The Nation's Oldest Continuously Published Student Newspaper

The Simpsonian

The Nation's Oldest Continuously Published Student Newspaper

The Simpsonian

The Nation's Oldest Continuously Published Student Newspaper

The Simpsonian

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From books to bytes: Virtual reality expanding education horizons

+++The+potential+for+further+exploration+in+the+VR+realm+is+limitless.+Green+expressed+optimism+about+the+future%2C+especially+with+free+apps+on+the+headsets%2C+such+as+%E2%80%9CMeta+Horizon+Worlds.%E2%80%9D%0A
Courtesy Professor Mark Green
The potential for further exploration in the VR realm is limitless. Green expressed optimism about the future, especially with free apps on the headsets, such as “Meta Horizon Worlds.”

To revolutionize language learning, a linguistics honors course at Simpson College entered into the virtual realm using five Meta Quest 2 virtual reality (VR) headsets in the fall of 2023. The immersive experience left students and professors alike excited over its effectiveness and potential. 

Professor of Management Mark Green, who advocated for and brought the technology to the college, attended the South By Southwest Conference in March 2023, where he got a taste of emerging VR technology. 

Inspired by the potential, he incorporated it into his fall 2023 honors course, “The Ying & Yang of Language & Linguistics,” where students had the opportunity to explore languages such as French, Japanese, Spanish and more.

Ellee Mortensen, a student in the class, highlighted the versatility of the VR headset. 

“We used an app called Mondly to help us experience a simulated conversation in another language of our choice,” Mortensen said. “Using the headset’s microphone, we could speak aloud, and it would register what we said, as well as the meaning.”

It was used as an effective learning tool, and students were also allowed to play games when permitted to use them outside of the classroom.

“I used the headset to get extra Spanish practice using the Mondly app,” Mortensen said. “It was extremely effective… It felt good to practice my speaking skills in a more realistic way.”

The adaptability of VR technology not only allows for gaming but is incorporated with existing language-learning apps like Mondly and Duolingo. Both the technology and structure of the headsets are adaptable.

“There is an eyeglass spacer piece that you can put into the headset to make it a more comfortable fit if you wear glasses,” Mortensen said.

A grant from the National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC) allowed the Honors Program to purchase of five of these headsets, which came in at roughly $300, at the end of Sept. 2023.

The NCHC offers this grant, up to $1500, twice a year, and programs can apply annually. 

Katie Smith, Director of the Honors Program, collaborated with Green on writing the proposal. 

“By providing these powerful hardware tools to Honors Program participants, Simpson College will ensure our students are familiar with leading-edge technologies that will enable them to approach creativity and storytelling in new ways,”  Smith said.

The class filled students’ Intercultural Communication designation, but the use didn’t stop there.

“This spring, several students in the May Term ‘Merchants of the Veneto’ prep course are using the headsets to study Italian,” Green said. “Dr. Chad Timm is planning to use the headsets in his honors course in fall 2024.”

From linguistics classes to May terms and Capstones, there are many uses on campus for the headsets.

“Especially for our purposes, it helped break up some of the monotony and simplicity that comes with alternative apps like Duolingo,” Mortensen said.

The potential for further exploration in the VR realm is limitless. Green expressed optimism about the future, especially with free apps on the headsets, such as “Meta Horizon Worlds.”

“‘Meta Horizon Worlds’ is a space where creators can innovate, and this holds great potential for cutting-edge projects for students in honors courses, including the Capstone,” Green said.

Embracing new technologies such as VR in linguistic and cultural studies is a promising step toward creating a more immersive and effective learning environment for students.

As society hurtles towards a digital landscape, the potential for VR and other related technologies to redefine education is available. The Honors Program wants students to be familiar with these emerging technologies.

“To provide a mechanism for students to blend multiple disciplines including science, technology and engineering with art in virtual portrayals expressive of their undergraduate educational journey,” Smith said.

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