"The Mandarin Project," Virtual Reality Immersive Language Course Featured in Times of London

"The Mandarin Project," Virtual Reality Immersive Language Course Featured in Times of London

Date posted: 2014-07-23 10:30:55

Virtual Reality Beijing Speeds Language Class

James Dean Technology Correspondent /  Copyright The Times of London

July 23 2014


A video game that helps university students learn Mandarin by taking an entire class on a virtual adventure to the Summer Palace in Beijing is to be launched next year.

The game, which was created by Lee Sheldon, a former Star Trek producer, is to be offered as a three-month course to students at New York’s Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Professor Sheldon said that the concepts of the game could easily be applied to language classes in Britain.

Universities and schools have long sought to use advances in video game technology to relieve classroom boredom, but few have proved successful.

Prof Sheldon said: “It’s easy to create something that’s interesting. It’s harder to create something interesting that has purpose.”

Lost Manuscript 2: The Summer Palace Cipher uses “mixed reality”, a blend of virtual reality and live role-playing.

Students took part in a “kung fu tea ceremony” as part of a game test earlier this year. Wearing 3D glasses, they sat at tables as projectors painted their classroom in images of a Chinese tea room. As the lesson progressed, they learnt how to pour virtual tea into cups by communicating with their virtual teacher in Mandarin. At the end of the lesson, their real-life tutor, dressed as the virtual incarnation, emerged from behind a screen to serve real tea and cakes.

The game often attempts to speed up the learning process. In lesson two, the virtual teacher tells the class that they will be going to Beijing at the end of the three-month term. Then suddenly, a mysterious lady bursts into the class and speaks frenetically to the teacher in unintelligible Mandarin. A flustered teacher then informs the class that the trip to Beijing has been moved forward to next week.

Prof Sheldon, who spent 20 years working in Hollywood and 20 years in the video game industry, would not divulge further details of the game’s plot, except that the final exam involves a virtual police interrogation in Beijing. The second half of the game is currently in development, he added.

Another of Prof Sheldon’s projects, described as “Downton Abbey in outer space”, will involve an Irish family that tries to settle on Mars.

He said that he prefers to refer to his projects as “game-based learning” rather than “gamification” because students are not offered in-game rewards. “That’s because once you stop paying them, they start getting worse,” he said.