Abu Dhabi: Facing a virtual class of five children, Asma Bakallia delivered a lesson about geometrical shapes. After it was over, the children were able to present a variety of accurate answers on the concept they had just been taught.

This simulation of a classroom is now being used at a university in the capital, the Emirates College for Advanced Education (ECAE), to train future teachers in classroom management and teaching strategies.

“Our goal is to improve the level of teaching qualifications in the UAE. Through this virtual classroom, our students will be able to practise their skills before they are required to handle a real class. And because it is a virtual class, no risk is posed to actual pupils,” Dr Mohammad Baniyas, vice-chancellor at the ECAE and higher education adviser to the Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec), told Gulf News.

The ECAE is a dedicated teacher preparation programme and school development centre in the capital for Emiratis, and it currently has about 340 students pursuing bachelor degrees in the field of education. One of the facility’s main objectives is to train students so that they can take up teaching positions at the emirate’s public schools, and this is in keeping with the Adec’s vision to employ more Emirati teachers.

The classroom simulations have been offered at the ECAE, in collaboration with the University of Florida, since the beginning of June. The software in use is called TeachLive, and it has previously been implemented in 42 United States-based campuses.

“The students who are currently being taught through this virtual technology are being groomed to take up the roles of maths, science and English teachers for pupils from kindergarten up to Grade 5. Educators in Florida control and manage the virtual characters in order to deliver a number of classroom experiences and challenges for our students,” explained Dr Farouq Almeqdadi, team leader for maths and virtual class coordinator at the ECAE.

For example, one simulation includes disruptive pupils so that ECAE students can develop skills in controlling a noisy classroom.

Each virtual session lasts for about 10 minutes, and students taking the course are allowed to use it for about 40 minutes over the semester During the lesson, Dr Almeqdadi observes the students, who are later advised on how to perfect their methods.

“We can tailor the sessions to test our students in a number of ways. For instance, we can evaluate their ability to control a classroom, or see how effective they are at teaching in the English language, or how well-versed they are in maths concepts. One major advantage is that it allows students to learn from their mistakes in a virtual classroom, rather than making those mistakes in a real-world situation,” Dr Almeqdadi said.

Asma, who graduated from the ECAE earlier this year, said the virtual classrooms would greatly help students ease into the role of teachers.

“It can be quite unnerving to be a teacher at the beginning, especially as an entire room of students is entirely dependent on you for knowledge and guidance. So the virtual classes will provide great practice,” she said.

“To gain the degree, ECAE students have to deliver a number of classes before they graduate. For me, the hardest part during these lessons was to instil discipline in the classroom. And I can see that the virtual experience will help students develop this important ability,” she said.