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.
Mar 09

Are you ready to teach in Second Life?

Are you planning to teach in SL? Do you have the skills it takes to be able to do so?

Chris Collins or Fleep Tuque in SL, a very experienced SL educator, has shared her first draft of a teacher “self-assessment” quiz  “to help faculty determine if they’re ready to bring students in world” and asked other SL educators for feedback. On the SLED list, she points out that: “It’s not meant to be an exhaustive test of competency… but more in the spirit of those “personality tests” that give you a sense of where you fall in a spectrum.”Chris says she used the Global Kids Second Life Curriculum (an excellent resource!) as a guide for this quiz.

In the the feedback received from the SLED list and Twitter, some asked questions like “does one really need to be able to manage land in order to be a good SL teacher” or “just because I don’t have anything in my picks tab does not mean I don’t know how to do that”.

But the most important question is does scoring well in this skill test mean that a teacher is pedagogically ready, too.? Skills are one “side of the coin” and are important but pedagogy is “the other side”. We can’t simply transfer face-to-face or even online teaching pedagogy to Second Life (or any other virtual environment for that matter). A question could for example be:

You want to introduce the topic of world religions to your students. Do you…

a) have the students sit in your virtual classroom and lecture about the topic?

b) invite an expert who gives a slide presentation?

c) have students find out about different religious themed places in SL, take snapshots, come back and report to the class?

d) have students do c) and meet SL residents who subscribe to different world religions, interview them and then, create an interactive exhibition?

Chris is revising the skills tests (and also looking for a new home for the quiz). I think the test is a brilliant idea which gives educators a quick overview of what SL skills they need and where they are standing. I hope she’ll add some pedagogical questions to it or even better device a separate quiz for that purpose. This might even be a collective SLED list educators’ effort. 

Mar 03

Starting a Second Life

TEACHER DEVELOPMENT

Nergiz Kern learns to teach in a virtual world.

‘I don’t even have time for my first life and certainly can’t handle a second life’ is typical of the statements that I hear from sceptical teachers. Well, I don’t lead a second life either, but Second Life (SL), the three-dimensional virtual world is very much part of my first or Real Life (RL). It is one of the tools in my repertoire that in many ways closes a gap and, in some instances, enhances my classroom practice. It has now become very much a part of my professional development.

Getting into SL

At first, I was intrigued by what I heard SL had to offer to learners and teachers. I am a visual learner with an interest in technology and the internet. As a teacher, it was the immersive and collaborative nature of SL that appealed to me. I had also been looking for motivating ways to teach online and the game-like nature of SL seemed to be one such way. Consequently, I signed up for SL, created my avatar, the figure who represents me in SL, and started exploring.

Learning to use SL

My first trips into this virtual world were not very satisfactory. Only when I finally met some colleagues in SL and found out about educational places and tools did it start to make sense. It took me about two to three months of regular trips to SL, and intensive learning by observing and participating in events, conferences and lessons and trying out tools, to reach a point where I felt comfortable enough to start teaching. (Teacher support groups, networks and SL training courses are increasing for those who do not have that much time to invest.)

Teaching in SL

Once I had decided to start teaching, I needed students for my first SL English course. Finding students is a relatively easy task in SL because many learners are less sceptical than teachers, and many sign up to SL because they want to practise English. If you offer free classes, you will have no problem finding volunteers. Fourteen students signed up for my course but only around eight to ten of these were regulars (not all of them came to every session, though).

From Second Life 101 Lesson 9

They were from Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, India, France and Germany. Some were experienced SL users, others had just joined.

Basically, you can use all the places within SL to teach (except, of course, any inappropriate ones with mature content). It is actually a dream come true because instead of just looking at pictures of remote places, hotels, restaurants, sports, etc and pretending to be there, teachers can actually ‘take’ their students to these locations in a matter of seconds. This is called ‘teleporting’.

It is an advantage, however, to have a meeting point where the lesson starts and ends. This should be a place where teachers have the right to ‘rez’ objects (take items such as presentation screens, whiteboards, chairs, realia, etc out of their inventory and place them in the location so that they can be seen and used by everybody who is present). Our meeting point was a garden where I had my presentation boards, some chairs and a lot of space to move around. For groupwork and discussions after field trips, we also used my own house in SL, which is divided into two areas so that people in one room cannot hear those in the other, and no one can be heard from outside the house.

