Several Schools Adopt New Cultural Studies Virtual Reality-Based Program

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Several local schools associated with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals program are adopting a new virtual reality-based program for cultural studies.

Language with the Five Senses, a nonprofit organization that specializes in education, is debuting a two-year research study known as the Global Classrooms Project. The program will begin in September 2022 and will focus on incorporating VR into students’ learning programs to better their cultural skills.

“It is essential that educators gain the skills to serve the increasingly diverse population of students by changing the lens through which they view the world,” said the organization’s founder, Elizabeth Porter, in a press release for the program. “The idea behind the project is that educators have the power to bring the world and their experiences into the classroom.”

The research study will use the VR headset Oculus Quest 2 to connect 40 teachers from Senegal and the United States, specifically Washington State. The headset was selected by those in charge of the program because of its capability to use the body’s senses to create an immersive environment influenced by the way the brain collects information and learns.

The program’s aim is to use the headsets to have instructors from different parts of the world work in partnership to improve their understanding of different cultures. This new understanding will then be brought to the students and their learning experience when it comes to understanding what life looks like in different parts of the world.

For the students, the use of the headset will mainly revolve around video apps offered by the headset such as YouTube VR. They will also be able to attend virtual field trips to different parts of the world.

The company has already started testing the efficiency of virtual field trips by offering students in France the chance to go on a 50-minute VR trip with actor and educator trainer, Ibrahima Mbaye Thié, to learn about African folktales by viewing performances.

In addition to using the video apps offered by the headset such as YouTube VR, those organizing the study will give participating educators additional material to create a tech-based curriculum for them.

The idea for the research study came after Language with the Five Senses noticed that there was a divide between the American learning system and the way it taught culture and inclusivity. In a 2021 study distributed amongst 1500 teachers in Washington state, more than 90% reported that they don’t think that they’re able to teach students about topics relating to other cultures.

They also found that, of all the teachers working in U.S. schools, just about 16% are people of color with the majority being white. This was a contrast from the student population as 58% were people of color.

Throughout the two years that the VR program will run, the organization will gather data to see how international relationships will improve both the instructors’ ability to teach about culture and the students’ ability to learn. The research will be made available in peer-reviewed journals and in a new academic book published by Routledge.

“This program will change how we support teachers and teach kids for the 21st Century,” said Porter in a statement.

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