Jan 25

It’s burning? What now?

A Second Life language lesson using a simulation

As part of the “Teaching Languages in a Virtual World” session, I gave a demo lesson using a kitchen fire simulations (this is a Swiss project and you can reed more about in English here und auf deutsch hier).

The following is a report on of this event including

– an outline of the lesson

– necessary preparations for the teacher

– video recordings of the discussion stage in the lesson

– video recordings of the discussion afterwards including teachers and language  learners.

This is a type of lessons that even teachers who are very new to Second Life and have little or no own resources can do.

Preparation

– fire pits, logs to sit on, fire extinguisher (this is all optional)

– notecard with instructions (placed in firepit(s))

– story and questions for pre-task

Lesson outline

1. Pre-task – 20 – 30 min

Invite everybody to sit around the fire.

SL TLVW Kitchen fire 2010_005

Lead into the lesson by telling a person story:

I like sitting around an open fire and chatting with friends…

But, sometimes things can get out of control. As a kid I was told not to play with fire.  Unfortunately, I didn’t listen and one day, when I was alone, I decided to cook something. But then I got caught up in play and forgot about the food on the stove. There was lots of smoke billowing out of the open window and the neighbours called the fire brigade. Fortunately, they weren’t angry with me but happy that I was all right.

Then ask some of the following questions and encourage students to speak:

Have you ever experienced a fire? Would you like to tell us very briefly?

Have you ever had to extinguish fire? How did you do it? If you saw a fire, what would you do? How would you react? Would you try to extinguish it yourself or call the fire department?

Do you know of any dos and don’ts when trying to put off a fire?

2. Field trip to the simulation – 20 – 30 min

-> Click the firepit to get the notecard with instructions

-> Go through instructions, clarify questions.

Fieldtrip to a Kitchen Fire Simulation

Second Life is an immersive environment and is therefore, often used for simulations that would be too expensive, too dangerous or plain impossible in the physical world (also often called Real Life).

Today, you are going to visit and experience a simulation of a kitchen fire. You will be placed in a situation where a kitchen fire starts and will have to decide how to react. The simulation will show you what the result of your reaction would be and whether it was a good decision or not.

Once you arrive at the location, accept the notecard with instructions that you will be offered in the blue pop-up menu.

Do the simulation together with your partner or your group and decide together how to react. You can do it a 2nd or 3rd time to try out different options.

—-> Make sure you have all the ambient sounds turned up for the best experience (see snapshot)

Jul 24

A film-making project with language learners

In a previous post I have written about Project Based Learning in Second Life showing some examples and relating it to language learning. In this post, I would like to show a machinima project with English language learners. The course was run by Talkademy, a Second Life language school where I also teach at and the teacher was Andrew Standen-Raz. Andrew is a film-maker and English language teacher in Real Life. I think this project shows yet another way how Virtual Worlds can be used creatively for language learning and teaching.

What is machinima?
Machinima is a film-making technique within 3D virtual environments like Second Life. Read more about machinima here.

I saw the machinima at the Awards Ceremony, which was a live mixed-reality event (some, like me, in SL and students at the university). Students’ film was shown and then, they had to give a short presentation about the making of the film

I think it is amazing what the students produced during the course considering that they were complete Second Life newbies when they started the course. Also, Kudos to there English trainer, Andrew, who agreed to answer some questions about the course in an interview.

The machinima

1. Second Life Granny

2. The Murderer in You

3. The Slightly Different Camping Trip

4. The Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side

Making of the Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side

The Interview

Nergiz: Can you briefly describe the project and how long it lasted?
Andrew: The idea to use machinimas for teaching English was initially part of an online language programme developed by the founders of Talkademy, Gerhilde Meissl-Egghart & Klaus Hammermueller. I joined them after they had started their project, initially as a teacher. They had the technical expertise and background to build the Talkademy Environment in SL. When I saw the potential of SL through their work, I decided to offer my film experience to create the “i film academy” concept: taking students sometimes with zero film knowledge step by step through all the steps to make a Machinima–a short film concept combining “Machine & Cinema”–and using the fun part of making a film to motivate students to improve their language skills. The project has been going now for one trial 10 week session as part of an Austrian University Business English programme. The idea now is to develop the concept further by promoting it as a way to connect teachers and students via the internet. Across the EU initially, then further afield via a simple programme that helps students to improve their language skills, to connect to others and to develop cross-cultural communication, something that is quite important these days!

