Georgian College is one of the few schools globally to offer Indigenous language education via an immersive VR setup. Virtual reality enhances and changes the learning landscape for learners. VR is also part of the Georgian college’s new digital innovation strategy.
Georgian College’s Immersive Technology Lead, Rob Theriault, worked with the staff of Indigenous Studies to develop an immersive Indigenous Language House. It is expected to offer students in the Anishnaabemowin and Program Development program a different and exciting way to practice and learn their speaking skills.
Rob Theriault has used AltspaceVR to build a furnished house and put info buttons on all the items in the house. Faculty members Elder Ernestine Baldwin and Angeline King translated a list of words so that when students click on the buttons, words pop up.
According to Angeline, it was an extensive process to build the list as some words do not exist in the language, so they had to create words.
“We also wanted to stick with our own regional dialect. Ernestine and I went back and forth on them – we have a great sense of humor with our language.” – Angeline King.
There is also a basketball court and a fire pit outside the house for students to socialize virtually. A medicine wheel has also been added to the house.
“We can teach students all about the wheel – what the colors mean, and all the teachings. They think they’re here just to learn the language, but we also teach them about the culture.” – Angeline.
Maryam Ismail, who completed her first year in this program stated that the Indigenous Language House VR tech has brought all the students together.
“We feel closer to each other. It’ll be weird to finally meet in real life and realize that we all don’t look like our avatars. I definitely think the format has enhanced my learning. After COVID-19 I can’t wait to get back to the classroom but keeping VR would add so much to the program. I believe it should be part of the curriculum.” – Maryam Ismail.
“It’s allowed us to prepare for the next generation of learners – and this doesn’t necessarily mean direct from high school – it could mean students from a variety of ages. The technology allows learners to see, feel and hear the meanings and translations of words.” – Michele O’Brien, Program Co-ordinator.
Georgian College is also sharing the new VR technology with other colleagues. All the VR assets built for learning language will be open source, which can be used by other Indigenous programs across Canada and the world.
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