Pedagogical Considerations for Successful Implementation of Virtual Reality in the Language Classroom

Pedagogical Considerations for Successful Implementation of Virtual Reality in the Language Classroom

Ryan Lege (Kanda University of International Studies, Japan), Euan Bonner (Kanda University of International Studies, Japan), Erin Frazier (Kanda University of International Studies, Japan) and Luann Pascucci (Kanda University of International Studies, Japan)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2591-3.ch002


Virtual reality (VR) offers unique opportunities for immersive activities previously not possible in the language classroom. However, as with any new instructional medium, it is difficult to employ these technologies effectively. There is often a gap between teachers' understanding of how to use the technology and the pedagogical needs of the classroom. This chapter introduces the VR Application Analysis Framework. The framework, supported by established theory, assists with the analysis and implementation of commercial off-the-shelf VR applications into language classroom tasks. This chapter explores the history of VR and the background for its potential use in the classroom. The four key aspects of the framework are presented: immersive capacity, cognitive load, purpose, and communicative capability. Four existing VR applications and their accompanying activities are presented as examples of using the framework.
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Rapid technological advance is leading the world closer to a future where digital methods can enhance and even supplant some common aspects of reality, while providing hitherto unimaginable opportunities. Since the advent of personal computers, technologies have pushed the boundaries between reality and digital worlds. In the past, these digital worlds were presented via a number of different methods including computer screens and head mounted displays, and virtual reality (VR), the replacement of one’s physical environment with an immersive digital world, emerged as the term for such experiences. Following the introduction of modern immersive headsets in the 2010s, the term is now most commonly used when referring to virtual worlds experienced through head mounted displays. VR sets itself apart from other media in that it attempts to provide a sense of presence within digital environments. This is achieved via a headset and a set of sensors that are able to react to user movements, presenting them with “a simulated environment in which a perceiver experiences telepresence” (Steuer, 1992, pp. 76-77). VR provides numerous benefits beyond other media, such as textbooks and video instruction, as it “replaces interaction with immersion; it replaces the desktop metaphor with a world metaphor; and it replaces direct manipulation with symbiosis” (Psotka, 1995, p. 410). VR can achieve a multisensory experience to promote learning by connecting it with physical action and shows the most potential when these interactions are just not practical, permissible, or possible in reality.

From its early days in the 1980s and 90s, VR has been envisioned as having a future role in educational practice (Bricken, 1990; Hedberg & Alexander, 1994; Helsel, 1992; Wickens, 1992). Joseph Psotka (1995) outlined the then current state of VR technology and predicted a future where it could be applied universally in classroom education: “Because [the student] experiences it and does not just think it cognitively, abstractly, it has a profound and lasting effect on her perception of herself and her place in the universe, without leaving her home” (p. 422). However, due to technical limitations and costs of the time, VR was unable to find a footing in the consumer market and the public’s interest in VR soon faded. However, governments and research institutions continued to conduct numerous research projects exploring VR’s potential. In fields where realistic training was expensive, impractical, or outright dangerous, the potential of VR outweighed the significant costs and technical limitations. Military, aerial training, and surgery are some fields that have benefited from VR’s immersive capabilities (Bhagat, Liou, & Chang, 2015; Gallagher et al., 2005; Winick, 2018). Fortunately, thanks to the advent of the technology present in smartphones, consumer level VR is now possible. Untethered, self-contained VR headsets with full positional tracking and motion controls are now available at all electronics retailers, raising VR into the public consciousness once again (Jenkins, 2019).

Futurists’ visions in the 1980s and 90s of VR becoming a tool for creating fully immersive learning environments for classrooms by 2020 is now in many ways possible. VR, once an emerging niche technology, has begun to mature and find widespread market adoption. Though its role in consumer and professional environments has now been largely defined, VR in education remains an evolving space. VR has the potential of being a boon to the progressing educational sector as it allows for affordances such as heightened awareness of pragmatics (Alsever, 2015) and simulating novel environments inaccessible within classrooms (Luckey, 2016).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Flow: The sense of heightened immersion which results in extremely high performance of tasks. Within software applications, this results from changing elements of an in-app task from requiring working memory to automation, thereby decreasing overall cognitive load.

Purpose: The mode of play and/or the genre of the VR application or digital game.

Immersive Capacity: The degree to which a digital game or VR application can engage the user.

Presence: The sense of believing the digital assets of a VR application are real, by being able to interact with them almost as if they are real.

Immersion: The sense on the part of the user of being ‘in’ the VR application or digital game, when the user’s physical reality is supplanted by the virtual or digital application.

Virtual Reality: The replacement of one’s physical environment with an immersive digital world via a computer screen or head mounted display (HMD). However, since the advent of modern VR headsets in 2012, the term now commonly refers only to the use of HMDs.

Communicative Capability: The degree to which communication can be facilitated.

Cognitive Load: The amount of working memory which is required to perform a task adequately at a given time.

Spatial Computing: Any modes of computer interaction that involve use of the physical space around the user, whether supplanting the space via virtual reality, or altering it via augmented reality.

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