Nergiz: Very interesting concept.That partly answers my next question: Did you have any previous knowledge about film making and was that necessary? Did you read up on this topic?
Andrew: Previous knowledge is always important, but one could also say that to be a good teacher requires the desire to help students improve themelves and to make the most of their own potential. Every teacher starts somewhere. I do have extensive film experience, as well as some good teaching experience, and both were necessary to begin the i film academy concept. I wrote the i film programme based on my film production experience, with valuable input, editing and technical support from Gerhilde and Klaus. and combined this with my experiences of teaching language through drama techniques as a model for how to interract with the students.

Nergiz: So you had experience in both fields. Did you see yourself more in the language teacher role in this project or more as someone who teaches the students how to produce a film or both?
Andrew: Good question. Making films is of course fun and creative, but it is also very hard work. The i film academy course is designed primarily as a language course and I always had to keep that in mind, especially when setting homework or grading the students on their assignments. The students were attending my classes as part of a Business English course. So it was easy to explain the process of making a film through business terms, ie. writing a good script is like developing a business plan. And from there it was not so hard to grade the students based on their ability to use complex language, to improve through the course, and on how they used language to communicate effectively with each other and with their teacher while making a motivational project such as the Machinima.

Nergiz: What was the students background? Was this course part of their curriculum or optional? And was this a face-to-face class or distance?
Andrew: The students were offered this class as part of their business English course. The project was always designed to be via SL. This is why it interested me. Initially someone might ask how can one possibly teach filmmaking solely through an online portal? But when you see how it is possible for someone in Portugal for instance to teach three students in Belgium how to use simple capture camera and edting technology, then you see how amazing SL can be when used for something postive and productive.
Nergiz: I agree.
Andrew: I never met the students. We only communicated in class in SL or via email when I sent them extra instructions or motvational information

Nergiz: Obviously, they had to do a lot of the work outside class. What kind of tasks did you do with them in the synchronous sessions and what was done outside class time? Did you do any language work with them?
Andrew: The most important two steps were: first to work with them in class on understanding what it is to make a film, what is involved and how serious the students had to take the process. Making a film is not just fun. And the idea was of course to encourage them to always view this as an English lesson as well, so we decided to include some basic Business English phrase learning, and to impress on the students that their use of language would be assessed for improvement through the course. The work in the class was sometimes learning fun drama techniques, such as acting short comedy skits to each other, or I had the students present their latest storyboards or scripts and the other students commented on them. This allowed the students to get comfortable speaking and discussing interesting topics and complex issues in English. Outside the class was only for additional advice via email.

Nergiz: Did you give any specific language feedback after these discussion/drama sessions?
Andrew: Gerhilde, Klaus and I had a lot of intense discussions when planning the course, to try to make a balance between classical language teaching and the non-traditional techniques. The consensus was that this was more of a “training” course, geared toward encouraging the students to get more comfortable writing, speaking and developing concepts in a foreign language. The feedback I gave the students was in small part correcting their use of language, but a larger part encouraging their efforts without using grading in a de-motivational way.

Nergiz: So, would you say this was a general English or an ESP class?
Andrew: I would say this class is something different again–the course I taught was an aditional part of the traditional language course curriculum. So this course functions best when used as an “add-on.” It could not entirely replace a standard English course.

Nergiz: Now, to you 🙂 What did you enjoy most during this course?
Andrew: that is an interesting question! I love teaching, even difficult students
Nergiz: I think it is important that teachers enjoy themselves
Andrew: Absolutely. Like all teachers I have had “moments” when you struggle to remain calm, and to keep control and times when you despair that your students will ever understand that you are trying to help them to improve themselves. With this class, I had students who were already highly motivated, at university level. These students were hungry to learn and smart enough to learn the SL technology.
Nergiz: Sounds like a dream class 🙂
Andrew: There were times even these students despaired that their work load from other courses was too high to cope also with making a film, or that they could not manage something with the technical side of making machinimas, but we worked through it. My favourite part is always using the drama techniques. When you take student who have never performed in front of anyone, who are maybe shy, who think they are not creative, and then you see them surprising themselves when they improvise successfully, then you know it is all worth it.

Nergiz: I can imagine how satisfying that must be. Would you do a similar course again and if so, would you do things differently?
Andrew: Yes, I would certianly do the same course again. This was just the pilot class, so there are things we can improve. I constantly revised the class as we went along, with input from Gerhilde, and took on board the students input as well. That is very important. These days, you have to include the students in the process, not dictate to them.

