Feb 08

So, what’s the added value of SL for ELT?

This question (in a more general form; not related to ELT) crops up every now and then on the various Second Life educational or research lists or other SL education platforms and among among individual teachers. Often it is a question asked by teachers who are not in SL and want an answer to this before they decide whether it’s worth spending their time on SL or virtual worlds. But SL-/virtual world-experienced teachers are also asking themselves this question and rightly so.

The same question was asked by Wlodekzimierz Sobkowiak during the EVO Virtual Worlds and Language Teaching session and generated quite a lot of discussion (you can find a collation of all contributions here) and again in our EVO session Teaching Languages in a Virtual World this year.

I’m not going to attempt to answer it in this post. Firstly, I should actually be working on something else rather than writing a blog post … and secondly, in this form, this question cannot be answered in my opinion.

I have read through the discussion several times and there was always this feeling that everybody was talking about a different aspect of SL relating to their own context but without really saying it. This made it impossible to come to terms with the seemingly simple question. After all, if we have been spending so much time in SL, there must be something that we find is worth our time and energy, right?

One statement or question related to the one above that I keep hearing is “why use SL if we replicate real life activities?” And usually there seems to be agreement among many educators that this certainly isn’t the best use of SL. But I kept asking myself “for whom”?

I believe that what has been missing in all of these discussions is the context.

Before we can answer this question about “added value”, we have to know the context in which someone (teacher, learner, …) wants to use Second Life or any other virtual world (or any technology for that matter). Two such contexts (and there are many others) are the mode of delivery of a course and the location of the students:

a) face-to-face class
b) distance
c) face-to-face and in a country where the target language is spoken
d) face-to-face but in a country where the target language is not spoken
e) …

If the context is b) for example, you can justify using SL to replicate situations and activities that you would do in a face-to-face class because in such a situation, SL serves as a means to close the spacial distance between the learners and the teacher (compared to web-conferening and similar tools). The teacher and learners can be in one place and actually do things together (e.g. field trips). It is not (exclusively) used to add anything to the methodology. Though hopefully this would follow.

If you teach English in let’s say the US or UK and your students have paid a lot of money to be there and to immerse themselves in the language and culture, you better have some very good reasons to take them to SL. I’m not saying that there aren’t any but these would certainly not be the same as for situation b).

So, we cannot automatically dismiss activities as being too traditional or too real-life like (and thus less appropriate for a virtual world) without having a clear idea of the situation and the aims of a particular group of students and their teacher.

Jan 30

Virtual “Makkah” and Al Andalus in Second Life

We are in week 3 of our Teaching Languages in a Virtual World seesion, which is all about real life places in Second Life and how these can be exploited for learning or practising languages or teaching them.


We started out in what I call Virtual “Makkah”, which has a replica of Masjid Al-Haram including the Ka’bah, the most sacred place on earth for Muslims. I explained the objectives for this place in SL, which in short are:

  • Hajj training for Muslims (non-Muslims always welcome to participate)
  • Providing information for Muslims and non-Muslims about Islam
  • Interfaith and inter-cultural events (e.g. the Ramadan events, discussions, lectures)
  • Lessons (English, Arabic,…)
  • Meeting place for Muslims and non-Muslims

Here is the recording of the tour:

Tour of Virtual “Makkah” in Second Life from NergizK on Vimeo.

This is one of the educational places in SL, which really uses the strength of a 3D virtual world. The alternatives would be to learn the hajj  rituals by reading a book with text and illustrations or by attending a presentation with a speaker showing slides. Here, those who want to learn about the hajj and how and when to do certain rituals, they have to actually do it, which is for most people much more memorable than simply reading or hearing or even watching a video about it.

Here are some pictures of the real Makkah.

Al Andalus

This is one of the mostbeautiful places I have come across in Second Life, a replica of the 13th century Alhambra in Spain. It has also a very vibrant intercultural, interfaith community. They are trying to bring back to life how it was when Christians, Jews and Muslims lived together in relative harmony. There is a church, a mosque and a synagogue, a market, and residential areas that can be rented. They also participate in intercultural or interfaith dialogues and organize events, some of which are educational (e.g. lectures) and some more entertaining (e.g. competition and games). It’s a great place if one wants to be part of a community.

Here you can take a Virtual Walking Tour of the real Alhambra in Al Andalus.

