A few weeks ago, I was sitting on Michigan State University’s campus in a classroom in Erickson hall, playing with toys and technology. Here I was, at the start of my master’s program, and I’m…playing with toys?!
Well, they weren’t toys. They were tools. Yet they were tools that allowed me to explore and create things that I’ve never had an opportunity to make before. I’ve never made a paper circuit. I’ve never used a Makey Makey to create and play a banana bongo. I learned so much that day, but most of all I learned that I am a maker and I LOVE it. That would be no surprise to Dale Dougherty, who insists that everyone is a maker (Dougherty, 2011).
Another tool that I had never used before was a VR headset. Google Cardboard, in particular. I’ve heard from other language teacher friends that virtual reality can be an awesome tool in the language classroom, but I had never had the time before to just explore and play around with what exactly you can do in VR.
The first thing I did was download the Google Cardboard application to my phone. While exploring that app, I found myself ‘taking a walk’ around the base of the Eiffel Tower in Google Maps! ‘Amazing!’ I thought, and decided to look for other VR apps of Paris. I found one called Paris VR, and let me tell you, it was beautiful. I toured the Eiffel Tower, the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Louvre, and the Palace of Versailles before I ran out of time. You should have seen my face, I was so pumped! I excitedly started sharing my findings with one of my instructors, Chris. I told him what I saw and that he should explore some places too.
As I watched Chris use the VR headset to explore on his own phone, I remembered what Dougherty said about the social aspect of making. The fact that as we talk and tell stories about the things we are exploring and making, we are not only learning but also teaching others at the same time (Dougherty, 2011).
Now, I’m definitely the type of person that tries to justify ways to use the newest toys in the classroom without really thinking about whether or not it would actually be useful (Koehler & Mishra, 2009). With that in mind, I wanted to be very careful while thinking about the ways this could be used in my own classroom. It was fun and new and really awesome for me while I was exploring it, but could it actually help my students learn French?
I came to the conclusion that virtual reality itself is not going to help my students learn a language. However, a massively important part of learning a new language is also learning the cultures of that language. When it comes to cultural learning, I realized that VR has HUGE potential. They can see famous monuments practically in person. They can explore a cave that is many thousands of years old. They can view and analyze hundreds of works of art at dozens of museums. Although they cannot truly experience a whole culture without going there one day, I believe that exploring in VR can open their minds and their attitudes to people and places that are different than what they are used to. It gives them perspective. It gives rise to discussion. It introduces them to new things across the globe.
France, Canada, Africa, the Caribbean…there are no limits! I plan to have my students ‘visit’ all of them, without ever having to leave the classroom. VR can be used by any teacher who wants to show their students something that, for whatever reason, they can’t travel to in person. So what are you waiting for?!
Dougherty, D. (2011, January). We Are Makers. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/dale_dougherty_we_are_makers
Koehler, M.J., & Mishra, P. (2009). Too cool for school? No way! Learning and leading with technology. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ839143.pdf
VR in action pictures owned by Sarah Van Loo and used with permission.