Jul 15

Course 1 – Lesson 2

Direct link to lesson plan

Technical issues

We had extreme lag and sound issues at the beginning of this session, which cost us a lot of time. Students kept crashing, logging off and back in. I started out with 4, then 6 students and at the end I had around ten, including three new students, who appeared in the second half of the session. Two of the new students participated immediately, the third just observed and didn’t talk. After the lesson, I had a private chat with him and he told me this was all new to him and he would join the class.

Adept lesson plan

The loss of time meant I had to adept the lesson a bit. I did this in the following way:

  • Instead of having students work in groups and come up with definitions and quiz each other, I gave the definitions and students wrote answers into local chat.
  • Instead of eliciting how to describe rooms, I simply showed the notecard and went through it quickly. This was OK because it was not a new concept and students did use the language correctly in the following activity.
  • I left out the recapping of the lesson.

The first two points led to more teacher talking time (TTT) than planned.

What else wasn’t so good

I wanted to introduce a bit of competition into the building exploring activity. As there were only few students at the beginning of the lesson, I decided to have two teams – the boys and the girls. Interestingly enough, the girls worked together fine and did the task without asking many questions but the boys seemed to work alone, didn’t know what to do and had a lot of questions.  I don’t know whether this is a gender issue or partly due to the fact that the girls’ English is a bit better than most of the boys’.

Unfortunately, I could not monitor the activity as I had planned because at that time new students arrived (some who were late and some completely new). So, I quickly explained the task and send them off. At the same time, I also received several IMs and had to reply and ward them off (they were not student IMs). I think receiving IMs during a lesson is one of the most distracting things for a teacher.

What went well

First of all, the students and I had a lot of fun during this lesson and everybody participated very activly. Which again proves that lessons in SL need to be dynamic and interactive. Students do not enjoy sitting and listening to a lecturer for an hour in Real Life, less so in Second Life.

In this session, students had to walk a lot and explore a large building and find different kinds of rooms and furniture. All students accomplished the tasks and I had the chance to clarify some words and talk about some differences (e.g. reception/lobby; meeting/conference room, toilet/bathroom). Students had no problems knowing which rooms I was defining. 

Students had to work as a team in two of the tasks and I told them to really work together and share the work. It was great to see that they did and used language to negotiate (e. g. “so you have the first floor and i will get the second ok?”)

The last activity was to look at six pictures of very different living rooms and decided which they liked and why. It was a good idea to set these up as separate picture boards in the garden so that students could walk around and did not have to sit and look at a board with many pictures on it (which would have cost much less money to upload).

Students had fun talking about their favourite rooms and they used the language for stating their opinion, agreeing and disagreeing politely. They participated so actively at this stage because they really had to say something and had choice (of picture/room). 

Nationality of students:

Turkish, Egyptian, Qatari, Saudi Arabian, Indian

As the course was mainly announced through IOL’s website and group notices, most students are from the Middle East. IOL has many American members as well, but they speak English so we intentionally planned the lessons for a time that would be convenient for Turkish and Middle Eastern students. 

Conclusion

It was good that my lesson plan was flexible enough to make up for the lost time. It is very important to plan dynamic, interactive lessons in which students have to move a lot. Giving students choice makes them participate more actively. I think 8 – 10 students is a good number. Because of this and because we had two lessons already, I have announced that I won’t accept more students into this course.

Update, 17 July 2008

Student feedback

Very positive. They all enjoyed every activity, learned new words, most of them say they had enough opportunity to speak. One student would like to speak more and write more. This is interesting. It’s probably a students who needs English for their studies or job (the survey is anonymous, so I can only guess). Another student would like to have more conversation in class and speak after class. I have already planned more student talking time (storytelling, discussions, interviews, etc.) for future classes. I also suggested students meets before or after the lesson and chat with each other. In Lesson 3, we will also be looking at ways of how students can improve their English outside class (this discussion will continue in Moodle and I will, then, give them an article where 100 different ways are listed in detail.

Jul 15

Tip 5 – All class members and teacher are friends

All course participants should be asked to add everybody else including the teacher to their friends list. This is necessary for pair and group work or when students need to be teleported* or teleport others. Also, outside of class, they can keep in touch and practise together or help each other with questions and problems.

*It’s time that the spell checker recognises the word “teleport” and it’s derivatives 🙂

Jul 15

Tip 4 – Create a group for each of your classes

Create a group for your classes and have all students who are enrolled in this particular class join the group so that you can send group notices about the course, homework reminders, etc. You might forbid students to use this group to send group messages to their peers. You might, however, also allow them to use it in some cases (saying which) so that they can help each other or chat out side class.

Do not use this group to add all people who are interested in your classes. You can create a separate group for that purpose.

Note:
Creating a group in Second Life costs L$100 and at least one other person besides you needs to join the group within 48 hours otherwise the group will be cancelled with no refund and you will not be able to use that name again.

Update: Also remember that you can only join 25 group with one avatar. You might, therefore, want to reuse groups with new classes.

Jul 15

Tip 3 – Sound check

Do a sound check at the beginning of every lesson. Do not assume everybody can hear you just because they could last time. You do not want a student to ask you to repeat all that you said after they finally realised you were talking but they couldn’t hear. If you know from the beginning that some students cannot hear you or others, you can, for example, use local chat more. 