And here are some lovely photographs of the Alhambra.

And this is a video of a project by Dancing Ink Productions called Understanding Islam through Virtual Worlds which shows virtual “Makkah” and Al Andalus and provides some more information about the places.

Language Learning

Now, how can these places be used for language learning or teaching?

Learners, who want to practise their language skills and are interested in religion, history, intercultural events, etc. can join the communities, both of which are very active. The main language is English, but there are many Arabic and French speakers, too.

In a language course, students can prepare a tour for their peers and teacher. These can be short tours or longer ones prepared by a group of students. It can be extended to a project, where they have to collect information from different sources, interview people, compare the places to RL, etc. and then give a “presentation”, which in this case would be a tour of the place.

Different groups of learners from different countries and cultures can be brought together to show each other places related to their culture or country and discuss differences and similarities to foster understanding and practise language skills at the same time.

Over to you:
Do you have more ideas? Have you used real life places in SL for teaching or practising a language? Would you like to describe how you used it or would use it? Would you use it in a face-to-face class or only with distance learners? Why so?

Leave a comment, please.

Jan 25

It’s burning? What now?

A Second Life language lesson using a simulation

As part of the “Teaching Languages in a Virtual World” session, I gave a demo lesson using a kitchen fire simulations (this is a Swiss project and you can reed more about in English here und auf deutsch hier).

The following is a report on of this event including

– an outline of the lesson

– necessary preparations for the teacher

– video recordings of the discussion stage in the lesson

– video recordings of the discussion afterwards including teachers and language  learners.

This is a type of lessons that even teachers who are very new to Second Life and have little or no own resources can do.


– fire pits, logs to sit on, fire extinguisher (this is all optional)

– notecard with instructions (placed in firepit(s))

– story and questions for pre-task

Lesson outline

1. Pre-task – 20 – 30 min

Invite everybody to sit around the fire.

SL TLVW Kitchen fire 2010_005

Lead into the lesson by telling a person story:

I like sitting around an open fire and chatting with friends…

But, sometimes things can get out of control. As a kid I was told not to play with fire.  Unfortunately, I didn’t listen and one day, when I was alone, I decided to cook something. But then I got caught up in play and forgot about the food on the stove. There was lots of smoke billowing out of the open window and the neighbours called the fire brigade. Fortunately, they weren’t angry with me but happy that I was all right.

Then ask some of the following questions and encourage students to speak:

Have you ever experienced a fire? Would you like to tell us very briefly?

Have you ever had to extinguish fire? How did you do it? If you saw a fire, what would you do? How would you react? Would you try to extinguish it yourself or call the fire department?

Do you know of any dos and don’ts when trying to put off a fire?

2. Field trip to the simulation – 20 – 30 min

-> Click the firepit to get the notecard with instructions

-> Go through instructions, clarify questions.

Fieldtrip to a Kitchen Fire Simulation

Second Life is an immersive environment and is therefore, often used for simulations that would be too expensive, too dangerous or plain impossible in the physical world (also often called Real Life).

Today, you are going to visit and experience a simulation of a kitchen fire. You will be placed in a situation where a kitchen fire starts and will have to decide how to react. The simulation will show you what the result of your reaction would be and whether it was a good decision or not.

Once you arrive at the location, accept the notecard with instructions that you will be offered in the blue pop-up menu.

Do the simulation together with your partner or your group and decide together how to react. You can do it a 2nd or 3rd time to try out different options.

—-> Make sure you have all the ambient sounds turned up for the best experience (see snapshot)

Jul 24

A film-making project with language learners

In a previous post I have written about Project Based Learning in Second Life showing some examples and relating it to language learning. In this post, I would like to show a machinima project with English language learners. The course was run by Talkademy, a Second Life language school where I also teach at and the teacher was Andrew Standen-Raz. Andrew is a film-maker and English language teacher in Real Life. I think this project shows yet another way how Virtual Worlds can be used creatively for language learning and teaching.

What is machinima?
Machinima is a film-making technique within 3D virtual environments like Second Life. Read more about machinima here.

I saw the machinima at the Awards Ceremony, which was a live mixed-reality event (some, like me, in SL and students at the university). Students’ film was shown and then, they had to give a short presentation about the making of the film

I think it is amazing what the students produced during the course considering that they were complete Second Life newbies when they started the course. Also, Kudos to there English trainer, Andrew, who agreed to answer some questions about the course in an interview.

