Monday, June 12, 2017

Lecturer at UTSA uses virtual reality to teach students Spanish


(Feb. 15, 2017) -- Students at The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) are traveling to different countries without having to get on a plane.

Senior Spanish lecturer, Michael Rushforth, in the UTSA Department of Modern Languages and Literatures is taking his students to Peru, Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries by incorporating virtual reality in his lessons.

Rushforth said students who can't study abroad are now getting the opportunity to practice their Spanish while touring different countries with this technology. By downloading a few apps and putting on virtual reality headsets, students can head to Machu Picchu in Peru or tour Chichen Itza in Mexico in a matter of minutes.

During the class, Rushforth asks students to describe what they see by using Spanish vocabulary words they have been studying. He also asks students in more advanced courses to use virtual reality to observe a scene and then write a description of the landscape in Spanish.

"I have never experienced anything like this in the classroom. It was pretty cool to see parts of Mexico I probably wouldn't get to travel to," said Keysean Abrahams, a sophomore kinesiology major.

"I used virtual reality before but not in class so I really enjoyed it," said sophomore, biology major Heath Brazle. "It definitely made me feel more engaged with the lesson."

Rushforth said he learned to use virtual reality for training while working at the Institute for Creative Technologies in Southern California. He said he proposed using virtual reality to teach his Spanish courses at UTSA and he got the green light.

"I am grateful that I am able to be innovative inside the classroom and that UTSA supports my efforts to try new things," said Rushforth.

Rushforth says he has held a workshop to show other instructors how to utilize the technology in the classroom. Virtual reality is giving UTSA students an immersive experience to help them learn about the cultural experiences and languages in different countries.

"The use of virtual reality seems to be changing the game of engagement in classrooms and I am just trying to experiment with all of the options out there and track any advancements with the technology," said Rushforth.

UTSA is recognized as one of the top 400 universities in the world and one of the top five young universities in the nation by Times Higher Education.

- Kara Mireles

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