The course

I decided to offer a pre-intermediate general English course as the majority of the potential students I had talked to were at this level and already had enough knowledge of the language to be able to follow a course where they would not see their teacher face-to-face. In the end, I had a mixed-ability class, with students ranging from elementary to intermediate; I didn’t turn down any student because it was a trial class and they were very eager to participate. It was a six-week course, with two 90-minute sessions a week on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The synchronous ‘face-to-face’ lessons took place in SL. In addition, I used Moodle for homework assignments, to make resources (vocabulary lists, slides, additional exercises, etc) available after class and for discussions and questions. As SL has a game-like nature, I wanted to make homework interesting and varied, too. So I selected online games to practise vocabulary and grammar, and used voice-recording tools for further speaking and listening practice. Whenever possible, I gave students the choice to submit their homework either in writing (blog posts) or in spoken form (recorded), depending on what they thought they needed to practise most.

The preparations

In order to decide what to teach, I looked through my material and notes of past lessons for this level and browsed through some coursebooks to see what topics, skills and structures they covered. I wanted to have a mix of topics, structures, skills and activities to make it interesting and relevant to the students, but also for me; I was keen to try out different things to see whether or how they worked in SL. I also knew what kind of difficulties students from the participants’ countries usually have. However, I didn’t plan all the lessons prior to the course; I left myself free to be able to base some of them on the needs of the students. I would only discover these needs once the course had started.

I adapted materials, games and activities to SL where possible. Sometimes, this was easy (eg finding pictures for a topic and uploading them to SL to show on a slide/PowerPoint projector or picture board). I found that activities such as ‘twenty questions’, short dictations or board games, and pair- and groupwork were also possible in SL. One style of activity that did not work, however, was mingling. Although SL offers three-dimensional sound (people who are closer sound louder than those further away), students have to move much further away from each other than in real life, otherwise voices get completely mixed up. As a result, they ended up taking turns in pairs, with the others listening.

I had a whole range of tools available thanks to generous experienced SL educators and programmers, who usually give them away for free. Tools I used in this course were: a presentation screen for slides, picture boards, a board that displays notecards/text, a timer, and objects that automatically hand out their content when touched (eg notecards with instructions or homework). What I missed most was a whiteboard that I could write example sentences or draw on spontaneously (now there are some tools that make this possible). Writing words or sentences can be done in the chat area or on notecards and then displayed, though they aren’t in colour and there is no way to highlight things (except by using asterisks or capital letters). However, drawing is not possible at all without prior preparation of slides.

From Second Life 101 Lesson 10

I discovered that there are also, however, things that are possible in SL but not in RL. I tried to capitalise on these as much as possible. Most lessons took place ‘outdoors’ and we went on many field trips. Corrections could be done in text chat or with private instant messages without interrupting the students or putting them on the spot. Text chat (and even voice chat) could be saved for review and vocabulary work or given to students who missed the class.

I soon realised that more rigorous planning is needed for SL lessons than for RL lessons, and that preparation in general takes more time because you cannot simply point at the coursebook. The lesson plan has to be written, pictures found, vocabulary, example sentences, grammar explanations and homework instructions written. Once you are in SL, pictures and slides have to be uploaded, the inventory folder needs to be organised: tools, notecards and slides have to be named appropriately so that they can be found easily, places to go have to be selected, etc.

From Second Life 101 Graduation party

After planning a couple of lessons and teaching the first sessions, I found that my lesson planning was taking a long time, partly because I was thinking in terms of RL and trying to transfer those lessons into SL. Sometimes this was justified, but often it was possible to be more spontaneous, using different activities and tools that were available to teach in a more SL-style. To give one example, instead of showing pictures of objects, it is possible simply to drag them out of one’s inventory. So, all kinds of realia (including such objects as houses, airplanes, animals, etc) are instantaneously available in the ‘classroom’, not in two dimensions, but in three. Fewer uploads of pictures also means less money spent as each upload costs ten ‘Linden dollars’, the currency of SL. This is not a lot of money (at the moment of writing 266 L$ = 1 US$) but it can accumulate. On the other hand, you do not have to make any photocopies, so you are saving money there.

