California State University, Northridge
Dr. Sally Spencer, Professor of Special Education at California State University, Northridge (CSUN), is the Director of SIMPACT Immersive Learning, a mixed-reality simulation system that provides a highly realistic virtual platform for practice in social work, counseling, teaching, nursing, and many other fields. Dr. Spencer first began using this mixed-reality simulator, which utilizes software developed at the University of Central Florida, in 2012 as part of a large, federally funded grant for which she served as Principal Investigator. At the time, CSUN was the thirteenth university in the country to implement this innovative tool, and Dr. Spencer began to work feverishly to develop the best possible use of the software to achieve maximum impact on student learning.
In a short time, however, Dr. Spencer began to realize that the system, then known as TeachLive, had implications for increasing student learning far beyond just teacher education. She began to use the adult avatars to conduct practice job interviews, conflict resolution, and interpersonal problem solving, and soon she was reaching out to professors across her own university and others, demonstrating the potential of this system to amplify student outcomes in countless academic fields. Today, the SIMPACT system is used in university classes, K-12 schools, and professional trainings to provide rehearsal and feedback in the types of skills that were previously difficult for professionals to practice before they entered the workplace. Students get the opportunity to try out teaching, client interviews, counseling sessions, journalism interviews, parent/teacher conferences and more in a collaborative virtual environment, and learn from watching each other use the system to practice their course competencies in a realistic, safe learning space.
Over the last seven years, Dr. Spencer has developed and refined the SIMPACT Immersive Learning service to make it an effective tool that furthers the education of students in many of CSUN's programs. Under her leadership, the service has grown from use by 250 students on the campus in 2015 to its current use by more than 2,000 students annually at several CSU campuses and private universities, including a school in Stockholm, Sweden. Her efforts have furthered the campus' reputation locally, nationally and internationally as a forward thinking leader in higher education, and she continues to work to make SIMPACT a self-sustaining resource for the CSU system and other institutions of learning.