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User Experience of Public Speaking Practice in Virtual Reality

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Abstract

This study investigated how the sense of presence and the plausibility illusion of high-immersion virtual reality (VR) impacted students' public speaking anxiety when presenting in a foreign language. In the study, the students gave eight presentations in a VR classroom while using a high-immersion VR headset. The students' virtual audience resembled classmates who were programmed to show nonverbal behavior, such as gestures, mimicry, and body motion. Analysis of subsequent individual semi-structured interviews with the students showed that they experienced a sense of presence and plausibility illusion about the virtual audience and the virtual space. The participants also saw VR as an effective tool for practicing public speaking and reducing any attendant anxiety.
Preprint version: This document is the authors’ version of their chapter that has been accepted for publication in
R. Zheng (Ed.), Cognitive and affective perspectives on immersive technology. IGI Global. This document may not
reflect the final version of the chapter.
APA citation:
Gruber, A., & Kaplan-Rakowski, R. (2020). User experience of public speaking practice in virtual reality. In R.
Zheng (Ed.), Cognitive and affective perspectives on immersive technology in education (pp. xx-xx). IGI Global.
doi: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3250-8
User Experience of Public Speaking Practice in Virtual Reality
Alice Gruber
University of Applied Sciences Heilbronn, Germany
Regina Kaplan-Rakowski
University of North Texas, USA
ABSTRACT
This study investigated how the sense of presence and the plausibility illusion of high-immersion
virtual reality (VR) impacted students’ public speaking anxiety when presenting in a foreign
language. In the study, the students gave eight presentations in a VR classroom while using a high-
immersion VR headset. The students’ virtual audience resembled classmates who were
programmed to show nonverbal behavior, such as gestures, mimicry, and body motion. Analysis
of subsequent individual semi-structured interviews with the students showed that they experienced
a sense of presence and plausibility illusion about the virtual audience and the virtual space. The
participants also saw VR as an effective tool for practicing public speaking and reducing any
attendant anxiety.
Keywords: Anxiety, Plausibility Illusion, Public Speaking, Virtual Reality, Virtual Humans
INTRODUCTION
Experiences in virtual reality (VR) can impact human behavior (Bailenson, 2018). Research
shows that VR may help people to handle traumas, disorders (Difede & Hoffman, 2002), and
phobias (Parsons & Rizzo, 2008). This study explores how the sense of presence and the
plausibility illusion of high-immersion VR influence human behavior by reducing the anxiety that
accompanies public speaking in a foreign language.
High-immersion VR is defined as “a computer-generated 360° virtual space that can be
perceived as being spatially realistic, due to the high immersion afforded by a head-mounted
device” (Kaplan-Rakowski & Gruber, 2019, p. 552). VR allows users to immerse themselves in
experiences that normally could be considered unsafe or could elicit high anxiety, or both.
Examples of such scenarios are visiting a battlefield during a war, exploring the inside of a nuclear
reactor, swimming with sharks, visiting politically dangerous locations, and speaking in
public. Because VR is a risk-free environment, it can allow language learners to practice speaking
foreign languages without having to worry about making mistakes in front of other people.
VR is increasingly used in the military (Champney, Stanney, Milham, Carroll, & Cohn,
2017), medicine (Li et al., 2017), tourism (Loureiro, Guerreiro, & Ali, 2020), and in educational
settings for language learning (Kaplan-Rakowski & Wojdynski, 2018), mathematics (Dimmel &
Bock, 2019), biology (GarciaBonete, Jensen, & Katona, 2019), and others. VR is also finding its
way into the classroom at a practical level by offering experience needed in real-world scenarios,
which can be more cost-effective than in-person and on-site training (Makransky & Lilleholt,
2018). Despite VR being an emerging trend in education, empirical evidence of the affective value
of VR as well as research into psychological processes triggered by immersion and their effects
on students’ interest and motivation are scarce (Makransky & Lilleholt, 2018). Casasanto and
Jasmin (2018) find that immersive VR can “elicit real emotions and social attitudes, allowing
researchers to observe language in the kinds of socioaffective contexts in which it is typically
used but rarely studied” (p. 187). The physical appearance of virtual humans, including the design
and the realism of their faces, can be important aspects that influence users’ emotions and their
learning (Aymerich-Franch, Karutz, & Bailenson, 2012). Note that the main term we use is
“virtual audience,” denoting the virtual classmates that our participants talked to. Related terms,
such as “virtual humans,” “virtual agents,and “avatars” also are seen in the literature.