Nergiz: Absolutely! What did the students think about the project?
Andrew: We do have feedback forms but we are still analyzing them. I do know this–after the class, a couple of students asked me if they could connect via facebook. So I guess that is a sign I did something right!

Nergiz: That certainly is! 🙂 What is your opinion about virtual worlds in language education?
Andrew: Hmmm, again an interesting question. The first time I saw SL, I thought, here is the future of social networking. Here you can actually see someone, and interract with them almost like in the real world, so a vast jump ahead from facebook etc. The main question about all of our uses of the internet is “do we use these tools like social networking for positive and productive purposes, or do we focus merely on junk?” What internet innovators like Gerhilde and Klaus have achieved with Talkademy is a means to use the virtual worlds of SL for the most useful way of all  — teaching.
Nergiz: I obviously agree.
Andrew: My input to then use these virtual worlds as backdrops for teaching film making is merely one more way that I hope to add some positive input into the internet.

Nergiz: Thank so much for answering my many questions! Do you have any other comments?
Andrew: Not really. I think your questions covered it. Hopefuly you can also join us more with Talkademy or the i film academy. I am sure you would have some great input.
Nergiz: Thanks! Well, this was very insightful. Thanks a lot for taking the time!
Andrew: You are welcome

Mar 30

Podcast: Being a language teacher in Second Life

I met Scottlo Scorbal , an English language teacher and podcaster based in Japan, when he signed up for the Virtual Worlds & Language Learning session that I co-moderated with three colleagues. Scottlo, reflected on what we did in the VWLL session with podcasts here and here. He was on of the VWLL participants who planned their first SL lesson and did a peer-teaching lesson during the VWLL session. A video recording of this lesson can be viewed here. I learned that he has been podcasting for four years now and uses podcasting (audio journals) with his students, too. Scott is also on Twitter. Scottlo invited me to do a podcast with him and talk a bit about language learning and teaching in Second Life. You can find the result on his blog Meet Scottlo Scorbo. Thanks Scottlo for giving me this opportunity!

Mar 20

Conducting a hands-on workshop in SL

muvenation logoIn module 2, section 1, we explored hands-on workshops in Second Life. The activities consisted of

  1. Analysing hands-on workshops using an analysis grid and coming up with a list of key factors for the design and delivery of successful SL workshops. My personal list is here.
  2. Designing and implementing our own hands-on workshop
  3. Peer-evaluation of the workshops using an observation form based on the key factors that came up in activity 1.
  4. Writing an analytical “story” of our experience with our workshop using the STARR template for storytelling which was provided.

Peer evaluation

Constructive feedback from peers can help tremendously in helping a teacher to improve their teaching practise. Peer observation and evaluation can be rewarding for both sides, the observer and the teacher being observed. Having read most evaluations, in this workshop activity peer observation did not work well in my opinion. One reason might be that the observation form had not yet been complete before some of the observations started. Another reason, I suspect, was that peer feedback was “public” and could be viewed by all course participants and coordinators. This might have been a dilemma for some who might not have wanted to be critical openly. Additionally, as many of the participants are still very new to SL and this was the first workshop they had conducted in a virtual world, peers wanted to be encouraging. This is perfectly fine but for feedback to be developmental, there should also be suggestions for improvement.

As a result, I think peer observation and giving constructive feedback is a skill that needs to be practised. Also, as trust is an important factor in peer evaluation, these should not be made public. Instead, in a course, where all could benefit from reading about others’ evaluations, participants could be asked to collect main points they observed together with suggestions for improvement in a separate place without names, kind of like a  teacher who gives general class feedback at the end with relevant points that they observed while monitoring a class activity.

My STARR story: Building a Board Game with Daffodil

Summary
A beginner Second Life builder trying her hand at giving a hands-on building workshop.

Situation
What was the setting in which this case study occurred?
After having observed and analysed hands-on workshops, we had to plan and deliver our own. It was difficult for me to think about a topic for my workshop. I had thought about and discarded several ideas due to time, space or other constraints. My building and scripting skills are limited but I decided I could manage a beginner building workshop. I knew I wanted it to be useful to my peers and fun.

Task
What was the problem to be solved, or the intended effect?
To plan and deliver a workshop for beginners to build a simple interactive board game within a time limit of 60 minutes. The number of participants was limited by the number of building spaces provided to a maximum of 12.

Actions
What was done to fulfil the task?
When I had decided on building a board game, I first wanted it to be a collaborative building task but in the end I didn’t dare to do it. I was not sure I could handle all the problems with permissions that might come up, especially with beginners. So, I decided every participant would have their own building space which would be their game board. This meant that there was not enough space nor time for everybody to build a complete game that we could play together at the end but it would be enough to demonstrate the skills and the concept.

