First Steps with the Meta Quest 2

As I donned the rather hefty Head Mounted Display (HMD) for the first time, I was half expecting to be whisked away to a minimalistic dojo where Laurence Fishbourne would slowly convince me that the world I had always known was an illusion.

That did not happen, and in fact there are a few little annoyances about using a Meta Quest 2 HMD to remind you that you are not in fact a lightsaber wielding Jedi. Getting the right level of tension on head straps is one challenge. Tight enough to block out the light that creeps through the nose hole, but slack enough to avoid completely crushing your cheekbones. Also, you’ll need a physical space at least a few meters squared (with no furniture) if you want to wield your virtual lightsabers without without destroying real world objects with your flailing arms. Indeed, the first order of business having put on the HMD is to set up your “Guardian” – a virtual boundary that reflects the limits of the physical space you are in, and is visible during gameplay as a futuristic neon mesh. However, I also recommend having a trusted friend or family member to act as a human guardian to ensure you don’t inadvertently walk into a table and bruise your shins. One of the handy features of the Meta Quest 2 HMD is the “passthrough” feature which allows you to see the real physical world at the same time as experiencing the virtual one. But for most games and apps, you’ll want full immersion to really appreciate the experience.

The First Steps app walks you through the Meta Quest 2 controls and how to use your “virtual hands”.

The first app you should try is appropriately called “First Steps”, and it is included with the Meta Quest 2 (MQ2). This app walks you through all of the buttons on the two hand-held controllers. The controllers also double as your VR hands, and provide you with the ability to pick things up and throw them around, and also give thumbs up and thumbs down (kudos to the Meta company for finally allowing a thumbs down reaction!). The first experience of the First Steps app is one of the most memorable, impactful, and engaging. It will make you laugh out loud at the pure peculiarity of being able to pick up and stack virtual blocks, knock them over with a virtual paper airplane, and then pilot a virtual airship with a virtual controller. Yes, in some games you are given a virtual controller that you control with your actual controller. It’s a little confusing but also a stroke of genius.

There are also a few other freebies included with the MQ2. Some VR TV programs that offer experiences like being an astronaut on the International Space Station, and some virtual animations that make you feel part of the action. In some of the VR TV programs, when the narrator looks directly at you, it is a very disconcerting experience indeed. It puts you well and truly in the uncanny valley. While one part of your brain is doing its best to remind you that it’s all VR, the social anxiety inducing part often remains unconvinced and it is bizarre having someone sit so close to you and look directly at you when they talk to you.

My MQ2 purchase also included Beat Saber, which I suppose is to the MQ2 as Sonic was to the Mega Drive or Street Fighter was to the Super Nintendo, i.e. the game that comes with the console and the one everyone plays first. Beat Saber is a VR version of one of those mobile games where you tap colored blocks to the time of a dance track. It makes you feel less like a Jedi and more like a baton-wielding cheerleader. In fact, I have a strong suspicion that those with a background in dance would actually be very good at the game, requiring as it does coordinated and formulaic movements to the time of music. One thing I can say for sure about the MQ2 — it’s an excellent riposte to those who (rightly) harp on about video games being one of the causes of obesity in the modern age. Most of the games I have played so far on the MQ2 require a lot of physical movement (especially with the arms) to slice, climb, or shoot your way to the end of the level.

Beat Saber requires you to slice cubes by dual wielding “lightsabers” to the time of the music

One of the things you’ll definitely want to set up early on is “Casting”, which enables you to see what the MQ2 user is seeing in Virtual Reality on your phone or computer screen. You can pair your MQ2 device with your smartphone via the Meta app. Doing this also allows you to open MQ2 apps from your smartphone, which is really useful if you are guiding someone else through the device for the first time. It’s also incredibly entertaining to watch someone else jerking their arms around in VR at the same time as seeing what’s happening within VR. At least, those jerking movements make a little bit more sense with context.

“The Climb” has breathtaking graphics, but is not for those who suffer from vertigo.

