EXP: Exploring the Virtual World of Contextualized English Language Acquisition

PIs: Regina Mendez, Mary Beth Ogulewicz
Springfield Technical Community College
Award Details

The PIs are aiming to investigate how virtual world 3D technology can be used to address the limited opportunities adult immigrants and refugees have for exploring and practicing their English in authentic settings without the risk of seeming inarticulate. In partnership with WonderBuilders, Inc., Springfield Technical Community College is creating the 3D virtual environment to integrated into ELS (English as a Second Language) classes at the College. Using Open Wonderland, the PIs are creating a complete virtual campus in which students learning English can interact in virtual campus settings without being embarassed about their language capabilities. College students and personnel are also participating in the on-line community along with the English-language learners. Research is investigating development of confidence and improved competencies and experiences of engagement when the opportunity is given to practice and apply newly-learned grammar and vocabulary in real-world contexts. In addition to hypotheses about language learning, the PIs hypothesize that if engagement is in the context of campus activities, these students, who often hold full-time jobs and have families to take care of, will have more opportunities to engage in the life of the college community, therefore feeling and being more connected, and therefore being more apt to continue with their language learning and then to successfully matriculate and graduate.

This project addresses two educational challenges. First, helping adult immigrants and refugees learn English, prepare for, and matriculate in higher education is a national challenge. This project is creating a model for such learning and advancement. Second, there is much hype about the use of games and 3D virtual environments for promoting learning but not much research on the real possibilities of doing this and how to use such software effectively for education. This project is contributing to understanding of how to use 3D virtual technology effectively to promote learning.

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