BACKGROUND
Virtual reality is a powerful tool because it can invoke a suspension of disbelief without necessarily
displaying the virtual environment in a hyper-realistic way (de Gelder, Kätsyri, & de Borst,
2018). Slater, Pertaub, Barker, and Clark (2006) show that people become present in virtual
social situations despite the relatively poor representational and behavioral fidelity” (p. 628). The
literature demonstrates that too perfect an illusion has a negative effect on the user (see section on
virtual faces affinity below). Slater et al. (2006) maintain in their study on giving talks in VR that
people responded according to type (i.e., phobics or confidents) despite the low representational
quality of the virtual humans (i.e., virtual humans were pre-programmed and therefore did not
react individually to the speakers behavior). In the present study, the focus was on sense of
presence, the plausibility illusion, and the usefulness of the VR classroom for public speaking
practice.
Previous studies on public speaking in virtual reality showed that VR can help lower
anxiety in a public speaking scenario (e.g., Harris, Kemmerling, & North, 2002; Safir, Wallach, &
Bar-Zvi, 2012). The general conclusion is that virtual reality could be a useful tool for practicing
public speaking. The current study adds details about users’ experience of a sense of presence and
plausibility illusion and explores how they aid in reducing public speaking anxiety. Moreover, the
study contributes to the previous literature by providing qualitative evidence that VR can be a
useful environment for practicing public speaking, specifically in a foreign language. Unlike some
studies on high-immersion VR, the present study involved longitudinal data from four VR
sessions, covering eight presentations, over a period of three months.
Sense of Presence
Presence can be defined as “the illusion of being there, notwithstanding that you know for sure
that you are not” (Slater, 2018, p. 432). Slater (2003) points out that “presence is the response to
a given level of immersion” and it “arises from an appropriate conjunction of the human perceptual
and motor system and immersion” (p. 4). When a VR scenario engages emotions, the sense of
presence is elevated (Diemer, Alpers, Peperkorn, Shiban, & Mühlberger, 2015). Presence also
leads to an increase in learning and performance (Witmer & Singer, 1998).
The illusion of presence is perceptual, not cognitive. The perceptual system gives a signal
to the brain-body system when the system identifies a threat such as a precipice in VR. Only then
does the cognitive system conclude that this threat is not real (Slater, 2018). Behavior found in a
real-life situation that is carried out in VR points at the sense of presence (Slater, 2003). Lee (2004)
defines social presence as “a psychological state in which virtual (para-authentic or artificial)
social actors are experienced as actual social actors in either sensory or nonsensory ways” (p. 45).
Plausibility Illusion
The extent to which subjects treat a fictional situation as real determines how that setting impacts
their behavior, learning, and emotional responses. Slater (2009) defines the plausibility illusion as
“the illusion that what is apparently happening is really happening (even though you know for sure
that it is not)” (p. 3553). Slater posits that if VR provides correlations between events in VR not
directly caused by the users and their own sensations, then the plausibility illusion can occur. He
(2009) also shows that if a virtual character and a participant look at each other, a physical
response, such as a change in the participant’s heart rate, is likely to occur. This phenomenon
indicates that the particular situation provoked internal feelings. Giving a talk in front of virtual
humans that are looking at the speaker, as is the case in the present study, presumably can cause a
physical response in the participant. Slater (2009) also maintains that if participants feel they are
“there” (i.e., place illusion) and that what appears to be happening is happening (presence illusion),
they are likely to respond as if the situation were real. This is referred to as “response-as-if-real.
The notion of credibility of events plays an important role with regard to the plausibility illusion,
in comparison with expectations in similar circumstances in real life (Slater, 2009).
