Last Thursday, I was invited by Andreas Mertens, SLTalk.de to give a presentation on Language Learning in Virtual Worlds to a very diverse audience of around 13 professionals in different fields (3 SLTalk staff, two SL/RL authors, vice director of a school, consultants, a further education office, a culture manager, mfg innovation, and others). The presentation was in German.
I started my presentation with the statement “Language learning in Second Life is possible” and asked my audience to show me their opinions (rather than say or type them) by walking into one of the 5 sections of the Opinonator ranging from strongly agree to strongly disagree. I was positively surprised to see everybody in either strongly agree or agree. So, I did not have to persuade anybody of the value of SL for language learning 🙂
I then asked the participants to collaboratively come up with answers to the question why language learning in SL is possible before showing them my slide. I was once again surprised and happy to see all the reasons they came up with:
- visual context
- every day situation
- you can hear native speakers
- compared to a physical classroom, you can show more situations/settings
- group pressure similar to a class situation (I asked for clarification here: if you study with a group of people in SL instead of alone, there is a bit of positive group pressure that helps the learner to continue and stay motivated)
- learning through experience
After so much enthusiasm and ideas in favour of learning languages in SL, I almost hesitated to ask my next question: “Why might learning a language in SL be not a good idea?” My aim was to have the participants think about what needs to be considered when learning or teaching in SL rather than finding reasons not to use it. Here are their answers:
- complicated to use
- steep learning curve of SL
- struggling to take SL seriously (for those who think it is a game)
- you can’t see the speaker’s (teacher or learner) mouth – difficult to show how a word is pronounced
- takes a lot of effort to learn to use SL (this person added: I know several people who would even have problems installing it).
- needs a powerful PC
- lesson preparation probably takes long
- age restriction
This showed me that the participants were well aware of the possibilities as well as limitations of Second Life. At this point, I showed a mindmap with an overview of my presentation.
Because they had already mentioned most of the points about the “Why?”, I could quickly move to the second section, the “How?” showing some snapshots of my previous classes and some student feedback. This section was divided into formal and informal learning with many examples for both.
The third section was about the teacher and teacher development in SL. I mentioned SLExperiments, VWLL, official organisations like EUROCALL and CALICO, who have their joint HQ in SL, and EU-funded AVALON and Niflar projects.
My reason for using the Opinionator at the beginning was not only to make my presentation more interactive and SL-like but also to present some of the tools I use in my classes by using them during this presentation. Other tools I used or demonstrated were
- a slide presenter and a pictureboard (both creaeted by Dudeney Ge aka Gavin Dudeney),
- the prim pointer that can be positioned in front of any viewer to point at specific areas or information on a slide.
- physical cubes with hover text that can be pushed on different field with categories that I made for a matching exercise in a Business English session (see picture below)
- the BrainBoard
- and, of course, a Builder’s Buddy scene ( I chose Anna’s Italian kitchen scene).
The participants asked questions and commented throughout the session and once they had stood up to use the Opinonator, most kept standing with me on the stage, which made it feel like we were all doing the presentation together rather then me speaking alone, which i quite enjoyed.
Special thanks to Tobias Würtz, SLTalk for providing the snapshots.