The machinima

1. Second Life Granny

2. The Murderer in You

3. The Slightly Different Camping Trip

4. The Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side

Making of the Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side

The Interview

Nergiz: Can you briefly describe the project and how long it lasted?
Andrew: The idea to use machinimas for teaching English was initially part of an online language programme developed by the founders of Talkademy, Gerhilde Meissl-Egghart & Klaus Hammermueller. I joined them after they had started their project, initially as a teacher. They had the technical expertise and background to build the Talkademy Environment in SL. When I saw the potential of SL through their work, I decided to offer my film experience to create the “i film academy” concept: taking students sometimes with zero film knowledge step by step through all the steps to make a Machinima–a short film concept combining “Machine & Cinema”–and using the fun part of making a film to motivate students to improve their language skills. The project has been going now for one trial 10 week session as part of an Austrian University Business English programme. The idea now is to develop the concept further by promoting it as a way to connect teachers and students via the internet. Across the EU initially, then further afield via a simple programme that helps students to improve their language skills, to connect to others and to develop cross-cultural communication, something that is quite important these days!

Nergiz: Very interesting concept.That partly answers my next question: Did you have any previous knowledge about film making and was that necessary? Did you read up on this topic?
Andrew: Previous knowledge is always important, but one could also say that to be a good teacher requires the desire to help students improve themelves and to make the most of their own potential. Every teacher starts somewhere. I do have extensive film experience, as well as some good teaching experience, and both were necessary to begin the i film academy concept. I wrote the i film programme based on my film production experience, with valuable input, editing and technical support from Gerhilde and Klaus. and combined this with my experiences of teaching language through drama techniques as a model for how to interract with the students.

Nergiz: So you had experience in both fields. Did you see yourself more in the language teacher role in this project or more as someone who teaches the students how to produce a film or both?
Andrew: Good question. Making films is of course fun and creative, but it is also very hard work. The i film academy course is designed primarily as a language course and I always had to keep that in mind, especially when setting homework or grading the students on their assignments. The students were attending my classes as part of a Business English course. So it was easy to explain the process of making a film through business terms, ie. writing a good script is like developing a business plan. And from there it was not so hard to grade the students based on their ability to use complex language, to improve through the course, and on how they used language to communicate effectively with each other and with their teacher while making a motivational project such as the Machinima.

Nergiz: What was the students background? Was this course part of their curriculum or optional? And was this a face-to-face class or distance?
Andrew: The students were offered this class as part of their business English course. The project was always designed to be via SL. This is why it interested me. Initially someone might ask how can one possibly teach filmmaking solely through an online portal? But when you see how it is possible for someone in Portugal for instance to teach three students in Belgium how to use simple capture camera and edting technology, then you see how amazing SL can be when used for something postive and productive.
Nergiz: I agree.
Andrew: I never met the students. We only communicated in class in SL or via email when I sent them extra instructions or motvational information

Nergiz: Obviously, they had to do a lot of the work outside class. What kind of tasks did you do with them in the synchronous sessions and what was done outside class time? Did you do any language work with them?
Andrew: The most important two steps were: first to work with them in class on understanding what it is to make a film, what is involved and how serious the students had to take the process. Making a film is not just fun. And the idea was of course to encourage them to always view this as an English lesson as well, so we decided to include some basic Business English phrase learning, and to impress on the students that their use of language would be assessed for improvement through the course. The work in the class was sometimes learning fun drama techniques, such as acting short comedy skits to each other, or I had the students present their latest storyboards or scripts and the other students commented on them. This allowed the students to get comfortable speaking and discussing interesting topics and complex issues in English. Outside the class was only for additional advice via email.

Nergiz: Did you give any specific language feedback after these discussion/drama sessions?
Andrew: Gerhilde, Klaus and I had a lot of intense discussions when planning the course, to try to make a balance between classical language teaching and the non-traditional techniques. The consensus was that this was more of a “training” course, geared toward encouraging the students to get more comfortable writing, speaking and developing concepts in a foreign language. The feedback I gave the students was in small part correcting their use of language, but a larger part encouraging their efforts without using grading in a de-motivational way.

Nergiz: So, would you say this was a general English or an ESP class?
Andrew: I would say this class is something different again–the course I taught was an aditional part of the traditional language course curriculum. So this course functions best when used as an “add-on.” It could not entirely replace a standard English course.

