Sesame Street Research Features UCF's TeachLivE Program

Sesame Street Research Features UCF’s TeachLivE Program

Photo credit: Grace Howard / Central Florida Future

The creators of Big Bird and the Cookie Monster do a lot more than produce the popular show Sesame Street — they are also a non-profit organization that houses research and development departments.

One such department has taken interest in TeachLivE, which was developed by three UCF professors to teach educators through a virtual classroom experience.

On Friday morning, researchers from Sesame Workshop’s Joan Ganz Cooney Center, named after the creator of the children’s show, arrived at UCF to film TeachLivE in action for a case study.

“We decided to do five video case studies on how teachers are training the next generation of teachers to use games, and part of that is about using games themselves to do some professional development,” Jessica Millstone, an education fellow at the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, said.

She and other researchers had witnessed TeachLivE in action during a conference of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant recipients, and what caught their attention was not only the unique technology of the virtual classroom but also the reaction of the conference attendees.

“I worked with teachers for 20 years, and it’s very hard to get them excited about … improving their practice,” Millstone said of the surprising response TeachLivE received. “I think there’s a lot of feeling that you need to get control of what you do … and it just makes it harder to innovate and integrate new things. So this is a kind of disruptive technology that can really get teachers to think about what they do and how they can improve their teaching practice.”

Sesame Workshop chose five participants for video case studies, with TeachLivE as one of the subjects. Friday’s visit was designated as a filming of the technology in action, and the researchers sampled TeachLivE while the cameras were rolling.

“This year, we decided to do five video case studies on how teachers are training the next generation of teachers to use games, and part of that is about using games themselves to do some professional development,” Millstone said. “Hopefully the videos themselves will not just be illustrations of professional development but also teachers can use them for their own professional learning and their own way of seeing what’s out there, what other teachers are doing and then adapt that for their own classrooms.”

TeachLivE — TLE representing “teaching learning environment” — was created by Lisa Dieker and Mike Hynes of the College of Education and Human Performance, and Charles Hughes of the College of Engineering. The technology has spread to 23 other universities, with UCF leading the charge.

“The designers are very honored because [the Sesame Workshop is] looking at the top five innovative forms of professional development, and so we’re one of top five innovative practices in the country that Sesame is highlighting,” senior project director for TeachLivE Carrie Straub said. “The developers are really honored that they would be at this level, to have people that are so well-respected in the field be supporting the work that we’re doing here at UCF.”

Dieker agreed and said the case study was a great opportunity and honor for TeachLivE and UCF.

“It’s always great to partner … and I can’t think of a better partner than somebody coming in, highlighting our work from the Sesame Street arena,” Dieker said. “I think it’s also great that they’re doing particular case studies and seeing this technology as one that’s worthy of being featured.”

Dieker said that something they especially wanted to exhibit in the video case study of TeachLivE was what she called its sandbox technology.

“If you think about playing in a sandbox, you can make one thing, I can make something else,” she said. “The big thing we want to show is … really the versatility of TeachLivE being able to be used in lots of different ways with lots of different objectives and purposes, and the teacher [education] space. We think it also has potential in lots of other spaces, but they’ll be highlighting the work in the teacher [education] space.”

Aleshia Hayes is a modeling and simulation Ph.D. student and the director of technology at TeachLivE, and has been studying the technology as part of her dissertation.

“The research that I’m doing is largely about not just learning in the environment but also that transfer of learning,” she said. “You increase your behaviors that we’re asking you to increase, like asking the right kinds of questions in TeachLivE, but do you do it in your real classroom? And that’s one of the really cool things is that, so far, the research shows that people have increased and, in fact, people in the last round of research … would improve in the environment but then we would watch them in their real classroom and it was like they had this explosion of awareness of the concept now.”

The effectiveness of TeachLivE is being studied thoroughly as it’s a very unique and new way to teach. Millstone said the technology she saw used with TeachLivE was unlike any education teaching method out there.

“It’s amazing to me, because it doesn’t seem that atypical that you would do some kind of role play, and teachers, of course, are always doing role play in their classroom … that’s a great way to get kids to feel immersed in a topic and a subject area, but I’ve never seen people do it with teachers. So, that to me is the real innovation of teachers are learners, too,” Millstone said.