Preparation: I prepared 12 boards/building spaces for participants. This meant some of them would be out of normal chat range. I modified my SpeakEasy HUD script to make it shout the instructions (suggested by a friend) but we would also communicate and needed a save means for this. Not everybody knows how to shout. I thought of putting up a sign but participants might forget to and by habit simply hit the enter key. A friend came up with the idea of chat relay but an experienced workshop tutor said it caused lag. Another friend suggested I use group IM. Why didn’t I think of that? Sometimes, in a stressful situation (and preparing the workshop was stressful for me because I had no time), we forget even what we know.
I wanted to announce a demo of my workshop in another group of educators to test it, improve the instructions but again because of lack of time, I could not do that. On the day of the workshop, an experienced friend asked me on Twitter whether I wanted to do a run through. It was only three hours before the actual workshop but I agreed and am so happy I did. As a result, I simplified my instructions, deleted some slides and additional information and most importantly found out and solved some issues with permissions.

Another issue that came up in the run-through was that participants would have several windows open at certain times in the workshop (edit window, notecard, group or local chat window) plus needed to look at the slides and back at their objects. I could not avoid any of these but I decided to tell participants this would happen and gave some tips at the beginning (making windows smaller or minimising them when not needed).

Multi-tasking for the tutor can be challenging, too. In other lessons I taught in SL, it often happened that I received several IMs from friends who did not know I was teaching, from students who wanted to be teleported (instead of asking peers or finding the LM in their inventory), IMs from students present who preferred to ask a question privately than in local chat plus group notices or IMs from groups I belong to. At the same time having to deliver the lesson, change slides, take notes, chat with students in local chat, etc. can be quite demanding. And I am usually much more exhausted after a SL lesson than a Real Life one. In regular classes, I establish some rules with students (e. .g “send teleport requests to peers not the teacher”, “don’t IM teacher during the lesson except when it is required in a task or absolutely necessary”, for friends: “when I am in busy mode, it really means I am busy and will not reply”. This was not possible really for this workshop because it was a one-off session.

Tools can be of great help in delivering lessons but they can be a real pain, too. I rarely use more than two teaching aids or tools in a session. Of course, this depends a bit on the situation. The same goes for the actual topic and the lesson plan. For the workshop, I decided a slide screen, a material giver and (the invisible) SpeakEasy HUD was enough. I had prepared slides of the different steps to avoid having to give long-winded instructions. I used a screen that I had recently be shown by a friend on which you can highlight areas. Very useful indeed! I also printed out the instruction text and crossed off what I had already said with the SpeakEasy HUD.

I was a bit worried that my workshop might be too simple and my instructions too detailed. However, it was declared as a beginner workshop and details can always be ignored by those participants who don’t need them 🙂

At first there were only the two participants who had also signed up as criticla friends. But then two more came. The session went smoothly and participants could follow the instructions easily. I have to say, however, that several were not beginners. A late-comer started on his own and was able to catch up. One participant had frequent crashes and fell behind. Another participant did something I had not expected and this caused her problems for the later steps. I helped by giving her additional instructions in IM to remedy the situation. I am still not sure what caused this: my instructions, language issues or the participant being distracted by private IMs (which I suspected).

From MUVEnation hands-on workshop

Latecomers can cause havoc in a workshop. I did not observe enough workshops in SL to know how experienced tutors deal with them but having planned to deliver my workshop in the MUVEnation sandbox, I knew I could expect latecomers and guests and this was to some extend even welcome. I did say how I would deal with them in my workshop description (observe or take the worshop material and try on your own) but, of course, not all would have read it. Some just popped in to do something in the sandbox, saw that something was going on and started chatting with me: “Long time no see” 🙂 I was determined not to have the flow of the workshop be interrupted too much by these but I didn’t mind observers and I didn’t want to sound unfriendly or unwelcoming. So I said a few words but indicated in local chat that we were going back to the instructions.

Surprise guest: At some point, a former SL student of mine suddenly materialised on a participant’s board. He was one of the students who were on the slide that I had shown at the beginning of the workshop showing him and peers playing my first board game. I thought I was dreaming and tried to make sense of it. I know a lot can happen in SL but I started thinking “my showing a slide of him can’t have made him appear in my workshop. Yeah, after being in SL for a longer while, you start believing such weird things can happen 🙂 It turned out that he had been teleported by the participant on whose board he arrived. I had introduced them some time ago and apparently they had developed a friendship.

