In August 2021, we started working on an intercollegiate and collaborative project on English acquisition in the Tourism program using Virtual Reality (VR) videos. Today, we offer a series of 20 educational videos (True to Life) available online and free of charge. With these videos, students get an immersive experience with real-work situations, in real-world spaces.
An intercollegiate project was born
As an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher, I always hear my students saying that if you want to learn English, you need a real immersion, and I wanted to recreate this immersion experience. This is how immersive videos became appealing.
In 2018, at the Collège d’Alma, my colleague Étienne Boulanger and I started doing research on virtual reality and immersive learning experiences. Thanks to the Entente Canada-Québec (ECQ) [in French], we were able to conduct several projects using 360-degree immersive videos in various programs, such as the Nursing program, Police Technology, Paramedics, Biology, etc.
Since these projects were made possible by being financed by public funds from the ECQ, we had the responsibility to share what we had done. To us, this not only means making the videos accessible to the public but also sharing our expertise within the college network. Therefore, when Joy Blake, from the Cégep de Granby, contacted me to get some help in requesting a grant with the ECQ, I immediately proposed to collaborate.
As I was doing some research online looking for ideas for a new project proposal in ESL teaching, I stumbled upon Martin and Étienne’s 360-degree immersive video projects. I told myself that this was exactly the kind of project I wanted to do.
As an ESL teacher, I had been teaching the English for Tourism course for many years. I wanted to work on a project with the Tourism department since there is little Quebec-made material available. I contacted Martin at the Collège d’Alma and after speaking for 2 or 3 minutes, we decided to work together in order to create 360-degree immersive videos for the Tourism industry. I would learn from his expertise and adjust it to the reality of the Tourism program. This is how this intercollegiate and collaborative project was born.
Martin and Étienne
After obtaining a grant through ECQ, our role in this project was mainly to share the basics of our technological and pedagogical approaches using 360-degree virtual reality (VR) and support the team in Granby in their initiative to learn how to use the equipment. By sharing the expertise we had developed while working on previous projects, they could more effectively manage their time.
The technology we use is called 3DoF (3 Degrees of Freedom), a virtual reality concept that uses an environment made of a recorded video shot with a ball-shaped camera with 6 lenses, providing a 360-degree view. The camera films everywhere around, to the extent that the filming crew must be outside of the room while shooting. Once the filming is done, a stitcher software program will stitch the 6 different films together to make only 1 out of them. Then, following the post-production, words and questions can be integrated to make the videos interactive. The basics are quite similar to shooting a real movie while adding learning and acquisition purposes.
Once completed, it results in 360-degree immersive videos presenting situations dealing with humans, in which the learners are able to navigate in real-world spaces to get a full immersive experience.
For my part, I was responsible for screenwriting and film production with the collaboration of different departments at my college. There were a variety of different steps and people involved in the process:
- Meeting with the Tourism department to discuss and agree on the different themes we wished to address
- Choosing and creating the scenarios with the Tourism department
- Getting together a filming crew, in collaboration with the Cinema teacher
- Hiring actors (mostly students)
- Hiring the sound crew, with the help of sound technicians
- Finding partners and locations in the Granby area to shoot the films (for example, the Zoo de Granby, Bromont, montagne d’expériences, etc.)
- Rehearsing with the filming crew and actors
- Shooting the film
This extensive project was made possible through multidisciplinary collaboration within the Cégep de Granby, but also through intercollegiate collaboration with the Collège d’Alma.
It goes without saying that this project was time-consuming and involved making compromises, but it was extremely gratifying in the end.
Immersive Learning: a holistic approach
The main objective of this immersive learning project was to give the students a chance to learn in context to help them get a more holistic understanding of the course material.
Indeed, the students know the theory, but they have never truly been exposed to it in real life. With these videos, we are able to prepare them for the real world. We can desensitize the students to difficult situations as they can view the videos over and over again. Therefore, when the time comes to deal with the real situation, they have a better knowledge of how to appropriately intervene or react to the situation.
A good example would be the video called Customer service in tourism: helping an irate customer. This video presents an interaction between a furious customer and a customer service agent. By viewing it many times, the student can learn how to stay calm in a similar situation.
This holistic approach allows the students to develop the soft skills necessary in their field of study. They can transfer those professional skills to their internship or their workplace.
Obviously, another purpose of the project was language acquisition in a second language learning context. The advantage of the 360-degree video is that you do want to watch it more than once because in some videos, there is action going on all around and you do not what to miss anything. By viewing the videos several times, the students are listening to the language over and over and are unconsciously acquiring the expressions. Moreover, words and questions appear on the screen to help students reinvest their understanding.
The material was created to accompany regular classroom teaching and can have different pedagogical uses inside and outside the classroom. For example, the English for Tourism teachers have been using them to introduce a theme in their courses. The students were invited to demonstrate independent learning by viewing the videos on their own either on a VR headset or on their device and then asked to reproduce those discussions in the form of roleplays.
Furthermore, the students can also take their “teacher” home with them. They can watch the videos on different devices, such as their laptops or cellphones, wherever and whenever they want. No need for a VR headset to watch them! This allows them to use the videos as a tool to study the course content and prepare for upcoming evaluations. Compared to in-class demonstrations or simulations, this technology gives every student the same point of view, and they can view it as many times as they want!
This type of project provides the opportunity to work towards a multipurpose goal. Indeed, while the main goal was to create videos that Tourism students could use for vocabulary and grammar acquisition, other programs could find something relevant. Here are some of the themes discussed in the videos:
- Customer service
- Promotional campaigns
- Press conference
- Event planning
- Organizing a convention
- Professional phone calls
The themes addressed can be easily used and relevant to other programs such as Business Administration or Hotel Management.
In addition, the videos are multilevel to suit technical programs with students on different levels of English. Some videos present more functional and basic language while others introduce more complicated language and pronunciation.
Are 360-degree videos beneficial to students? Students who have experienced them in the past in Nursing programs and Police Technologies have mentioned the videos helped them feel better prepared to go out on the field and handle different real-life professional situations. It is certainly a beneficial learning tool for both teachers and students.
An ongoing project
This project was so successful that the two colleges were entitled to another ECQ grant to create a similar project for ESL general education courses, called “Cover Stories”. In this project, the colleges are currently developing videos focusing on grammar and verb tense-related situations for the level 100 A-block courses as well as integrating field-related vocabulary for the B-block courses. However, this time, both the Cégep de Granby and the Collège d’Alma will take part in the filming of the videos. A new technology called Uptale will be used to make them even more interactive! For instance, voice recognition and 2D video links can be integrated.
Following the presentation at the RASCALS 2022 colloquium, the Collège d’Alma and Cégep de Granby have now been collaborating with other colleges, like the Cégep de Rimouski and the Cégep de Thetford who are currently working on a similar project using virtual reality immersive learning videos.
360-degree videos offer a multitude of possibilities in different programs. Are you interested in implementing such a project in your college? Feel free to reach out to Joy Blake or Martin Maltais who would be happy to share their expertise with you! All the videos are available at no cost on YouTube. Give them a try in your courses and share your experience in the comments below!