After you have exhausted all the freebies (or the freebies have exhausted you), you can fire up the MQ2 App Store, and get ready to input in your credit card details (in case you could ever forget that the MQ2 was developed by a profit seeking enterprise). Since it’s hard to read your credit card number whilst fully immersed in VR, this step can also be done via the Meta smartphone app. Most of the paid-for apps for the MQ2 retail for between ¥500 to ¥5000, and while there are currently far fewer apps than there are in the iOS store for example, I can only see this number increasing in the future. Apps and games cover a range of different categories, from simulations such as fishing and cooking, to brand name shooters such as Medal of Honor. Among the games I purchased were a climbing game aptly named The Climb, and a flying game named Ultrawings. The Climb has breathtaking graphics, and is not for those who suffer from vertigo. Ultrawings, on the other hand, gave me nausea almost instantly. I have since discovered that any game that requires the character to move around is nausea inducing for me, whether flying or walking, my brain just does not like the feeling of being told it is moving when it knows it is physically stationary. Other physical side effects also include eyestrain, which sets in for me after 30 mins or so.

The Meta Quest 2 App Store features a number of brand name and independent titles – but some of them can be nausea inducing.

All in all, I would say that my initial experience with the MQ2 was breathtaking and astounding, while also at times being disorienting and nauseating. I have no doubt that the MQ2 has educational applications that go beyond pure entertainment. As of now, I have not tried any applications that allow interaction with other MQ2 users, but I imagine it will be these interactions that will provide the basis for language learning opportunities. In addition, you could definitely have students write or speak about their experiences with the VR world: “I was a Jedi knight.. I went climbing in the Grand Canyon… I battled German soldiers”. It will certainly lead to more interesting speaking and writing assignments than the oft repeated “nothing special”.

15 Tech Tips from JALT CALL 2021

The JALT CALL 2021 online conference took place from 4th to 6th of June 2021.

In case you missed it, here are some useful Tech Tips I picked up over the course of the weekend!

  1. SPARQL is a semantic query language for databases which is able to retrieve and manipulate data stored in Resource Description Framework (RDF) format
  2. According to the founders of Xreading, the following are both fallacies: “Cheaters are only hurting themselves” and “Japanese students don’t cheat”!
  3. GIGAProject is a partnership between Japan and U.S. companies to help put the latest mobile devices in the hands of every Japanese student.
  4. Some of the physical impacts of prolonged online learning include: eyestrain, backache, and fatigue:

Image from “Transitions and connections: student reflections on emergency remote teaching and learning (ERTL) in 2020” (Sandra Healy)

  1. Universal Design is the design and composition of an environment so that it can be accessed, understood and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of their age, size, ability or disability.
  2. Miro provides an engaging, intuitive, in-person collaboration experience
  3. Most teachers surveyed at the JALT 2021 conference believe there will be some limited teaching and learning online after the COVID pandemic subsides:

Image from “Optimizing the future of language teaching with technology in Japan” (Betsy Lavolette)

  1. Students have various concerns about learning online, including Physical, Pedagogical, Social, Technological, and Content-related concerns:

Image from “EFL students’ perceptions and preferences of online learning: a Japanese higher education context” (Satchie Haga)

  1. allows you to create a lifelike avatar and work as if your are next to your colleagues, utilizing VR and Augmented Reality

  1. Gather is a video-calling space that lets multiple people hold separate conversations in parallel, walking in and out of those conversations just as easily as they would in real life.

  1. Wonder is a space where you can connect to others in a spontaneous and fluid way by moving around freely between groups. It’s fun, creative and energizing.

  1. Run The World is a one-stop solution for virtual social gatherings, webinars and conferences that deliver engagement.
  2. The ISTE Standards for Students are designed to empower student voice and ensure that learning is a student-driven process
  3. VocabLevelTest.Org allows you to easily create and administer meaning-recall and form-recall vocabulary levels tests

Image from “Self-marking online form-recall and meaning-recall vocabulary tests” (Stuart McLean)

  1. LingoBingo.Live allows students to practice listening and speaking in a live online game

Image from “Fun listening & speaking practice with LingoBingo.Live” (Oliver Rose)

Introducing Learn-English.Org!

What is Learn-English.Org?

Learn-English.Org is a free website for learners of English to practice listening, speaking, reading, and writing online, anywhere, anytime!

