The 7th Future of English language Teaching Conference (FOELT) took place on Saturday, 11th June, 2022.
The abstract of my talk
There has been a lot of talk about the metaverse in the past year, and language teachers, teacher trainers and schools might be wondering what the relevance of it is for them and their students. In this sessions, we will first look at what the metaverse is by looking at different definitions and metaverse platforms and applications that already exist. I will then provide reasons why language teachers cannot ignore the metaverse developments and show how they can prepare for teaching in the metaverse. We will also look at what research says about learning in virtual reality, which is the most immersive experience in the metaverse, and what research tells us about language learning in virtual reality.
You can find the recordings of all FOELT conference talks on Trinity College London website
Questions & Answers
There were 149 participants. There was a lot of engagement in the chat and lots of questions in the Q&A box, but unfortunately no time to answer them. I was, however, provided with the list of questions and have answered them below, trying to keep it short but hopefully still useful.
If you attended my talk and have more questions or didn’t ask during the session, I invite you to leave a comment, and I will respond.
Isn’t it a shame everyone has to be an avatar? Doesn’t that make interaction less ‘credible’?
- You don’t necessarily have to. Many VR education and event platforms allow you to use your camera, sometimes replacing your avatar and sometimes showing your head above your camera. Some apps scan your head and create an avatar with your real head, such as Spatial.io.
- However, it turns out that avatars can actually be very beneficial for language learning. Read this short research-based article by my colleague, Tricia Thrasher on the effects on avatars on language learning and skills.
Nergiz, did you say the metaverse helped you with English fluency?
- No, immersion into an English-speaking environment/country and going about my daily life in English as part of an immersion program helped me to become a confident, fluent and natural speaker.
- But the metaverse is a great alternative to immersion programs for people who cannot or do not want to go abroad for an extended period of time.
Am I right to conclude that the metaverse provide the environment for immersive language learning?
- Exactly. If you cannot or do not want to travel abroad to immerse yourself in a language, the metaverse is already and will increasingly become a very good alternative to for language immersion in order to become confident and fluent in the target language.
If you teach in a traditional classroom setting (teaching 4 skills), in what ways can you integrate a VR experience in a structured, sustained way?
- VR can be integrated very well into in a blended learning course. I’m a fan of blended learning. Nearly all courses can benefit from a blended learning approach (also often called hybrid learning). VR can be the place where learners put into practice what they have learned; they can work on projects, present their work, meet students from other schools, even other countries, etc.
- A simpler way to include it within face-to-face or online lessons would be to use 360-degree videos or images and create pre-, while- and post-viewing activities like you would with a traditional video or image-based activity. This can be done with smartphones and tablets or cheap VR headsets, such as Google Cardboard (in combination with smartphones.
Do you believe that metaverse will replace face-to-face classes?
- There are good and bad face-to-face classes. I hope the metaverse replaces the bad ones ?
- I’m a teacher myself and love interacting face-to-face with my students in the classroom. I also love doing things together with my students that are not possible in the classroom, such as taking them to the science centre or museum. I have been fortunate enough to be able to do that, but it’s not always possible.
- I see the metaverse as a place, an environment where you can do things that are often not possible or not easily possible in the physical world. What this is can change from person to person, country to country, institution to institution, etc. It can be field trips, building things together, meeting other students or interesting people and interviewing them, role-playing in realistic environments, etc.
- Also, not all students can attend face-to-face classes.
What could be the effect(s) of the metaverse on students as they move from a VR world to the real world? Will the difference between these 2 worlds not affect them?
- I’m not exactly sure what you mean, but if it is about transferability of skills learned in the metaverse into the physical world, there is research that shows skills are transferable. Most of the research is in other fields, but there is some in language learning as well. More research is being conducted on this currently.
Are any English language schools using this yet?
- Yes, many language schools, in fact, some of the biggest language institutions and chains in the world, use Immerse. Some also use other types of VR language platforms that are based on 360-degree videos or chatbots, and platforms not specifically designed for language learning, such as Second Life, AltspaceVR, or VRChat.
I have used Second Life in my language classes so many times, however, I have some concerns about the user safety because my students were disturbed and verbally attacked by some anonymous avatars in the middle of our session. How can we protect ourselves in those kind of environments?
- Yes, unfortunately, this can be a problem when you use apps that are not built for education but for socialising and are open to everyone. This is why educators and EdTech companies have to work together to develop extended reality (XR) platforms that are safe from intruders.
- It is possible to protect your students and yourself in public social VR apps too. In SL, if you own or rent land, you can prohibit strangers from entering or can easily remove and block any nasty person. In AltSpaceVR or VRChat and similar platforms, you can again create your own world and decide who is allowed in.
Really really interesting, but lots of questions come to my mind: – how do you “accompany” students? it seems to me like this is more like an “extra” resource for them to practice, isn’t it?
- Actually, it’s not much different from going on a field trip with your students in the physical world. You and your students (or your avatars) are in the same location together and you can walk (or teleport) to interesting places and do things together, such as sitting in a café, playing a game, or visiting a museum. This is where it helps to try it out to fully understand it. If you can, download a social VR app to your computer, try Virbela Campus for free, or borrow a VR headset (at your university or from a local rental shop).
