M6 – Video Pitch & 1st Semester Paper

In a 2007 report, the Modern Language Association (MLA) remarked that “deep cultural knowledge and linguistic competence are equally necessary if one wishes to understand people and their communities” (p. 2) and that the goal of foreign language instruction should be to produce “educated speakers who have deep translingual and transcultural competence” (p. 3). Though aimed specifically at American higher education, the MLA’s recommendations have implications for world language instruction in much broader contexts.This transcultural competence, long considered a lesser byproduct of linguistic competence, is being more commonly recognized as an integral component of world language courses. To this end, several international bodies have updated their standards to include transcultural competence as a pillar of language instruction (National Standards in Foreign Language Education Project, 2015; American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, 2017; Council of Europe, 2001).

Though defined in numerous ways (see Byram, 1997; Fantini, 2000; Risager, 2007; Bennett, 2009; Liddicoat & Scarino, 2013), transcultural, cross-cultural, or intercultural competence (henceforth referred to as intercultural communicative competence (ICC)) in the context of education can generally be considered as:

a combination of attitudes, knowledge, understanding and skills applied through action which enables one, either singly or together with others, to:

— understand and respect people who are perceived to have different cultural affiliations from oneself;

— respond appropriately, effectively and respectfully when interacting and communicating with such people;

— establish positive and constructive relationships with such people;

— understand oneself and one’s own multiple cultural affiliations through encounters with cultural “difference.” (Huber & Reynolds, 2014, pp. 16–17).

Within the world language classroom, this manifests as a learner’s “ability to evaluate, critically and on the basis of explicit criteria, perspectives, practices and products in one’s own and other cultures and countries” (Byram, 1997, p. 53). Beyond the classroom, learners are able to “communicate and interact with cultural competence in order to participate in multilingual communities” as well as “collaborate in their community and the globalized world” (National Standards, 2015, p. 1). Critical to this endeavor is the simultaneous reflective introspection and outward community involvement. By recognizing that language education is not simply a tool for use in limited contexts, but meaningful in developing their identity, students will come to value the knowledge, attitude, and skills on a personal, actionable level (Byram & Wagner, 2018).

Inarguably, the primary means of developing ICC is through positive cross-cultural contact – interactions that necessitate mediation of knowledge, skills, awareness, and language proficiency (Fantini, 2000; Bennett, 2009). This can prove challenging in traditional school settings for both procedural and logistical reasons. First, ICC development is an on-going and lengthy process, as reflected in various models of stages or phases experienced by intercultural learners (Hoopes, 1979; Gochenour & Janeway, 1993; Bennett, 1993). Semester-length and even year-long courses may not provide enough meaningful interaction to provoke, notice, or measure ICC development. Additionally, classrooms by nature consist of a disproportionate number of learners and native speakers. Moreover, the instructor may be neither a native speaker of the language he or she teaches, nor a member of a culture wherein the target language is spoken. Thus facilitating these cross-cultural interactions could prove unattainable within many classroom contexts.

One potential solution to these problems is telecollaboration, a means of connecting students to native speakers via “institutionalized, electronically mediated intercultural communication under the guidance of a linguacultural expert (i.e., a teacher) for the purposes of foreign language learning and the development of intercultural competence” (Belz, 2003, p. 2). These collaborative partnerships can take many forms (Table 1), all with varying degrees of formality, learner autonomy and responsibility, learner characteristics (e.g. language proficiency, learning goals, etc.), means of interaction, and institutional support (O’Dowd, 2016; Akiyama & Cunningham, 2018). Within formal educational settings, most programs pair groups of university-level learners who engage in both synchronous and asynchronous bilingual-bicultural exchanges through information exchange tasks (Akiyama & Cunningham, 2018). Though there still remains a need for study diversity and standardized reporting in future research (Akiyama & Cunningham, 2018), as well as implementation of deeper “critical collaboration” (O’Dowd, 2016), as a whole, telecollaboration has proven an effective approach to improving language skills (Canto & van den Bergh, 2013; Kato & Mori, 2016) and developing intercultural competence (Furstenberg, Levet, English, & Maillet, 2001; Belz, 2003; Helm & Guth, 2010).

