“The Art of Seeing” and Envisioning Cultures in VR

Conference: The Paris Conference on Education (PCE2022)
Title: “The Art of Seeing” and Envisioning Cultures in VR
Stream: Foreign Languages Education & Applied Linguistics (including ESL/TESL/TEFL)
Presentation Type: Live-Stream Presentation
Nicole N Mills, Harvard University, United States


The concept of vision is described as “the sensory experience of a future goal state” (Dörnyei & Chan, p. 455). When foreign language students envision their future goals, they create vivid mental representations of “what success looks like and feels like” (Levin, 2000, p. 95). Vision has been described by language learning psychologists as one of the strongest predictors of long-term commitment, effort, and motivation in foreign language learning (Dörnyei, Henry, & Muir, 2016). The experiential and multisensory dimensions of virtual reality can immerse students in distant cultures and allow them to “see impossible things” (Bailenson, 2018) which may “enact profound and lasting changes.” As Marguerite Duras has long posited, however, “the art of seeing has to be learned,” for students to “see the world through the eyes of other cultures” (MLA report, 2007). This presentation will showcase the VR experiences designed for the beginning French course Paris in Virtual Reality. The VR experiences and their accompanying teaching materials, designed to encourage both peripheral vision and narrow focus, allowed students to observe diverse facets of Parisian culture and more vividly envision their future role as participants in Parisian communities. Amateur and professional VR films showcasing Parisian life were also mediated by one-on-one 30-minute discussions between Parisians and students. These conversations were designed to help students train their untrained eyes, uncover cultural phenomena, and bring into focus what they may not see.

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