There is a push for intercultural competence as a pillar of world language courses (The National Standards Collaborative Board, 2015), but much of its manifestation is limited to one-sided experiences with cultural artifacts. While some schools have established telecollaboration partnerships to promote cultural exchange, this solution is still limited in accessibility and encounters its own logistical problems (time zone differences, school structure, etc.) Moreover, students with telecollaborative peers rarely get to meet in person and shared experiences to build more meaningful relationships are limited.
One potential solution to these problems is the integration of both synchronous and asynchronous virtual reality activities, such as teleconferencing and shared artefacts, respectively. However, the vast majority of existing literature focuses on solo learners in simulated environments. There is little information about the impacts of either user-generated VR content or collaborative linguistic tasks on cultural and language learning (Ho et al., 2011; Lin & Lan, 2015). In fact, Lin and Lan (2015) explicitly call for further research in this specific vein.
Alongside the creation of new activities featuring emergent technology comes a need for evaluation. While studies have shown that VR can be more successful in engaging and promoting active learning than common mobile app equivalents (Hussein and Nätterdal, 2015), little has been done to assess its impact on learning outcomes, especially in social contexts or within the field of language learning.
For thesis, I would complete a design project that focused more heavily on evaluation than iteration. Working with my colleague, Heidi, and her telecollaborative partner, Nicolas, I would design a year-long curriculum featuring a series of interventions that integrated VR-based activities into the existing telecollaborative exchange program. These activities would occur at regular intervals (e.g. one per unit) and feature some assessment mechanic to allow for the evaluation of particular learning outcomes. In addition to the activity-specific assessments, pre/post-tests (e.g. ACTFL OPI, cultural attitude surveys, etc.) at the beginning and end of the academic year would provide longitudinal data on the overall curriculum. This dual-evaluation setup would allow for examination of both linguistic and cultural outcomes, as well as individual activities and the learning experience as a whole. Moreover, the focus of the activity design would be on integrating commodity hardware that could be fairly easily and cheaply replicated by other instructors. It would also give me data to report by December (probably 3-4 activities) for thesis, while still allowing me to evaluate the overall curriculum on my own time.
Ho, C. M., Nelson, M. E., & Müeller-Wittig, W. (2011). Design and implementation of a student-generated virtual museum in a language curriculum to enhance collaborative multimodal meaning-making. Computers & Education, 57(1), 1083-1097.
Hussein, M., & Nätterdal, C. (2015). The Benefits of Virtual Reality in Education – A Comparison Study. Retrieved from GUPEA Digital Theses. http://hdl.handle.net/2077/39977
Lin, T. J., & Lan, Y. J. (2015). Language Learning in Virtual Reality Environments: Past, Present, and Future. Educational Technology & Society, 18 (4), 486–497.
The National Standards Collaborative Board. (2015). World-Readiness Standards for Learning Languages. 4th ed. Alexandria, VA: Author.