Perceived Usefulness
In the context of technology, several definitions of “perceived usefulness” have been offered, with
many based on Davis (1989), who defines it as “the degree to which a person believes that using
a particular system would enhance his or her job performance” (p. 320). Makransky and Lilleholt
(2018) state that “perceived usefulness refers to the degree to which students believe that using the
platforms will enhance their performance” (p.114). For this study, Manis and Choi (2019) provide
the most suitable definition: “the degree to which a person believes using a particular system would
be beneficial and advantageous” (p. 505).
Virtual Faces Affinity
The realism of characters in a virtual audience is likely to play a strong role in determining
how well a virtual setting provokes or alleviates speaking anxiety. With regard to virtual faces of
virtual humans used in VR, the uncanny valley hypothesis refers to when a near-human-like
appearance can result in a negative affinity from the observer (Mori, 1970/2012). de Borst and de
Gelder (2015) dispute the uncanny valley hypothesis, arguing that virtual characters that are not
the most realistic-looking, and thus are between non-human- and human-looking, evoke more
feelings of eeriness than realistic-looking characters. This concept applies mostly to the virtual
characters with human-like motions. The authors claim that this phenomenon is caused by the
observers’ difficulty in categorizing ambiguous characters.
In a recent study, Kätsyri, de Gelder, and Takala (2019) demonstrated that artificial,
computer-generated faces evoke a stronger feeling of eeriness, i.e., negative affinity to a certain
degree, compared with human-like faces. The less human-like virtual characters are, the more
negative affinity they evoke, which the authors refer to as the “curved uncanny slope effect.” Their
study shows that using real human faces in research experiments is desirable. However, when
using computer-generated faces instead of real human faces as experimental stimuli, too high a
level of realism would be counteractive. Kätsyri et al. (2019) suggest that the computer-generated
faces should be made “as realistic as possible as long as their individual features do not represent
highly dissimilar realism levels” (p. 987).
METHODOLOGY
The Participants
The sample consisted of 12 university students (two females and ten males; mean age =
23.16) from a large, public university in central Europe. The experimental study was advertised
via newsletter and e-mail to 600 students in different departments. Students could sign up through
a link to a course in the university’s learning management system. A researcher contacted them
individually and offered time slots when the VR lab was available. The 12 volunteers who signed
up were of various majors. Most participants spoke German as their first language. Two students’
first languages were Korean and French. In their initial session, participants were promised a
financial reward if they attended all four sessions. Prior to the experiment, the researchers
informed the volunteers in both written and oral form about the general aim of the study. The
participants were allowed to withdraw from the study at any time.
Procedure
Two sessions had a face-to-face format and four had a VR format. During the experiment,
which took place in the university VR lab (see Figure 1), only one participant and one researcher
were present in the room. The instructions and interviews were in German for all students except
one, when English was used.
Figure 1. Virtual reality lab with a subject speaking in front of the virtual classroom
The experiment setting was a VR classroom with virtual humans representing students
sitting behind their desks (see Figure 2). Some virtual humans had a laptop or paper on their desks.
The virtual classroom had posters on the walls, with some of them depicting the logo of the
university.
Figure 2. The audience in the virtual reality classroom
The virtual audience contained both male and female students that were pre-programmed
to make movements such as nodding or shifting their upper body to one side or the other. One
virtual human in the front row made hand gestures to reassure the candidate (i.e., the palms were
faced down and the virtual humans moved them back and forth). Virtual humans were programed
with medium-fidelity facial characteristics in an attempt to moderate any influence of virtual faces
affinity and the uncanny valley effect.
Before the VR environment was introduced to the participants, they were asked to talk
about a specific topic (i.e., their last weekend) in English for two minutes in a face-to-face setting.
In the VR setting, the participants discussed eight topics in total over four sessions. The researcher
started the experiment by prompting the participants in English to talk about two topics. One topic
was always different and was meant to be unexpected. The uncertainty of this topic was intended
to induce foreign language speaking anxiety. The other topic was constant throughout the sessions.
Every time the participants came to a session, they were asked to talk about their weekend. The
certainty of this topic was meant to create less anxiety. Participants had about two minutes to talk
about each topic. After two minutes, the researcher prompted the participant to discuss a different
topic. Unlike in the face-to-face setting, the participants in the VR setting wore a head-mounted
display (HTC Vive).
