Nov 09

First Steps in Second Life

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My avatar

I remember that I was horrified at what I looked like when I came into being in Second Life. At that time, Linden Lab(s) didn’t have such a choice of avatars right from the beginning. However, I was still very happy that I was at least wearing clothes. A significant number of avatars seemed to be “born” naked into SL. My clothes, consisted of an ugly pair of jeans and a block-striped red-and-white sweater — the only choice if I didn’t want to look half-naked. Obviously, the first thing I did was to try and change my appearance. With no money at all, and no idea at that time that there were freebie stores, my choices were limited to the “Appearance” menu. But whatever I tried, I remained ugly . Consequently, no pictures of me from that time exist 🙂

My identity

Interesting for me is, how I identified with my avatar from the start and wanted it to represent me and had chosen a name related to my real life name. That was why I was really unhappy about what “I” looked like. I am also a very visual person and learner and trained and worked as a photographer so visuals are important to me.

Orientation Island

I like to figure out things on my own and had been using all kinds computer software and the Internet for quite some time plus I found the Orientation Island and the people I met there boring. I was also extremely curious about the places in SL. So, I ventured into my new Second Life skipping most of the tutorials. Only later did I realise that this had not been a good idea. There was just too much to learn and the trial and error approach was taking too long.

The next paragraph is a quote from my other blog of June 20, 2008

I have to say, I was rather disappointed because of the poor graphics, the empty places and the steep learning curve. I had also no idea how to find those educational places. Most places I managed to find were deserted. The first conversations I had with “residents” were also not very promising.

It took a couple of months for me to give it another try. I learned how to move around watching some Second Life tutorials. And after attending a live guided demonstration during a six-week EVO BAW08 course, I finally started to understand its significance for education. I was intrigued by the possibilities it offered for distance and language learning.

I started to collect teaching tools and to learn more basic SL skills. An online teacher friend from Mexico, Maru suggested to meet once a week to learn and share our experiences. This was a great motivator for me. Shortly afterwards, we were joined by Alicia, a teacher friend from Uruguay.

Motivating: Learning with a group

As I mentioned in my blog post above, having a group to learn together with was extremely motivating for me. Now, I was eager to learn more in order to have something to share with the others. I attended many events, conferences, talks and workshops, met many interesting people and had a growing list of friends that I could ask for help or simply socialise with.

SL Jeremy Harmer Talk 30 March 2008_006

Jeremy Harmer’s first presentation in Second Life

SL Storytelling presentation 16 May 2008_003

SL Casablanca 20 March_002

Virtual Morocco – a University project

SL Daffodil in Central Park Dreamland 29 July 2008_001

Daffodil contemplating her findings.

Second Life Friends and a my first “home”

By now, I had also met some generous people who had given me some decent clothes and even a small place of my own where I could set my “home” button to. I was looking more acceptable now (at least to myself) and I wasn’t bumping into walls that much any longer 🙂

SL Launchroom new 16 July 2008_003

My first “home” base.

SL beginners need guidance

Thinking back to my experience, the frustration and loneliness I felt and the hours spent on searching places of interest, I always accompany my friends that I introduce to Second Life right from the signing-up process to the first hour in SL. I help them through Orientation Island, show them other OI they can go to when they want to learn a news skill and we go shopping for the first freebies. Of course, they add me as a friend, and I explain how they can contact me in-world to ask for help.

Important step forward: specialised Orientation

I think one important step forward are specialised sign-up pages and Orientation stations for specific groups like ISTE for teachers, preferably staffed with life tutors or guides. When I recommend SL to educators or business people, I do not give them the general secondlife.com link but the one for educators and business people where there are more appropriate pictures and descriptions of SL..

A side note: While doing this MUVEnation task, I learned how to send snapshots from SL directly to flickr .

Nov 08

MUVEnation Pree-week 1 activities

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Getting to know each other and familiarising ourselves with the tools

It’s been only ten days into the MUVEnation course but a community is forming and Moodle and Pbwiki are buzzing with activity. More than double the intended number of participants have been accepted but the coordinators expect a lot of lurkers, participants who enrolled but do not want or cannot participate fully but will rather observe from the sidelines and maybe participate in the forums, now and then.