Despite its impact on attaining the primary goals of world language courses, telecollaboration remains challenging to implement in the vast majority of curricula. Though not nearly as technologically restricted as it used to be thanks to widespread Internet access and the ever growing list of communicative tools and resources, telecollaborative exchanges are still not without logistical limitations. There may be low availability of target language speakers, high technological requirements and/or lack of funding, time zone differences, inflexible course structure, and so forth. Moreover, students with telecollaborative peers rarely get to meet in person and shared experiences to build more meaningful relationships are limited.

As an emerging technology, virtual reality (VR) may not only aid in addressing some of these issues, but further enhance existing telecollaboration programs. As a concept, “virtual reality” has existed and evolved over the past few decades. In the broadest of terms it encompasses “any simulated, artificial, or synthetic environment that creates a convincing presentation of a desired space” (Kessler, 2018). This has included online virtual environments (LMSs, etc.), online virtual worlds (MMOs, Second Life, etc.), augmented and mixed reality, and “second wave” immersive VR that uses head-mounted displays (HMDs). Within the domain of language learning, numerous studies have investigated the potential of these diverse technologies, examining synthetic immersive environments (Sykes, Oskoz, & Thorne, 2008; O’Brien & Levy, 2008), online virtual worlds (Shih & Yang, 2008; Sykes & Reinhardt, 2012; Sykes, 2013; Lan & Liao, 2018), and mixed reality (Yang, Chen, & Jeng , 2009; Ho, Nelson, & Müeller-Wittig, 2011). For the purposes of this project, however, VR will be defined as an experience made immersive through the use of a HMD that occurs within either A) a computer-generated environment wherein the user may actively engage with the surroundings, or B) a 360° video-based environment wherein the user passively observes pre-generated content.

Though still in its commercial infancy, this new consumer VR is rapidly expanding. In 2017, 9.6 million headsets were shipped worldwide, contributing to an overall consumer VR market value of $2.7 billion. By 2022, those figures are projected to increase to nearly 70 million units and $9.2 billion of revenue (Martin, 2018; Statista, 2018). Fueling this growth is the largely mobile focus of new VR technology. HMDs such as the Samsung Gear VR and Google Daydream View allow consumers to use their existing smartphones to run apps rather than require purchase of a more expensive, dedicated platform such as the Oculus Rift. Given that roughly two-thirds of consumers worldwide own a smartphone, with advanced markets in Western Europe and Asia Pacific attaining 80-90% penetration (Zenith Media, 2017), low-cost, mobile-based VR technology is poised to follow suite. Thus although it may temporarily exacerbate existing logistical constraints for early adopters, immersive VR is likely to become as ubiquitous as other once-novel technologies.

