Exploring the Impacts of Using VR on Postgraduates’ Interactions in Group Discussions

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Virtual Reality (VR) technology has been researched and practiced in teaching during the past few years. Researchers claim that VR can create a stimulating presentation environment by adjusting presenters’ anxiety (Monteiro, Liang, Li, Fu, and Wang, 2020), or motivate students to learn English vocabulary (Chen, Hung, and Yeh, 2021). Wang (2015, 2017) stressed, however, that student participation in virtual English courses could be affected by their technical skills and the platform.
Within Sociocognitive framework, the dynamics of using a certain technology has been changed from “learners’ interaction with computers to interaction with other humans via the computer” (Kern and Warschauer, 2000, p. 11). Almost all studies on VR have focused on the interactions between users and the technology, and a limited number of research discusses interactions between VR users in the environment. To fill the research gap, we built a VR platform to realize synchronous audio communication between all users located in different places to do English group discussions. The primary research questions are:
RQ1: What are the impacts of using VR on postgraduates’ interactions in group discussions?
RQ2: What are the special affordances of VR compared to Tencent Meeting in group discussions?
Our VR Platform were based on TED topics used in Xi’an Jiaotong Liverpool University (XJTLU) Postgraduate Speaking Clinics. In total, 43 postgraduate (PG) students from various disciplines joined in the project. The project lasted for 8 weeks, including a pre-test, four sessions of VR Speaking Clinics, a post-test, and finally a focus group interview. Those PG students were also asked to complete a pre- and a post-test survey. Face-to-face VR training sessions were offered to help them learn how to use VR. To compare the use of VR to the university official online teaching platform, Tencent Meeting, we used both Tencent and VR in the four Speaking Clinics sessions, half an hour for each in a one-hour session. The data sets consist of the researchers’ observation, the Speaking Clinics recordings, the survey responses, and the focus group interview. The recordings were transcribed for a discourse analysis to reveal the dynamics of students’ interactions. All the data sets were triangulated and cross-validated.
As regards RQ1, the research results show that most of the PG students enjoyed using VR. VR provided an immersive environment, and talking to peers who were not in the same room while looking at the same VR scenario was a very exciting experience. Nevertheless, in terms of students’ interactions, some students were influenced negatively due to unstable and slow Internet connection, and thus participated marginally in some sessions. In terms of RQ2, most of the PG students indicated that VR was more immersive, motivating, and relaxing compared to Tencent, and some of them would just use VR in the future group discussion if the VR platform could be more improved.
This project has explored the use of VR in engaging students in group discussions in VR scenarios, and an innovative teaching by combining VR with Tencent Meeting.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBeijing Normal University, Beijing China
PublisherThe Education University of Hong Kong.
ISBN (Electronic)978-988-8636-93-8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2023


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