Can you handle a classroom? Software aims to give you a dry run

Classroom simulation software is not quite as advanced as Flight Simulator but products serve to give would-be teachers a taste of the real thing.

When one thinks of computer simulations it's usually in a military sense, but increasingly these simulations are being used as training tools for another situation where embattled professionals have to deal with unpredictable behaviour—the classroom. eSchool News reports that computer simulations are proving to be a great tool for preparing new teachers for the wilds of the classroom.

Although there is no substitute for human interaction, The STAR Classroom Simulator, a partnership between Simiosys LLC, the Haberman Educational Foundation and the University of Central Florida, uses virtual reality to test teachers on their interpersonal skills by giving them realistic situations that may occur in the classroom.

"The dropout rate for urban teachers is 40 or 50 percent," said Randall Shumaker, director of the University of Central Florida's Institute for Simulation and Training. "Part of the reason appears to be they just get thrown into the fires. We can build systems that give people a graded approach, so you expose them to this in a virtual world and gradually turn up the heat."

The STAR Classroom Simulator isn't the only computer simulation software on the market. SimSchool, developed by a self-described "diverse group of educators," is an online program that allows people considering a career in teaching to take a trial run at the job before committing to two-plus extra years of schooling. The program lets the user talk to students and assign tasks, and then gives feedback on their performance.

Despite advances in computer simulation software, it still has a long way to go in developing a truly accurate picture of human behavior.

"We don't quite understand all the things we need to know, and we can't quite make the [virtual humans] advanced enough," Shumaker said. But the advantage comes from providing a safe environment that can be used any time and is a cost-cutting alternative to hiring multiple actors.