Such immersive experiences offer unique affordances for language learning and ICC development. In recent examinations of the future directions of the field, many authors have noted the potential of VR as a multimodal tool that students can use to develop multiliteracies, access authentic texts, engage in social exploration, enhance intercultural understanding, and practice culturally appropriate tasks in ways that would otherwise only be possible by traveling (Blyth, 2018; Sykes, 2018b; Kessler, 2018). This promise stems from VR’s capacity to heighten user experiences through an enhanced sense of engagement (Hussein & Nätterdal, 2015) and presence, both physical and social (Lane, Hays, Auerbach, & Core, 2010; Chen, Warden, Tai, Chen, & Chao, 2011; Villani, Repetto, Cipresso, & Riva, 2012; North & North, 2016). This sense of presence is perhaps the most critical aspect of any VR experience, as it can result in greater motivation (Garrison & Anderson, 2003; Gunawardena, 1995; Sato & Akahori, 2005), increased social interaction (Yamada, 2009), more efficient learning (Lane et al., 2010), and empathy (Nielsen, 2017), all factors crucial to fostering meaningful intercultural communicative exchanges. From the adjacent field of speech and language pathology, studies have shown that VR can not only elicit affective, behavioral, and cognitive reactions that correspond to real world communicative experiences (Brundage & Hancock, 2015), but also improve functional communication in persons with specific speech-language impairments (Marshall et al, 2016). Highlighting the importance of human-human interaction in these contexts, there are many existing and cutting-edge technologies that enable immersive virtual telepresence (Riva, Botella, Légeron, & Optale, 2004; Panettieri, 2007; Beck, Kunert, Kulik, & Froehlich, 2013; McGill, Williamson, & Brewster, 2016; Fairchild, Campion, García, Wolff, Fernando, & Roberts, 2017). Though more advanced immersive virtual telepresence systems remain gated behind lofty technological and infrastructure requirements, the advent of 5G and similar networks suggests that these technologies may soon become mainstream (Orlosky, Kiyokawa, & Takemura, 2017). Moreover, for both learners and instructors, VR content is becoming more readily customizable allowing experiences to be tailored to students’ individual needs.

Yet in spite of such promise and calls for further research, immersive VR in even its most accessible commercial form (e.g. Google Cardboard) remains to be evaluated within the context of language education (Lin & Lan, 2015). Existing studies of immersive VR are limited to university education and adult training across the sciences and medical field (Freina & Ott, 2015). Though these subjects may more easily lend themselves to the simulations initially envisioned for VR, that is not to say that language-focused equivalents do not already exist. For example, Mondly VR places learners within immersive scenes in which they can practice conversing with virtual characters. Using chatbot and speech recognition technology, its goal is to provide immediate pronunciation feedback and enhance vocabulary within realistic situations (Mondly, 2017). Similarly, the Center for the Advanced Study of Language (CASL) at the University of Maryland has designed a video-based VR experience to train advanced listening skills (Tare, Golonka, Clark, & Varshney, 2017). As impressive as these products may be, further research is warranted to both measure and guide future pedagogical interventions.

Prior to designing and investigating such an intervention, a solid understanding of how to measure and evaluate ICC from both theoretical and practical perspectives is essential. Drawing from the aforementioned definition as well as the larger body of associated research, ICC can be divided into a variety of interrelated components (Figure 1). At the highest level, it is comprised of both linguistic competency and intercultural competency. For this reason, evaluation of learning outcomes in telecollaborative exchanges is typically structured according to this perceived dichotomy. Language skills are often described through structural analysis of learner discourse (Beauvois, 1992; Chun, 1994; Kelm, 1992; Kern, 1995; Pelletieri, 2000; Sotillo, 2000; Warschauer, 1996), while intercultural ability is measured more broadly, using content analyses of learner interactions, as well as learner interviews and attitudinal surveys (Fischer, 1998; Furstenberg, Levet, English, & Maillet, 2001; Lomicka, 2001; Müller-Hartmann, 1999; von der Emde, Schneider, & Kötter, 2001; Warschauer, 1998). More recent tactics in intercultural assessment have combined examinations of direct learner evidence, such as learning contracts, e-portfolios (Byram, 1997; Jacobson et al., 1999; Pruegger & Rogers, 1994), critical reflection (O’Grady, 2000; Rice & Pollack, 2000), and performance (Byram, 1997; Ruben, 1976), with the aforementioned indirect methods, namely interviews and self-assessment (Bolen, 2007; Deardorff, 2009, 2011; Fantini, 2009; Paige, 2004; Sinicrope et al., 2007; Stuart, 2009).

