Students at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) are taking virtual trips to China to help them learn Mandarin Chinese. The Troy, New York university is working together with IBM to bring students to the streets of China as they immerse themselves in the virtual culture to learn the language. It’s all part of a new course being offered this summer.
Instead of sitting in a classroom 24/7, students spend half of their course time in a 360-degree virtual environment where they can practice Mandarin Chinese. Rather than simply reciting the language, they can order dinner at a virtual restaurant, or haggle with a street vendor for “real-life” practice. The idea is that by putting students in this environment, they’ll learn to speak the language easier.
“It’s the first time I tried this as an instructor and I’m happy with the student’s progress,” Helen Zhou, Associate Professor in the Department of Communications and Media at RPI tells Parentology.
Zhou says some students who’ve never taken Chinese before are following the course well and picking up vocabulary.
The project is the result of more than four years of work and research by both RPI and IBM. IBM is no stranger to research in
The classroom was one of those ways, so a cognitive and immersive laboratory was born.
Chinese was chosen since it is one of the most difficult languages to learn. The thought was if Chinese could be taught this way, so could other languages.
“What is significant this year is that this was previously a prototype and now it’s being used in a credit-earning class,” Su says.
Many students don’t have a native-speaking environment and can’t travel to another country to get a better grasp of the language. This project gives them the opportunity.
Su tells Parentology the project’s goal is to create a culture-rich environment to significantly improve the process of learning a language.
For students, the idea seems to be a winner so far. According to Zhou, students are not only patient with the technology, but also ask for more hours in the lab to try out the virtual environment.
Currently, the course is only being offered this summer, but Zhou says she hopes they will be able to offer it during other semesters in the future.
Immersive Classroom Uses Technology to Teach Mandarin Chinese: Sources
Helen Zhou, Associate Professor in the Department of Communications and Media at RPI
Hui Su, Director of Cognitive and Immersive Systems Laboratory at IBM