Nergiz: Now, to you 🙂 What did you enjoy most during this course?
Andrew: that is an interesting question! I love teaching, even difficult students
Nergiz: I think it is important that teachers enjoy themselves
Andrew: Absolutely. Like all teachers I have had “moments” when you struggle to remain calm, and to keep control and times when you despair that your students will ever understand that you are trying to help them to improve themselves. With this class, I had students who were already highly motivated, at university level. These students were hungry to learn and smart enough to learn the SL technology.
Nergiz: Sounds like a dream class 🙂
Andrew: There were times even these students despaired that their work load from other courses was too high to cope also with making a film, or that they could not manage something with the technical side of making machinimas, but we worked through it. My favourite part is always using the drama techniques. When you take student who have never performed in front of anyone, who are maybe shy, who think they are not creative, and then you see them surprising themselves when they improvise successfully, then you know it is all worth it.

Nergiz: I can imagine how satisfying that must be. Would you do a similar course again and if so, would you do things differently?
Andrew: Yes, I would certianly do the same course again. This was just the pilot class, so there are things we can improve. I constantly revised the class as we went along, with input from Gerhilde, and took on board the students input as well. That is very important. These days, you have to include the students in the process, not dictate to them.

Nergiz: Absolutely! What did the students think about the project?
Andrew: We do have feedback forms but we are still analyzing them. I do know this–after the class, a couple of students asked me if they could connect via facebook. So I guess that is a sign I did something right!

Nergiz: That certainly is! 🙂 What is your opinion about virtual worlds in language education?
Andrew: Hmmm, again an interesting question. The first time I saw SL, I thought, here is the future of social networking. Here you can actually see someone, and interract with them almost like in the real world, so a vast jump ahead from facebook etc. The main question about all of our uses of the internet is “do we use these tools like social networking for positive and productive purposes, or do we focus merely on junk?” What internet innovators like Gerhilde and Klaus have achieved with Talkademy is a means to use the virtual worlds of SL for the most useful way of all  — teaching.
Nergiz: I obviously agree.
Andrew: My input to then use these virtual worlds as backdrops for teaching film making is merely one more way that I hope to add some positive input into the internet.

Nergiz: Thank so much for answering my many questions! Do you have any other comments?
Andrew: Not really. I think your questions covered it. Hopefuly you can also join us more with Talkademy or the i film academy. I am sure you would have some great input.
Nergiz: Thanks! Well, this was very insightful. Thanks a lot for taking the time!
Andrew: You are welcome

Jul 21

EUROALL and CALICO in Second Life

EUROCALL and CALICO, or better Graham Davies and Randall Sadler (I prefer speaking about people rather than organization), have been very active in Second Life. They have joined headquarters in SL now and are working together on several projects one of which is collecting and making available resources for language teachers. Graham took the SLExperiments members on a tour of the HQ and showed us among other things the three holodecks.
Holodecks in Language Classes

Randall, who is the master builder :-), also showed me his most recent scene, a most beautiful tree house with lots of built-in goodies which are fun to explore.

Randall's new tree house

Graham kindly agreed to an interview to answer some of my questions which I hope are interesting to other language teachers as well.

Nergiz: Can you describe the EUROCALL/CALICO HQ, what kinds of resources are available there and who can use them?

Graham: EUROCALL set up its HQ building in 2007 with a view to advertising the existence of EUROCALL, holding small meetings and running training sessions for newcomers to Second Life. So far it has served these purposes well. The visitor log shows that many people drop in and pick up notecards providing information about EUROCALL, and we have used the facilities regularly for meetings. My colleague Lesley Shield and I ran the first training workshop for newcomers to Second Life at the EUROCALL 2008 conference in Hungary, and I will be running a similar workshop at the EUROCALL 2009 conference in Spain.

Currently the EUROCALL building has facilities for holding small meetings, with display screens for the presentation of PowerPoint slides and videos. There is also a Horizons holodeck rezzer on the roof. These facilities are available at no charge to anyone who wishes to use them.

