In the modern workplace, language competence is as crucial as technical expertise. By developing effective verbal and interpersonal skills, prospective engineers as potential candidates of skilled labour mobility can possess the competence to engage in various technical and commercial activities as well as science and technology growth. Since higher education institutions in Turkey aim at developing merely linguistic competence in depth, English for Specific Purposes (ESP) courses offered by Turkish higher education institutions should focus on the multicultural aspect of business communication.
Under the circumstances, the proposed project aims to prepare prospective engineers for linguistically and culturally diverse workplace dynamics through cooperation between European universities. The target groups are undergraduate students and academics of the participating universities. After careful analysis of the needs of engineering professionals in a variety of workplace settings, a joint English for Professional Purposes (EPP) curriculum enhanced by VR technology will be designed to increase the employability of prospective engineers in multinational companies in Europe. Designing a VR-based learning environment will contribute to the goals of this project by simulating real-life work settings for those who are likely to encounter challenges in terms of linguistic and cultural integration. It will provide the opportunity to experience and prepare for the anticipated challenges during engineering students’ transition to business life.
The field of education has recently witnessed a shift in web-based learning from conventional multi-media tools to more engaging Virtual Reality Learning Environments (VRLE). These immersive interactive environments create a sense of presence which motivates and causes the learner to engage with the learning material in a deeper cognitive level. Therefore, learners get the unique opportunity of learning language in the context of how knowledge is applied in everyday situations. Gaining a sense of participation and building emotional connections are the main advantages that promote language learners’ autonomy and self-efficacy through presenting a visibly realistic virtual environment (Collentine, 2011; Deutschmann et. al, 2009 as cited in Lin, 2015). This ground- breaking technology will help raise students’ engagement with the necessary language skills to acquire language competence by visualizing the situations with real-life scenarios. The aim is to expose students to authentic data as much as possible.
To explore the specific context of European intercultural workplace communication and to extract multiple perspectives on communication strategies through a range of workplace communication themes, a transnational collaboration is required. Incorporating other European universities and workplace contexts, we can have a better grasp of the needs, obtain a wider variety of authentic communication data and a diverse range of learning materials related to real-life situations students may face in intercultural workplace environments.
The objectives of the I-BEE-VR project are two-fold:
• To design a joint Professional English for Engineers Curriculum with integrated mobility by discovering the needs of authentic business professionals who are employed in real-life business positions throughout Europe
• To develop a VR-based interactive learning environment to immerse prospective engineering professionals with real-life experiences
Following a comprehensive literature review, the perceived needs of authentic engineering professionals in terms of their English language and business communication skills will be studied by means of semi-structured questionnaires. Each partner will participate in this extensive data collection procedure. All data will be analysed and reviewed to synthesize the design criteria and learning objectives to structure the proposed ESP curriculum. The planned curriculum is a three-credit undergraduate level EPP course for students from different disciplines. This course has duration of 14 weeks (3 hours/week). The syllabus and the associated content including VR-based materials will be designed in collaboration with the partners. The project partner specializing in VR&AR applications will simultaneously develop the VR learning environment. The I-BEE-VR project will integrate all the essential components of language learning into VR. Certain elements of I-BEE-VR, such as controlled and semi-controlled conversations and vocabulary and pronunciation practice, will be supplemented with virtual reality, using compatible headsets and mobile phones, which will help immerse learners in lifelike settings and scenarios. Those scenarios will be specific to the needs of a range of engineering departments such as Mechanical, Electrical, Civil and Computer Engineering.