How do I use Learn-English.Org?

Find an activity you would like to study by using the navigation panel on the left. There are three ways to navigate the activities on this site: by categoryby skill, and by level.

Can I track my progress?

Yes, you can track your progress on this site by creating an account and then checking your progress report.

Who is behind Learn-English.Org?

This site is produced and developed by English language and Ed-Tech experts, and powered by TeacherTools.Digital, an innovative digital assignment creation platform for language teachers.

20 Tech Tips from Joe Dale

Joe Dale is a wealth of ed-tech tips and information

For anyone unfamiliar with Joe Dale, I highly recommend you check out his YouTube channel and follow him on Twitter. The man is an absolute wealth of tech tips for language teachers. Here are a few gems I picked up from him in a single Zoom session:

  1. Make any video your lesson with EdPuzzle
  2. Visualize your ideas in a new and collaborative way using JamBoard
  3. Easily add transcribed voice comments and feedback to shared documents using the Mote Google Chrome extension
  4. Allow students to create digital learning portfolios with Seesaw
  5. Quickly and easily record your voice with Vocaroo or OnlineVoiceRecorder
  6. Immersive Reader, included in OneNote Learning Tools, is a full screen reading experience to increase readability of content in OneNote documents
  7. Ferrite Recording Studio makes it fast and easy to record and edit audio, and includes powerful features such as effects and automation
  8. Voice Record Pro 7 is a professional voice recorder for iOS
  9. Textivate generates a wide range of interactive activities based on your own text and / or matching items. It works with texts of up to 500 words and / or up to 200 matching items
  10. Teach any language with YouTube + TeachVid
  11. is a Web 2.0 application, to support learning and teaching processes with small interactive modules
  12. You can easily allow anyone to create a copy of a Google doc you have created by changing the end of the URL from /edit?usp=sharing to copy: ->
  13. Easily create any kind of Google Drive doc with the following URL shortcuts:,,
  14. Use Ilini to learn French with the best videos on the web
  15. Create presentations, infographics, and more with Genially
  16. Create your own personal Emoji with Bitmoji
  17. Get popup translations for any website using Lingro
  18. Get easy-to-understand multilingual definitions with
  19. is a robust, easy-to-use and secure exam platform
  20. Draftback is a Chrome extension that lets you play back any Google Doc’s revision history

20 Tech Tips from JALT CALL 2019

The 2019 JALT CALL conference was informative and enjoyable as usual! Here are some handy highlights and tech tips I picked up during the three days of presentations…

  1. The big names that come up every year include English Central, WordEngine, Pocket Passport, and XReading. Check them out if you don’t already know them!
  2. Did you know you can use MoodleCloud to host your Moodle installation?
  3. According to English Central, “difficulties”, “colony”, and “discovered” are amongst the words Japanese learners of English find the most difficult to pronounce
  4. The University of Kyoto is using blockchain to power its learning analytics. Find out more about the uses of blockchain here
  5. Kai-Fu Lee discusses AI in his best-selling book “AI Super Powers
  6. Musio X robot helps Japanese kids learn English
  7. Google Duplex can call local businesses to arrange appointments
  8. Pocket Talk puts the power of two-way voice translation in your pocket
  9. Translatotron can translate L1 speech directly into L2 speech without the need for an intermediary text transcription stage
  10. Critical thinking, people management, and creativity will be among the top 10 job skills in 2020 according to the World Economic Forum
  11. DialogFlow can be used to create natural AI-powered “conversation experiences”
  12. Seesaw empowers students to demonstrate and share learning
  13. Google Classroom is gaining traction in Japan, although I experienced issues inviting students from certain institutions that hadn’t yet granted access to the tool
  14. Did you know that Google complies with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR)?
  15. Did you know that there are 118 million smart speakers in US households?
  16. Alexa Skill Blueprints allow you to easily create your own Alexa Skill
  17. contains lots of useful text analysis tools
  18. Learner English corpora include ICLE, JEFFL, and many others
  19. There are also many native speaker corpora
  20. Manaba is a popular LMS in Japan

Also, don’t forget to check out my own sites:

… and buy my book if you’re interested in learning more about how to use tech in the ESL classroom!