Parisian Narratives in Virtual Reality

Students engage in cultural and linguistic immersion through virtual reality (VR) film narratives in a beginner’s French class.

Introduction: This class is a second semester beginning French class. To encourage student’s engagement, the instructors turned to research on the psychology of language learning for inspiration.

Recent trends in the psychology of language learning have emphasized the importance of the concept of vision in the process of mastering a foreign language. The vision of the person language learners would like to become as foreign language users is one of the most reliable predictors of their long-term intended effort and one of the strongest motivational forces in language learning. Differing from a cognitive goal, a vision includes a personalized goal with a strong sensory element and imagined reality (Dornyei & Kubanyiova, 2014). According to Levin (2000), effective visions “outline a rich and textual picture of what success looks like and feels like” (p. 95) and are “so vivid as to enable the listener or reader to transport himself to the future to witness it and experience it” (p. 95). Their goal and hypothesis was that these virtual reality experiences would allow language learners to have these perceptual and emotional experiences in multiple sensory modalities (visual, auditory, tactile, etc.) that would enhance their vision and develop a more nuanced understanding of Parisian culture.

Goals:

  • To motivate, engage, and awaken enthusiasm in language requirement students
  • To provide students with active learning experiences through virtual exploration and interaction
  • To deepen their knowledge of cultural practices, products, and perspectives, and expose students to authentic language use

Procedure - VR Material Development (Before Class): The instructional team was supported by a HILT grant. In collaboration with Rus Gant (visualization lab) and Wonda VR (Parisian VR editing company), the Parisian VR simulations were developed. Three Parisians recorded their lives with a VR camera for one to two months. By including the diverse perspectives of three different Parisians from different careers, age groups, and backgrounds, the representation of Parisian culture became rich, nuanced, and deeply contextualized. The VR films included interactive components and narrative voice-overs and subtitles. Each class session allowed students to walk in the shoes of one of three different people.

Procedure - During Class: During each class, the activity was broken into three distinct phases:

Phase 1) Pre-viewing: Students were given an image of the character’s weekly agenda and sometimes a transcription of the character’s introduction. With the help of a handout, students were asked to make predictions about the character’s identity and other comprehension questions. Students completed the activity with a partner and the class de-briefed as a large group before moving to the next phase.

Phase 2) General VR Immersion: Students were given three guiding questions and then were asked to immerse themselves in the character’s world for 10-15 minutes. Within this world, students could advance or return to sections as they wanted. After the immersion, students discussed the guiding questions with a partner. The questions were typically generalized questions about the character’s personality, background, relationships with others, or identity.

Phase 3) Targeted Viewing: Students were asked to re-watch specific short clips with targeted questions about cultural phenomena. Students were asked not to analyze, but rather observe the clips to gather facts and information.

Phase 4) Analysis: Using the facts gained from the short clips, students were asked to make hypotheses and analyze the broader cultural context. Thoughtful discussion questions, sometimes accompanied by citations, allowed students to think critically about their observations.

Procedure - After Class: For homework, students were asked to report on the new discoveries they made about Parisian culture and life on a discussion board.

On the last day of the unit, after the class had gone through each of the three VR experiences, there was a culminating class discussion. This final discussion was guided by a PowerPoint presentation. The goal was a comparative and analytical discussion of the three Parisian narratives. The comparative analysis asked students to compare and contrast the homes, social encounters, and daily routine of the three Parisians. They were asked to return back to their clichés about Parisians and to discuss which stereotypes may have been confirmed or contested through their VR experiences. They were also asked to discuss how where one lives may or may not influence their identity and whether or not their definition of what it meant to be Parisian became more complex.

All discussions were discussed and prompted in French, with technical instructions in English. In collaboration with Chris Dede (Graduate School of Education), a follow-up evaluation project was conducted.

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