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Speech experiment utilizes VR goggles

This spring, ORU Oral Communication classes have begun adopting the use of virtual reality equipment in an attempt to utilize modern technology in a way that could advance the educational system. The VR equipment introduces students to a new approach to learning that could prove to be beneficial in many fields, including public speaking.
Assistant Professor Denise Miller, alongside co-investigator Katherine Kelley, were granted approximately $30,000 by the President’s Research Fund to purchase 400 sets of virtual reality goggles and a virtual reality application for students.
All students enrolled in Oral Communication classes this semester were divided into two groups: the experimental and the control groups. The experimental group is made up of approximately 140 students who have each received a set of VR gear to keep until the end of the semester. The remaining half of students, the control group, will not get the gear until the end of the semester.
Along with the VR goggles, students received the “Presentation Skills VR” application designed by eLearning Studio’s developer, Chris Scott. The app allows students to upload their PowerPoint slides that then appear in the simulation as a visual aid.
Through the eyes of the VR goggles, students are able to rehearse assigned speeches and get the full experience of public speaking. The simulation includes all aspects from warming up backstage to gauging the reactions of an interactive virtual audience. The life-like listeners react to how well the student engages by either focusing attentively on the student or lightly chattering and taking phone calls. Listeners react according to the speaker’s eye contact, volume, vocal variety or duration. At the end of the simulation, students are able to receive feedback through percentage scores of each of the four criteria assessed in addition to an overall score.
“It has definitely been a great preparation tool for when it comes time to giving our speeches,” said sophomore Olivia Daniel. “Using it has helped me feel better prepared for sure.”
Miller and Kelley designed a survey for students to complete before and after their speeches in attempt to measure a change in different variables, such as a change in a student’s motivation to practice. While some students may acquire a greater self-confidence through this exposure therapy, others may find that it makes them feel nauseous or disoriented when using it.
“I hope that this VR app will help the really intelligent ORU students feel more confident as they present, and the world will reap the benefit,” said Miller. “I hope that shy speakers will gain confidence with this virtual audience and then speak up more in groups where their ideas matter.”
Additionally, Miller expects to see the VR tools being utilized by students practicing senior paper presentations, professors practicing conference presentations and job applicants practicing group interview questions and answers.
The use of VR to aid students in public speaking is only the beginning. ORU Chief Information Officer Mike Mathews has contracted with tech company, Eon, to enable users to tour macro and micro environments. This would allow for the ability to use VR to travel to destinations as far away as King Tut’s tomb to as near as the insides of our eyes.
On April 21, Miller and Kelley will present their research before and after chapel in the lobby with other recipients of the President’s Research Fund.