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Virtual Voilà! 

Doug Canfield is ‘IT Wizard’ of the Language Resource Center

What if you could practice French by visiting a Paris café or going on a scavenger hunt in a Montreal shopping mall? 

You can—without ever leaving the UT campus, thanks to the instructional technology wizardry of Doug Canfield and his staff at the Language Resource Center (LRC).

“The mission of the LRC is to promote the use of technology for language instruction,” said Canfield, coordinator of the LRC, located in the Alumni Memorial Building. “We train students and teachers on how to use technology. We are kind of like OIT for languages.”

Canfield works with instructors of the 10 languages currently taught at UT—Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Russian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Japanese. They also have resources for other languages, including Latin and Korean.

Some tech-heavy language classes meet in LRC classrooms. Others visit the LRC for special assignments. The LRC has helped students create video postcards, podcasts, or augmented reality games. 

One of the lab’s first forays into this new way of learning came years ago with the purchase of virtual reality headsets which immerse students in a 360-degree experience, such as a Paris café or a Montreal shopping mall.

Doug Canfield using the LRC’s Holodeck

This year, the LRC debuted its Holodeck, a room where images projected on three of the walls create a 270-degree immersion. Students navigate the virtual scene with a mouse or special glasses wired to a foot pedal. Faculty can be in the room to coach students through the experience.

During the fall, three or four instructors regularly used the Holodeck; this spring, its use doubled.

“I figure in about a year we’ll have the problem of the Holodeck being in such demand we’ll have to turn people away,” Canfield said.

The LRC is also creating a space where students can use 3D pens, 3D printers, and mobile 3D scanners. 

Canfield says the LRC tries to stay on the cutting edge of instructional technology.

“We were doing virtual reality before anyone was talking about virtual reality. We were doing podcasting before podcasting was a thing,” he said. 

Canfield has a bachelor’s degree in history and a minor in French from Weber State University in Ogden, Utah; a master’s degree in French literature from the University of Utah; and a doctorate in instructional technology from UT.

Back in the days before the Internet was widespread, then-graduate student Canfield was assigned to teach an introductory French course at the University of Utah. The classroom contained a master console and tape decks.

“I had to find out pretty quickly how to use this tape deck,” he said. “I realized you could teach a class like that, and it could be engaging.”

That experience sparked his interest in using instructional technology for teaching languages.

So what’s next for the LRC?

Canfield imagines students visiting a virtual Paris café and conversing with the hologram of a waiter. Using artificial intelligence, the waiter could ask questions, correct pronunciations, and offer language tips.

“I think I have the best job in the world,” Canfield said. “I get to play, and I never had a dull day at work.”

Canfield and his wife, Jessica LeBlanc Canfield, have six children—a middle schooler, two high schoolers, two at UT, and one who just completed a stint in the US Army.

In his free time, Canfield enjoys genealogy.

“Three brothers Canfield came over from England, and every Canfield in America is  related to one of those,” he said.

He traced his wife’s lineage back to the 700s AD.

“She’s the 42nd great-granddaughter of Charlemagne,” he said. “She’s royalty.”

-Story by Amy Blakely