Virtual Reality in English Language teaching

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This is a review of Pete Sharma‘s session at the International House Barcelona ELT conference, February 2019, by our roving reporter, Georgios Vlassios Kompas. This is the second of five reviews from the LTSIG strand and more will follow over the next few days.

Pete Sharma

Pete Sharma invited us to a whole new world, that of Virtual Reality in Language Teaching.  Pete, with a lot of experience in digital media and blended learning made a serious effort to de-mystify virtual reality in ELT.  The presentation started with a show of hand on how much do the participants know about VR, and there were not so many that had a good knowledge, including myself.  I have heard about it. Read about it, but only had minimal experience with it in ELT. 

Pete started by saying that his presentation will give some research about VR in ELT, and he will also give participants some practical ideas about it, which he did!  He also mentioned that this presentation is based on a chapter that will be published by LTSIG “Digital Innovations in Language Learning”.  Pete gave a definition of VR that was quite interesting:

He explained that a lot of the research comes from a VR game Second life, as well as, other disciplines that are not directly related to ELT, such as flight simulators, medicine, military and others.  He then went on to showcase some teacher and student experience with VR.  The ones that Pete showed, were quite positive about VR and its use in the EL classroom.
Pete went on to show some practical applications that can take place in a classroom.  He talked about YouTube360, Cardboard, Samsung Gear, Oculus Rift, and Oculus Go.  He described each one and showed some pictures of what they can do.  I want to say that I was impressed with what they do, students can have realistic experiences within these helmets on their heads.  Not all equipment is expensive, with the use of a smartphone and a cardboard you can have a VR experience yourself. 

Many more are popping up, probably the time this report is being typed up.  We can’t have knowledge about all of them, but we can try the ones that are available for the public.  Pete showed us that VR is not just limited to language education, it is widely used for different purposes, museum visits, science projects, trying products before buying them and more.  Maybe your next car? Playing games, practicing for public speaking, ordering food and many more. 

Pete moved on to the Seven Aspects of VR of interest:

Although all aspects were very interesting, I thought that the ones about motivation and collaboration were the most valuable ones.  Motivation is the excitement of VR in ELT.  Students need to be motivated to use and participate in VR.  Many students many have had a VR experience prior to language learning, so that makes them more experts than we think.  Students, especially those of young age are significantly attracted by these effects.  Collaboration was the other aspect that I though was quite interesting.

Pete spent some time on explaining these notions and these go deeper that learning and experiences.  They refer to the communities of practice (CoP) and how humans learn from each other.  VR can play an essential role in that with being real life and adaptive to students’ needs.  Pete also mentioned games as part of collaborative learning, but he also cautioned that games can be addicted and may not serve as the best VR learning experience for ELT.  Exposure though may still have some positive effects on them. 

Finally, Pete gave some practical ideas that VR can be used in the ELT classroom.  These were:

1. A blended model that can be giving a presentation, giving feedback or practising public speaking. 

2. Introduce 360-degree videos (Google) and have students describe what they see, make it more experiential learning. 

3. Gap filling activities where two students can find out about an experience through exploration. 

4. A role play scenario, where one group of students can be acting as a guide to another team that is going to a place or experiencing something new. 

5. Another cardboard idea from Cambridge.  Students can use the cardboard and their mobile phone, and they can experience a real life exam orientation for exams.  That can be very useful for teachers and students.  Students can be more relaxed on what to expect on exam day.

6.Lastly try all new platforms, Youtube 360, Samsung Gear, Oculus Go and other cool gadgets to help students!

Pete’s presentation was very well received and participants were very much interested in all the new and cool gadgets he had to show them.

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