Personally, if students cannot hear me due to technical problems, I will try to and write as much as I can into local chat to accommodate them. If, however, I have announced that the course will be in voice but students have not set it up, I do not help them during the lesson.

That’s why having one session before the actual course is a good idea or, at least, sending students to places where they can get help (tutorials). Another option, if you possible, is to have a technical assistant, at least in the first couple of lessons and only at the beginning of a lesson, say the first 15 minutes. Students can then be told to IM the assistant for technical help.

Jul 15

Tip 2 – Plan in more time for activities

A general rule:

Activities in Second Life usually take longer than in Real Life for many reasons. Take this into consideration when planning lessons or adapting RL lessons to SL. After you have attended or taught several lessons, you will get a feel for it and timing will become easier. Keeping lessons plan flexible will also help you (more on this in another tip).

Jul 15

Tip 1 – No class shouting in voice

Do not have students shout out answers in voice when you work as a whole class in larger classes. It is very difficult to hear who is saying what even if you know the voices of your students. The quality of voice also differs greatly depending on SL that day, on bandwidth, on the qualitiy of the participants microphone, etc. 

Good alternatives:

1. Have students write in local chat (eg. T or a student asks in a game: Which is the longest river of the world?) All students type in their answers in to local chat as fast as they can. This way everybody has the same chance and it is easy to see who was first.

2. If you have “hand show chairs“, which are available in-world for free”, use these. Students who sit on these chairs can raise their hand by simply clicking on one key on their keyboards and everybody can see who raises their hand. 

I do prefer the first option, though, as it is easier and can be done everywhere without having to set up or rez any objects.

Jul 14

More unexpected challenges

This time it was Real Life interfering. Around noon somebody in the neighbourhood started playing extremely loud annoying music. Concentrating on work was impossible, so after being patient for about an hour, I decided to find out who was causing this noise. What I found out was not good news. There was to be an engagement party on the street and they were only testing for tonight 🙁 How was I supposed to teach my SL lesson with this noise that sounded as if it was coming from my room?

The real party started at around 6 pm and lasted until 0.00 with non-stop music playing. I had decided to “move“ upstairs where the windows are insulated but where it is also much warmer. I closed all windows and doors, sat in the kitchen and was, fortunately, able to keep the noise away from my students.

Jul 10

Course 1 – Lesson 1

Direct link to lesson plan

What was good

The actual lesson went well. We had no technical problems. Everybody who wanted was able to use voice and all students (except one at the beginning) could hear me. Sound quality was good. All students with one exception (the one who couldn‘t hear us) participated very actively in the lesson. The female students could hear me and participate in local chat and work together in pairs using private IM/Call. I managed to write part of what I said into local chat for those who could not hear me.

I enjoyed myself and had a good feeling during the lesson. We had one unexpected furry visitor who suddenly flew in and sat down among the students. I said hello and welcomed ”it” but it didn‘t talk 🙂 

Aims

The main aim was for students to introduce themselves and get acquainted with each other, the teacher and the SL course and start using voice.

The sub-aims: Greetings and introductions; review of question words, question formation and short answers; practising small talk

What students thought

According to the survey, students liked all activities and the lesson in general. They stated that they only learned a few new words but vocabulary was not the main teaching aim of this lesson. I wanted the students to have an easy start. Nevertheless, even at pre-intermediate level students often do not know how to properly introduce themselves and say ”Nice to meet you(,too)” and have a small talk.

Needs working on:

What didn‘t work out well was mingling activities. I had thought that walking away a bit would help but voice and text chat reaches quite far. So muting the others or IM/Call are the best ways to communicate in pairs or groups, but not easy, especially with a group of SL newbies and larger groups. It‘s OK with one partner but in a mingling activity where everybody moves from one person to the next it‘s difficult even for those who have the skills. Some obviously didn‘t know how.

Conclusion

I will have to think of alternative ways of doing mingling activities. It is also definitely worth having one session prior to the actual lessons to go through the necessary SL skills and practise them.

Jul 10

Last minute issues

Shortly before the beginning of the first lesson, there were some last minute problems. The announcements for the course were a bit too late in-world. In addition to that, the Arabic article in IOL announcing the course appeared on the day of the course. The good news was that there was a lot of interest but many were new to SL or even had only signed up to SL because of the course. However, in order to attend the classes, they needed at least some basic SL skills. I would have no time to help them during the class. So, besides one person, who I helped directly, I sent potential students to an orientation station which is available in many languages. 

My original plan had been that students who subscribed to the course would get access to the Moodle course component prior to the course where there are links to tutorials in-world and online. They would then have had time to learn all the necessary skills. I was even planning to offer one session before the actual lessons to help students with SL skills. 

Another totally unexpected issue came up: Some Arab female students from the Gulf did not want to use voice during the lesson. But the lessons will all be in voice. What do do? I contacted the IOL Manager of the Island. They searched the Fatwa bank and found some Fatwas that stated that Islamically this is not a problem. But the students still did not want to do it. I didn‘t want to exclude them, so I agreed finally that they could observe the lessons. 

Another problem. When I logged in minutes before the lesson, my skirt suddenly disappeared! I always hear about these embarrassing moments that some teachers have in class in Real Life. Nothing of that sort  ever has happened to me so far in RL but here I was without a skirt. I was wearing it but it was invisible). Fortunately, changing into a different outfit helped – off the Kimono and into my Vietnamese outfit 🙂 Just in time. Glad this is much easier done than in RL.