July 2, 2021

Feature Friday #1: How Realistic Surroundings in VR Boost Student Learning

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Virtual reality (VR) has a distinct advantage over many EdTech tools. It offers a happy medium between the uninspiring safety of a brick-and-mortar classroom and more unpredictable real-world scenarios. 

The magic lies in the tangible, interactive contexts that only VR can provide. Realistic surroundings in VR help “transport” the learner to a mental space where they are naturally encouraged to speak. Yet, while the real-feel virtual situation facilitates language production and engagement, learners are still cocooned in a safe learning environment. 

Realistic surroundings are highlighted as one of the hallmarks of a high quality learning experience in VR, by Radianti et al. Their research, which extends the work of Majchrzak and Stieglitz, developed a Virtual Reality Learning Design framework. It explores “…the VR design elements, and the learning theories, as a foundation for successful VR-based learning.”

Offering realistic surroundings is therefore one of our learning design principles in Immerse. So let’s take a look at how realistic VR scenes impact learning and engagement. We’ll go into how you can integrate these scenes with your teaching to really make the most of Immerse. 

Watch as Jacob Furnari, our Co-founder and Chief Product Officer, walks you through a few scenes in the Immerse platform.

Learning in realistic surroundings in VR

When it comes to language learning, immersion is widely acknowledged as an effective way to study. The target language becomes a tool for students to communicate, to carry out tasks and solve problems, all while learning and having fun. 

A realistic VR scenario can help students feel even more engaged with their classroom activity. It helps them to enter a flow state, where they are deeply engaged in the learning task and present in the virtual experience. 

Exploring 30+ realistic surroundings in Immerse 

Our VR English language teaching and learning platform offers instructors more than 30 scenes to explore with their learners. These virtual environments have been designed with a high level of detail, so that they are realistic representations of locations - and are meaningful to students. 

Each location is approachable and easy to interact with. That means even students who are unfamiliar with VR find it easy to navigate the scene, while engaging in conversation and practicing English 

Let’s take a look at a brief VR lesson plan for teaching the imperative, using a realistic scene from Immerse. 

Cooking in the Immerse Kitchen

Recipes are a fantastic teaching tool. In the language classroom, lots of learners will have experience and interest in cooking and preparing food. So, getting students to follow the steps of a recipe, and develop their own recipes, is an engaging way to teach the imperative form and develop students’ food-related vocabulary: 

Learning objectives

  • Students will be able to use the imperative verb form to give simple instructions 
  • Students will be able to understand and use food and cooking-related vocabulary

Target language

Flipped classroom

Prior to the class, your students have been exposed to the imperative form and food-related vocabulary, so now it’s time to practice and produce the target language. 

Warm up: Tell students to talk in pairs about their favorite or most typical dish from their culture. 

Task 1: Explore the Immerse kitchen with your students. Ask them to make a list of all the ingredients they find and review any vocabulary they might need. 

For example, in Immerse students can teleport around and explore the kitchen shelves and fridges for food. The Teacher can even introduce vocabulary, instructional styles, or recipe style instructions using a fun Tomato Throwing game (when was the last time you encouraged students to throw tomatoes in class?!).

Task 2: Put your learners in pairs, and ask them to follow your instructions as you share the directions to create a recipe, using the target language.

In Immerse, students don't just talk about the directions, they can actually chop the food, cook it in pans, and place it in blenders and pour things into glasses. In VR, they can fully immerse themselves by role playing in the kitchen, up to and including getting dressed up in a kitchen uniform.

Task 3: Ask each pair to brainstorm recipes that they could create with the remaining ingredients in the Immerse kitchen. Once they’ve created a recipe, they need to instruct another pair on how to prepare their dish, using the target language. 

For example, in Immerse students can brainstorm recipes and then move to the presentation area where partners present their new recipe ideas together on stage to the audience, as if they are in Top Chef or Great British Baking? Who knows, will the judges like their idea?!

These elements of drama can provide deeper connections with the content, increase motivation and engagement, and improve learner retention of language. By utilizing realistic scenes and scenarios, you can take an average recipe lesson and bring it to life in powerful new ways in realistic settings.

How does this compare to a traditional lesson?

In the traditional classroom, this activity usually involves students writing out a list of ingredients and the steps for a recipe, before sharing those steps with a partner or another team. This can be challenging though in your actual classroom because your students are probably 1) imagining a kitchen 2) distracted by thinking about what is for lunch 3) trying to remember a recipe off the top of their head. But in VR, they don’t have to imagine the kitchen! Students genuinely feel like they are physically in a real kitchen, with all the elements they need to practice the target language in a more conducive environment.

They can share instructions with their classmates, and give and receive peer feedback as partners and groups follow directions. It’s a powerful way to practice the target language. When students are fully immersed in their roles as chefs, their communication feels truly authentic, and learning takes place at a deep level. 

Learn more

The Immerse platform has over 30 locations to choose from, with detailed, realistic scenes for students to explore. So, schools can immediately offer their students a much broader variety of learning experiences and situations - all without leaving the physical classroom. Your students will have the opportunity to practice their language in realistic spaces, and teachers will be able to unlock their creativity and design dynamic and engaging learning experiences - all through the power of virtual reality! 

Sara Davila
Sara Davila is the Head of Efficacy and Learning for Immerse. Based in Chicago, Sara Davila is an expert on English-language learning, twenty-first century pedagogies, and teacher-training best practices. Author of numerous articles and speaker at countless conferences, Sara’s expertise spans the globe.

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