All participants were able to finish their game. Although, none of them had prepared questions in advance (I had asked for this as preparation for the workshop). Nobody seemed willing to spend the time to write all the question notecards but they did write some so we could test the games. When taking their objects (the board with the tiles) into their inventory, they could not take the boards although I had set permissions to copy/mod. I had forgotten to tick one more box and when I did, participant were able to take them.

Lessons learned
What did you learn from the experience?

  • Instructions can never be detailed enough
  • Talk your ideas through with someone
  • Always do a run-through before you do the workshop for the first time
  • Don’t expect participants to have read through your announcement and have prepared for it.
  • Be prepared to do shortcuts and don’t force participants to do all the steps if it is not absolutely necessary.
  • Always double-check permissions of your material.
Aug 26

Public presentation — Exploring Second Life for Language Teaching and Learning

 


My first Second Life English course has finished, certificates handed out, the SLexperiments Wiki and group has been constantly growing since we started it and I have been exploring Second Life‘s potential for language teaching for a while now. Throughout this journey and as a member of the Webheads (an online community of practise), I have learned and experienced that sharing what one knows is a very powerful way of learning more.

This and the fact that reflecting on one’s learning and teaching helps one to become a better teacher and learner were the reasons why I had decided to blog about my Second Life English course and publishing my lesson plans. I do hope there will be more feedback and comments on the lessons and my reflections so I and other teachers can benefit even more and improve our teaching.

The logical next step is to give a public online presentation about this fascinating journey, my explorations and teaching experience. The presentation is mainly directed towards teachers but some of my students will (hopefully) also be present and learners wanting learn about new ways of improving their language skills or companies looking for effective and motivating language courses are most welcome to attend.

The presentation will be on the WiziQ virtual classroom platform and is scheduled for Thursday, 28 August 2008 at 3pm GMT. Here is the link where you can sign up for the session.

I am looking forward to seeing you there.

Update:

If you missed the live presentation, you can watch the recording here (you will have to sign up for Wiziq if you don’t have an account yet). Above, you can see the slides of the presentation.

Aug 18

Course 1 – Lesson 12

Direct link to the lesson plan

 

Time

Time was again an issue because of late arrivers. However, a lot of time was also lost because my security presentation board did not allow others to use it although I had given them the rights and it said so. This meant we had to find another solutions for students to be able to show their pictures. I did not want them to have to pass them on to me for me to to show them. They should be able to do this independently. I was very happy, that the Island manager, Breathe Swindlehurst, came to visit and he gave the class members the right to rez objects so that they could use their own boards or those present in the conference room. Unfortunately, it meant also that I had to rush two students during their longer presentations and there was certainly no need for the alphabet game, which I had planned in case students would not have done their homework.

The presentations

Amazingly, most students had done their homework and prepared a presentation. Nobody volunteered to be the first presenter so I thought of a way of deciding who goes first and asked them for the first letter of the street they live in (we had done SL birthdays and names already). It turned out that one student didn’t know the street’s name 🙂 I was so speechless that I didn’t ask how that was possible. Will have to do that. 

As they had been free to choose the topic, they were very different. Most students used visuals and one even streamed recorded audio through her microphone. This was the first time that we heard voice from “her”.

Students said that they were nervous before and during their presentation like in Real Life. This is for me one more proof that SL is immersive and students do take their lessons seriously . It does, however, also mean that shy students can still be shy and it does obviously not eliminate nervousness. 

The presentations where a kind of assessment test about the progress they had made in the course. I took notes and sent them a personal detailed feedback letter the following day.

This session was extremely stressful for me as the teacher. I had to deal with IMs from students and observers while listening to the students’ presentations and taking notes for later feedback and trying to help them with technical and other questions. 

Conclusion

When I look back, it seems lost time at the beginning was the main issue. There is not all too much I can do about it because, as in Real Life, some students will always be late but in SL they have more (valid) excuses. In a paid course, and if the activity planned for the beginning allowed it, I would be a bit stricter about starting punctually and would talk about and agree on a a late-arriver policy with the students.

In this course, I did not plan to teach much grammar or had specific system lessons (with two exceptions). Most of it was review for most of them and most teaching was incidential. The course was short, the needs different, levels different, and there had been no pre-course assesssment. So, I had to find a middle way. The main aim was to get students speaking, using what they knew actively and, thus, becoming more confident.