The lessons

Again, given the game-like nature of SL, I wanted to make my lessons fun and interactive. Interactivity and student-centred lessons in SL are even more important than in RL for several reasons. Firstly, most people in SL are there because they want to have fun and they want to do things, not just listen to somebody. Secondly, we may meet synchronously at the same virtual location but, ultimately, everybody is sitting at home in front of their computers. So, the teacher cannot see who is listening attentively and who is nodding off. Keeping the students active and having them move around, teleport to different places, form groups, etc and getting them use voice as often as possible, will make sure they are not in the kitchen preparing food while their avatars are the only ones ‘listening’ to the teacher!

Each lesson was self-contained as I could never be sure who and how many would attend the following session. However, some of the lessons were still connected thematically (eg a lesson about news, practising asking questions, interviewing peers, interviewing a guest, watching a presentation, giving a presentation).

From Second Life 101 Lesson 11

We took two field trips where one student was the tourist guide and showed the tourists (all the other students and the teacher) their favourite SL location. Another field trip was to Reuter’s SL office. We played word, board and other games to practise and review previous lessons. In one lesson, students had to build objects following instructions; this practised the names of shapes, colours, prepositions of location, and how to give instructions. We had a guest speaker for the students to interview. I also set up flags of different countries along the street to practise country and nationality names. We sat together in my living room to talk about our trips and to tell stories that the students had written in groups (using realia that I had placed on tables). And finally, we had a graduation party with virtual food and drinks, games, an exhibition of what students had built for homework, lots of laughter and chat in English, and, of course, framed certificates of participation.

From Second Life 101 Lesson 10

You can find detailed downloadable lesson plans, post-lesson evaluations, student feedback, tips and pictures taken during the lessons on my blog: http://slexperiments.edublogs.org/.

The feedback

The students didn’t have to pay for this course, but I asked them to fill out feedback forms after each lesson and at the end of the course. This student feedback was immensely helpful for me in planning future sessions and finding out what works and what doesn’t. I was amazed how well they were able to reflect on their learning in the lessons (most came from rather traditional educational backgrounds). All felt that their English had improved and 60 per cent thought that SL lessons were better than RL ones. Eighty per cent said they would participate in another SL English course, with the remaining 20 per cent saying that they didn’t know whether they would or not. There was no one who said they would not participate again.

The future

This was a wonderful experience for me and I am excited about the possibilities virtual worlds have to offer. The class was for me as real as in RL and the students said they felt like a real class, too. I was very happy to see that they also met outside class and talked with other in English. The sessions were exhausting at times and we had a few problems (time lag, crashes, etc) but nothing that affected the lesson too much. After all, things can go wrong in RL classes, too! However, people are usually more critical of new tools and see mostly what is lacking rather than what they can add to our teaching practice.

Can you survive as a teacher without SL? Sure, you can; at least for a while and maybe if you teach in an English-speaking country where your students can immerse themselves in the language by stepping out of the door. However, if you are in a non-English-speaking country or have distance students, SL can add a lot to your teaching.

SL also offers many opportunities for students to practise their English informally outside class time. They can visit different places and immerse themselves in the language without leaving their homes. This is a huge advantage for those who cannot study abroad, for financial or other reasons. It gives distance students a feeling of presence and really belonging to a group. SL may be a good tool to get shy students more active as it is their avatars speaking or writing in English and not them. It also offers something for different types of learners.

Teachers do not need to offer complete lessons in SL. In the course of face-to-face classes, they can pop into SL for short sessions, project work, an interview, to demonstrate something or to take a field trip. This can even be done as a whole class with one computer and an interactive whiteboard. Teachers who do not want to or cannot use SL in class, can still set homework (providing all the students have access to it) asking them to interview people about something, do some research and write a report about places they visited or do SL quests and scavenger hunts.

It is predicted that all the internet will be three-dimensional in the near future. So teachers and their students who use SL are picking up a real-life skill.

* * *

I will certainly continue teaching in SL or other virtual worlds and can only encourage other teachers to do so, too. Please contact me if you have questions or need help to get started.

This article was first published in English Teaching Professional, Issue 61 March 2009.

