The University of Central Florida’s innovative virtual classroom software this week received the top award from the nation’s leading training and simulation association.

TLE TeachLivE™ earned the 2013 NTSA Governor’s Award for Excellence in Modeling and Simulation from the National Training and Simulation Association.

The UCF software first was chosen as the winner in the NTSA’s training category and then was picked for the top prize from among other competing categories because of its noteworthy, significant and innovative contributions.

The award ceremony was held during the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference– or I/ITSEC– the modeling, simulation and training industry’s largest international trade show held each year in Orlando.

“The focus of I/ITSEC in the past has been the military applications of modeling and simulation. Awarding TLE TeachLivE™ with the Governor’s Award is an indication that the industry is recognizing that there are other applications, such as education. It’s an honor to be awarded for being on the cutting edge,” said Mike Hynes, a member of the TLE TeachLivE™ team and professor in UCF’s College of Education and Human Performance.

Hynes created TLE TeachLivE™ with education professor Lisa Dieker, College of Engineering & Computer Science professor Charles Hughes, and an interdisciplinary team that included members of the Synthetic Reality Lab at UCF’s Institute for Simulation & Training.

TLE TeachLivE™ improves teacher practice and student learning by giving educators the opportunity to instruct a virtual classroom full of avatar students.

The experience allows teachers-in-training to perfect their skills without impacting any real students. For veteran teachers, practice in a virtual classroom allows them to hone and refine their expertise or try out new techniques.

Since its creation in 2005, TLE TeachLivE™ has expanded to more than 20 partner sites, including the school districts in Lake and Volusia counties. A $1.5 million grant received in 2012 from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is helping the program expand its reach to universities across the country.

This summer, the computer-generated classroom added three new avatars that represent middle schoolers learning English as a second language.

The TLE TeachLivE™ team says that the “sandbox” nature of the program— its ability to be used in different ways and for different purposes— could also have uses in areas outside of education.