Seyed Abdollah Shahrokni, Washington State University, Pullman
Joy Egbert, Washington State University, Pullman
The process, content, and outcomes of teacher education in computer-assisted language learning (CALL) continue to be discussed in the field, with teacher educators employing various approaches (e.g., project-based, portfolio-based, situated, reflective, mentoring, and communities of practice) to prepare pre- and in-service teachers with the knowledge and expertise to integrate technology use effectively (Kessler and Hubbard 2017). One tool that can be integrated into CALL teacher education, regardless of the approach, is a virtual immersive environment (VIE). A VIE is a simulated setting that can enhance the user’s immersion in a context, which can create a “psychological state characterized by perceiving oneself to be enveloped by, included in, and interacting with an environment that provides a continuous stream of stimuli and experiences” (Witmer and Singer 1998, 227). This environment can potentially support:
- Engagement: Users may spend more time on task, have a deeper focus, and exhibit more desire to continue using VIEs.
- Situated learning: Users can learn by actively participating in the learning experience. Examples include virtual field trips, laboratories, and kinesthetic activities.
- Authenticity: VIEs can support the use of authentic materials—those from which users can learn and which they believe are important to their learning.
- Control: A constant interplay of perspectives from egocentric to exocentric in a VIE can give users a sense of control over their environment.
- Transfer: By being immersed in a “real world,” rather than an explicitly instructional context, users can more effectively use the knowledge gained in other real-life situations.
- Social interaction: VIEs can support social interaction through different a/synchronous communication tools, allowing users to negotiate meaning, produce comprehensible input, and receive corrective feedback.
To take advantage of these benefits, we created a VIE, known as the Virtual Immersive Teaching and Learning lab (VITaL), in our university teacher education setting. Although there are many ways to build a VIE, both more and less expensive, we connected three video projectors to a PC and mounted them on the ceiling to face free-standing screens on three sides of the room (see Figure 1 for a picture of the setup). Overall, the process of setting up the lab included the following steps:
- Purchasing the items, including computer and peripherals; projectors, mounts, and screens; Surround- or Eyefinity-supporting graphics card; optional LeapMotion controller (https://www.leapmotion.com/), Microsoft Xbox One console and/or Kinect sensor (https://www.xbox.com/en-us/xbox-one/consoles).
- Designating the room, setting up the technology, and troubleshooting technical difficulties.
- Testing the functionality of the system.
- Assuring the stability of the system and its subsystems.
- Testing and presenting the functionality of the lab in workshops and teacher education classes.
At the end of this process, we had a lab in which we could use Xbox One and PC apps (with Kinect support), interact with 3D objects through the Leap Motion Detector and Kinect, project videos and slideshows, and conduct computer-mediated communication (CMC).
Making a VIE cheaply can be simple. One projector and screen (1×1) can be used for a semi-immersive experience. The increase in size from a monitor to a wall-sized picture will have a role in immersing students in the content. Connecting a LeapMotion sensor to the 1×1 setting will add a new layer of interaction and immersion to the environment, because users could interact with the content in a more authentic way than by using a keyboard and/or mouse. A 1×1 setting can create a partly immersive environment for less than $1,000, and the LeapMotion app store has many free educational applications that are filtered by level and content.
Engaging students’ peripheral sight to create complete immersion, however, requires a surround picture that blends the output from multiple individual projectors. Adding another layer of virtual reality to a VIE by installing and running Microsoft’s RoomAlive toolkit (https://github.com/Microsoft/RoomAliveToolkit) can allow users to control what’s on the screen and create a more natural immersive experience where users do not have to use a controller or keyboard; however, this may require a programmer to create apps.
Immersive Content and Language Tasks
A VIE can be used in CALL teacher education programs not only as a content vehicle but also to provide future teachers with a sense of how technology can be integrated into the language classroom. To date, VITaL has been practically employed by a variety of users to:
- support tasks requiring visual elaboration to ease understanding, for example, biological concepts (see, e.g., the virtual dissection of a skull at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H_Ik29kpKB4l see Figure 2),
- foster geographical and practical knowledge through virtual field trips, for example, visiting the Louvre museum and viewing different parts of the globe (see, e.g., Google Earth explorations at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nTCUh4GsJUM),
- perform communicative activities using on-screen virtual characters,
- develop cultural awareness through interactions with geographically distant interlocutors,
- prepare for real-life tasks, for example, interviewing for a job and presenting job talks by practicing virtually,
- collaborate with peers to accomplish a quest/task, for example, playing Minecraft in multiplayer mode.
In addition, we had teacher education students in a CALL class (part of an English language learners [ELL] endorsement) participate in a lesson within the lab and then create their own tasks for the lab, based on both engagement principles and TESOL technology standards (for more information on these foundations, see Egbert and Shahrokni 2018). The excitement that the students felt using the lab comes across in the tasks they created, two of which are presented below.
My students will most likely be 5th graders. Depending on the district, it would be a regular 5th grade classroom, with integrated ELL students.
Content Objectives: Students will be able to explore the Mayan and Incan civilizations through pyramids, agricultural systems, and cities.
Language objectives: Students will be able to
- use 5 adjectives to describe the agricultural systems.
- use comparison language to compare the two civilizations.
- use contrasting language to contrast the two civilizations.
- pick 5 facts that they find interesting and write at least 3-5 sentences on why they are interesting facts.