Students had some immediacy of control because they could change their view position of
the three-dimensional (3D) objects. The researcher was able to take over a virtual human of her
choice, with the help of a motion-tracking camera (Microsoft Kinect v2), which projected the
researcher’s movements onto the virtual human. The researcher sat behind a soundproof partition,
and the participants heard the researcher’s voice through headphones. Every session concluded
with a semi-structured interview.
The interview was based on four questions.
1. How did you perceive the audience, as people with emotions?
2. Did the audience behave the way you expected it to?
3. Did the scenario feel somehow real?
4. How did you feel whilst talking?
The researchers decided on these questions to establish the participants’ sense of presence,
their perception regarding the plausibility of the event, and the participants’ emotions. The
questions emerged based on the observations of the participants during the pilot study. They were
also based on the researchers’ previous experience with VR studies. The interviews were
transcribed with a speech-to-text tool (Happy Scribe). One researcher and a research assistant
analyzed the transcripts independently and compared their analyses. Any discrepancies were
reconciled. The qualitative coding consisted of detecting patterns in the participants’ responses,
which were summarized under themes. Three distinctive themes emerged that both researchers
agreed on.
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
Three main themes emerged from the analysis of the interviews: the sense of presence, the
plausibility illusion, and perceived usefulness of VR for practicing public speaking. We refer to
participants as “P, together with a corresponding identifier. For example, P8 stands for participant
number 8.
The Sense of Presence
In terms of the audience’s behavior, the participants’ perceptions were on a continuum,
from not realistic to “like a normal [real] class.” Some students commented on the movement
pattern that was programed to recur. One participant felt that the pattern was meant to calm him
down, and another participant felt annoyed by the virtual humans’ seemingly unrealistic
movements. The latter participant also stated that the setting felt like being in a special class in a
particular county in Germany, where individual students commonly give presentations of their
work. One participant started his speech by directly addressing the audience (P4: “Hello class,”),
which is consistent with a sense of embodiment; i.e., users acted as if they saw themselves as part
of the environment (see, for example, Kilteni, Groten, & Slater, 2012). Another time, P4 started
with typical speech openers as soon as they were given the topic (P4: “Today I’d like to talk about
…”), which suggests that they perceived the situation as real.
Participants referred to the virtual humans as “people,” “pupils, “fictitious humans,
“fictitious audience,” “students,” “school class,” “class,” “audience,” “animated characters,
“fictitious characters,and “avatar. Two participants stated that they knew the virtual humans
were not real, but they nevertheless felt “like living things” (P4) and the interaction was “like
talking to somebody” (P8). Thus, participants showed behavior that ties in with the plausibility
illusion theory, and they showed response-as-if-real behavior.
For instance, P6, who displayed signs of public speaking anxiety, kept reminding himself
that he was standing in front of and talking to a wall. Given that participants did not stand in front
of a wall in the VR lab, P6 could be referring to the walls within the VR scenarios classroom,
suggesting that he ignored the virtual humans. He stressed that he was able to distinguish between
real and not real.
Participants’ reactions to the VR environment varied. P7 started looking at the virtual
humans individually only after several sessions, and P8 observed them one by one in the first
session to find out what they were doing. Two participants commented on a virtual human raising
its hand (which was instigated by the researcher to move onto a new topic), stating that they did
not know how to react because they were unsure what that gesture meant. Two other participants
interpreted the act as a sign of wanting to ask a question. Then, they stated that asking a question
in the middle of a presentation is plausible and realistic. P13 perceived the raised hand as an
interesting occurrence because it stopped his flow of speech, which resulted in him perceiving the
surrounding environment more intensely.
Two participants mentioned that they were aware of the researcher in the real world around
them while using the simulation, and one participant talked about the scenario being abstract
because the setting was “an empty room,” referring to the VR lab. For instance, for P7, the situation
felt real only to a certain extent because “stand[ing] in an empty room” is somewhat abstract.
