Jul 15

Tip 6 – Keep lesson plans flexible

Keep your lesson plans flexible! I know this is something we have to do in Real Life, too. It is even more important in SL because more unexpected things happen and there are often technical issues that cost time. In general, you have less control of the class and the environment than in RL.

However, this does not mean this is something negative or a disadvantage to RL classes. To the contrary, if you are flexible and keep your lessons flexible and if you are confident enough as a teacher and SL resident, the uncertainties can make the teaching and learning events in SL much more authentic and fun. The outcome might be different from what you had planned but as long as learning takes place and we keep relaxed about not having all the control, everything is just fine.

When planning flexibility  into your lessons always keep in mind what your main aim(s) or objective(s) for this lesson are. So that when you have to leave out a stage it is not one that was important for the main objective(s). If you don’t think in advance about what you could leave out, shorten or change, what often happens it that there is no time left for the last stages, which might be more important than some of the previous ones. 

Jul 15

Course 1 – Lesson 2

Direct link to lesson plan

Technical issues

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

Adept lesson plan

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

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

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

What else wasn’t so good

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

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

What went well

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

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

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

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

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

Nationality of students:

Turkish, Egyptian, Qatari, Saudi Arabian, Indian

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

Conclusion

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

Update, 17 July 2008

Student feedback

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

Jul 15

Tip 5 – All class members and teacher are friends

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

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

Jul 15

Tip 4 – Create a group for each of your classes

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

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

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

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

Jul 15

Tip 3 – Sound check

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

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

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

Jul 15

Tip 2 – Plan in more time for activities

A general rule:

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

Jul 15

Tip 1 – No class shouting in voice

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

Good alternatives:

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

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

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

Jul 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 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 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.