Yet rather than divorce these two interwoven competencies and measure them independently, an approach integrating both aspects may yield a more holistic understanding of learner ICC. Common among these two competencies is interlanguage pragmatics, which examines how non-native speakers develop and use the ability to interpret meaning and communicate in a learned language in a socioculturally appropriate manner (Kasper & Rose, 2003; Sykes, 2018a). As a key overarching element, interlanguage pragmatics might serve as a reasonable proxy for many factors, both linguistic and intercultural. Kasper and Rose (2002) suggest nine distinct methods for collecting data on learner interlanguage pragmatics: elicited conversation, authentic discourse, role plays, production questionnaires, multiple-choice instruments, scales, interviews, diaries, and think-aloud protocols. Brown (2001) further breaks down the three interaction-focused methods into six test types, each with different practical characteristics for eliciting samples of pragmatic language. Additionally, all of these data sources can be housed within learner portfolios (Cohen, 2004) and evaluated according to specially designed rubrics (Hudson, Detmer, & Brown, 1995; Liu, 2006, 2007, 2010; Walters, 2004, 2007). Whether employed by researchers to further the field’s literature or by instructors to gain classroom-specific insights, many of the above methods could be integrated into world language curricula through the modification of existing classroom activities and course-embedded assessments.

This study…

Seeing as many of the exact intervention details remain to be finalized, I’ve decided to copy portions of my video pitch script below for the time being. Once the specifics are set, I will rewrite this information in detail with necessary citations to serve as the intervention and study design sections of the final paper.

Given the thesis timeframe, I don’t have the time or resources to carry out a more ideal investigation of VR and intercultural learning, so in order to achieve these goals I’m partnering with a colleague who teaches high school French in Virginia. As part of her classes, she coordinates with a math teacher in France so that both groups of students get the opportunity to practice their spoken language and explore cultural themes together. Since I’m working within the constraints of this context, I’m treating this project as a joint research and design endeavor. So my main challenge is designing curricular interventions that meet the needs of these specific learners and instructors while simultaneously gathering data to inform practice and inspire future studies.

For the design component, I’m considering my colleague as a pseudo-client. I’m working within her existing class structure and technological capacities to provide entirely new or VR variants of current telecollaborative activities. Because many of the specific classroom details are still up in the air, I’m working with a more generic activity template that can easily be adapted once I know the specifics of which classes are being taught, when they’re scheduled, etc. I’m aiming for a series of three activities, each one incorporating ever more immersive VR elements. The first will ask students to create and share 360-degree panoramas, followed by 360-degree videos, and finally, they’ll use an avatar-based VR chat app to converse in pairs or small groups (Table 2).

As for the research, I’m looking to describe the impact of VR on intercultural communicative competence. This complex construct can be broken down and operationalized through many smaller elements. But rather than design and validate specific instruments for each of them, I’ll be relying on existing and altered class assignments to provide the data. I’ll be looking at samples of student language, both written and oral, as well as reflective journals and recordings of interactions between students. Thus, I’m leaving my evaluation tools to cast a wide net from which I can glean relevant insights.

Table 1. TC Practice types. Adapted from “Synthesizing the Practice of SCMC-based Telecollaboration: A Scoping Review” by Y.Akiyama and D. Cunningham, 2018, CALICO Journal, 35(1), p.64. Copyright 2018 by the Computer Assisted Language Instruction Consortium.
Telecollaboration Studies (Akiyama & Cunningham)


Figure 1. Components of Intercultural Communicative Competency
Thesis_ Design Rationale 3
a. (Bardovi-Harlig, 2001, 2017; Kasper & Rose, 2003; Sykes, 2016; Taguchi, 2015)

b. (Borghetti, 2011, 2013; Byram, 1997; Ishihara & Cohen, 2014; Judd, 1999; Sykes, 2017)

c. (Dornyei, 2001)

d. (Dornyei & Kormos, 2000)

e. (Deci & Ryan, 1985; Vallerand, 1997)

f. (Dornyei, 2001)

g. (Yamada, 2009)

h. (Krashen, 1985)

i. (Barrette & Paesani, 2018; Deardorff, 2011; Kern, 2000; O’Grady, 2000; Rice & Pollack, 2000)

j. (Fantini, 2000)


Table 2. Intervention design templates
Activity Templates
Exchange of 360°/VR Panoramas
Students take a panoramic photo to be exchanged with the partner class.