I was totally real-life exhausted after the lesson and the never-ending graduation party (see next post) but very satisfied and happy about how everything had gone.  This course was a wonderful experience and I have proved to myself that teaching a language in Second Life is possible, in many ways in a much more immersive, interactive and collaborative way than in Real Life but, of course, also with some drawbacks. For me personally, it was definitely immersive but I am aware of the fact that this differs from person to person. You have to allow it to be immersive and be a little playful and pretend at times (that the food is real, the fall was dangerous, etc.). Students’ feedback and their performance during the course shows also that learning does take place.

Finally, I do not see Second Life as a tool or place for learning that will replace Real Life schools. However, especially for distance and online learning, it means a huge opportunity to enhance the learning experience which no teacher should dismiss.

Aug 16

Course 1 – Lesson 11

Direct link to the lesson plan

 

Time

I have to be careful at the beginning not to allow students to get used to arrving late. But there were only two so I really had to wait. But the time was still used well to introduce each other (we had a visitor) and we weren’t so many so there was enough time at the end.

Grammar

The review was very brief because it was only a reminder. Students had more problems with the grammar words (noun, adj, ad) as so often, than with the actual concept. Some students were, however, confused about the difference so it was good to have planned the controlled practise in game form.

Students loved the game but the pace was a bit too slow. This was partly due to the fact that this was the first board game they had ever played in SL and I had to explain it and due to the nature of SL (everything seems to take longer).

Speaking fluency

Impromptu game: Only three students were left and only one of them used voice, unfortunately. The girls had to type fast so practised “fluent typing” rathern than their speaking fluency. Therefore, I was not very satisfied with this part. I want to have one girls-only course/class in the future so that everybody can speak.

Technical issues 

I couldn’t hand out the homework notecards nor could I drag them into my notecard giver. So I copied the homework text into local chat (it is also available on the course website).

Homework

Students had done last week’s homework and written a letter to Dennis. For the next (and last) lesson, they have to prepare a mini-presentation. I will give them individual picture boards and if necessary some Linden dollars to upload a few pictures for their presentation (I limited the amount and some students are also ready to donate some dollars). 

Conclusion

Games are a very appropriate way to transfer controlled practise pen-and-paper exercises into interactive student-centred, kinaesthetic games which are fun to play. They do take more time, of course, for the same amount of questions. This was my first attempt to create such a board and it turned out it is much easier that I thought it would be. The only think I have to figure out is how to get two different scripts working in the proper order or independently. 

The Impromptu Speech game does really only make sense when students use voice. I planned it hoping there would be more students using voice.

Update – 18 August 2008

Student feedback

Some students learned a lot of new words and expression others some. Some practised speaking “a lot” some “enough”. For some it was the right level for one too easy. Everybody liked all activities and think the homework is/was useful and fun. Best activity: The dice/board game and challenging the other team

Aug 11

Course 1 – Lesson 10

Direct link to the lesson plan

This lesson built up on the previous one where the topic was the news and we talked about a journalist’s job. Students had also practised asking questions in different tense in the Hot Seat game. This lesson was insofar different as we had a guest in the lesson. Well, more precisely, we were his guests 🙂

For the first time, I had no written lesson plan and wrote one after the class in order to upload it here. Which does not mean the lesson wasn’t planned. Dennis and I e-mailed about our plan and we also met before the lesson to make sure everything was set.

Lesson overview

I believe it is very important to give students a lesson overview so they know what to except. This helps them to relax and to mentally prepare to what is expecting them. It can also help weaker students to understand much better what is going on.

Preparing for the visit

Students went to Dennis’ website to find out who we were going to visit and to brainstorm some questions they would like to ask him based on the information on his website. Then we teleported to a place near Dennis’ home. I chose not to directly teleport in front of his house in order to make our visit look more “natural”. We had to walk over a bridge towards Dennis’ house where we had set up a fire place and the presentation screen and where Dennis was waiting to greet us.

Setting

Sitting under the trees around the fire made such a difference to a more formal setting (classroom). This is one of the strengths of SL. Please, SL teachers, do not hold your classes in replicated RL classrooms. In SL, you can easily set the scene fitting the occasion. Isn’t this something we have often wished for in RL?

The guest

Dennis did a wonderful job keeping his it informal and involving the students during the presentation by asking questions like “Who do you think this is?” “When do you think was this picture taken?”. His being an English teacher made my job easier. I joined my students and was part of the audience. As I didn’t have to do the talking, I could provide definitions in local chat of some of the words that Dennis used without interrupting the flow of the presentation or conversation.

