The Askwith Kenner Global Languages and Cultures Room provides an immersive space for members of the campus community and visitors to interact with each other locally and with people and places around the world.
This session was arranged for 82-283 Language Diversity & Cultural Identity, a course exploring contexts of multi-lingualism and how language underpins cultural identiy and shapes regional, local and national politics. This is one of many new courses in Modern Languages taught in English, which aim to provide learners with the tools to understanding theories around linguistic culture.
In this session, we introduced the learners to Virtual Reality (VR) and set up a series of Oculus Rift stations to explore Google Earth VR. Within the experience you can fly around the world, zoom into specific locations, get on street view and have a walk, etc. We then had a nice discussion about VR, their experiences before heading back to the stations to explore commodified language in Pittsburgh.
I think there are some really interesting possibilities for learners as well as for the educators in terms of exploring content that is current available but also (and maybe more importantly) creating new content. One student is working on an idea for a senior thesis in linguistics following their visit to the room.
Students reflected on the surprising nature of the experience, for all of them, this was their first experience of using VR. They enjoyed the immersion and the sensation of flying in Google Earth, but more importantly appreciated the ability to pinpoint exact locations and explore them from different vantage points.
We shared these experiences as a group and it was just as important for the students to enter into discussion and “exit” the experience in a thoughtful way, much like a diver decompressing before rising to the surface.