A UCF team of researchers who developed an interactive simulator to train teachers announced a deal Thursday that will expand the technology and take it into the private sector.

The immersive TeachLivE simulator uses lifelike – and sometimes sassy – teenage avatars who interact with real student-teachers before they step into a real classroom. At TeachLive’s annual conference on the UCF campus, the team announced a public-private partnership with Mursion, a San Francisco startup that recently secured $1 million in seed funding from New Schools Venture Fund to accelerate the venture. Mursion will scale up the technology with a continued focus on education, while expanding the training tool into health care, hospitality and other fields.

Mursion CEO Mark Atkinson, a pioneer of new technologies to support teaching and learning, is excited about the partnership: “We are thrilled to help take TeachLivE’s seminal research on virtual simulation and use it at scale to redefine how professionals in high-stakes careers practice and master their craft.”

The partnership enables TeachLivE to maintain its focus on research and development, while Mursion devotes its energy to promoting the widespread use of virtual simulation for professional learning.

“Virtual simulation holds great promise for a wide range of sectors that rely on complex interpersonal skills. We partnered with Mursion to help us amplify the impact that our research has on society,” said Charles Hughes, a UCF Pegasus Professor and a principal investigator for TeachLivE.

Since 2005, researchers at the University of Central Florida began studying whether virtual simulation is a viable way for educators to practice and master complex professional skills. Their research has resulted in TeachLivE, a disruptive learning platform powered by a blend of artificial and human intelligence that creates a remarkable level of realism. Student-teachers stand before a large monitor or projection screen – or don a head-mounted wearable device like Oculus Rift – to interact with the avatars in a simulated classroom. The “students” answer and talk back, and student-teachers are able to gain real-time feedback.

In 2012, TeachLive was awarded a three-year, $1.5 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to gauge its effectiveness. As that national study comes to a close – and with the platform in use by roughly 50 partner institutions – the results are clear: TeachLivE works. Students who went through four 10-minute sessions with the simulator outperformed those using traditional training methods.

“This technology provides hands-on professional learning experiences for teachers that model the type of 21st Century teaching and learning we want to see in our classrooms,” said Rachal Edwards, Director of Professional Learning at Alexandria Public Schools, a current Mursion client and research partner. “The power of using TeachLivE is incredible, and we have seen immediate changes in teacher practice, while in the traditional professional development model we would still be waiting for those changes to take place.”

Michael Hynes, a UCF Pegasus Professor and one of three principal investigators for the study, explains, “This research confirms what we have been learning with our 50 university-based teacher programs and school district partners: Virtual simulation accelerates professional learning for teachers, who benefit from having opportunities to practice and master complex skills.”

TeachLivE continues to conduct cutting-edge research on virtual simulation for professional learning, including a project to investigate whether a virtual simulator with students with disabilities produces improvements in the implementation of inclusive instructional practices.

“Students of poverty and many of our students with disabilities often are served by a first year teacher,” said UCF’s Lisa Dieker, a Pegasus Professor and one of the principal investigators on the project. “Our vision started and continues today to focus on providing supplemental experiences to ensure our new teachers are ready in critical areas of effective teaching and to begin to investigate the potential use of simulation for student learning. We see daily breakthroughs and clear research emerging on how these environments are shaping teacher behaviors. We are excited about our partnership with Mursion and believe the future is unlimited in our work together.”