Feb 12

Key factors for the design and delivery of successful Second Life workshops

muvenation logoAnother MUVEnation task after a long break. This is for module two, activity one: Analysis of hands-on workshops. We were provided with a very comprehensive analysis grid which was very helpful in compiling the list of factors. Factors I found missing were 

  1. Importance of announcements (clearly defined task, aims, level, duration, prerequisites, …)
  2. Pace of delivery (too fast can cause stress, too slow can break the flow or bore participants)
  3. Motivation (to come back, continue learning, finish the task, …)

This is by no means a complete list but what I have collected through attending in-world workshops, chatting with experienced workshop instructors and adding a bit from my own SL teaching experience where appropriate. I have not numbered the lists because the factors are not in a particular order and there is no specific number of items. Also, this is related to SL skills workshops. Other types of workshops, seminars or lessons will call for partly or completely different approaches.

 Postcard from Second Life.

Workshop design: planning and preparation

  • Detailed/accurate instructions and supplies prepared in advance and handed out at the beginning of the session. The folder should include all the material needed, like textures, scripts, and sounds, slides, but also a notecard with the instructions so that latecomers or those falling behind can catch up (Copyright: This might lead to the instructions being used by others for their workshops but they can be copied from local chat anyway.
  • Announcements to tell participants about prerequisites needed (level, pre-knowledge, objectives, duration…)
  • Limit the number of participants to be able to be able to provide sufficient individual help.
  • Picture/slide or in case of building, a finished version of the object that participants are going to build placed visibly.
  • Improving/adding to instructions (clarification about questions asked during a session can be added to the instructions for future session.
  • Interesting topic (obviously there isn‘t always a choice but even though the learning aim might be fixed, like „basic building“, „how to build a box that hands out content“, the instructor can make it interesting and timely „Gift box building“.
  • Spacial design: In most building workshops, the space seems to be designed very traditionally with neat rows for participants (though often with cushions instead of desks and chairs) and instructor sitting/standing in front facing the group. This means, the instructors have to shout instructions. Asked whether it has any advantages, I was told that it didn‘t. I discussed other options with instructors: A circle of a 20m diameter would eliminate the need to shout. On the downside, some students would face the instructors back and and would need to use the camera controls more to see the slides used for the class. A semi-circle might be the best option.

Workshop design: delivery and instruction

  • Start punctually but plan activities/workshop in such a way that latecomers can catch up with the least disruption. Agree on and display (slides) rules of conduct for such cases (and also on how you intend to deal with questions, etc.).
  • Especially in beginner workshop, provide visual/textual help with SL user interface (e. g. how to zoom in on slides, use camera controls).
  • Most instructors, I was told, copy/paste instructions from notecard that has been prepared in advance (see planning and preparation). Although, this is already a much better solution than typing instructions life, I use a tool like the SpeakEasy HUD instead of copy/paste. The HUD automatically brings up the next step of the instructions typed in advance in a notecard with one click on its icon eliminating the need to have a separate window with the text opened. The HUD gives me enough flexibility to react to questions during a session or add personal (live) remarks to not make it feel impersonal.
  • Show slides instead of trying to describe things in text. A combination of both is probably the best to cater to the needs of different learner types.
  • Use slides and other means to show/tell first what participants are going to do next and then do it. This gives participants a sense of direction and confidence. 
  • Show the final product(s) and explain or demonstrate what it is good for and when it is used (knowing the purpose of what is being done.
  • Make the different steps visual (slides of steps or instructor building the object together with participants) so that participants can check whether they have done steps correctly.
  • When using slides, make sure the rez quickly (e. g. by pre-rezzing them on a small prim or using presenters that have this feature built-in).
  • Keep to the subject/topic (e.g. if a class is about basic scripting don‘t lecture about the history of programming) Participants usually want to to do something and have something to take away.
  • If too many participants have problems and need help, it is good to be able to call another instructor for help. Even better would be to always have a ”helper” there who help with technical or similar problems. After such a session ”problematic” session, it is important to analyse why the problems occurred and try and eliminate the cause as much as possible.
  • Personalize activities whenever possible even if it is simple things like choosing ones own textures, sound, text or colour.
  • Conversational flow/Communication dynamics: Allow participants to interrupt, ask questions and react to comments by them whenever possible during the session to make session less stressful and more light-hearted. Especially when the instruction text has been pre-prepared, it can sound very impersonal if nothing else is ”spoken”. Also, these mini-chats give those who have fallen behind a chance to breathe and catch up. This will create a positive atmosphere and lower the affective filter and thus enable better learning.
  • Whenever possible and if the nature of the workshop and time allows, allow participants to reflect on what is being done. A pure step-by-step instruction on how to build something or script might be time-efficient if only the result is important but will not result in real learning. For learning to take place, participants need to think about the process and reflect on their learning (if not possible during the workshop than outside of it by providing learners with questions). 