Several questions about cost and affordability:
How affordable is it for schools and colleges?
How affordable is it for schools?
How affordable are these for teachers, especially freelance teachers? Or are schools (and perhaps students) going to need to invest in these?
What will be the budget(s) for this type of classroom?
Do we need device to do this? Currently, those equipment’s are all expensive. Is it possible that this can be applied for the whole class with many students?
- There are many different ways of using VR with your students. You can use existing computers, smartphones or tablets. You can combine smartphones with Google Cardboard or similar. There are even low-cost VR headsets that are pre-loaded with lesson content or allow for uploading 360-degree videos, and can be used offline (without Wi-Fi access).
- It’s also possible to work with just a few devices (whether smartphones or VR headsets) if you work with different stations in the classroom or group or pair up students – one in the VR experience, the other one giving instructions or taking notes. And teaching with even one device per class is possible.
- Increasingly more students also already own a VR headset for gaming or work, so you could target these.
What about tech divide. For areas which people cannot get access to these equipments or with Internet issues, adopting this will be difficult.
- There will probably always be a divide. Many people still don’t have access to the internet. It will take long until the metaverse replaces the current flat internet And then, it will be accessible in different ways with lower and higher tech, or low-immersion (e.g. smartphone) and high-immersion devices (VR headsets).
For me, the most convincing reasons for using VR environments from research in other areas have so far been to overcome phobias and to develop empathy by taking other people’s perspectives. So, for language learning, maybe indicating opportunities to overcome anxiety and maybe to access different cultural viewpoints? Do you have any thoughts about those ‘opportunities’?
- I’ve read research into both areas and understand the potential. Some call VR ‘the empathy machine’ others criticise this kind of use. I think if done well – as always – it can help people experience a different perspective, or walk in somebody else’s shoes for a while. There are app that have been specifically built for this and are used at schools and for soft skills training.
Do you think there is the risk of creating/increasing a digital divide? Older adults inherently have difficulties using technology.
- The divide can be increased or decreased, depending. Older adults don’t necessarily have more difficulties using this technology. In fact, there are VR apps that are specifically for old people and help them to connect with their family and friends, or ‘travel’ to places they cannot visit any longer. One such app as is Alcove. There is also research that VR can be beneficial for autistic people.
- Having said that accessibility can be an issue with technology, incl. VR, not just for the elderly but also for people with certain disabilities or specific needs. So, there is a lot of work that needs to be done in this area, and fortunately both VR companies and organisations dedicated to this cause are working on it. One solution is to provide access to VR via different means, such as the smartphone, tablets, and desktop, besides VR headsets.
How scaleable would it be – say for example you have an academic with 1400 students who is interested in this area, and wants to run role plays with her students – is this a feasible option to have this many students at the same time?
- With one teacher, this seems difficult. You can, of course, have dozens of teachers, each with their own class teach in VR at the same time. There are events with such a large number of participants too, but that will be more like teaching in a lecture hall, which I wouldn’t necessarily do in VR.
- A lot depends also on what type of VR will be used – high or low immersion, for example, whether it will be used online or offline, synchronously or asynchronously, or with local or remote students. And all this ultimately depends on why they want to use VR. What is the problem that VR is the solution for?
Several questions about teacher training and how to get started with VR teaching:
Are there courses for immersive teaching?
Can you recommend any courses on how to use metaverse?
Do you offer basic courses in using the technology in Metaverse?
Could you please tell us about any basic online courses available about immersive teaching using metaverse
I am a teacher and entrepreneur so what’s the best way to go about preparing my teachers and myself to be able to use VR to teach at my school?
- I currently don’t offer any courses, but I can be booked for consulting by institutions who want to start using VR and understand their options, and can provide sessions on research-backed techniques, methods and approaches that work well in VR language teaching.
- I can’t remember having seen any specific courses for teaching in the metaverse, but I’m pretty sure there are some for using virtual reality in education. For now, you might want to start with introductory courses about VR.
- You can, as I mentioned at the end of my talk, curate your own learning: read about how to teach languages in VR and attend conference presentations, or join a community of practice (see the following question). This takes more time but can be very rewarding.
Could you give us some community names?
- The most active community of practice for teachers and language learners seems to be the vlanguages group, which is part of the bigger Educators in VR group. FrameVR has an active community as well, even though it is not specifically for language learning or teaching.
Are you interested in participating in an interview about the Futures of TEFL? It is my thesis topic.
- You can contact me and tell me more about it.
Do we really have to replace everything? Our food, trees, nature, education. It’s not immersion that makes learning possible, it’s relevance.
- I left this question to the end because I can totally relate to it emotionally. If you look around on my website, you feel see that besides technology, I am most interested in the environment, in nature photography, foraging and hiking. I’ve often used technology and language learning to create awareness of environmental issues. I’m also a member of ELT Footprint and have given talks on how to use VR for environmentally-themed lessons. I like technology, but am aware of the downsides; I also love switching off and putting away everything and losing myself in nature. There is nothing more beautiful than standing or sitting under a tree, walking through a forest and experiences it with all senses. So, no, I don’t think we should replace any of that with virtual reality, and we don’t have to. We can have both ???