The course is about virtual worlds but we will be using many different Web 2.0 tools for collaboration (Moodle, wiki, Second Life), communication (Moodle, wiki, Twitter, Second Life group notices/IM) and aggregation (Netvibes, Flickr, Twitter, muvenation blog). I am very happy that I have used all of these tools at some point and use many of them regularly. If not, I would feel completely overwhelmed by having to learn how to use Second Life plus all these tools. I believe this is the case for many participants and I can just imagine how they must be feeling at the moment. But, I know from my own experience when I started learning about web 2.0 tools during the EVO 2008 session “Becoming a Webhead” that things will fall into their place slowly. 

As this is about peer-to-pear teaching, volunteers are needed to help with the various tasks. By volunteering to help feed all the participants’ blogs to the MUVEnation Twitter account, I had the change to use Twitterfeed for the first time and learned how to use it. So, already in pre-week 1, I learned how to use a new tool and I got to know many of the participants through the introductions and interactions in the Moodle forum.

 

Nov 08

Teachers on a field trip in Second Life

In spring 2008, two online friends and colleagues of mine and I have created a group calles SLexperiments for language teachers who want to or already teach in Second Life. The aim is to share our knowledge, demonstrate tools, invite guest speakers, go on field trips and, of course, also socialise 🙂

We have been meeting every Friday since April 2008 and have over 70 members now, from total newbies to experts.

Here is a machinima (a video made in a virtual world) from our last meeting in which Dennis Newson, one of our early members, has taken us on a field trip to an educational island, Boracay, created by Nick Noakes. The machinima was produced by Calisto Encinal (SL name). Enjoy! 

 

Oct 30

Learning anecdotes

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This is part of my pre-week1 homework in the MUVEnation course. Well, it is more a kind of self-assessment. I think it is a brilliant idea to have participants answer these questions reflecting on their own experience rather than answering a set of survey questions, of which the tutors say that “they are like sledgehammers, they smash as much as they reveal”.

So, here are my replies:

A. I am your friend. I don’t work in education. You are talking to me about the idea that we all learn from each other, in all kinds of contexts, and that this can often be richer than more formal classroom based learning. I am sceptical. Tell me about an informal learning experience you have had online in which collaboration was involved, show me a concrete example to help me to see what you mean.

Have you heard of Twitter? This is a messaging tool with which you can tell your friends or colleagues who follow what your are doing. „What does this have to do with learning“, I hear you saying. Well, I wouldn‘t be in this course, had an online colleague on Twitter not sent a tweet to me about it. Sometimes, we tweet about lives trivialities but more than that there are gems of knowledge flowing through my Twitter client: links to articles, blog posts, information about new web 2.0 tools, announcement of courses, events and conference and short informative comments of colleagues, experts in their field, anybody you care to follow. I‘ve learned so much through Twitter. It is a bit like a filter for me. All the people I have chosen to follow, filter the web for me and provide me with the relevant bits, saving me time.

Did I tell you, that I am a Webhead? Webheads are a community of practice that mainly consists of  of language teachers who like to explore new educational tools like web 2.0 services and share their knowledge. We meet at many places asynchronously and synchronously. One of the regular meetings takes place at TappeIn.org every Sunday for the past ten years! These meetings are for socializing, which is important for communities of practise but there is also always a lot that I learn from my colleagues from all over the world when we talk about our current projects, share links to resources, talk about new developments and inform each other about events that are taking place. If I have a question about tools or my teaching practice, I can almost be sure to find someone who provides me with the answer. The best thing about informal learning like this is that it‘s so much fun that it doesn‘t feel like learning. Learning happens incidentally. 

Well, and there is Second Life. There is so much cooperative informal learning going on but let me give you one example. When I first signed up for Second Life and tried to learn to use it, I was so lonely, bored and then frustrated because it was so difficult to figure out how things worked and I started asking myself ”how on earth is this supposed to help learning and teaching languages?“. Later, I found one then two colleagues who were also interested in learning how to use SL for language teaching. We created a wiki to collect resources and, most importantly, started meeting regularly in SL to explore it and learn together. We called this ”SLexperiments“. Now we are well over 70 teachers and I enjoy our Friday meetings tremendously. It is not only a great place to socialise and wind down after a long week but we also have a lot of fun teaching each other and testing new tools. 

