STCC Virtual Campus for Immersive ESL Learning

This is an exciting time for the STCC ESL Department.  We have been awarded a generous grant from the National Science Foundation to create a 3D virtual STCC campus for our students.  This project will provide a unique opportunity for them to increase and practice their conversation skills in real-time, any time they choose to log in to the cyber campus.

The grant proposal, entitled Exploring the Virtual World of Contextualized English Acquisition, was submitted by STCC ESL in partnership with WonderBuilders, Inc., a virtual world development company founded by the creators of the open source Open Wonderland virtual reality software that is being used for this project.

Students will use computers at home and at school  to speak and interact with other students, staff, and faculty. The experience in the virtual world affords students the opportunity to create projects and practice conversation skills regardless of time or location.  Learning is not limited to class time.  Students will be able to meet in the virtual world with staff in offices on the virtual campus, such as financial aid and the registrars office, and practice conversation skills with fellow students in virtual student lounges. Grammar and conversation objectives from each of the four levels of ESL classes at STCC will be incorporated into the program to guide English language development and prepare users for college placement tests and successful completion of a degree or certificate program. The project goals are to increase English listening and speaking fluency, boost students confidence, and provide a smooth transition into campus life and ultimately into a career.

The project has attracted the support of others on campus.  For example, students in the Graphic Arts Department have received training from WonderBuilders, and with the assistance of their professors, are photographing campus structures and assisting with building the virtual world.  Once completed, a few of the many in-world activities planned for ESL students include participating in scavenger hunts, hearing lectures on career opportunities, creating a multicultural fair, ordering food in the cafeteria, making purchases at the bookstore and seeking medical help from Health Services. Students will receive computer training and support as part of the program.

The grant provides funding for a three year project, which includes the development and evaluation of the program. Initial testing of the software will begin during the spring of 2012, with a full pilot course planned for the 2012 fall semester. Resulting data from the pilot will be among the first of its kind and could serve as the catalyst for the adoption of virtual ESL learning by other programs around the country. As the project nears completion, the National Center for Information & Communications Technologies (ICT), which is hosted at STCC, will disseminate the lessons learned to its network of educators.