The CALICO HQ was set up by Randall Sadler earlier this year, when a plot became vacant next door to the EUROCALL HQ. It was felt that having the two HQs side by side would be useful. We already collaborate closely as professional associations, so it makes sense to work together in SL. On the CALICO side of the sim, 1000 metres high in the sky, there is Resources centre, accessible by the internal teleport system, which contains a growing collection of free resources: clothes for newbies, landmarks of interesting locations, PowerPoint presenters, building resources, etc. There are two holodeck rezzers, both of which use the Horizons system. One is at ground level and one is located on the Skydeck, 2000 metres high in the sky and accessible via the internal teleport system. The holodecks contain a selection of off-the-shelf scenes and some new imaginative scenes built by Randall Sadler. The holodecks may be used freely by visitors.

Groovy Winkler and his dog

Nergiz: Can you say something about the new Virtual Worlds SIG?

Graham: Both EUROCALL and CALICO encourage the formation of SIGs dedicated to special aspects of Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL).

There are currently three EUROCALL SIGs: Computer Mediated Communication (CMC), CorpusCALL and Natural Language Processing (NLP). The NLP SIG collaborates closely with the CALICO Intelligent CALL (ICALL) SIG.

CALICO has six SIGS: Teacher Education, Second Language Acquisition and Technology (SLAT), Courseware, CMC, Virtual Worlds, ICALL (Intelligent CALL – which collaborates closely with the EUROCALL NLP SIG.

CALICO set up a Virtual Worlds Special Interest Group (VW SIG) in 2008, and Randall Sadler ran the first CALICO workshop for newcomers to Second Life at the CALICO 2008 conference. A wiki was set up for the 2008 workshop participants and another workshop, with accompanying wiki, took place at the CALICO 2009 conference.

At the EUROCALL Executive Committee meeting in March this year I proposed setting up a Virtual Worlds SIG to build on our activities in Second Life and to encourage more people to take an interest in the potential of using virtual worlds in language learning and teaching. Rather than setting up a completely new SIG, I suggested creating a joint SIG with CALICO. This was approved by the Committee, and the first outcome is the joint EUROCALL/CALICO HQ that you can see under development on EduNation III Island.

The joint VW SIG will be formerly launched at EUROCALL 2009, when we will hold our first face-to-face meeting to discuss the way ahead. We have no fixed plans in place yet and we are open to new ideas. Depending on the facilities available, we would also like to open up the meeting to online participants in SL. As with the other SIGs, only EUROCALL or CALICO members can join the VW SIG.

Nergiz: Where does your and Randall’s interest in holodecks come from?

Graham: I cannot speak for Randall but, as a Star Trek fan, I have been aware of the concept of a holodeck since the 1970s, i.e. a Star Trek holodeck is a virtual reality facility for the Starfleet crews and is used for recreation and entertainment purposes. It is capable of generating, for example, simulations of historical events, crew members’ homes back on earth, and facilities for training. And the Starfleet, of course, also used “transporters”, which work in a similar way to SL teleporters, instantly transporting crew members from one location to another.

My first personal acquaintance with a holodeck in SL was in April this year, when Randall set up a holodeck in the sky above his house in SL, using the Horizons system. The holodeck contained a lecture theatre in which he gave a presentation to participants in the EUROCALL CMC SIG conference in Spain. I was impressed by the ease with which a temporary scene could be set up for a special purpose and I immediately bought the Horizons system (L$500) for the EUROCALL HQ. The Horizons system came with a set of ready-made scenes, and in the meantime I have added a few additional scenes that I have purchased off the shelf. The rezzer is currently located on the roof of the HQ.

Holodecks in Language Classes

Nergiz: How would you like the holodecks to be used?

Graham: Holodecks make it easy to set up facilities for special teaching and training events, e.g. Randall’s lecture theatre that he used for his CMC SIG conference presentation in April 2009. One advantage of doing this is that the facility can be located a long way from ground level so that uninvited visitors do not stumble into it accidentally and it is also completely out of earshot from the ground. This is preferable, for example, to setting up such a facility at a ground-level location, e.g. in a public sandbox. There is already a wide range of holodeck scenes that can be used for teaching foreign languages, e.g. a hotel lobby or a restaurant in which students can act out different roles, and also shops and markets – something along the lines of the facilities that exist, for example, in dedicated sims such as the Ciudad Bonita SL sim for learners of Spanish and the LanguageLab sim. Having the scenes available as holodeck scenes means that they can be set up instantly in any location. Such scenes may, of course, be found in various locations in SL, but one has to look for them and they are usually public, meaning that anyone can walk in at any time, which may not be desirable in a teaching session. The Horizons system allows the scenes to be set up almost anywhere, including a public sandbox, either within the Horizons rezzer or independently – rather like the individual builds that can be created with the Builder’s Buddy, Rez-Foo or Rez-Faux packaging tools.

