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International VR-English Research Project: Milestone Reached

Our international collaborative project exploring how virtual reality can support the teaching and learning of English as a foreign language continues to make progress.

With the help of the talented young developers at the University of Salento’s Augmented and Virtual Reality Lab in Italy, we have now achieved an important technical milestone – the refining and successful importation into the VR collaboration platform rumii of our 1,600 year-old church which will be used in our English lessons this spring.

Thanks to some technical magic and relentless testing by Doriana Cisternino and Carolina Gatto of the AVR Lab, we were able to ensure that the church, originally created by Giovanni Mastronuzzi of the University of Salento’s Department of Cultural Heritage, is viewable in virtual reality and can be visited and toured by anyone, anywhere in the world as long as they have a VR headset. To test it out, the staff from the AVR Lab met Michael, the English teacher and founder of Gold Lotus, in rumii, and here are some shots:

Carolina Gatto, one of the VR developers and experts in cultural heritage, admiring the timber roof of the 4th-century church while describing to Michael of Gold Lotus the history of the interior

International VR English project - Gold Lotus, Uni Salento, University College London

Doriana Cisternino, embodying a virtual avatar while exploring the tombs of villagers who lived in the southern-Italian town of Vaste 1,600 years ago.

Here's a short video of how it all looks in VR:

The team at the University of Salento AVR Lab - experts in both the technical and cultural-heritage aspects of the project. From left - right: Doriana Cisternino, Prof. Lucio Tommaso De Paolis, Carolina Gatto, Michael McDonald

Next Steps

The next stage is for the Project's academic lead - Dr Andrea Révész of University College London’s Institute of Education - to work with Michael of Gold Lotus, in creating a pedagogical task with this church.

A pedagogical task, as defined by Nunan (1989) is "a piece of classroom work which involves learners in comprehending, manipulating, producing or interacting in the target language while their attention is principally focussed on meaning rather than form". With Dr Révész being a well-respected figure in the world of Task-Based Language Teaching ("TBLT"), and Michael's experience in teaching English as a foreign language within virtual reality, the aim is to create an English-language learning task whereby students will take on the role of tour guides and visitors to this ancient Italian church.

The aim of tasks in general is to provide an opportunity to practise English in a way that is more related to real-life, as opposed to simply learning expressions and grammar from a textbook by rote. The beauty of this project however, and the technology it employs, is that students can immerse themselves in virtual locations such as this church in order to have a much more contextual learning experience, something which is often lacking in the classroom.

We will update you in the coming months with the developments of this project.

This project is supported by University College London's Global Engagement Office. You can read more about this and more aspects of this collaboration on our dedicated Research page found here.

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