Activities: Students will get into groups of 3 and head to the immersive lab. While in the immersive lab, students will explore both virtual worlds. They must record 5 things that they learned about the agriculture within the virtual world and 5 comparisons and differences between the two civilizations. The students will also choose 5 facts that they find interesting and write at least 3-5 sentences on why each is an important and fun fact. When students get back to the class, they will use what they have learned in the immersive lab to create a slideshow with their facts and information.
Assessment: The final assessment will be a slideshow in which the students will compare and contrast the Mayans and the Incas. They will include at least 3-5 bullet points for each slide, as well as at least one picture that describes what they are talking about within that slide. The students must include what they learned from each part of the civilization (pyramids, agriculture, and cities) as well as two slides that contain “fun facts” about each civilization.
The students will be a low-intermediate class of heterogeneous ELLs in a university setting.
Content objectives: Students will be able to work with a team to create an online treasure hunt for other teams using Minecraft. More specifically, students will be able to:
- demonstrate responsibility within their group;
- brainstorm themes (e.g., things you normally find in a kitchen), objects, and locations for the treasure hunt;
- place the objects within a pre-existing Minecraft world;
- record (make a list of) their objects and the objects’ locations.
Language objectives: Students will be able, in oral production, to accurately:
- use prepositions, prepositional phrases, left and right, closer, farther, and general directions to a location;
- follow classmates’ oral instructions with few miscues;
- use vocabulary for themed “treasures.”
Activities: Teams create treasure hunts by selecting a theme and 7-10 items to hide. Students from the creating team take turns talking their classmates through their treasure hunt. For example, “There’s an egg inside the chest (or box). The chest is on the table.” Or, “Go right.” To turn this activity into a game, pairs of students (one from each of two teams) could race the clock (and other pairs) to acquire the items.
Assessment: The teacher or aid will have a copy of each group’s list and will listen to the speakers as they direct their classmates through the treasure hunt. She will note accurate and inaccurate uses of the target language. Students will be directed not to point or otherwise use gestures to help communicate locations. To assess receptive knowledge, the teacher will observe students navigating through the world to see if they are following the directions they are given. The teacher will notice trouble words or concepts to review in subsequent classes.
In addition to the activities noted above, VITaL can support other language teaching and learning tasks around, through, and with technology (Egbert and Shahrokni, 2018). For instance, in a cyber science lab where ELLs engage in virtually dissecting a butterfly (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Wskm2nbI_Y), they can work around the technology to practice speaking. When completing tasks in Minecraft, ELLs can communicate through the technology to complete tasks with their peers or other users. Further, they can learn with the technology when practicing with an artificial intelligence (AI) application such as Amazon’s Alexa. With the current popularity of these types of immersive technologies, teacher education students have an almost unlimited array of tasks that they can create and use with their ELLs.
Some questions that future research might answer about the use of VIEs in CALL teacher education and language learning include:
- How can a VIE help pre- and in-service teachers develop sufficient knowledge and expertise in implementing technologies in different teaching and learning contexts? What unique affordances does a VIE have for teacher education programs compared to non-VIE technologies?
- How immersive should a VIE be? What immersive technologies should be used? Does the level of immersion have a role in shaping teachers’ attitudes towards technology use? How could they transfer the skills they develop in a VIE context to non-VIE contexts?
- How might ELLs perceive the usefulness of VIEs for language learning? How can VIEs support student engagement? How would the affordances of VIEs affect ELLs’ outcomes?
Creating a VIE like VITaL for teacher education programs can be useful; it can serve as a model of CALL use for future teachers, show them ways to implement and research new technologies, and encourage them to explore on their own. The literature shows that CALL teacher education is still being widely provided through a single technology course (Hanson-Smith 2016); teacher educators might consider how this single course can be enhanced through the creation of a VIE that can raise students’ awareness about the potential of technology use. The creation of a virtual environment is affordable and impactful, as research shows that immersive environments, compared to personal computers, can help students learn more effectively (Kelly 2018).
The development of the VITaL lab was supported by funding from Washington State University and additional resources from the Department of Teaching and Learning, WSU.
About the Authors
Seyed Abdollah Shahrokni, PhD, Language, Literacy, and Technology Education program at Washington State University (WSU). His research interests include computer-assisted language learning (CALL), second language socialization (SLS) in online social spaces, and task engagement.
Joy Egbert is Professor of ELL and education technology at Washington State University, Pullman, in the US. Her research and teaching interests center around language learner engagement and technology use.
Egbert, Joy L., and Seyed Abdollah Shahrokni. CALL Principles and Practices. Pullman, WA: Open Text WSU, 2018. Accessed October 02, 2018. https://opentext.wsu.edu/call/.
Hanson-Smith, Elizabeth. “Teacher education and technology.” The routledge handbook of language learning and technology (2016): 210-222.
Kelly, Rhea. “Research: People Remember Information Better Through VR.” THE Journal. June 14, 2018. Accessed October 02, 2018. https://thejournal.com/articles/2018/06/14/study-people-remember-information-better-through-vr.aspx.
Kessler, Greg, and Philip Hubbard. “Language Teacher Education and Technology.” In Handbook of Technology and Second Language Teaching and Learning, 278-92. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Blackwell, 2017.
Witmer, Bob G., and Michael J. Singer. “Measuring Presence in Virtual Environments: A Presence Questionnaire.” Presence: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments 7, no. 3 (1998): 225-40. Accessed October 2, 2018. doi:10.1162/105474698565686.