We welcome ideas for creating new scenes that can be made available through the EUROCALL/CALICO holodecks. It does, of course, take a bit of time to create new holodeck scenes, but we are prepared to share what we produce with other teachers. Randall is the expert builder. I have dabbled only with Builder’s Buddy, which I found very easy to use. It took me just one and a half hours to create a furnished log cabin, assembled from items in my inventory, and now I can share it with anyone who wants it. It would make a nice starter home for somebody!

Holodecks in Language Classes

Nergiz: The EUROCALL conference is in September in Spain but there is also a virtual strand. How can teachers participate from a distance?

Graham: The EUROCALL virtual strand made its debut at the EUROCALL 2006 conference in Granada. I was able to experience it at first-hand at a distance as I was recovering from major surgery at the time and unable to attend the “real” conference. The 2006 virtual strand consisted of a dedicated blog and wiki, with facilities for text chat and voice chat (which didn’t work very well at that time as it was still rather primitive). I enjoyed using the virtual strand. I watched all the plenary presentations in streaming video and I was very active in the blog. Since then, we have added new facilities, but we no longer use a wiki as this was not very popular at the 2006 conference and hardly used by participants. The 2009 blog has now been set up, and we will also be using CoveritLive and Twitter feeds.

The plenaries will be streamed this year, and there will be also be exclusive presentations online, along with selected podcasts. If you wish to participate in the full range of the virtual strand facilities there is a charge of 25 euros, but the blog and Twitter feeds are open to everybody. More information can be found here.

Nergiz: Do you have any other comments?

Graham: I would like to add that I find Second Life the most exciting development in new technologies for language teaching and learning that I have experienced since I first became interested in CALL in 1976. I have experienced a huge range of new technologies since the first microcomputers appeared at the end of the 1970s with black-and-white, text-only screens. I have witnessed the arrival of full-colour graphics, audio and video playback and recording, interactive videodiscs, CD-ROMs, DVDs, the World Wide Web, interactive whiteboards, Web 2.0, and now Second Life. See the History of CALL, Section 2 of Module 1.4 at the ICT4LT site.

All the new developments were exciting at the time, but virtual worlds have really got me hooked, both for educational and for entertainment purposes, and especially for making new friends all over the world. As teachers, we often overlook what is going on in other areas of activities in Second Life. As a cancer survivor, for example, I have discovered the excellent work that the American Cancer Society does in Second Life, providing support both for sufferers and carers and supporting the fund-raising Relay for Life initiative. I also enjoy going to live music performances, and I am trying to learn Spanish by visiting Spanish-speaking sims. Just look around. There is so much to see. I also have written a brief History of Virtual Worlds, which can be downloaded from here.

Personally, I was most intrigued by Graham’s “Virtual World History” which says that VWs have a long existence and started with text-based VWs back in the 70s!

Thank you very much Graham for taking the time to answer my questions!

Snapshots by Nina/Nagora

—> Link to all blog posts related to holodecks, Builder’s Buddy and language teaching ideas.

Jul 14

Summary of my SLTalk presentation

Last Thursday, I was invited by Andreas Mertens, SLTalk.de to give a presentation on Language Learning in Virtual Worlds to a very diverse audience of around 13 professionals in different fields (3 SLTalk staff, two SL/RL authors, vice director of a school, consultants, a further education office, a culture manager, mfg innovation, and others). The presentation was in German.

I started my presentation with the statement “Language learning in Second Life is possible” and asked my audience to show me their opinions (rather than say or type them) by walking into one of the 5 sections of the Opinonator ranging from strongly agree to strongly disagree. I was positively surprised to see everybody in either strongly agree or agree. So, I did not have to persuade anybody of the value of SL for language learning 🙂

I then asked the participants to collaboratively come up with answers to the question why language learning in SL is possible before showing them my slide. I was once again surprised and happy to see all the reasons they came up with:

  • visual context
  • every day situation
  • you can hear native speakers
  • immersion
  • compared to a physical classroom, you can show more situations/settings
  • group pressure similar to a class situation (I asked for clarification here: if you study with a group of people in SL instead of alone, there is a bit of positive group pressure that helps the learner to continue and stay motivated)
  • learning through experience
  • fun

