I came to Japan in 2015 to do my PhD, and I realized in the first few days of living here that there are certain stereotypes about the Middle East, especially about Iran. This is why I actively give talks about the real Iran and the Iranian people behind the news, and blog about the Iranian identity at beyondyourstereotypes.wordpress.com (“I Am More Than A Stereotype”).
In my classes, I always allocate one whole session to introduce my country, and this helps me establish my identity and help my students see and perceive me as I perceive myself.
Here is my ELT chalkboard on Iran on the first day of my English Conversation (英語会話) class at Konan Women’s University.
One of my MAVR teammates, Chris Hastings, who knows about my presentations on Iran, kindly contacted me. Here is a part of his email:
I want to help you add a VR component to your talks/workshops about Iran. I think your efforts to normalize ideas about Iran and squash ridiculous stereotypes are really admirably, and something I want to help with. So, I’m suggesting possibly adding a VR segment to one of your workshops that uses Google Streetview, Google Expeditions, or maybe even a VR movie about Iran. I think this would be really powerful in combination with your words. I recently heard a quote about VR being called an ‘empathy machine’ and it made me think about you and your recent efforts regarding “I Am More Than A Stereotype”.
This semester, I have five classes: Three classes at Konan Women’s University (English at KonanWU) and two classes at Kobe Women’s University (English at KobeWU). Travel is the theme of all the textbooks that I teach. So, I took this opportunity and planned a virtual trip to the unseen Iran through little but powerful empathy machine. In our recent email exchange, Chris shared a TED Talk with me, titled “How Virtual Reality Can Create the Ultimate Empathy Machine”. It’s probably where the phrase ‘ultimate empathy machine’ was coined. Chris Milk, the speaker is adding ‘ultimate’ to what the film critic Roger Ebert originally said about movies being like ‘machines that generate empathy’.
I ordered seven Google Cardboards on Amazon and I contacted Chris to pick his brain about the VR integration into my lesson plan. According to him, the best app he has worked with so far is Google Streetview because it is simple and easy to use. He said, the only problem was maybe not a lot of content for Iran. He kindly shared a website which has a VR section on Iran: https://persiaport.com/en/hashtag/virtualreality. It has a lot of content and can be accessed on mobile devices and is compatible with Google Cardboard.
Then, he further explained that if you have your own 360 photos, you could use a service like https://roundme.com/ to upload them to and create a simple tour. There is a free version with somewhat limited functionality which will allow you to do this. It’s also really simple to use. If you want to get serious about making your own tours, then I recommend – https://ggnome.com/pano2vr. If there 360 images on Google Streetview you want to edit / upload to your own platform / make part of a tour, you can use this free software Streetviewgrabber – http://www.purebasic.fr/english/viewtopic.php?f=27&t=50248 (using Google’s photos for educational purposes is OK).
I decided to start with PersiaPort and 360cities 3D images of Iran . I created QR codes for each photo. As homework, I asked my students to find a tourist destination in Iran and bring a photo to the class (digital or in print).
Many students found Nasir ol Molk Mosque as a tourist attraction in Iran. So, I decided to take them there! I also chose Masouleh, a village on the rooftops located in the north of Iran. I divided the students into groups and asked them to describe what they could see in English. We were at the heART of Nasir ol Molk Mosque and Masouleh village, and the classroom was filled with “wow moments”. Some of the students started walking around to be able to see the entire captured scene.
Here are the QR codes and group number signs in Persian style.
Finally, I got the students to write a paragraph about their VR experience and their trip to Iran. In total, 65 students took a virtual trip to Iran. Here are some of their comments:
I’m planning to make the VR task more complicated for the future virtual trips to the real Iran. I am also going to add Tehrangeles to the activity to take the students to Little Persia in the US. In this way, I can also go there and overcome the travel ban with the help of VR 🙂
Here are my slides on “A Virtual Trip to the Unseen Iran” as part of the MAVR SIG Forum at JALT2017: