Starting this weekend, prospective students interested in language have a chance to visit Brock’s Department of Applied Linguistics — but they’ll need to build an avatar to do it.
The Linguistics Digital Campus on the virtual platform Gather.Town launches at an event Saturday, April 10 from 1 to 2 p.m. Anyone interested in attending can register online in advance.
The digital campus offers a fresh alternative in the world of recruiting students online in a way that Department Chair and Associate Professor Lynn Dempsey says is as fun as it is informative.
“It’s like logging into an old-school video game — you move your avatar around the space and can interact with others using audio and video tools, as well as watch videos and try activities,” says Dempsey. “I think students will love the fact that they can get a taste of the Brock campus and the Department of Applied Linguistics specifically — something we’re all missing right now.”
The digital campus is modelled on Brock’s physical campus and includes photos to help orient visitors, who can navigate into buildings and in and out of labs and classrooms to experience Brock via their avatar.
Current students and faculty will be present at the launch with their own interactive avatars, answering questions and meeting prospective students. Virtual lab spaces, classrooms and meeting spaces allow visitors to explore aspects of the department that interest them most.
For example, in the Psycholinguistics Lab space, students can try an experiment called a lexical decision task, where they must quickly decide whether words presented to them are actual words. In the Child Language Lab, visitors can test their knowledge of early vocalizations as they listen to audio recordings of infant speech.
“We hope that every student who visits the site will come away intrigued by some aspect of applied linguistics,” says Dempsey. “We’ll be adding new content all the time, so there will always be more to explore. We hope anyone who visits the site will come away with a better sense of what applied linguistics is and what opportunities there are for those who choose to study it.”
Serena Hosmar, an Applied Linguistics (TESL) major from Hamilton who is wrapping up her last year of study, is a student assistant on the department’s online resource development team. She has been working to gather and create informational materials for the digital campus and to help promote Saturday’s launch event.
“I think students will find the interactive aspect of the digital campus to be appealing, especially considering the limits that COVID-19 has imposed in terms of university campus visits, open houses and the like,” says Hosmar. “The digital campus is exploratory, offering students a way to not only chat with current students and professors, but to also discover for themselves some of the topics that linguistics students study at Brock.”
Jordan Gallant, who recently completed a Master of Arts in Applied Linguistics and will begin a PhD in Cognitive Science and Language at McMaster University next fall, has done much of the heavy lifting in developing the digital campus. He says that he tried to put himself into the minds of Zoom-fatigued prospective students in order to design a meaningful and memorable virtual environment.
“The overall vibe of the platform is supposed to be cute, whimsical and disarming,” says Gallant. “Since students can’t physically visit, we wanted to try to simulate that experience digitally, so we’ve included videos of students and faculty to add a personal touch and used an experiential learning paradigm to try to create interest in the subjects they will learn.”
The Linguistics Digital Campus launch follows the Choose Brock Online Experience Series, a month of live programming offered throughout March that is now available on-demand for prospective students interested in any Brock program.
“As a community, we have been working to find new and effective ways to reach prospective students in virtual environments,” says Matt Melnyk, Director, Student Recruitment. “The Linguistics Digital Campus is a fantastic example of an innovative and novel approach that allows students to interact with core concepts from the program, as well as future peers and professors.”
The Linguistics Digital Campus was built thanks in part to funding from the Special COVID-19 Call for the Faculty of Social Sciences Dean’s Discretionary Fund, which was granted to Dempsey and Professor Gary Libben to create innovative online learning resources.
Dempsey is eager to welcome prospective students this weekend and help them understand what sets Brock’s Department of Applied Linguistics apart from others in Canada.
“We offer the only pre-speech-language pathology and pre-audiology undergraduate programs in Canada with unique clinically-focused and experience-based courses, so if your hope is to study Speech-Language Pathology or Audiology at the graduate level, we’re the place to come,” says Dempsey. “And we want students interested in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) to know that they can get their careers started faster by coming to Brock because with our program they can prepare for TESL Ontario Certification as Adult ESL Teachers while they complete their degree.”