Researchers use Open Source virtual world for language teaching

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Researchers use Open Source virtual world for language teaching

An international team of researchers is using a wireless Open Source virtual world to help promote language learning and let students practice.

Dubbed ‘Realtown’, the newly-developed wireless environment incorporates a virtual supermarket, schools, pharmacy and bank, as well as background sounds that may be enabled to increase the environment’s realism.

“Virtual reality is today one of the new frontiers in computer-assisted language learning, offering a stimuli-rich environment for language students,” said Miguel Garcia-Ruiz, who co-developed Realtown at the University of Colima, Mexico.

“What makes Realtown interesting is that students simultaneously perceive and interpret three different stimuli to help them incorporate their knowledge: visual, auditory and physical,” he explained.

Realtown builds on an Open Source Distributed Interactive Virtual Environments (DIVE) installation, which was developed by the Swedish Institute of Computer Science in the 1990s.

DIVE previously has been used at the University of Colima to teach medical students about various injuries.

It allows users to share a virtual environment over a network, whether that is a local network or the internet, and can be run on a variety of operating systems, including Linux and Microsoft Windows.

The system has a three-dimensional graphical interface and users can communicate using voice of internet or text chat with each user represented by a representation of themselves, an ‘avatar’ in the three-dimensional space.

Garcia-Ruiz and his research team have demonstrated Realtown with Mexican engineering students carrying out listening comprehension practice in English as a foreign language.

Preliminary usability studies have offered positive results, and more detailed assessments are currently underway, the researchers say.

“The potential for the growth of Realtown is substantial,” the team concludes.

“At present, users only navigate the streets to get from one place to another, as the objective of Realtown is to provide listening comprehension practice and a collaborative platform where users can 'negotiate meaning'.”

“In future, users will be able to enter any of the 40 buildings and interact with intelligent agents, which will provide greater opportunities to actually produce language.”

Garcia-Ruiz’s co-collaborators include Arthur Edwards and Raul Aquino-Santos, also of the University of Colima, as well as Samir El-Seoud of the Princess Sumaya University for Technology in Jordan.

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