One participant addressed the concept of embodiment by expressing his discontent about
the fact that he could not see his hands or arms. This seemed to affect the participants feeling of
self-presence. If the student had not used VR before, he might not have been aware of the
possibility of body representation. Another participant had expected the audience to be bored and
not understand if somebody talked in English. As that turned out not to be the case, he felt the
experience was a positive one.
The repeated engagement with the VR scenario over four sessions thus shows different
levels of plausibility illusion in the participants, as well as different expectations, motivations, and
attitudes to events within the VR scenario. Shin (2017) states that “users’ attitudes towards VLE
[virtual learning environments] are formed during users’ action, motivations are formed while they
interact within VLE, attitudes and motivation together embody affective affordance and,
subsequently, educational affordance (p. 1834).
Several participants felt that the background noises contributed to the realism of the
situation because having some type of environmental sounds in the classroom during presentations
is not unusual. This suggests that, on the whole, the virtual humans were perceived as social
agents. de Gelder et al. (2018) show that the virtual environment does not need to be hyper-realistic
to feel real. The participants’ reactions to the background noises ranged from finding them
distracting to reassuring. One participant stated that she thought that the sound was more realistic
than the visual aspect of the VR setting.
Perceptions of Virtual Audience
Perceptions of the virtual humans’ movements diverged considerably. For instance, in the
first session, P2 saw the virtual humans as passive and P1 described them as active, calling them
animated characters. P1 also pointed out that although the people did not feel real, “the sense
of space was very realistic.
P6 had the sense that the virtual humans were laughing at him, “even though I was talking
normally. According to the subject, he felt ridiculed by the virtual humans’ facial expressions
and movements. The participant also stated that people nodding their heads and moving their
hands quickly confused him and threw him off balance. After the third session, this student
remarked that when he discussed the second topic, when he felt restless and could not think of
anything to say, he felt even more annoyed by the virtual humans’ movements. In other words,
when he struggled with a topic, the virtual audience put a strain on him. He claimed that, as a
consequence, he forgot what he wanted to say: “There were people who moved hands like that all
the time and nodded, but very quickly. And that made me feel a bit insecure. Well, I forgot things
I wanted to say.”
P15 pointed out that she started to feel more confident in VR after several sessions, but
she emphasized that she did not care about “the people” because they were not real, so she focused
on herself when she talked. In a real classroom setting, she said that she would look at people. Two
subjects (P8, P13) explicitly maintained that they felt the experience of flow and being in the zone.
In terms of changing perceptions over time, P2 saw the virtual audience as passive in his
first session but in further sessions he accepted that behavior as “normal” because “listening is
what people do in a presentation.” This suggests that the participant adjusted his expectations to
the situation. After his third session, he said that “when you do it several times, it somehow feels
more real” and “with time, you are less bothered that something is partly not real. In contrast, P7
said that the sessions felt more realistic to him as he got used to the situation and the behavior of
the people became predictable.
Although no changes were made during the course of the experiment in the virtual
audience’s behavior, some students reported noticing nonexistent changes in the avatars’ behavior
and in the set-up of the classroom from session to session. One participant mentioned after several
sessions that he had noted more people than before. Another stated that the virtual humans were
more active than previously. A third participant remarked that, unlike in previous sessions, more
laptops, papers, and documents were on several desks. P15 noted the posters on the wall of the
virtual classroom only in the second session and insisted they had not been there before.
The repeated exposure to the VR environment allowed the participants to be more
perceptive of the setting, and they thus observed previously unnoticed details. Familiarity with
the virtual room led to spotting more details. Being in a novel environment may be a cause for
noticing fewer visual stimuli in the earlier sessions.
The number of encounters with the classroom and the virtual audience also seemed to
influence the participants’ perception, for example, because of the changing degree of
familiarity. After being in the setting several times, P10 said that he had developed a certain
routine, which led to him to feel less nervous (“I felt a little safer this time”). P2 stated after the
third session that “the more you do it, the more real it feels because you get used to it.” He also
said that, over time, people do not mind the fact that it was “partly not real.After her last session,
P15 said that the setting felt more real than before.