Dennis had the impression there had been too much teacher talking time. But this was partly due to the format we had chosen (a presentation) and to the fact that most students chose not to use voice (maybe they were too shy). That meant that Dennis was heard as the only one speaking while the others were typing in local chat. And after all, I was the teacher, and I didn’t talk much at all 😉

Students need time to warm up

It was unfortunate that we had to end the lesson as students were just warming up (as Dennis said, sitting around the fire) and becoming more comfortable with asking questions. They probably needed some time to digest what they had heard, reflect and then form their questions. I think, if I had let them, they would have stayed much longer with Dennis. So, if possible, it is a good idea to leave more time at the end to sit together …

Homework

Writing a letter to Dennis to either thank him, ask for clarifications about what he said, comment on his presentation or the visit or anything else they want to write.

I first wanted to go through the chat log and make a list of the new words that came up to post on the course site. Then, I thought: “Wait a minute. The students are at different levels and come from different backgrounds. They know much better which words were new for them. And reading through the chat log will not only help them remember the words better from the context it will also be a  review of the lesson. Another bonus is that it will save the teacher time 🙂

Conclusion

In the first stage, I wouldn’t only ask students to read the information on the website and brainstorm questions but also to make predictions about the guest, depending on what information is already available (e.g “Why do you think did he travel so much?”, “Do you think he liked his job?”). This would give them a focus when listening to and watching the presentation and more things to ask about. Next time, I would keep the presentation a bit shorter and give students more time at the end to chat with the guest.

Having a guest added more variety to the course and gave students a chance to listen to someone with a different accent. This is definitely something I will try to include in all my courses. Second Life and online teaching makes inviting guests from diverse backgrounds and countries much easier than Real Life and one should take advantage of this.

Click here to read Dennis’ reflections on the lesson.

Aug 07

Course 1 – Lesson 9

Direct link to the lesson plan

 

Attendance and time

First time that I actually left out a major stage.There were only two students attending the class for the first half hour. Which was not good for my lesson plan but on the other hand, I could voice chat with them and we could take our time. They are my weakest students and it was the first time that one of them had said so much in voice. So, it was worth the time. I did the review with the two of them and when I started the news topic some more students arrived. Another reason for “losing” time was that the homework presentation took longer than I had expected (see below).

Resources

In order to review the shape names, I was naming objects and asking students what shape that object was. One of the things I said was “donut” but both students didn’t know what it was. So, I quickly opened my browser and searched for pictures. Within seconds I had found several and students could give me the correct answer. This a huge advantage of online teaching and learning.

Transition between places

In this lesson we had to teleport several times to different locations. There were no problems and no time was lost. In a Real Life class it would have cost a lot of precious class time. This and the fact that one can simply teleport from the classroom to Reuters’  bureau, back to the classroom, over to the sandbox is amazing and can make lessons so much more interesting.

At Reuters’

Students in SL love to visit different places and love to move, walk and fly and do things. In this lesson, they had to explore the Reuters building after we had established the fact that it was a news agency. We all had fun, especially when we discovered a picture of a veiled lady (see pictures) that looked like one of my students 🙂 We sat together in the lounge and talked about what they had found. Then we discussed what journalists do and the qualities and characteristics they (should) have and the students came up with  some great vocabulary.

Back to our class garden

We looked at a picture of a row of photographers and students commented on how they would feel being the person photographed. Then, we played the “Hot Seat” game. In order to decide in which order they would sit on the hot seat, they had to find out when everybody’s avatar was born in SL and line up accordingly. 

The students loved this game and asked many questions. The girls, who are RL friends and study at the same university, were more daring when interviewing each other. This was great practise for asking questions.

Corrections and feedback

I corrected immediately but only in local chat without interrupting the flow of the activity. This is another great feature in SL. In RL I would have to either interrupt students and correct or opt for delayed feedback after the activity. In SL I can correct in local chat if it concerns the whole class or I can IM (instant message) a student and correct discreetly. Another advantage is that the chat log is recorded for everybody to see what they have said and for me to analyse later and use for future lesson planning or for individual and class feedback on the course website.

Homework presentation

This time most students had done their homework. I was expecting simple objects with a script but I was surprised and amazed with what they had built. You cannot see it on the pictures but the transparent shapes on the built with the checkered floor and the chairs arranged in a circle actually rotated. The ice-cream cone was another lovely idea to use a shape and an object that is named after it.

Students did probably not use much English while building their objects but they had fun and they had to talk about their objects when presenting them. The most complicated built was by one of the weakest students and it was important for him to get praise for his work. 

