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Collage: Top image: Students looks through a VR headset. Bottom image: Image of an Arabic landscape the student is seeing through the VR headset.

The “Advanced Arabic” class uses virtual reality to connect students in Chapel Hill with those in Morocco and Algeria. (photo by Rob Holliday)

Virtual reality headsets are most closely connected to computer science, but they are a key ingredient in Caroline Sibley’s “Advanced Arabic” class.

Though they were physically half a world apart, Tar Heels in the teaching assistant professor’s class used Google Cardboard VR devices to explore a virtual world with students in Morocco and Algeria in real time. The students navigated the virtual environments together over the course of the fall semester to complete assignments and hone their language skills.

“We’ve been in a classroom, and we’ve been in a historical site with ruins,” said Hasti Sadri, a sophomore peace, war and defense major. “I will explain what I understand in Arabic, and then [my partner from Algeria] will go in, and she will explain what she understood in Arabic and what I missed and what I can work on. And then we do the same in English for the English clues.”

The experience is funded by the Stevens Initiative and the U.S. State Department to create virtual exchanges between American university students and their counterparts in the Middle East and North Africa. Sibley said the Tabadul Program has been invaluable in building her students’ confidence in speaking Arabic and developing their understanding of the region’s culture.

Sibley’s course in the College’s department of Asian and Middle Eastern studies is one of many ways Carolina is preparing Tar Heels to be global leaders through the University’s Global Guarantee.

Watch a video of the class at go.unc.edu/vr-arabic-class.


Published in the Spring 2023 issue | The Scoop

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