Perceived Usefulness of VR for Practicing Public Speaking
The analysis of the interviews shows that participants saw cognitive benefits of the VR
experience. Participants stated that this type of VR training would be a useful tool to practice for
presentations to be held at university. One of the more profound observations regarded the
participants’ comparison of VR to using a mirror as a tool for practicing public speaking. Some
participants noted several features that VR could offer, including that it reflects more of a real-life
situation.
P2: “You get a ‘classroom feeling’ over time and therefore it is more useful for preparing
presentations compared to a mirror.”
P15: “Practicing how to move and talk in VR is more real than practicing a presentation in
front of the mirror.”
P11 (an experienced VR user): “This is a good exercise and far better than practicing in
front of a mirror because the latter does not reflect the situation in the classroom, whereas in VR
you can recreate the situation and overcome your stage fright, for example.”
Further benefits of using VR instead of using a mirror for rehearsing public speaking
included practicing gaze-direction (i.e., looking at a specific point behind the audience or at one
or two audience members):
P2: “One can practice looking at people, which is not possible in front of a mirror.”
P1: “You can get distracted by looking at yourself in the mirror.”
P13: “You can choose where to look.”
P11: “VR is better than the mirror because you can see people.”
In addition to the insightful comparisons of VR with the mirror, other comments regarded
possible effects of VR on participants’ anxiety. P6 felt threatened by the virtual humans even after
all four VR sessions. Although he perceived the VR speaking practice as negative, he was eager
to take advantage of it seeing its benefit .”I used this VR opportunity in view of the fact that I
have a class presentation [in a foreign language] soon”. For him, giving presentations in real life
causes elevated anxiety levels. He stated that if he persistently deals with his uneasiness in VR, it
should get better.
Some of the behavior strongly suggests that students felt the same as when making a
speech. P7 chose specific points to look at above the students’ heads in one session, and he looked
at people’s faces in the next session. When asked whether he uses these strategies in his
presentations in class, he explained that he either uses the first strategy or alternates between three
or four people with whom he makes eye contact.
Similarly, P9, an experienced VR user, reported that when giving a presentation, he usually
looks at people in a circular motion, which is what he did in the VR sessions. P3 stressed that she
did not perceive the classroom as real but that she looked through the people when talking, just
like in a face-to-face presentation setting. P2 answered the question “How did you feel during
talking?” with “Like in every other presentation I have to give.” He added that real situations are
slightly more stressful, but the VR experience comes close to it.
P7 maintained that the setting felt more realistic as he got used to the scenario. At the
beginning, he focused on the people’s movement. Over time, he blocked it out and looked around
the room whilst talking. After the third session, P8 said that he pretended to present in front of an
audience. After the fourth session, he stated that he was always in “presentation mode,” as if a
“normal class” were in front of him.
Perception of the Classroom and Virtual Humans
Overall, most participants found the VR scenario to be engaging and reported feeling
impressed. They also were struck by the novelty of the new experience. Negative reactions
included perceptions of the simulation as not real and disappointment with the virtual humans’
behavior, i.e., their movements seeming artificial. None of the participants complained about
symptoms that are associated with motion sickness. Some students reported that they were
overheated while wearing the headset.
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
This study examined the efficacy of practicing public speaking in a VR setting based on the
participants’ perceptions. It also analyzed the participants’ sense of presence and the plausibility
illusion. In terms of educational value, the more VR sessions the participants attended, the more
they perceived the sessions to be real. 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. Further studies on this issue are needed.
Follow-up studies could examine the impact of tracking participants’ movements (e.g.,
gestures, head movements) as well as investigate whether using a virtual human has an impact on
participants’ sense of self-presence, defined as “the psychological state in which virtual self is
experienced as the actual self” (Aymerich-Franch et al., 2012, p. 1).
Further studies could establish the impact of an artificially intelligent virtual audience that
can adapt to the speaker in real time compared with pre-programmed movements. Participants’
anxiety levels and the perceived usefulness of practicing public speaking in VR also could be
studied when including a range of realistic features such as presentation slides, visual- and audio-
based distractions, and stage lighting.
