The power of virtual reality in language learning

door Regina Coeli

Teaching in English has long since ceased to be unique for lecturers at Dutch colleges and universities. ‘The students all speak good English. Often better than me,’ says Katinka Pani-Harreman. She teaches at Zuyd Hogeschool’s academy of facility management and does research in the field of vital communities. To become more at ease in English, she took a course at Regina Coeli, where she discovered, among other things, the power of virtual reality.

You were already lecturing in English. Why was an English course necessary?
‘Whenever I had to give a lecture, I already started to get nervous a day beforehand. I’d prepare the lecture so well that I became trapped in it. I couldn’t speak in a relaxed manner like I do in Dutch. I have no problem speaking English one-to-one, and of course, I also write a lot in English, but I found giving a lecture or presentation really difficult.’

You used virtual reality during your training. How did that work?
‘I was standing in a virtual room with virtual students. There, I told my story as if I was standing in a real lecture hall. Just like in real life, the students started yawning or looking at their phones. It felt very real, even though I was actually standing there talking to a wall. The trainer also corrected me now and then during my presentation. And we discussed it at length afterwards.’

How was that for you?
‘First of all, I found it a really fun experience. But most importantly, I was able to practise in a safe, practical environment. I felt completely at ease. It’s a very useful method for people who want to present better. You easily overcome any barriers to speaking.‘

What was the rest of your training programme at Regina Coeli like?
‘My course lasted five days. I had lessons from two trainers who each took on a part of the training and coordinated things very well. During the training, I really realised why the intake interview is so important. During that conversation, the trainer identified exactly what my needs were. That allowed me to work specifically on the situations I encounter in practice.’

Have you noticed the results of your course back in the real world?
‘Yes, indeed! Now, I only prepare my lectures in terms of their general content. It saves me a lot of time, and I feel freer during the lectures.

I’ve also asked students whether they think my English has improved. The Dutch students have been quite positive. The foreign students tend to be taken aback by such a direct question.’

Did you also talk about Dutch directness during your course?
‘We also dealt with cultural differences in my afternoon classes. Of course, I have to deal with that a lot with all the foreign students we have. I learnt that with some students, I might have to be more careful about giving direct feedback.’

What do you think—will we make more use of VR in education in the future?
‘VR definitely adds value. Partly because of the fun factor, but also because it makes learning very accessible. It would be nice if it were used more in education.’

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