Teaching an Indigenous Language Using Social VR at Georgian College

Maryam Ismail, a student in Georgian’s Anishnaabemowin and Program Development program, wears a VR headset (source)

I really think the format has improved my learning…After COVID-19, I can’t wait to go back to school, but keeping VR would add so much to the curriculum. I think it should be part of the curriculum.

—Maryam Ismail, a Georgian College student

Rob Theriault, who is Immersive Technology Lead at Georgian College in Barrie, Ontario, Canada, and president of the Canadian Chapter of the Immersive Learning Research Network, has worked with staff and faculty from Indigenous Studies to create an immersive Indigenous Language House that’s providing students in the college’s Anishnaabemowin and Program Development program a unique and fun way to connect to Anishnaabe culture through language.

Anishinaabemowin (also called Ojibwemowin, the Ojibwe/Ojibwa language, or Chippewa) is an Indigenous language, spoken in Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec.

Some examples of Anishinaabemowin words and phrases

Georgian College reports:

The inspiration for one of the early pilots came from a session Rob attended on English as a second language. People were learning to order food inside a virtual coffee shop. He knew this approach would be a perfect fit for Georgian’s Indigenous language program. Michele O’Brien, program coordinator for all Indigenous programming, was quick to see the potential benefits.

The first module of language lessons in the program is based around the home. Using AltspaceVR, Rob built a house and furnished it and put information buttons on all the items in the house. Faculty member Angeline King and Elder Ernestine Baldwin translated a word list for everything so that when a student clicks on the button, the Anishnaabemowin word pops up.

The program has proven so successful that Jonathon Richter, CEO/President of the Immersive Learning Research Network (iLRN)…invited Michele and Angeline, along with other Indigenous groups, to attend a panel during the iLRN World Conference 2021 for a session on the iLRN House of Language, Culture, and Heritage – Teaching Native Language and Culture Using XR.

I am not allowed to embed the video from the iLRN 2021 conference on this blog, but you can watch it here on YouTube (it’s about an hour long).

In addition to AltspaceVR, the program has used the educational social VR platform ENGAGE. From a press release:

There is also a second house using the Engage software which includes voiceover translations with either King, Baldwin or another faculty member Mitchell Ackerman providing the pronunciation.

Georgian College is among a few schools in the world to offer Indigenous language education in an immersive virtual reality (VR) environment. (image source)

Georgian College is also making the virtual reality assets they’re building for language learning open source, so that they can be used by other Indigenous programs across Canada and around the world (please contact Rob Theriault for more information).

Liked it? Then please consider supporting Ryan Schultz on Patreon! Even as little as US$1 a month unlocks exclusive patron benefits. Thank you!