Jul 07

What’s this all about?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.