July 23, 2021

Feature Friday #3: Unlocking student interaction in vR

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The screen flickers. Your students watch another video and get ready to take notes in a collaborative document. But it’s hard to concentrate, there’s too much happening around them – and TikTok videos are way more fun anyway. 

For the learners sitting behind a computer, online and hybrid English language classes are missing one vital thing – the feeling of presence. That intangible sense of being with others and interacting with them in a natural way is just not there. 

This is a technology issue, not a classroom management problem: Teachers do their best to approximate pair and team work. Frankly, they do a great job using collaborative tools, quizzes, breakout rooms and so on. But video conferencing platforms don’t make great learning environments.

Dr. Brenda Wiederhold, a clinical psychologist, explained to the National Education Association why this is the case::

“Our brains are used to picking up body language and other cues, not to mention increases of dopamine, that are experienced during face-to-face communication,” she says. “On a video call, something is off, and our subconscious brain is reacting to that. Communication isn’t in real time, even though we may think it is."

Furthermore, according to the article, this split second delay causes the brain to look for ways to “overcome the lack of synchrony. The brain begins to fatigue, causing us to feel tired, worried and anxious.”

However, while in the Immerse VR platform, regardless of whether the classes are face-to-face, remote or hybrid, the learners do have a feeling of presence. And they can easily and more naturally interact with their classmates and teacher in a more realistically synchronous way. 

In this Feature Friday article we’re going to talk about presence and fun ways to interact in the Immerse platform, including:

  • High Fives with haptic feedback
  • Simon Says interactions 
  • Waving 
  • Voice chat
  • Celebrations (with confetti!)

First, what contributes to a feeling of presence in VR?

According to Slater and Wilbur, there are two main pillars to support this sense of presence, namely context and immersion:

“Context indicates how convincing the setting and the storytelling of the virtual scenario are for the user. Immersion focuses on the technical aspects to provide sufficient sensory information for the perception system, e.g. good stereoscopic imaging with high resolution images and an appropriate frame rate.”

The combination of Oculus Quest 2’s hardware and our carefully crafted VR scenes facilitates a seamless, versatile learning environment. It engages the learners’ senses and encourages interaction – without the almost imperceptible feedback delay we experience on video calls. 

Supporting language acquisition and retention

Most importantly, in a learning context, interaction with others in English is how language learners internalize language and improve their fluency and retention.

According to Long’s Interaction Theory (which focuses more on interactions with learners and native speakers), interaction "facilitates language acquisition because it connects input (what learners hear and read); internal learner capacities, particularly selective attention; and output (what learners produce) in productive ways". 

Interaction is more than just about speaking, however. Moving, gesturing, and non-verbal cues are all important parts of communication and learning.

One study, Gesturing makes learning last, found that requiring children to gesture while learning a new concept “helped them retain the knowledge they had gained during instruction. In contrast, requiring children to speak, but not gesture, while learning the concept had no effect on solidifying learning.”

This is why movements, gestures, and other ways to interact are so central to the learner experience in Immerse.

How learners value interaction

Ever high-fived a computer screen? In the past I have, with my online non-VR students. It’s an attempt at human connection. It’s sort of funny, but really, it’s just a sad reminder that we’re far apart, connected only by wires, microchips, and signals. 

The same might be said of VR, only, the suspension of disbelief is immediate. Put on the Oculus Quest 2 and look around. You are in the scenario. Is it like real life? No. But it is certainly easier to feel like you’re a part of it. 

Human interactions in this setting – even seemingly meaningless ones like waving and high fives – actually make a big difference. They build rapport and help create a nicer learning space to be in. 

VR users tend to agree. An industry report of early VR users says yes. Forbes reports there was a strong interest in VR interaction and the popularity of social VR apps (RecRoom and VRChat for example) are also good indicators of user interest in interaction.

So what happens when you high five in the Immerse VR platform? It doesn't just look like you are doing it, rather, it actually feels like you are doing it because your hand experiences a sensation (haptic feedback) when your avatar’s hand connects with another person’s avatar hand. This helps students be more present in VR and increases the fun ways learners can engage with each other.

Check out our third video led by our Chief Product Officer, Jacob, in our #FeatureFriday series below to see these interactions in real time. 

Supporting interaction in Immerse

So, what about other types of interaction? Students can obviously high five and talk to each other in VR, but the interplay does not stop there. We are in virtual reality after all, and interaction can be a lot of fun, and have some engaging properties. For example:

  • VR Simon Says: Students model interaction through the familiar party game. It’s fun, and tests speaking, listening and comprehension skills. It also helps learners become more accustomed to interacting with each other in the VR environment. 
  • Thumbs up: Students can give a thumbs up to respond to a message they receive. It’s a quick, recognizable gesture for students and adds to their sense of being physically in the space. 
  • Celebrations: We all like to celebrate. Students simply wave their arms in the air and confetti rains down. Showing appreciation in this way develops rapport, adds a sense of fun and looks great too! 

Learn More

There are many ways to interact with your students, for your students to interact with one another, and to better facilitate English language learning through VR. Explore what Immerse has to offer and transform your classroom – in-class or remote or hybrid – today!

Christian Rowe
Christian Rowe is the Chief Revenue Officer at Immerse. He loves unearthing new ways to help people grow, educating markets about new possibilities, and leveraging cutting-edge technology to help make human transformation possible.

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