The GEF Project Overview - Task-Based Language Teaching with Virtual Reality
Dr Révész, Professor of Second Language Acquisition at the Institute of Education, is collaborating with the Augmented and Virtual Reality Lab at the University of Salento in Italy to investigate the efficacy of pedagogical tasks through virtual reality, within the framework of Task-Based Language Teaching (TBLT) methodology.
Dr Révész has been working closely with Michael McDonald, TEFL-qualified English teacher and founder of the Gold Lotus consultancy in southern Italy, to create student-centred tasks which are relevant to real-life situations where English is used outside the classroom. Given that the framework of TBLT supports the learning of authentic vocabulary in a communicative dynamic, VR offers considerable potential to deepen a foreign-language learners’ fluency and confidence thanks to its ease at which students can easily be immersed in 360-degree contexts such as restaurants, train stations and other locations which resemble the real world.
As part of this Global Engagement Fund project, Dr Révész and Michael McDonald, along with the technical expertise of the AVR Lab at the University of Salento in Italy - namely Professor Lucio Tommaso De Paolis and PhD students Carolina Gatto and Doriana Cisternino - managed to successfully reconfigure a 3D model of a 1,500 year-old church from southern Italy - created by Giovanni Mastronuzzi of the University of Salento’s Department of Cultural Heritage - so that it could be placed onto the rumii VR collaboration platform. Thanks to this, people can visit that church in virtual reality while embodying a virtual avatar. They can also see and speak to other people in the same virtual space in real time, remotely anywhere in the world. This opens up a wealth of possibilities for communities to not only resurrect lost pieces of history, but to use those historical locations as a source for learning languages like English and sharing of cultural heritage, as is being done as part of this project.
(From left to right) Doriana Cisternino, Prof. Lucio Tomasso De Paolis, Carolina Gatto of the University of Salento’s AVR Lab, Michael McDonald of Gold Lotus. Photo taken February 2020.
Coronavirus: Adapting the Project
Dr Révész was due to travel to Italy in early June 2020 in order to meet fellow collaborators and attend the local secondary school to meet the students who would be participating in the research. Italy-based colleagues were then due to return the visit in October 2020 to attend one of Dr Révész’s workshops to present the technology, research and findings to her students at University College London’s Institute of Education, but due to travel restrictions and risks relating to Covid-19, these visits were made impossible.
Given the already innovative nature of this project as a result of the technology being employed, not being able to travel did not pose any irrevocable damage to the continued development of the work and as a result, planning continued over Zoom primarily, with finishing touches being made to the VR 3D model of the ancient church remotely by the AVR Lab team while away from the faculty.
The view from outside the virtual representation of the ancient church, located in Vaste, in the region of Puglia, Italy
In addition to this, changes have been made to the way in which the research is to be conducted locally in Italy.
It was planned that twenty students would be participating as part of a weekly meeting of two hours. However, given the need for stringent hygiene standards, particularly when using and sharing hardware like VR headsets, an alternative model has been put in place, with smaller groups of ten convening together. This will ensure that there is more than ample physical distance among participants and that no student has to share a VR headset with anyone else that day, since only 10 headsets are available at the participating school. Each headset will be thoroughly cleaned after with medical-grade products.
The secondary school has also purchased silicone face covers for each student to use over the foam covers of the VR headsets, to minimise risks further, and masks will be worn at all times over the mouth and nose. Parents of the participating students will be informed of all measures to be taken.