Implementation of the workshop: follow up and evaluation

  • Decide which questions to answer in local chat and which in IM (If one participants asks a question, replying in local chat might confuse others. However, even if a question has been asked in IM but could be relevant for all, it should be answered in local chat).
  • Monitor students‘ progress by asking how they are doing after major steps and if possible, by looking at their builds/objects and trying out if they function as they should.
  • Assessment depends on the nature of the workshop and what the expected outcomes are (An object with certain looks or function or a script can be assessed by their looks, accuracy or trying if they work. The process might also be taken into account. In other workshops like ”how to best use communication tools“, assessment could be by level of engagement, correct etiquette or relevance and nature of contributions), collaboration might be assessed if that was a requirement or completion of a task or solving of a problem. 

Implementation of the workshop: recall and transfer of learning

  • Recapitulation is important at the end of a session for better learning to take place. I haven‘t seen this done in any of the workshops I have attended. In my lesson, I always plan to show the sign-posts from the beginning of the  lesson again to help recap but often run out of time and can‘t do it.
  • Provide access to a network and/or forum where participants can help each other in between sessions. I use Moodle forum and created a Second Life group for my students.
  • Provide additional help, material, exercises and information after the class. These could be accessed in-world or on the web. I use Moodle (for chat logs, vocabulary lists, other material) and web 2.0 tools (for exercise, self-paced practice). The instructor of the scripting workshop I have attended, Simon Kline, provides video tutorials of the topics covered in-world.
  • Motivation: Providing a forum, in-world group and creating a network can also be highly motivating. Another way of motivation participants is to showcase their ”products“ and success stories. In my course I did this by making an exhibition of students‘ builds, a party at the end and framed SL certificates. The scripting instructor mentioned above compiles some successful stories of his students.

Note: It is important to keep in mind that this list of some key factors is for hands-on workshops like those for learning about basic SL building and scripting. Workshops can take very different forms and factors affecting success will vary and not all of the above will be suitable. A lot also depends on whether the workshop is one of a serious or a stand-alone one, whether participation is compulsory or voluntary and other such factors.

I found the workshops I have attended interesting and learned new skills plus took away a finished product and scripts and knowledge that I can use/apply for other tasks. I found one of the building workshops a bit stressful and the delivery a bit impersonal whereas there was more interaction in the scripting workshop. In both the scripting workshop and a gift box building workshop there was humour which I find essential in any learning environment.

I had the chance to talk to two instructors, Simon Kline and revochen Mayne, who I would like to thank very much for the extra time they spent with me to talk about their workshops and what they think are key factors for successful hands-on workshops. 

Feb 09

Second Life Educational tools – What is missing?

Pollster Set I have been asked several times which tools I miss in Second Life. When I first started thinking about teaching in SL, I searched for some kind of whiteboard that I could write on because that is one of the most basic tools we teachers use in Real Life. Then, I started wondering whether I wouldn’t start teaching in a more traditional or at least RL way if I had a whiteboard. Why use Second Life if we teach there like we do in Real Life? 

I changed the way I think about teaching in SL and the tools I need. We only miss things if we have certain expectations. The expectations we have about teaching in SL often come from our RL experience. We have a whiteboard in RL and are used to using it so we want one in SL. Once I started seeing SL as a new tool itself and as a place that offers its own possibilities which often don’t exist in RL, I stopped missing tools and instead looked at what is there and how I can best make use of those tools.