Conclusion

Be flexible and skip or add activities when needed.

Use Second Life’s strengths fully instead of thinking of its limitations. Most limitations only exist when we think of RL classroom activities and want to transfer them to SL.

Give your students control and let them teach you something they know better (e.g. building).

Update – 11 August 2008

Student feedback

Most say they learned a lot of new words in this lesson and practised speaking enough (one says “a lot”). For most the lesson was at the right level of difficulty except for one who found it too difficult.

All students liked all activities in this lesson. What they liked most was the Hot Seat game and visiting Reuters.

Aug 03

Course 1 – Lesson 8

Direct link to the lesson plan

Time issues – transition

For this lesson I needed a location where all participants had permission to rez/build objects. I did, however, not want to go to a public sandbox as we would be using voice and I didn’t want to disturb others or wanted to be disturbed. In a crowded place it is difficult to mute everybody except the class members and group call (in IM) can be problematic. I decided to hold the class in front of my house on the SL English SIM. In order to be able to build students had to become members of the SL English group.  It took at least ten minutes until everybody was enrolled because some students did not know how to join a group.

In order to avoid such a waste of time and hassle in the future, it is a good idea to arrange this in advance (e.g. by sending students a group notice telling them to join the group and explaining how to do this). Alternatively, I could find land that allows everybody to build on and which is usually not crowded at the time of the lesson.

Names of shapes

Most students new how to create simple objects like cubes and pyramids. This was good because I did not have to explain how to create them and could concentrate on eliciting or introducing the names of the shapes.

This part of the lesson worked out quite well but because we were late and I didn’t want to skip any of the later steps, I didn’t introduce all shape names. Later I realized I had completely forgotten to introduce the adjectives. These were, however, in the list I gave everybody at the end and they are also on the course site together with my recording of the pronunciation.

Instructions and prepositions of location.

Students had to follow my instructions and build objects in the shape and colour I told them. Then, I described an object and students had to walk to where it was.  Finally, I and then other students instructed the others to move their objects to particular places to practise shape names as well as prepositions of location. All, of this worked out fine, except that, sometimes, it took a while until we could see all rezzed objects.

I had the feeling that the students were not all too motivated in these stages or maybe they had to concentrate so much that they didn’t have time to say or type much.

Building a scripted object

None of the students had build a scripted object before so they were all very motivated in this stage.

There wasn’t enough time to send students to the website where they could create their own script so I placed a sound and a script (play sound) into an object that gives all its content to anybody who touches it. This was time-saving because I didn’t have to pass around these items. This was a truly interactive task and all students had successfully built their objects that played a sound when touched. They were free to choose any shape and texture to make it more individual and give them choice. 

This activity would have been even better by giving students the change to select and/or produce their own script and select the content of their object (notecard, LM, sound, etc.). One little problem was that it was difficult to test the objects because all had the same sound. But we managed to do that and I was also able to see where they had problems when building as I could look into their objects and see whether they were doing the write thing.

Discussion

We had five minutes for this and I rushed through it a bit. Students said they all like building in SL and one student showed us what he had built.

Content giver

This is a very handy object, which I used several times in this lesson. As I described above, you can fill it with inventory items that you want to hand out to everybody and by touching it students are given its content. Very time-saving and extremely easy to set up and use.

Homework

Besides reviewing the vocabulary, students have the optional homework to build an object which they can show off next time. I am curious what they will come up with. I’ve added some videos about how to record and upload their own sounds and about scripting to the Moodle course site to help them with this task.

Self-study

I am planning to upload the recording of the shape nouns and adjectives and placing them into objects of that shape and placing these in the garden where we usually start our classes. So, for example, when the cube is touched, it would play the sound “a cube – cubic” or “This is a cube. – It’s cubic.” 

There are two limitations to take into consideration here. Uploading sounds cost L$10 each and they must be shorter than 10 seconds. 

Conclusion

There was not enough speaking practice for the students in this lesson and it was very teacher-centred. Whether this is something negative, I am not sure. During the lesson I had the feeling that it wasn’t good. It was also in stark contrast to the lesson before this one. I do think, however, that we should not always shy away from teacher-centred lessons or too much teacher talking time as long as this is the exception and not the norm and it can be justified.

I am not completely happy with how this lesson went (transition problems, level a bit too low as I didn’t introduce enough new words) and maybe I need to change the lesson plan a bit and think more about some of the stages. But I think in general this is the kind of lesson that uses the strength of Second Life. Students learn skills besides learning English (content-based) and students actually produce something.