Because this study’s sample had a limited number of participants (N = 12), the
generalization of the results should be taken with caution. The students were self-selected, and
their reasons for volunteering varied. A few students remarked that they signed up due to their
curiosity about VR technology. Other students wanted to have a chance to practice their foreign
language speaking skills because they found such practice beneficial for their coursework, which
required them to give presentations in English.
From an instructional design point of view, elements such as background noise should be
made optional. The background noise seemed to increase the sense of presence, which is
advantageous for the participants’ experience. Background noise was distracting for some
participants, which is disadvantageous for learning. In the pre-training phase, VR users could test
the equipment and the level of sound can be adjusted individually to put users at ease. Whether
additional stress that is not related to the task at hand could be beneficial in fostering learning
remains unknown (Schmid Mast, Kleinlogel, Tur, & Bachmann, 2018). Imitating real-life
conditions when practicing public speaking in VR is important. Our results show that participants
acknowledged the potential of VR for public speaking practice, compared with a mirror, for
instance. VR practice sessions thus could be a valuable supplement to foreign language lessons.
For example, students could practice speaking in the comfort of their homes, ideally with
automated feedback or the tutor’s response to students’ performance.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
We would like to express our gratitude to the team of UniTyLab Heilbronn at the University of
Applied Sciences Heilbronn. Special thanks go to Professor Gerrit Meixner, Marius Koller, Philip
Schäfer, Ketoma Vix Kemanji, and Daniel Martinez for their support with the equipment and the
setting for the study, as well as their technical advice during the VR experiment. We also would
like to thank Dr. Liss Kerstin Sylvén for her comments and suggestions on earlier versions of this
manuscript.
Authors’ Biographies
Alice Gruber, Ph.D. (University of Reading, UK), is a researcher and lecturer at the University of
Applied Sciences Heilbronn, Germany. She conducts research in computer-assisted language
learning, with a focus on the effect of virtual exchanges and virtual reality in foreign language
learning. Her research interests include general foreign language pedagogy and English as a
Lingua Franca. She is a textbook author, test item writer, and assessor for internationally
recognized exams.
Regina Kaplan-Rakowski, Ph.D. (Southern Illinois University Carbondale, USA), holds an
appointment in the Department of Learning Technologies at the University of North
Texas. Besides lecturing, she conducts research on technology-enhanced language learning with
a primary emphasis on learning in immersive settings, such as virtual reality or virtual worlds. She
also investigates the impact of visual and audial modalities on learning, especially focusing on the
effect of stereoscopic 3D visualizations.
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KEY TERMS AND DEFINITIONS
Cybersickness: A feeling of sickness that may be experienced in VR.
Emotional Presence: When users experience an emotional response, e.g., empathy, joy, or fun,
triggered by VR.
Flow: Mental state of users who are completely involved in the process of an activity.
Level of Immersion: State of immersion that depends on the physical properties of the employed
system.
Head-Mounted Display (HMD): VR hardware worn on the head to experience VR content.
Public Speaking Anxiety: Fear of speaking in public. Physical symptoms include elevated heart
rate and blood pressure. In addition, users can experience higher perspiration, a greater need for
oxygen, and muscle stiffness.
Sense of Embodiment: Sensation of being physically inside VR.
Virtual Agent: A computer-generated virtual character capable of interacting and communicating
with users employing elements of artificial intelligence. The virtual agent has an anthropomorphic
look of varying levels of realism.
ADDITIONAL READING
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... In other words, users wearing a headmounted device (sometimes called a headset) can look in either direction and view their surroundings in a similar way as in real life. Research repeatedly confirms that VR is able to provide the sense of presence or being "there" (Gruber & Kaplan-Rakowski, 2020;Navarro-Haro et al., 2017). ...
... On the other hand, our finding is not surprising for two reasons. First, VR is highly immersive (Gruber & Kaplan-Rakowski, 2020;Makransky et al., 2019) and, just like other immersive media, VR can "stimulate physical senses to the point where we experience psychological immersion" (Kaplan-Rakowski & Meseberg, 2019, p. 144). In our experiment, the students immersed in the VR meditation could have had "an impression that it is real and that they are present in this environment" (Kaplan-Rakowski & Meseberg, 2019, p. 144); that is, they could have thought they were in the forest where the meditation took place. ...
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