Rezaei Awarded Grant from U.S. Department of Education
Ali Rezaei, a member
of the Department of Educational Psychology, Administration and
Counseling, is the principal investigator at CSULB for a $60,000
grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The grant was awarded
to find new ways to teach the Persian language to English-speaking
individuals using virtual reality software.
"This new software,
developed in collaboration with USteach, Inc., guides the viewer
step by step from the moment he or she gets off the plane in Tehran,"
he said. "We are recreating a virtual Tehran airport so the
viewers learn what to say, whether that means asking questions
at the information desk or finding their luggage. At each stage
of their virtual journey, users are offered help buttons to show
the way. Even the carpet on the floor is a Persian carpet. The
whole idea is to put the user in a tough game-like situation where
the only solution is knowing what to do or what to say."
The road to high-tech
language instruction was not smooth, Rezaei recalled. "Our
collaborators spoke Spanish but no Farsi, but instead of replacing
them with someone fluent in Farsi, I told them to go ahead and
create a model in Spanish," he said. "That way, I could
see how the system works. And by using the model in Spanish, I
found myself growing to appreciate where the students would need
help. It woke me up to what students need. After all, finding
your way through Mexico City is the same challenge as finding
your way through Tehran. And hailing a taxi is the same challenge
in any language."
When the software is
complete, it will be tested at CSULB and UCLA. "This software
will be especially useful in Southern California because it plays
host to one of the largest Persian communities outside Iran,"
he said. "As many as 300,000 Persians live in Southern California,
and intermarriage creates an even larger community that is eager
to learn Farsi."
After CSULB, Rezaei
hopes to make the software available throughout the CSU system.
"Learning Farsi by computer is an idea whose time has come,"
he said. "I feel education is falling behind in its ability
to tap into technology. We need to incorporate it in all aspects
"With greater movement
between the U.S. and Iran, there is a growing demand for instruction
in Farsi," he explained. "This software is something
a traveler can pack along in his or her laptop computer. We're
looking forward to the day when it can be released online so that
everyone can use it."