Beijing in North Greenbush

This caught our eye the other day -- and it struck us both as potentially very cool, and very RPI.

The school is working to re-establish its Mandarin language minor, which makes a lot of sense. Being able to speak Mandarin is a very useful skill for all sorts of careers. And, you know, there are only about a billion people in the world who speak it.

So, how to go about that? Hire some faculty, start some classes, maybe an exchange program. Sure. But RPI is also building a virtual reality environment to mimic Beijing so that students can practice Mandarin in context.

From a write up of the Mandarin Project by Emily Donohue on RPI's Approach blog:

In late November, the first class of students taking Chinese at Rensselaer since efforts began to re-establish the Chinese language minor, stepped into the Mandarin Project's hangar-like space in the [Emergent Reality Lab] for a test-drive.
They took seats at café tables surrounded on three sides by massive screens projecting the image of a Beijing teahouse. Facing the students at the front of the room was a woman - a virtual woman - who would serve as their teacher.
The students donned 3-D glasses, the same kind you'd find at a movie theater, and one student was designated the guide and controlled the experience by wearing a hat studded with ping pong-like balls and holding a video game controller.
The lights dimmed and the students traveled to Beijing.
As Sheldon and Chang looked on, with what seemed like equal parts anxiety and excitement, the students were led through a series of questions by the virtual instructor. She taught them about traditional Chinese tea ceremonies and they had to use their knowledge of Chinese - still fledgling at this early stage of their studies - to interpret her questions and select the correct answer. By doing so, they moved on to the next part of the lesson.

That Approach link has a bunch of photos and more details. And the video embedded above is from the virtual reality session.

Comments

Interesting. Note that UAlbany has the Confucius Institute, which has actual humans doing stuff in addition to language practice, like cultural events, etc.

Glad to see more options in higher ed coming to fruition in the area, not just at the high school level like at Tech Valley High School.

Hey AOA -- Thanks for posting this! We're really excited about the Mandarin Project over here at RPI and hope there will be many more updates to come -- stay tuned!

Delightful. If Shirley Jackson hadn't canned all the adjunct professors who taught languages at RPI (at one time you could take not only Chinese, but German and French as well), this virtual reality wouldn't be necessary. Mansions are expensive you know...

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