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 15

Second Life student survey — What to ask?

I have prepared a feedback survey form for my students to fill out after each lesson. So far participation is low although I kept it short and easy and have been reminding them about it. I’m thinking about how I could get them fill it out. Suggestions are welcome.

If you were teaching a class in Second Life, what would you ask them in your feedback survey?

I will publish my survey questions here. But, first, I’d like to see what others come up with 🙂

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.

Jul 08

Lesson planning for Second Life classes

Planning lesson for SL classes is really very time-consuming, especially when one has to start from scratch. This was one of the reasons why I have started meeting regularly with online colleauges in SL and created the SLexperiments Wiki. Besides making the transition to SL teaching and pedagogy and keeping the limitations and strengths of SL in mind, I also have to keep the costs under control. At the moment, presentation slides and pictures for SL have to be prepared out-of-world and uploaded for a cost. L$ 10 for one picture doesn‘t seem too much, but if you plan a whole course it can accumulate. As there isn‘t a tool that would replace  a Real Life whiteboard*, on which you can quickly draw a picture or write a sample sentence, lesson preparation has to be very thorough and this also means that there are more slides and pictures than in a regular RL class. 

But talking about money, SL residents seem to be very generous people. One day, I was preparing the class, when a lady flew in and started chatting with me. I kind of complaint about the costs of uploading pictures as I was just doing that. When she learned that the course was offered by me free of charge, she donated some Linden dollars. I was speechless! I thanked her and because she is an English native-speaker, asked whether she would like to be a guest in one of my lessons so that students could interview her. She agreed.

For another lesson, I needed flags of many countries. I found some in the onrez shop for a reasonable price. But somehow I had problems buying them. I contacted the owner, Waldo Schumann (SL name). First, he tried to help me solve my problem but then he decided to donate the flags 🙂 I was very happy, as you can imagine.

Jul 07

What’s this all about?

Why?
Sometime, at the beginning of this year, I decided that Second Life is worth exploring and has a lot of potential for teaching and learning languages. Obviously, the first step for me was learning how to use Second Life itself. Then, I would also need to learn about existing educational projects and tools and learn how to use these tools. I started my SL adventures alone, which was not fun at all. But then, I finally found like-minded language teachers. This is how SLexperiments started. So, I have now a group of teachers who have been learning about SL together, collecting educational landmarks, etc. I have also been attending various SL educator conferences, roundtables and other such events and have been discussing issues around teaching in SL. Talking about teaching in SL is all well, but now it was time to actually try it out.

Where?
Coincidentally (or not), I was offered the chance to teach on Islamonline.net’s (IOL) SIM, where they had just started restructuring their islands to offer more courses. I was a member of the IOL group because I like their innovative teaching approaches. They use the immersive nature of Second Life for their Hajj project, where people can learn about the pilgrimage and its rituals by actually doing them. During a conversation with one of the managers about what kinds of courses to offer, he asked whether I wouldn’t want to teach English there.

Who?
Now, I had a place where I could teach and an organisation with a large membership and a lot of readers on their website, who would help me find students for my first course.

What?
For this first experiment, as I was not sure how many people would sign up, I decided to offer a general English course for elementary to pre-intermediatel level students without doing any individual needs analysis. From having chatted with many SL residents, especially those among the members of IOL, I new about their nationalities, there typical problems with English (from my previous Real Life teaching) and their level of English. This would have to suffice for this first course. It means, of course, that I will have to find a compromise between the levels. I know already that it will be too easy for one students particularly and I told him so but he wants to participate anyway.

How?
I decided to offer the course completely in SL complementing it with a Moodle course to review what was done in class, to assign homework and to provide a place where students could discuss the lessons and other topics in the forum.

Homework will consist of a lot of speaking practise using Web 2.0 tools such as Voicethread but also reading and writing.

The SL course itself will be in voice so that students can listen to me but also participate in voice. Speaking is one of the skills most students at this level need to practice most but are usually shy of doing so.

The lessons are being planned to be very interactive and dynamic so students are engaged, learn by participating actively and have fun.

While planning the lessons, I will try to transfer some RL activities into SL but keeping in mind that SL has its limitations and at the same time offers a lot which we cannot do in RL. I believe that with time a specific SL pedagogy will develop using SL’s uniqueness without the RL restrictions. This will, hopefully, also influence RL pedagogy in a very positive way.

Students will be asked to fill out a feedback form after every lesson.

Why SL?
When I use SL here, this could actually mean any immersive 3D environment that already exists or might exist in the future. At the time of my SLexperiment, however, SL is the most widely used virtual world with the most potential for teaching. Any experience we gain here and any SL pedagogy that develops will, in my opinion, be transferable to other virtual worlds, even though we might have to learn some new skills specific to that world. Developers building new worlds will, certainly, make sure that transition from Second Life to their world will be as easy as possible.