Augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and mixed reality (MR) technologies are having an increasing impact on education and training by redefining traditional workspaces and transforming them into a hybrid of virtual and physical realities.
AR technology allows the augmented components to be overlaid into the real world so that user experience can be elevated, where VR technology brings the reality experience into a virtual space with the help of a VR head-mounted display. MR technology allows real and virtual worlds to combine and produce new environments and visualizations where physical and digital objects co-exist and interact in real time.
AR/VR/MR technologies allow people to immerse themselves in a computer-generated environment and help leverage the advantages of both physical and virtual worlds and form an artificial reality. Our researchers are conducting studies related to VR/AR/MR and exploring their potential for learning.
VR and Creativity
The creativity of the brain is usually measured by one’s creative behavior or activity. A team of researchers led by Dr. Xiaozhe Yang, Dr. Lin Lin, and others conducted a series of studies which examined an individual’s creative performance through immersive VR technology and electroencephalography (EEG) [1, 2, 3]. These types of technology were used as tools to design and assess new ways to best facilitate and understand relationships between creativity, attention, flow, feedback, and learning.
Using a VR support system, these studies examined connections between an individual’s creative behavior and their creative brain [1, 2], as well as explored the effects of different types of feedback on creative performance in VR . The researchers connected an immersive VR system to the EEG brainwave detection equipment which allowed them to capture and analyze participants’ brain waves during their process of creating a virtual product and receiving feedback.
The findings of these three studies have been published in top tier research journals, namely, Journal of Educational Computing Research, Educational Technology Research Development, and Computers in Human Behavior.
VR for Language Learning
VR tools have the potential to increase learner engagement and improve educational outcomes. It is especially true for language learners due to the importance of authentic communicative practice and the ability of VR to simulate real-world scenarios. Our researchers, Tetyana Kucher, Dr. Regina Kaplan-Rakowski, and Dr. Lin Lin, explore the emergent role of immersive VR for second and foreign language learning and teaching by conducting a systematic review of empirical studies that employed immersive VR technologies for language learning .
This study identifies trends in implementation, affordances, and the impact of VR on student language learning outcomes, motivation, and engagement. It also highlights research and identifies limitations of VR technologies while setting directions for future research in the field of language learning and VR.
Stereoscopic Three-Dimensional Images
Dr. Kaplan-Rakowski and Dr. Lin examined the effect of immersive stereoscopic three-dimensional (S3D) pictures on productive and receptive vocabulary recall . The inherent perception of depth in S3D pictures facilitates learners’ immersion, making those pictures a potentially effective learning aid.
Nevertheless, the study revealed that S3D pictures were associated with significantly lower scores on vocabulary recall than two-dimensional pictures (2D), possibly due to the immersive nature of S3D pictures which may have distracted the learners from focusing on the vocabulary learning task. These findings have implications for instruction in immersive spaces, in virtual, augmented, and mixed reality-based learning environments.
Foreign Language Anxiety
It is common for language learners to experience anxiety associated with low confidence in their language skills when interacting with other speakers, and VR has the potential to help learners cope with foreign language anxiety. Dr. Kaplan-Rakowski has been involved in a research project to investigate how the sense of presence and the plausibility illusion of VR impacted students’ public speaking anxiety when presenting in a foreign language . In the experiment, language learners gave speeches in a foreign language in a VR classroom in front of virtual humans representing classmates. The researchers examined the participants’ sense of presence, perceptions of the virtual audience, and their anxiety levels.
The promising results of this experiment lay a solid foundation for follow-up studies that may focus on tracking participants’ movements, comparing pre-programmed and adaptive audience interactions, as well as analyzing the role of the background noise in the virtual scenarios. If highly realistic VR scenarios lead to more effective public speaking training, extended VR exposure could be desirable and potentially necessary to support the learning effect.
VR for Social, Emotional, and Mental Health Issues
Social isolation caused by the global pandemic has a significant impact on mental health. Studies show that social distancing leads to heightened feelings of depression and anxiety. Social distancing also amplifies feelings of disconnection, which may result in negative psychological effects and disorders. Research in psychology suggests that VR can change human behavior. VR is known to aid people in confronting traumas. and various disorders, including anxiety. Therefore, VR technology also has the potential to help people cope with anxiety and depression caused by prolonged social distancing.
To address these issues, researchers Tetyana Kucher and Dr. Kaplan-Rakowski are conducting a study which aims to investigate how VR can be helpful for people during social isolation associated with the COVID-19 pandemic . By surveying and interviewing people who own and frequently use VR headsets, they examine the impact that VR technology has on people struggling with social isolation and explore whether VR serve as a viable alternative to in-person interaction during the pandemic.
The findings of this on-going study will be used to further explore the affordances of VR and its potential to address people’s social, emotional, and mental health.
 Yang, X.Z., Cheng, P.-Y., Lin, L., Huang, Y. M., & Ren, Y. (2019). Can an Integrated System of Electroencephalography and Virtual Reality Further the Understanding of Relationships Between Attention, Meditation, Flow State, and Creativity? Journal of Educational Computing Research, 57(4), 846–876.
 Yang, X.Z., Lin, L., Cheng, P. Y., Yang, X., Ren, Y., & Huang, Y. M. (2018). Examining creativity through a virtual reality support system. Educational Technology Research Development, 66(5), 1231-1254.
 Yang, X.Z., Lin, L., Cheng, P.Y., Yang, X., & Ren, Y.Q. (2019). Which EEG feedback works better for creativity performance in immersive virtual reality --The reminder or encouraging feedback? Computers in Human Behavior. pp. 345-351.
 Kucher, T., Kaplan-Rakowski, R., & Lin, L. (2021). Trends in High-Immersion Virtual Reality Use for Language Learning: A Systematic Review (manuscript in progress).
 Kaplan-Rakowski, R., Lin, L., & Wojdynski, T. (2021). Immersive Stereoscopic Three-Dimensional Images Impede Learning (manuscript in progress).
 Gruber, A., & Kaplan-Rakowski, R. (2020). User Experience of Public Speaking Practice in Virtual Reality. In Cognitive and Affective Perspectives on Immersive Technology in Education (pp. 235-249). IGI Global.
 Kucher, T., & Kaplan-Rakowski, R. (2021). Coping with social isolation during the pandemic using virtual reality (manuscript in progress).