Speaking can be incorporated through:

  • the audio recording function when creating the panorama
  • adding an accompanying recording afterwards
  • presenting “live” to a partner in person or during teleconference session

Students could record in L1 and/or L2, depending on the learning goal of the receiving class.

Students discuss received panoramas:

  • as a whole class
  • with the exchange partner who created the panorama
  • class-to-class

Students compare, contrast, and reflect in a journal/portfolio.

Content Examples Skills Developed Required Technology

  • Classroom, bedroom, famous local place, place visited on vacation, etc.


  • Activities done in a place, on vacation, etc.

Presentational Speaking

Interpretive Listening

Investigate (Products & Practices)


Google Cardboard

Cardboard Camera (App)

Exchange of 360°/VR Videos
Students record a 360° video to be exchanged with the partner class.

Speaking is immediately and automatically incorporated when creating the video. Students could record in L1 and/or L2, depending on the learning goal of the receiving class.

Students discuss received videos:

  • as a whole class
  • with the exchange partner who created the panorama
  • class-to-class

Students compare, contrast, and reflect in a journal/portfolio.

Content Examples Skills Developed Required Technology
Description / Narration

  • Guided tour of a place
  • Activities being done
  • Cultural events/practices

Presentational Speaking

Interpretive Listening

Investigate (Products & Practices)


360° Camera

Google Cardboard

VR Video Viewing App (TBD)

Exchange of 360°/VR Videos for Listening Practice
Students record a 360° video to be exchanged with the partner class. Unlike the prior activity, these videos focus on capturing social/cultural interactions and conversations. Students record in L1 and video serves as linguistic and cultural artifact for receiving class.

When recording videos, students:

  • Plan a scenario to act out, considering location, props, etc.
  • Write a level-appropriate L1 script

When viewing received videos, students:

  • Observe the interactions
  • Listen to the conversation(s)

Students discuss received videos:

  • as a whole class
  • with the exchange partner who created the panorama
  • class-to-class

Students compare, contrast, and reflect in a journal/portfolio.

For more advanced learners, students may create scenarios with multiple overlapping conversations, requiring observers to focus their attention on one conversation at a time. Multiple viewings are therefore necessary.

Content Examples Skills Developed Required Technology

  • Conversation
  • Cultural events/practices

Interpretive Listening

Investigate (Products & Practices)


360° Camera

Google Cardboard

VR Video Viewing App (TBD)

VR Teleconference
During a synchronous session (or potentially outside of class through student coordination), students interact and converse in pairs or small groups using the avatar-based VR teleconferencing app vTime.

Prior to the first session, students:

  • Download the app and create an account
  • Customize their avatar
  • Adjust privacy settings
  • Add classmates as “friends”

Students can upload their own content (images, panoramas, etc.) to the app to serve as the immersive environment. This could be used for both conversation (e.g. group discussion of exchanged artifacts) and presentations (e.g. sharing a new image with the group). Furthermore, using the record feature, anything done within a session can be shared with the instructor or classmates. This allows further options for collaborative activities (e.g. paired presentations) as well as assessment.

(Optional) Students discuss the experience as a whole class.

Students compare, contrast, and reflect in a journal/portfolio.

Content Examples Skills Developed Required Technology

  • Topics chosen by instructors/students
  • Student-generated content (e.g. images, panoramas)


  • Student-generated content (e.g. images, panoramas)
  • Collaboratively generated content

Interpersonal Communication

Presentational Speaking

Interact (Language & Behavior)


Google Cardboard

Wired Headset w/ Mic

vTime (App)



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