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Visiting Italy from the classroom

Imagine taking a class trip to Italy without having to leave the classroom. Three Ph.D. students in the Second Language Acquisition and Teaching program made it possible with the help of virtual reality.

Margherita Berti, Stefano Maranzana and Jake Monzingo hosted an event Tuesday, Nov. 28 that allowed undergraduate students enrolled in Italian 101, 102, 201 and 202 to use Google Cardboard glasses to explore Italy.  

Berti was first introduced to Google Cardboard glasses as a masters student during a class she took on technology and language learning. She said she wanted students to use this form of virtual reality to immerse them into the Italian culture instead of only using a textbook.

“When you’re looking at [an] image, you don’t see everything; you see one thing by itself,” Berti said.

Monzingo is studying virtual reality for his dissertation. He said he sees this event as a chance to help him with his research.

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“Being able to see how everybody was looking through with the environment, looking through with YouTube and the Google Cardboard app — I think it’s a good way to get an idea of how it works,” Monzingo said. 

The technology is versatile and can be applied outside the classroom. 

“Anything where there’s a 360 video, you can use the VR portion of YouTube and just hook it up and get a chance to explore other cultures,” Monzingo said.

Berti, Maranzana and Monzingo obtained a $300 Student/Faculty Interaction grant and a $200 grant from the French and Italian department to purchase the glasses and snacks for the events. Two cardboards cost $25, and the team was able to purchase 30 glasses for the 25 students per session and three glasses for themselves.

The event was held in two sessions, with each session lasting one hour. In each session, the students were first asked to take a pre-survey to share their expectations for the event with the instructors. 

Attendees were then asked to download the YouTube app and the Google Cardboard app so that the Google Cardboards would be compatible with their phone’s YouTube app. The students were asked to silence their phones so that the audio from each video could be heard using the speaker from the projectors in the room. 

The students were sent links to four 360-degree videos of different locations in Italy before the event. The instructors told the group when to start each video so that everyone could be at the same point.

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Following each video, the students were asked to discuss in their groups what they saw and how they liked the technology. 

After all the videos and discussions were played, the students were asked to take a survey to express their thoughts after the event. 

Berti, Maranzana and Monzingo are planning to host the event again next semester and the year following. Berti said she wants to see Google Cardboards used outside of this event. 

“The idea, for me, would be to have Google Cardboard in the language classrooms,” Berti said. “So using it constantly — maybe once a week — to explore Italy as opposed to just a textbook.” 

The three currently teach undergraduate Italian language courses. Maranzana sees this being used to supplement his classroom teaching.

“In the syllabus, we have to cover a lot of grammar,” Maranzana said. “We don’t have much time to look at the culture.”

A previous version of this story stated Margherita Berti was introduced to Google Cardboard during a graduate class she was teaching. She was in fact a student in that class. The article has been changed to reflect that fact. The Daily Wildcat regrets the error.


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