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Vol 56 No. 9 | August 2004
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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 of education."

"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."

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