Some tools that are there, can also stand in one’s way instead of helping deliver a better lesson. SL educators have to ask themselves the same questions like educators in RL: “Do I use this technology/tool because it is there or does it really benefit my students and improve my lesson delivery?” I do have a large collection of SL educational tools. However, I have only used a handful in my classes, mainly a notecard/landmark giver, a notecard displayer, picture boards and a slide presenter. I might use a different set in a different course if need be but I have to justify it to myself. 

Having said that, I have found several whiteboard tools and mash-ups with websites where I can write and even draw on 🙂 but I don’t think I will make much use of them for now.

Finally, I have to admit that there is one thing that I do miss. It is not a tool but a feature. If text in notecards could be formatted (bold, underline, text in different colours), I would be a happier SL teacher 🙂 

Jan 03

Virtual World & Language Teaching session

In October 2008, I mentioned I would moderate an EVO sessions with other online colleagues (Dennis, Graham and Nick). Now, it is sign-up time. Follow this link for a description of the session and a sign-up link. The session starts on 12 January 2009 together with 17 other very interesting sessions

I’m looking very much  forward to it. 

Jan 01

Building a tree

 muvenation logoTeachers teaching in Second Life might need to have at least some building and skripting skills (to design learning space, create or manipulate tools, etc.). In order to further develop these skill, we are asked to build a tree. Other objectives of this activity are:

  • to cooperate in a community project
  • to experience and develop master-apprenticeship model and other forms of peer to peer support
  • to explore informal learning opportunities in-world

My building and scripting skills are still very basic and although I haven’t needed more sophisticated skills for my lessons so far, I do want to improve them. 

My tree

I tweeted about this assignment on Twitter in the hope to find others to help me brainstorm what kind of tree to build. Carol Rainbow replied and had some good suggestions. In the end, I decided to make an ice tree fitting the season 🙂 What I knew from the beginning is that I wanted to make my tree do something and not just a tree to be looked at. Again, because of the season and because of the ice tree, I decided it should recite a snow poem. It would be the first time for me to create the necessary sound files to upload to Second Life.

I started building some crystals for “leaves” and was looking for a tree trunk that I could use. I wanted to change the texture to something that looked icy. Then, Carol joined me and she found a leafless, snow-covered tree in her inventory which was luckily modifiable and transferrable. I made several copies in different sizes of my crystal and attached them to the branches of the tree. I also added a snow emitter so that it snows.
Blue singing tree
Meanwhile, I had given up on finding a good snow poem and decided it should be a winter song instead but I didn’t know how to overcome the 10-second limit (sound files uploaded to SL need to be under 10 seconds). I don’t have the rights to stream sound on the MUVEnation sim. Carol made my day by telling me about Psyke’s Music script that connects 9-second long sound files to a continuous sound. I was thrilled not only because this solved my song problem but also because this would be extremely useful for creating objects for my language lessons. I found a free version of my song, a very popular German song about a snow flake, Schneeflöckchen.

The only drawback that the script has is that all the sound files need to be exactly 9 seconds long. I’m sure there is an easy (automatic) way of splitting a longer sound file into 9-second bits but I haven’t worked much with sound files, yet so that this took me ages. I uploaded my six 9-second sound files and dragged them onto my tree together with the script. Carol also showed me what to do to have the cursor turn into a hand indicating that this object does something when clicked on (write “Touch to play music” into the description field of the object in edit mode). So, now, I had an ice tree that snowed and played a song when clicked on 🙂 Thank you for all your help, Carol!

Some days later, I felt like I didn’t really build a tree and wanted to create a second version from scratch. I used the same ice crystal and coloured them. The script is the same, too.
Ice Tree
My main problem when building is that aligning objects takes me incredibly long although I use camera control to look at my object from all angles and zoom in on my objects. I know I can use the grid but that wouldn’t help with objects like my tree. Whenever I added a crystal and thought it was positioned correctly on a branch and I looked at it from another angle, I saw that it was not where it should be at all. Another issue with this tree is that the number of prims I used is very high, which is something that good builders always try to avoid. Therefore, I am looking forward to the master builder session on the MUVEnation island which will take place soon.

My trees and all the other trees built for this activity are located on the MUVEnation island (temporarily). 