After so much enthusiasm and ideas in favour of learning languages in SL, I almost hesitated to ask my next question: “Why might learning a language in SL be not a good idea?” My aim was to have the participants think about what needs to be considered when learning or teaching in SL rather than finding reasons not to use it. Here are their answers:

  • complicated to use
  • steep learning curve of SL
  • struggling to take SL seriously (for those who think it is a game)
  • you can’t see the speaker’s (teacher or learner) mouth – difficult to show how a word is pronounced
  • takes a lot of effort to learn to use SL (this person added: I know several people who would even have problems installing it).
  • needs a powerful PC
  • lesson preparation probably takes long
  • age restriction

This showed me that the participants were well aware of the possibilities as well as limitations of Second Life. At this point, I showed a mindmap with an overview of my presentation.

Because they had already mentioned most of the points about the “Why?”, I could quickly move to the second section, the “How?” showing some snapshots of my previous classes and some student feedback. This section was divided into formal and informal learning with many examples for both.

The third section was about the teacher and teacher development in SL. I mentioned SLExperiments, VWLL, official organisations like EUROCALL and CALICO, who have their joint HQ in SL, and EU-funded AVALON and Niflar projects.

My reason for using the Opinionator at the beginning was not only to make my presentation more interactive and SL-like but also to present some of the tools I use in my classes by using them during this presentation. Other tools I used or demonstrated were

  • a slide presenter and a pictureboard (both creaeted by Dudeney Ge aka Gavin Dudeney),
  • the prim pointer that can be positioned in front of any viewer to point at specific areas or information on a slide.
  • physical cubes with hover text that can be pushed on different field with categories that I made for a matching exercise in a Business English session (see picture below)
  • the BrainBoard
  • and, of course, a Builder’s Buddy scene ( I chose Anna’s Italian kitchen scene).

The participants asked questions and commented throughout the session and once they had stood up to use the Opinonator, most kept standing with me on the stage, which made it feel like we were all doing the presentation together rather then me speaking alone, which i quite enjoyed.

Special thanks to Tobias Würtz, SLTalk for providing the snapshots.

Jun 28

Holodeck or Builder’s Buddy Challenge

Many dismiss holodecks or Builder’s Buddy scenes (see my previous posts here and here) as tools for learning and teaching languages in Second Life thinking they are only good for role-plays (e.g. restaurant scene to practise ordering food). While I personally don’t like role-plays that much, they have their place in language teaching. However, when we started the Holodeck Challenge two months ago, we asked participants to be creative and literary think out of the box when creating scenes for language teaching and learning. And they did!! I am still amazed  what they have come up with — those who built scenes and participants who were at the final event and contributed with their ideas. The final event took place on Saturday, 28th July 2009.

Here are snapshots of some of the scenes and some ideas that have come up:

1. Mary Roussel’s gardens

Holodeck Challenge Final EventHolodeck Challenge Final Event

Mary added some free educational tools to her beautiful class spaces which can be used to brainstorm and write words collaboratively and to display notecards.

Her teaching idea:

Send students to a furnished building to collect furniture names. Then, they come back and write the words on the board, which can then be used to for further activities.

If I had been taught in such lovely class spaces, I might have liked school more.

2. Mary’s Venezuelan market

Holodeck Challenge Final Event

Teaching ideas:

  • Role-play different tourist/sales-person dialogues (not only for buying/selling souvenirs. Tourist could ask questions about the culture, city, life in Venezuela, etc).
  • Learn/teach the names of the objects in Spanish
  • Talk about Venezuela
  • Talk about markets and customs associated with them in different countries/cultures
  • Talk about traveling, holidays, souvenirs, shopping, etc.
  • Talk about handicraft, art, …

Mary created this Souvenir Market because there seems to be nothing about Venezuela in SL.

All participants loved this scene. It is such a lovely scene that it made me want to stay there longer and explore. It also made me want to say something. I wanted to express my feelings and ask questions about the place and objects. I think this is a very important point in language teaching. If emotions and feelings  are involved, then students do want express them and they will more readily seek and accept help to formulate what they want to say in the target  language.

