The Arizona State University team develops virtual reality programs to teach intercultural norms


The Intercultural Communication Lab, a group at ASU’s Learning Futures, develops simulations to teach people the nuances of standards and language across cultures in a virtual reality business environment.

Developed in collaboration with Arizona State University’s Thunderbird School of Global Management, the simulation will immerse students in virtual business scenarios without the stress of the real world.

The simulations use the VR platform developed by Talespin, a company that creates VR technology for workplace training. Simulations are currently expected to launch in the spring of 2023 and will be made available in English, likely Spanish, French, German, Portuguese and Italian.

The students will be immersed in a virtual reality environment, making them feel as if they are in another country, said Michael Grasso, Director of Digital, Audiovisual and Media Initiatives at Thunderbird School.

“It’s the whole feeling of the language that puts them in a place outside, like a café in France,” Grassau said.

Simulations will put the user in front of characters and environments that reflect real-world scenarios using Talespin software.

During the simulations, the user will see an animated character and multiple options that can lead to different paths to take in the conversation. Depending on the user’s choice, the character will respond with different emotions, Taetum Knebel, creative lead at the Intercultural Communication Lab, said via an email.

The program will be used in language classes at ASU for both professors and students, and a student may be ranked based on the choices they made, Knebel said. The simulations are intended to be used for less than 30 to 60 minutes to prevent headaches with virtual reality technology, Knebel said.

For people who don’t attend ASU, simulations will be available on the Talespin platform for a fee, said Toby Kidd, director of Learning Futures studios.

Simulations were originally intended to be used to build language, but as development progressed, cross-cultural communication was added to make it unique and provide more value than other language learning programs. The simulations focus not only on language learning and intercultural communication, but specifically on how these skills are used in a business context.

“We want to teach students the executive level if you want to,” Grasso said. “So when you enter the executive management room, how do you deal with people from other regions, right, it is completely different. Depending on where you are. Tokyo versus South America. There are different manners of speech.”

Kidd said the project team is working with subject matter experts from ASU faculty to research sensitive topics and behaviors that may arise when communicating with people from different cultures and how this applies to simulations.

Learning Futures is developing other VR software, including a virtual classroom called Huddle and an interactive and virtual program. Authentic copy From the ASU Tempe campus.

Kidd said the simulations are currently in an early testing phase. Nebel said that immersive learning using virtual reality can help students build empathy.

“Content immersions make learners more focused on the content so they learn more, and it also creates more empathy toward the content because you’re sitting in front of this virtual human who has very realistic reactions to what you’re doing,” Nebel said.

Edited by: Caden Ryback, Wyatt Misko, Sophia Balasubramanian, and Grace Copperthit.


Contact the reporter at Twildma1@asu.edu and follow him Ty Wildman 1 on Twitter.

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