 

Jan 01

7 facts about me

I’d been reading about “7 things” and “7 memes” on Twitter but hadn’t followed any of the links. Now that I’ve been tagged, too, by Cristina Costa, I’ve followed back some of the links to find out what this was all about. It’s a kind of “getting to know people in my network better game” or “give people a chance to talk about themselves” 🙂 Here are the rules:

  • Link your original tagger(s), and list these rules on your blog.
  • Share seven facts about yourself in the post – some random, some weird.
  • Tag seven people at the end of your post by leaving their names and the links to their blogs.
  • Let them know they’ve been tagged by leaving a comment on their blogs and/or Twitter.

So, here I go:

  1. Besides for one year as a photography apprentice in 1987, I’ve never had a boss. I’ve been self-employed since I was 22. My first business was a digital imaging business that I co-founded, with a photo studio and lots of the latest digital technology like Barco monitors, High-End scanners, graphic tablets and several Macs. I was very good with Photoshop. Unfortunately, I don’t have Photoshop anymore and would have to learn how to use the latest version all over again.
  2. I love outdoor photography. So, when I was travelling or on weekends, you could see me with a huge photo backpack with my Pentax 645, several lenses and tripod often crawling on the ground trying to “shoot” some butterflies, spiders or other bugs 🙂 I’ve given away my Pentax as it was quite an expensive hobby having the role films developed, etc. I am planning to buy a new equipment but this time something smaller and more practical and of course digital.
  3. In 2002, I read an ad in an online newspaper that an organisation was looking for volunteer teachers to teach Afghan refugee women in a border city in Pakistan. I’m a bit adventurous and really did want to talk with refugees from Afghanistan to learn first hand about what had been really going on in Afghanistan (I’m extremely sceptical of the media and official government news). So, I immediately replied and was accepted as English teacher. To my dismay, I got terribly ill in the first week I was there and I had to return home. The good thing was I could fly back first class and had a one-day stopover in Dubai. 
  4. Three years ago, I went to Hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage to Makkah. I made the decision to reduce communication with the “outside” world to a minimum because for once I wanted to concentrate on one thing and wanted a real break from “normal life”. I used my mobile phone only to let my people know I was safe. I didn’t watch TV and I didn’t search for an Internet café. I didn’t take a single camera with me as I wanted to experience everything first hand and not through a lens. It was the most amazing three weeks of my life and I haven’t been quite the same person after that. I could have stayed there for the rest of my life 🙂 Well, a couple of weeks longer 😉 And they did have Pizza Hut right across the street…
  5. A short one: I dislike shopping for clothes or food but I could camp all night in an Apple Store 🙂
  6. My first experience with a computer was with an Amiga. It had to be booted from a floppy disc. Right! But it did already have a desktop with icons for folders, trash can, etc. so I didn’t have to learn any command lines. This was in 1992 when some of you probably were already computer and Internet veterans. I remember I would accidentally hit the return key when practising writing in a word processor and wouldn’t know how to go back. But I’ve learned it, didn’t I? 😉
  7. I once gave part of a Sunday sermon in a Protestant church in Germany. This was quite daring for both sides and, as you can imagine, not everybody approved of it but the congregation liked it.

So, who am I going to tag now? Minhaaj, Frank, Carol Rainbow, Seth Dickens, Margarita Perez, Andreas Auwärter, Nelba Quintana.

All the best for 2009.

Dec 23

Communication and interaction tools

muvenation logo

What is the task?

Activity 6 of session 3 asks us

  • To collect, describe and comment on a number of tools that are suitable for teaching and learning in Second Life based upon a chosen theme
  • To design an experience-based, interactive and playful activity for a teacher to discover these tools in Second Life, such as creating a tour guide.

The themes are

  • Delivery of learning material
  • Communication and interaction
  • Cooperation
  • Creation of content
  • Individualisation of learning paths
  • Assessment, feedback and tracking
  • Self-organisation and group-organisation
  • Reflection and meta cognition

I decided to join colleagues to collaborate on finding tools (in the broadest sense) that help teachers to manage social interaction and communication with their learners. As I mentioned in a previous post, effective communication can be a challenge in SL for many reasons but is  very important and can decide about the success or failure of a session or even a course. 

Which tools are essential?

