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Virtual reality program that grades your public speaking skills launches at UH

Center for Communicating Scientific Information

Public speaking can be a frightening, anxiety-filled experience for many. However, the University of Hawaiʻi has created a new way to conquer those fears — in another reality.

UH announced Tuesday that they have launched a virtual reality (VR) lab to help students and staff hone their public speaking skills.

A student can wear a headset and hold two motion-detecting remotes to see an artificial audience. Reactions from the audience can range from polite to hostile.

As the user gives a speech, digital feedback from collected data will appear.

UH Center for Communicating Scientific Technology

The program records the movement in the user’s eyes, hands and voice. This allows the computer to assign points on how well the user did on your presentation based on hand gestures, gaze and speech patterns.

"Often what we see in public speaking is that a lot of students suffer from anxiety so having an opportunity for them to practice and to go through the motions of a speech without a live audience just yet, is really beneficial for them," said Jay Stout, a public speaking teacher.

The VR is housed at UH's Center for Communicating Scientific Technology, with funding from the National Science Foundation.

"A virtual reality setup gives you a kind of blend of both worlds— gets you an opportunity to practice but also gives you a way of playing it like a game to improve your score," said Amy Hubbard, a Communicology professor and project leader.

"So that’s why it’s a really cool tool to be able to bring to the university and have people experience it," she said.

The lab will eventually open to the general public, including K-12 students. They hope to see the lab expand into several rooms full of VR headsets and separate consulting rooms where people can receive communication skills and public speaking coaching..

Zoe Dym was a news producer at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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