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Award-Winning Game Teaches Cultural Competency

First Impressions, a virtual reality learning experience developed in partnership with NC State, took home a bronze medal in the 2018 International Serious Play Awards, which recognize excellence in games designed for use in K-12 or higher education settings. Developed in part by NC State’s Global Training Initiative (GTI) and Distance Education and Learning Technology Applications (DELTA), First Impressions gives participants an opportunity to navigate a cross-cultural business situation as part of a course aimed at developing global management and leadership skills.

First Impressions provides cultural competency education on both a cognitive and emotional level. The 10-minute module includes a scene where tensions arise when international team members meet for the first time in China. Participants select a character and experience the rest of the meeting from that character’s viewpoint, hearing personal thoughts and reactions to ensuing discussions.Serious Play Games Award

“With First Impressions, we wanted to find a way to teach cultural competency skills to a wide audience,” said Ilin Misaras, GTI assistant director. “VR technology gives us the opportunity to educate students with varying amounts of international experience in an immersive scenario that will help them navigate an increasingly global society.”

The learning outcomes for the experience include identifying how culture impacts perception of conflict, understanding how culture shapes reaction to conflict and experiencing how culture shapes approaches to conflict management through self-awareness and empathy. The level of these qualities displayed by participants can lead to a positive, neutral or even negative conclusion to the business meeting.

First Impressions was developed from a DELTA Exploratory Grant, which provides funding to examine a single application or address a unique course-related challenge. The grant program is one of DELTA’s initiatives to support the innovative impact of VR and immersive technology in online education.

Ivonne Chirino-Klevans, a former faculty member in NC State’s College of Education, originally applied for the grant. She helped guide the development brainstorming process and helped determine a focus on what outcomes from an educational VR experience were important.

“Using VR to place someone inside the mind of another person from another culture is a unique concept that deserves further exploration, and that’s a big part of what we do at DELTA,” said Mike Cuales, creative director for DELTA. “I loved GTI’s vision for First Impressions because it was something that could be put in front of every student in the university, and give them a better understanding of cultural differences and personal biases, and how to overcome those biases.”

Cultural competency education continues to play an important and ever-expanding role in higher education. VR supports learning outcomes through hands-on experiences that supplement classroom discussions.

“Any technique or medium that helps students get a better sense of preparedness for the world is groundbreaking and crucial from a student success standpoint,” said Cuales. “NC State provides leadership in the advancement of educational technology and media, and DELTA’s work with GTI supports that aim.”

Representatives from GTI will be able to attend this summer’s Serious Play Conference events at George Mason University and the University of Buffalo to showcase First Impressions. During the summer, GTI will also pilot a VR-ready classroom equipped with Oculus Go headsets in select international academic programs, a first for the university.