There are tens of communication tools and facilities in SL. We have selected only a few for this activity. The three I added to the book are the following:

1. Avatar Scanner (also often referred to as “chat range alarm”): Many avatars are not aware that what they say can only be heard within a certain distance and even if they know it is difficult to judge when one is outside the range. This can lead to communication breakdown and misunderstandings. An teacher or participant of a meeting might wonder why nobody or not all are following the conversation or instructions not realising that they are out of chat range. One solution that has been suggested to me in the comments of another post is using a kind of visual circle but that is limited to one place. This is good when the teacher or moderator wants to create spaces for group work or discussion. Another solution is a HUD that avatars can wear and take with them where ever they go. This Avatar Scanner HUD is user friendly, small and available for free. 
Avatar Scanner HUD

2. Another very common issue in meetings with a lot of avatars is the flow of conversation. Often many conversation threads and topics are interwoven and it becomes difficult to follow the conversation. Therefore, in some instances the moderator might want to control the stream of conversation. There are several tools available but some are too rigid and others too expensive. The Meeting control lights tool gives more control to both the moderator and the speakers and is more transparent (e. g. everybody can see whose next). 
Meeting Control Lights Tags SecondLife DaffodilFargis tools Muvenation mvn08

3. Static lessons are not good in Real Life but even less suitable for SL. With the Opinionator, lessons and meetings can be much more interactive and fun. Instead of simply replying in text or voice to discussion questions, participants can use the Opinionator, which is a 3D Likert Scale social graphing tool that collates votes. When a question is asked, avatars walk into the different sections of the opinionator to show their vote or opinion. The total number of avatars and the percentage is calculated and shown immediately. Great before or after discussions. Very interactive and good for visual and kinaesthetic learners.
Edu Tools - Opinionator

The rest of our list is here (work in progress). If you think we missed a good tool, especially if it is a free or reasonably-priced one, let me know.

How will we present them?

Book about SL toolsBook about SL tools
We discussed two options to present our tools, a tour HUD or a book. Personally, I did not like the free tour HUDs that were available. The text field and the font itself was too small and I have tools which are not available in an in-world shop but only online and the HUDs we have do not provide URLs.

I finally found a book that can also be worn as a HUD. I provided the Slurls and URLs in shortened form and we added a notecard with the Landmarks and a notecard giver script to the book. 

What can go wrong?

The problem with such a HUD tour and even the book is that tools, shops or other educational places and facilities can be moved to other locations or disappear completely. Only recently, one of the participants in our group has created a tour which includes Boracay, an educational island. However, two days later, the island was dismantled and will soon cease to exist completely after having been there for over two years. This is probably something we have to get used to although it is very sad to see such work disappear. Some tour or guide objects that provide lists of educational places take this into account and update their lists regularly. One such tool is the free Squirrel notebook which is available for free here.

Where?

Here is the Slurl to the location where you can get a copy of our book and the tool collections of the other groups are nearby, too. The exhibition is only temporary so visit it soon.

Dec 20

Thanks to the SLexperiments group

While this blog is about my personal Second Life teaching experiences, explorations and experiments, there is also a SLexperiments language teachers group, which I founded together with two wonderful colleagues of mine, Alicia Barbitta and Maru del Campo. We started to meet regularly in Second Life to help each other learn SL skills, share our resources and discuss language teaching and learning in Second Life.

While there are many educator groups in Second Life, the SLexperiments group focuses specifically on language teaching and learning. This has attracted many language teachers and also some teacher trainers, scripters and researchers. We have grown to over 80 members and have met regularly every Friday at 11am SLT since spring 2008. 

We have had many good discussions, helped each other acquire SL skills, gone on field trips and shared many tools and resources in-world and on our wiki.

SLexperiments 19 Dec 2008_005

I want to thank Alicia, Maru, Carol, Dennis, Steve, Gavin, Daf, Nelba, Graham, Ismail, James, Michael, Birgit, Minhaaj, David, Nellie, Vance and all the other members, regular and irregular participants for making the SLexperimens meetings such a pleasurable experience where we not only learned a lot together but also socialised and had lots of fun. You have all made my Second Life richer and I have learned a lot from and with you.

I wish you wonderful holidays and hope to see you all again next year.

SLexperiments 19 Dec 2008_001