Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting Italian VR/AR developer, blogger and entrepreneur Antony Vitillo in rumii to deliver a virtual reality business English lesson. We were 1,200km apart in the real world but thanks to the power of rumii’s VR collaboration tools, both Antony and I had the chance to embody a virtual avatar and begin learning English in a way that was never before possible, covering how to introduce oneself in English in professional contexts and how to describe information in graphs - important for those needing to fluently present slides or interact with the international community.
Our meeting lasted around 30 minutes, but time flew. Very quickly, from my perspective at least, I forgot that I had a VR headset strapped to my head because I found myself slipping into what I usually do when teaching in the physical world – listening intently and engaging with the student in ways to stimulate certain vocabulary or grammar so I could hone in on any weaknesses or areas for improvement.
Despite me using the term “lesson” I’m not fully convinced this is the best way to describe what we did. A “lesson” implies, to my mind at least, something more formal and that the student follows more explicitly the lead of the teacher, with maybe not as much free conversation as you'd find in more informal settings. I won't get bogged down in the semantics, but what happened in rumii was more than that. It was very much a coming together of two people, talking about business-related topics, with one person - the native speaker - offering support when needed.
This is one of the many curiosities of such interactions using this technology. What’s interesting is that VR collaboration spaces like rumii makes you question the whole dynamic of learning. It certainly has spilled over into my physical world interactions with students, which I’ll explain more about in a future post. There was however something much more social in our meeting than simply turning up to a classroom, plonking yourself behind a desk and fixing your gaze to the front of the class. We were able to move around in the virtual room and stand face-to-face which added to the personal nature of the learning experience. If there’s one thing that I’ve learnt in the last decade as an educator, it’s that if you can nurture a good rapport between yourself and the students, they have the potential to experiment more with the English language and provide you opportunities to develop them further. Rumii facilitates that type of interaction, breaks down barriers, whether they be desks between teachers and students, or physical distances. Break those types of barriers down and you start to obliterate psychological and linguistic barriers which hinder a learner’s development.
But let’s stop and play devil’s advocate. I never want to become blinded by the technology so much that I assume that it’s the only and best way to go about teaching. So the simple question is: if we hadn’t had rumii, how would Antony and I have conducted the business English lesson? Well the facts are that I was in southern Italy at the time and he was in the north. Remember those barriers I was talking about earlier? That’s a 1,200km barrier. Oh and another thing, before I forget. Remember those barriers I was talking about earlier? That’s a 300€ barrier had I taken the plane and booked a hotel overnight in Turin to make that lesson happen:
What about the train? That’s a 153€, out-of-the-house-for-25-straight-hours barrier:
You get the point. I don’t like barriers.
I love my work and respect Antony for everything he does in this field, but it wouldn’t have made sense to have delivered that lesson in the physical world. So it begs the question, how else would I have met Antony to deliver that training if we hadn’t used rumii and I didn’t want to make the monumental journey to the north?
A phone call? Could have done, but why do that when there’s Skype or some other video conferencing software? Could do, but as Antony said himself in our meeting, “what you get here (in VR) and not with videoconferencing is the ability to stand in a space in front of a whiteboard and with a native speaker, which feels much closer to what you would normally experience in the physical world”. Bingo. What was wonderful in my meeting with Antony was the feeling of truly being in that room and with him. The fact that his or my avatars weren’t exact representations of us didn’t matter because once two people, those being the teacher and the student, convene remotely and in real time and start engaging, with the teacher interacting in exactly the same way as he does in the physical world, the focus turns to the task at hand, and that's one person helping another person with how they communicate in English, with not a grubby textbook in sight.
I would like to thank Antony for his time and also his humility in allowing me to provide some feedback on his English. It's clear that his level is high enough to confidently communicate in a variety of situations, but I hope that by him joining me in rumii, it will inspire other people who maybe lack the confidence or abilities to come and join me. It was also an important meeting for me to understand how I can improve, such as ensuring that I choose graphics that have clear colour distinctions, because it wasn't easy for him to distinguish different shades of green on the whiteboard, but I'll know for next time.
If you want to meet me in rumii please book a time at https://www.goldlotus.co/vrenglishlessons
To stay up to date with all the happenings in and around VR and AR, check out Antony's jam-packed blog at https://skarredghost.com/
You can find out more about rumii at https://www.rumii.net