during class time or, if time allows, during other parts of their day.


Dr. Anni Reinking is an assistant professor in the early childhood program at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Her research focuses on teacher preparation, virtual training, and multicultural education.

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