How I Am Bringing VR to My EFL Classroom

By   July 22, 2019
Selfie as evidence of learning. Mozilla Hubs and a class on irregular verbs in the past tense

I have long been fascinated by the idea of virtual reality.  I think it caught my imagination the first time I saw the movie Tron back in the early eighties, and my fascination grew with every iteration of the technology from the holodeck on the Enterprise in the Star Trek The Next Generation television series, to The Matrix  and beyond.   My fascination led to questioning what VR could be used for, and it wasn’t long before VR became almost part of everyone’s daily life.  Many smartphones are now VR ready (meaning you can watch or use VR content from your phone or with your phone and a viewer). Google Cardboard started the trend toward available, affordable VR in 2014.  Since then Oculus and many other companies and developers have jumped on the VR bandwagon. It’s now everywhere, and it’s affordable. That’s great news, except not all content is worth looking at, nor is it educational, nor does it live up to what one might think is the value of having a ‘virtual’ reality.  and until now, teacher developed original VR content for use in a classroom or educational setting required a lot of technical know-how, expensive programming and equipment. Thankfully, Mozilla (the Firefox people) have come up with a thing called Spoke to create virtual reality settings for their new project called Hubs.  Hubs is designed to make social media a virtual reality experience.

Now, before we go any further, I need to say that the technology is glitchy and buggy and difficult to work with.  Documentation seems to be non-existent at this point, and unless you have a reasonably good internet connection it can be nightmarish to use the web-based Spoke editor.  A previous version of Spoke could be downloaded to your computer, but that seems to have been abandoned for the web-based editor. Anyway, there are a lot of drawbacks to this program as you will see in the video below.  Please watch the video and then we will continue.

Welcome back.  As you saw in the video,not everything works as it should and many things seem to have stopped working or, as in the case of the selfie taking and uploading to Twitter, things have been changed at Mozilla’s end. Friday, I took a selfie and in two clicks could send it to Twitter. Not so much today.   The photo to accompany this article was taken from the Irregular Past Pavilion on Hubs on Friday. Easy. Today…

I guess this thing is still in an ‘Alpha’ state, which is too bad, because for me to use this effectively it needs to work without surprises, without glitches and without unforeseen ‘improvements’.  It’s hard enough for a teacher to use, so just imagine what these little annoyances will do to a roomful of impatient teens and young adults who want to be amazed with technology, not frustrated by it.  Yes, quite a litany of complaints, but I do hope it gets better, Mozilla, if you’re listening…?

In spite of all that I do see a great potential here for a different kind of interaction with students, teachers, and material.  One of my colleagues and I are busily designing a research project around VR in the classroom. We will let you know what happens, but in the meantime, I will continue working with this system in order to see if we can’t make something meaningful, fun and useful out of Mozilla Hubs.