I can see the skeptical expression on your face is changing into astonishment and excitement 🙂 Welcome to 21st century learning!

B. We all explore new technologies, some grab our attention more than others, some seem revolutionary, others simply bore us. Tell us about that new tool, or set of tools, you have just discovered that really excites you, talk about the potential it has to change your work. What do you want to do with it?

I‘ve learned so much about web 2.0 tools and every day new tools appear. There is, however, one that I decided it‘s worth to pay for to have the Pro version: Voicethread. I use Voicethread for asynchronous discussions, studetns‘s introduction and speaking practice homework, often in combination with Second Life as the synchronous tool. What I love about it is that is very easy to use even for non-tech savvy students, that it looks good and, most importantly, that students can record and re-record themselves until they are happy with the result, so it is less scary. It can be used in so many ways for almost any subject. Just browse through and look at some examples. It allows students and teachers to be creative and have fun and as we know these are important factors in effective learning. What I often do is to give student the choice whether they want to submit their homework in written or oral form (Voicethread). Thus, students can practise what they need most. This helps me to make my lesson and the homework more relevant and student-centered.

I have to mention Second Life here, too. It‘s the one tool that I have been exploring most intensively lately. After my trial course with a group of international students last summer, I fully understood its educational value. It is immersive, collaborative and because of its game-like character so much fun that teaching and learning (according to my students) is a pleasure. I see its potential for project work (e.g. collaborative building and creating objects) and a great place to compensate for those language students who do not have the possibility to study and live abroad. I can, for example, set homework to interview other residents about the topic we‘ve been talking about in class. I can go on field trips with my students and we can do role-plays in suitable locations (restaurants, hotels, bank, etc.) just to name some of the endless possibilities.

 

C. Do you see yourself as a pioneer? Do you think you are more innovative than others in your organisation? Do you think your organisation is lagging behind? Tell us how you feel about this?

Yes, I like experimenting and finding more effective and fun ways to teach and learn. This is partly because I have always liked and used technology and partly because I didn‘t like school and found it a boring place most of the time (except for the breaks) and want to provide my students with a more pleasurable learning experience. Gladly, I do not work for an institution and am, therefore, not hold back by a boss or regulations. I am in the lucky position to be able to decide on my own and together with my individual students what tools we want to use according to their needs and wants.  

Oct 27

MUVEnation – postgraduate course in ‘Teaching and learning with MUVEs’

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I was very happy today when I was informed that I have been accepted to the MUVEnation course ‘Teaching and learning with MUVEs’ (Massively Multi User Virtual Environments). It is a 1-year postgraduate online certificate course funded by the EU. Here is how MUVEnation describes the course:

MUVEnation will help teachers acquire the necessary competencies to integrate massively multi-user virtual environments (MUVEs) into their teaching practice ; by exploring the links between : virtual worlds, learning and motivation, active learning and pedagogical approaches that include socio-constructivism, situated learning, project based learning, learning by doing, game based learning, simulations and role-playing.

I am looking very much forward to the course and will share what I learn with my colleagues in the SLexperiments group, in the EVO2009 session that I will co-moderate next year and with everybody else through my reflections that I will be posting here.

Special thanks to Cristina Costa, who informed me about the course.

 

Oct 25

Co-moderating EVO2009 “Virtual Worlds & Language Learning”

I will be co-moderating the EVO2009 “Virtual Worlds & Language Teaching session with Graham Stanley and Nick Noakes. The EVO2009 sessions are free 6-week online teacher development sessions for language teachers.

In 2005 and 2008, I was a participant in two EVO sessions myself. The fist one was a Moodle session and at the beginning of this year I participated in the BaW08 (Becoming a Webhead) session. The sessions have always been a lot of work but also fun. Moderators and participants were all very friendly and there was a warm, welcoming atmosphere which was very conducive to learning. 

This year, participating as a moderator, I hope to be able to give the same warmth and create the same atmosphere for our participants. I am very happy to be in a moderator team with such experienced and generous colleagues like Graham and Nick.

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.