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University of Westminster helps develop VR software that adds depth to language learning

Report by the University of Westminster’s Zsuzsanna Matyak.

Image of the virtual reality palace

The University of Westminster’s Department of Computer Science has collaborated with Linguisticator to develop prototype virtual reality (VR) software that will be used to teach languages and has the potential to expand into other learning applications. The software uses the concept of a memory palace; a mental library for learning new subjects, which is an ancient technique that uses our inherent spatial and visual capacity to learn, retain and recall large amounts of information quickly and effectively. Users can create their own 3D memory palaces on the platform where, by using a VR headset, they can take virtual walks and learn spatially and visually. Memory and language training company Linguisticator approached the Department of Computer Science to seek assistance with the technical side of developing the innovative learning platform, called Macunx VR. As a result, Andrew Freebrey, now a computer games development graduate, was given the opportunity to apply his studies to a real-life project. With Course Leader Markos Mentzelopoulos’s guidance, Andrew developed the alpha version of the Macunx VR memory palace.

International attention

Linguisticator ran a successful crowd-funding campaign on Kickstarter over the summer of 2016 for Macunx VR, raising almost 400 per cent of its target and attracting the attention of press and bloggers from around the world. Shortly after the completion of the first prototype, Lara Lewington, presenter for the BBC’s consumer technology programme Click, was among the first to try the memory palace on the University’s Cavendish Campus in Central London, brushing up on her Spanish language skills. Her report on the innovative platform was subsequently aired on BBC News, BBC World News and BBC 1’s Breakfast show. Another third year student on the same course, Jennifer Leung, is set to take over the development of the software upon graduation as part of a knowledge transfer partnership between the University and Linguisticator. “The Macunx VR project is a fruit of our commitment to provide our students with real life practical experience of the industry before and right after they graduate,” says Markos. “As a department, we seek new challenges for knowledge transfer applied to various applications and fields with the support of state-of-the-art facilities populated with high-tech immersive technologies.”

A vibrant learning environment

The University of Westminster boasts a vibrant learning environment attracting more than 20,000 students from over 150 nations and continues to invest in its future with new developments and research projects. It offers highly attractive practice-based courses that are independently rated as excellent, many with international recognition. Its distinguished 175-year history has meant it leads the way in many areas of research, particularly politics, media, art and design, architecture and biomedical sciences. Furthermore its position in the city of London allows it to continue to build on close connections with leading figures and organisations in these areas, as well as in the worlds of business, information technology, politics and law. Internationalisation, employability and sustainability are key elements in the University of Westminster’s vision for the future and it strives to ensure the very highest standards are met and maintained.