Using ClassVR to Promote Language Learning at AGB Foreign Languages Centre

AGB Foreign Languages Centre, Athens, Greece

AGB Foreign Language Centre has been operating since 1977. With more than 40 years of experience in teaching English as a Foreign Language, they have made it their commitment to teach students, not only the language skills required to successfully certify their level of English, but also give them the needed life skills to successfully cope with the demands of the digital age.

Introduction - Who are you? What is your role in the school?

My name is Angela Germanakou and I am the founder of AGB Foreign Languages Centre, a “traditional” Centre for Language Learning in Athens, Greece. For well over forty years, we have been teaching English as a Foreign Language always exploring new ways to promote language learning, as a unique experience that could potentially equip our students with a more ‘holistic’ grasp of its social and emotional contexts.

When it comes to language learning, my role in the School has always been to make sure that everyone involved in the process of learning needs to fully appreciate that there’s more in ELT than teaching syntax or grammar, and, that is keeping the students actively engaged, so that patterns of speech and language functions can organically, and not mechanically, grow as part of their language learning process.

What first interested you about using Virtual Reality in the classroom?

Our decision to incorporate Virtual Reality in our ‘traditional’ English Language Centre was based on a well planned decision to redefine our Organization and start building for the future. Quite honestly, with a Vision to “introduce foreign language learning into the learning patterns of the 21st Century, and transform education into a unique opportunity for the instant consolidation and tireless acquisition of knowledge by applying an innovative curriculum of innovative technology that makes our teachers and students, creators of knowledge,” one cannot but see Virtual & Augmented Reality, as the perfect investment to support the long-term strategy of education.

On top of that, with a mission “to build strong relationships with our students, restore enthusiasm, fun and passion in the classroom, in a participatory environment of personalized learning where creativity, collaboration, communication and critical thinking is fully exploited in teaching and learning,” how could anyone resist the appeal that Virtual Reality Assisted Learning can have to all parties involved?

Moreover, introducing Virtual & Augmented Reality in the ELT classroom has always seemed to require a considerable amount of investment. Getting to know about Avantis and ClassVR and exploring the investment required we were convinced that it contributes to our sustainability, and as such, is an affordable solution.

How do the students feel about using ClassVR?

Our students feel lucky that they can travel the whole world from the safety and comfort of the class, enthusiastic to participate in real life experiences, happy to get to know more of the real world in class. Our School is the first School ever to use ClassVR in Greece, as we could see what ClassVR could produce in terms of the student excitement, enthusiasm, and engagement. We were amazed by the compilation of work by Avantis; the sheer excitement that the compiled experiences could create. We could only imagine how VR could affect us all. What would happen if instead of viewing pictures of sharks in the ocean, photos of the International Space Station, or some aerial pictures of NYC, we could actually swim and float right through sharks, experience Earth from Space, and fly over NYC in a helicopter?

The results have been amazing. Our students have moved gradually from experience the mind-blowing, to the breathtaking, to the phenomenal and the sublime and that has enhanced their knowledge of the World and increased their awareness. Being immersed under the water and into imaginary spacesuits to experience life as explorers and astronauts, if only for a few minutes has definitely changed the way they express themselves; the choice of words, the expression of meaning and feeling in their daily lives.

What impact have you seen on behaviours and attitudes of students when using Virtual Reality?

When we started using ClassVR, we knew that we were dealing with a very powerful ‘engine’ of empathy, therefore, we treated ClassVR as the means to open our students’ eyes, put their inherent curiosity to use and catalyze their engagement. Supplementing and augmenting their perception, ClassVR has helped them see the ‘reality’ beyond their own reality helping them relate and connect better with the World around them. Being able to be in the shoes of others who are hit by a natural disaster, walk among those who experience the aftermath of a quake or a tropical storm, put on a wingsuit and rush to the edge of a cliff, engaging in the simple activities of life or even in extreme sports creates a totally brand new narrative for them.

They are displaying an ability to understand and share each other’s feelings, and the urge to relate to the World around them. ClassVR is lots more than getting acquainted with the use of Virtual Reality Technology in class or learning how to interact with the headsets by moving the head left and right and up and down, in order to navigate an area from all angles. It is really about acquiring a learning experience from all angles of life to augment perception. And this is what I consider to be fundamental in changing our students’ attitudes and behaviours towards the World.

Why is it exciting to have the added bonus of augmented reality as part of the ClassVR package?

Having rich content as an added bonus for ClassVR is, in itself, exciting. At first, we thought that AR could our first step towards introducing new educational methodologies, safeguarding our smooth transition to a new model of learning within the class. We could not imagine the powerful impact of AR’s rich content in class until we started using it. Supersizing small items, under sizing planetary spheres drove the message home to us.

Close examination of objects triggered natural communication, beyond the lesson plans objectives, which, in turn, sharpened our students’ capacity for critical thinking. Being able to fit reality at the palm of their hands, students became more attuned to discussion for the sake of finding a solution and more adept at contribution of creative ideas. We believe that ClassVR with the added bonus of AR has helped us create a class beyond the restrictions of the classroom. A metaclass where students and teachers, together, create the digital layers of a New Reality where, communication, creativity, cooperation and critical thinking are the new skills required to learn for life.

How easy is it to use?

Holding a 3D hologram in the palm of your hand may sound like an intricate task, yet, ClassVR makes it more like a walk in the park. Teachers and students alike find it easy to use.

How have you used self-generated content?

We have used lots of self-generated content mostly 360 videos and experiences.

Why is it important to be able to interact with students while they are using VR?

As VR provides a high level of immersion students can sometimes become isolated from their environment. In order to safeguard participation and cooperation between students, we need to safeguard interaction. The latest updates of ClassVR with the new sound option that mutes the sets and plays the sound on the main loudspeaker has enabled us to maintain interaction throughout the session. Our goal is not to isolate but bring students and teachers into cooperation during the sessions.

What impact has ClassVR had on you, your students and your school?

‘Interdependence’ as a capability, which emerges among students and helps them create brand new ideas

‘Empathy’ as a realisation of our human relationship, the exciting sense of understanding, communication and expression.

Critical thinking’ as an opportunity our students deserve, thinking more ‘deep’ asking more questions, comparing and contrasting, contributing to solving problems.

What does the future hold for ClassVR in your school?

ClassVR has helped us strengthen our positioning on 21st Century Learning. We are now ready to launch a new programme called Digital Class, fully utilizing VR/AR, CoSpaces and interactive online learning.

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CASE STUDY

Angela Germanakou

Angela Germanakou, Founder, AGB Foreign Languages Centre

Interview by Konstantino Liberopoulos, AGB Project Leader