August 6, 2021

Feature Friday #4: Teaching in VR Using Object Interaction

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In this week’s #FeatureFriday post, Jacob demonstrates some neat ways students can interact with objects in the Immerse VR English language teaching platform. Let’s take a look at how the ability to move, manipulate, catch, throw and create things makes teaching in Virtual reality (VR) more effective.

See how students use interactive realia in this video 

Are you thirsty? Then how about an ice-cold smoothie? Head to the kitchen and look around for some ingredients. What sort of drink would you like? You’ll have to pick up the fruit, cut it up, put it in the blender, give it a mix...and then pour it into a glass.  

Interaction in VR goes far beyond just talking and communicating with others. It also relates to how you can engage with objects. In Immerse, just like in real life (well, almost), students can move things around, manipulate them - and even use them to make tropical fruit drinks for their classmates! 

Interaction in VR is important because it closes the gap between the student and the learning environment. Being able to explore, manipulate and even create within a VR space, helps students feel present. It’s also fun, engaging and - with well planned learning objectives in mind - will help students immerse themselves in the task at hand. 

The pedagogical benefits of using interactive realia in VR

Interaction with authentic materials and objects is common practice in English language learning - it’s often described as using realia.

Realia has proven time and time again to be effective in supporting the development of vocabulary and all language skills (speaking, listening, reading, and writing) across multiple ages.

It works in the language classroom because it “aids in contextually grounding instruction by bringing students into contact with language as it is used in the target culture in order to meet actual communication needs.” 

Moreover, the “use of realia... can enhance linguistic and cultural comprehensibility, which are both prerequisites for real language learning,” according to Bryan Smith [PDF], writing on Virtual Realia. 

The good news is that learners tend to find working with realia in VR even more exciting than using realia in the physical classroom, because they don’t have to use their imaginations. After all, their actions have a real effect on the objects.

Creating authentic learning experiences in VR

As students explore and interact with objects (and each other) in the VR learning space, they soon understand they are learning and doing something worthwhile and practical. 

“VR creates visceral empathy for many problems that are even hard to imagine,” writes Chandana Ramprasad on Medium. “It is intense, emotional and makes people really feel the virtual objects in the environment around them.”

Whether you’re teaching face to face, online, or in a hybrid environment, your learners will feel like they are in the same place, physically working together, with tangible objects.

The ability to interact in VR is key to effective teaching and learning because it makes the experience more authentic. This is important because, according to Enrique Tromp in the Road to VR, it develops “new neural pathways that provide the ability to learn and perform new tasks.” 

“They work the same way good professors make lessons entertaining that keep you engaged, facilitating the assimilation of new knowledge,” he continues. “Bad interactions will cause frustration and decrease training efficacy."

Creating a platform that allows for deep learner interaction is therefore essential for successful VR learning. 

Supporting interaction with objects in Immerse

Your VR English language class in Immerse can feature a number of different types of object interactions. In fact, you’ll discover a huge range of virtual objects that students can use. 

Some of these are common to the classroom - for example, food in the kitchen. But learners can also use hundreds of uncommon objects that would be impossible to afford or distribute. For example, in Immerse, students can (safely!) use bows and arrows, blenders and mixers, torches and even virtual campfires with virtual marshmallows to roast! Additionally, students can use things like gym barbells, fun hats, and confetti. 

Within the VR learning environment, learners can grab, toss, throw, and catch any virtual objects. This creates lots of opportunities for learning. 

What’s more, because we are working in VR, students can interact with objects in a different way, because in VR they no longer have to obey all the physical rules of gravity. For instance, students can hang sticky notes or images in mid-air.

Teaching in VR using interactive realia

Here are some quick classroom ideas for using interactive objects in your VR classes:

The virtual beach ball toss.

The beach ball toss is a simple but effective vocabulary warm up or review exercise. Simply have the students stand in a circle in the VR space and toss them a (virtual) beach ball. 

  • First, choose a category related to your learning objectives (for example, sports). 
  • Then have students toss the ball to each other. 
  • When they catch it, they must say a word related to the category. 

It’s a fun active exercise that helps students think on their feet (quite literally). You can add a further element of challenge by asking the students to complete one, two or three whole rounds without repeating words. 

A virtual cooking activity

In this activity, you ask students to be creative and make a meal from scratch. 

As you saw in Jacob’s video, students are able to gather, chop and cook/blend different food items, and even serve them to their classmates. 

  • Put your students in teams. Tell them they are going to have a cooking competition.
  • Explain they should work together and decide what meal they are going to make.
  • Once they have decided, have them gather the appropriate ingredients. 
  • Next they should assign roles to each other - who is going to chop, cook, serve the food, etc.
  • Finally students should present their dishes. Group members should take it in turns to explain what they made, how they made it and why they like this particular dish. 

This activity can be useful for a number of different levels. For example:

  • Elementary level students may simply need to practice food or kitchen-related vocabulary.
  • Intermediate learners might need to practice cooking or process related phrasal verbs.
  • Advanced level students might need to practice their descriptive vocabulary or presentation skills. 

A VR comedy club performance

Interactive objects can be used in lots of ways. For example, if your students have been working on writing jokes in English (e.g. writing the present simple for narrative) - why not have them perform to each other in a comedy club?

Have the students gather in the Immerse comedy club scenario. They can go backstage, dress in costumes, grab the objects they want to use and go on stage to perform for their classmates.

Explore more in Immerse

We can’t wait to tell you more about our English language learning platform - and would love to talk to you about how we can help your school or academy use virtual reality to enhance your students’ learning experience. 

Talk to our friendly team today. We’ll be excited to answer all your questions!

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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