How language teachers can piggyback on existing VR content and courses and why they should

I’m very interested in using virtual reality environments for teaching ESP (English for Specific Purposes) or ESAP (English for Specific Academic Purposes). However, the problem is that it takes a lot of technical skills, time, effort and cost to develop such course in a virtual world from scratch. It is not something that a teacher or even a language department can easily do on their own. This is one of the reasons why, even after so many years, there are still only a handful of language educators in virtual worlds.

Don’t reinvent the wheel

My approach in the past was to use existing places (in Second Life) to teach English, rather than buying digital land, learning to built and script, etc., which wasn’t and still isn’t feasible for most teachers.

So, when I came across this video from Arizona State University (ASU) on Linkedin, I was really excited – not because of Hollywood, but because I think some of us educators might be able to piggyback on this kind of thing. For example, ASU want to use the world shown in the video to teach biology. Many universities around the world are investing in VR now, particularly in fields, such as Architecture, Medicine or History.

Instead of reinventing the wheel, a university language department can use the same worlds to teach EAP or ESAP. Language teachers can use their skills to create a language course and activities for that subject area based on the original materials. This would not only save money, time and effort, but it would help integrate the language learning with the international students’ subject courses and thus support them better, providing exactly the language skills and knowledge they need in a more engaging and memorable way.

Inter-disciplinary collaboration

As I also like project-based learning, I could imagine another type of collaboration between different departments and subject areas. Many universities now offer degrees in Virtual and Augmented Reality, and often students have to work on projects developing VR environments or apps as part of their portfolio for assessment. Some projects could be on building environments or apps for the language department. Or an interdisciplinary collaboration could bring VR development students together with EdTech and TESOL students (like I was) and have them work together on VR for language education projects – a win-win-win situation for the students from the two disciplines and the university.

(For more details about the ASU project, go here.)