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Educational application for university language classes

Client – University of Rzeszów

The university was established on September 2001, as a result of the merger of the Pedagogical University in Rzeszów, Rzeszów Branch of Maria Curie-Skłodowska University in Lublin, and the Faculty of Economics in Rzeszów of Hugo Kołłątaj Agricultural University in Krakow.

The university consists of four colleges: Humanities, Medicine, Life Sciences and Social Sciences, educating students in 45 fields of study. They have the opportunity to develop their interests within 67 research clubs operating at the university.

The University of Rzeszów maintains extensive contacts with foreign colleges. Apart from the Erasmus program, UR permanently cooperates with 61 universities, where students and academic teachers can apply for internships, conferences, and research camps.

Challenge

The best way to learn a foreign language is to use it in interpersonal communication as often as possible. It is, in fact, common knowledge, however, most primary, middle, and high schools are choosing to conduct language classes rather theoretically, for example by conducting writing and listening exercises, and adding some reading ones. And of course, it’s important to learn grammar and vocabulary but it will always be not enough to reach a high level of communication abilities.

The University of Rzeszów was aware of those missing parts of foreign language classes, English in particular. Because of that, its authorities decided to find an innovative way of introducing English practice to the students and making lessons more engaging for all the groups. The purpose of this decision was simple – to use new, immersive technology for building a virtual reality learning space.

As a result, we were presented with complete and detailed expectations that we were ready to meet in the process of design and development of each part of the application.

Solution

Our creative team of 3D designers and developers came up with a product, considering its technical aspects, user roles, basic functions, communication scenarios, as well as specific virtual locations, interactions with NPCs and objects.

The application is divided into two separate panels: the teacher’s lounge and the student’s panel. Students are allowed to use the start window on the computer, just to launch his session, which is communicated with displayed visual signal. Then they can begin to solve specified tasks by choosing the right location on the main menu in the lobby.

At the same time, while being logged in, teachers are able to track students’ progress during language classes by joining their sessions in order to help with problematic exercises. Teachers have also access to the students’ POV, as well as the information about longer (more than 5 minutes long) pauses in the students’ progress.

Using simply his or her voice and virtual controller, every student can easily operate inside the application, choosing designed stages, different paths and starting interactions with fifty unique NPCs – programmed characters that playing parts in lesson scenarios which are taking place in three different locations: at the university (library, cloakroom, classroom, corridor/lobby, dean’s office, coffee machine, canteen, information desk, copy shop), the airport (arrival and departure halls, luggage hall, exchange office, cafe/bar, car rental point, ticket machine) and in the apartment (living room, bedroom, kitchen, bathroom, hallway).

The most important function that determines the properties of the product is the speech recognition module implemented in our software. It’s crucial for the project simply because its main purpose is to validate the correctness of spoken words and sentences, by comparing them to already incorporated, proper versions of user’s response.

Apart from the main language training scenarios, we have also created two special stages with virtual games, helpful in terms of analyzing English speech and learning to adjust to certain interactions and situations. The first one of them takes place in the interrogation room, where the player must examine different suspects of burglary and theft and find the true delinquent. Another game is actually an escape room (designed as a classroom) with a number of puzzles (related to language and logic skills) to solve in order to open the exit door. 

To properly recreate situations and circumstances, we needed to design every stage sonically, from overall ambient to item interaction sounds, as well as the spoken parts of NPCs, recorded with a lector. Our goal was to offer the most immersive environment, just so the users could really fit into their roles and feel dedicated to the tasks.

We also tested the developed software, prepared a full user manual, and conducted training in the general use of the system, including all the possible interactions of the administrator, teacher, and student. As an already experienced company, we were aware of the training process and thus able to conduct it carefully and answer every question asked.

We are pleased to see how the language learning VR software works as an educational tool. We are convinced that this project fully represents the values of the University of Rzeszów, in particular its openness and focus on the participatory part of science.

University of Rzeszow

Effect

By creating an approachable and interactive set of tasks, we have reached the goal of making an education-driven application that can successfully be used during English classes at the University of Rzeszów. Our aim of merging practical tasks with entertaining ideas resulted in a product that is easy to operate for teachers and at the same time is an attractive addition to the university’s language classes.