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There is little doubt that there is nothing like being immersed in the country of the language you are trying to learn. Not only do students who wish to learn English as a Second Language (ESL) enjoy the experience of inter-cultural learning contexts from a sensory and affective sense, it is often the case that they gain emotional and intellectual maturity while living abroad. The reality of travelling abroad to learn English however for many International students is often a difficult transitional one especially at pre-sessional or beginner/foundation levels in terms of language acquisition, expense, feelings of isolation while in some cases, struggling with pressures to maintain scholarships. As it stands, existing English language centres work hard to advance students onto higher levels of language competencies. They offer students opportunities to avail of further language courses, which help them progress onto undergraduate studies. As part of such programmes, colleges often plan visits to historical and cultural sites to encourage non-formal learning. Such trips often impart historical information, however, that is outside students’ immediate language levels, and this oversight does not optimise the experience as potentially pedagogical in developing competencies as outlined by the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). While not intending to replace present ESL courses, we propose that the use of VR systems can successfully compliment Internationalisation programmes in Ireland. The emergence of commercially available VR head-mounted displays offers opportunities for immersive ESL virtual environments. VR technology can enable spaces for creative learning structures during foundation/beginner courses by delivering VR-based learning within Irish virtual site visits from their home-based colleges. This will work to tailor courses to where students’ levels are at in actuality before they progress to their respective host English-speaking countries at higher levels in class-based environments. While in Ireland, it is envisaged that the VR supports will facilitate visits to on-site locations that are followed up by virtual site equivalents to maximise language learning in structured, innovative ways. VR can also engage with online colleges that do not have a physical campus in offering students a diversity of online courses while offering students the option to stay at home to best suit their own personal life situations. A collaborative project between researchers at Limerick Institute of Technology and Hibernia College Dublin aims to capture the structural and acoustic data of various historical buildings and iconic landmarks in Ireland. The acquisition of structural features will involve the use of a 3D laser scanner and a record of construction materials. The acquisition of acoustic data will involve measuring the impulse response of the space using a dodecahedron speaker, reference and binaural microphones. Using this data, digital equivalents incorporating spatial attributes of both auditory and visual modalities will be rendered for the Oculus Rift VR headset and standard headphones. These renders will seek to position both the ESL learner and English language lecturer at virtual Irish historical sites to articulate immersive learning to find full expression in realising the digital campus.
Butler, L. & Neff, F. (2015). Problematizing Second Language (L2) Learning Using Emerging VR Systems. Higher Education in Transformation Conference, Dublin, Ireland, 2015, pp.281-291.