3. Anna Begonina’s shop scenes

Holodeck Challenge Final Event
Holodeck Challenge Final EventHolodeck Chalenge Final Event

Anna teaches Italian in Second Life and always comes up with creative ideas. She said that although, there are a lot of shops in Second Life, shops and items are mostly named in English even in Italian places. Shops also often move or close so you can never really on using them again when you need them for a class. Also, most items in a shop cost money and are not modifiable. This is why Anna has created two different market/shop scenes in which the objects show typical Italian brands and the names of the objects are in Italian. They are modifiable so that objects can be moved, copied, renamed or retextured (e.g. for teachers who teach other languages).

Teaching ideas:

  • Teach/learn names of the objects in display
  • Practise shopping language and dialogues

4. Anna’s kitchen scene

Link to snapshot with kitchen scene

Teaching ideas:

  • Talking about how to cook pasta
  • Talking about Italian food
  • Learning vocabulary related to kitchen and cooking
  • Moving objects from one table to another (e.g. those that are needed for a certain recipe)

—> Check out Anna’s Italianiamo blog where, I am sure, she will post more ideas

5. Denni’s Dogme garden

Holodeck Challenge Final Event

Dennis has created a garden which can be used as a nice place to sit together and talk about anything that comes up in a language lesson. As it is as a Dome garden, he could obviously not give specific ideas or language points that would be taught there.

One thing that is special about his garden is that the some of the textures that he used (like the walls) are from Real Life, which would well be a starting point for discussions as well as the up-side-down trees, which he wanted to “correct” but we thought he should leave as they are 🙂

6. Carolrb Roux’s garden scenes

Holodeck Challenge Final Event

The first one is intended as a meeting space (above).

Link to snapshot of The Owl and the Pussy Cat garden.

The second one is The Owl and the Pussy Cat garden. It is a beautiful place to explore. There is music, hidden objects in the trees and the garden, a snake ladder game and many other things from the poem. Carol even recited the poem for us as a special treat because some of us didn’t know the poem.

Carol’s reading room with some books in notecard form, notecard giver and dropbox.

This is a nice room to sit together to read and talk about a book. It also makes a nice space for other kinds of meetings and discussions.

Carol also generously helped other participants to build their scenes and troubleshoot them during the two months which this challenge lasted.

Teaching ideas:

I don’t remember whether any were mentioned because I had some technical trouble at this stage but I can imagine the following:

  • Have students explore the garden and think what this could be about
  • If students had to memorize the poem, playing in the garden can help them remember the poem.  They can walk from place to place and recite the lines connected to the objects.
  • It can also be simply a fun activity after having worked with the poem as a kind of bonus or reward.

I’m sure Carol and others have more ideas.

7. Nahiram Yakubu’s flea market street scene

Holodeck Challenge Final Event
Nahiram has created this beautiful flea market scene.

Teaching ideas:

I missed most of this because I had to relog but one idea nahiram mentioned when I was back is the following:

Students take out objects from their inventory and set up there stand or area. Then, they can all walk around and explore the market, ask questions about the objects on sale and haggle over the prices of the objects. If students don’t have enough freebie objects in their inventory, they can either be given different boxes full of objects by the teacher or sent freebie shopping in SL first (depending on the available time). If two students have the same object, it could be interesting because they might have different prices and would have to justify why theirs is more expensive.

Of course, their could be an activity first to learn or review the names of the objects or this could come at the end and only if necessary.

8. Shawn’s maze

Another brilliant idea and very different way of using holodecks for language teaching purposes. Shawn has built this (and other scenes) with the Horizons holodeck.

Teaching idea:

Students work in pairs. One student sits on a chair that automatically lifts them up to a certain hight where they have a good bird’s eye view of the maze. The other student stand in front of the entrance of the maze and waits for instructions. The student on the chair gives directions to the student on the ground and guides him either to certain objects that are distributed in the maze or to the exit.

I can imagine adding extra fun to this activity by having them go to certain objects in the maze to interact with them (e.g. retrieve their content, get a copy) and then find the exit. Several teams could compete with each other using IM voice/text chat so that they wouldn’t be overheard by the other teams.

We have tried this activity with some colleagues and it generated a lot of speaking (giving instructions, clarifying, asking for help, providing help, vocabulary, different tenses and structures).

You can see more snapshots in the SLExperiments flickr pool.

There are some more ideas about how to use holodeck or Builder’s Buddy scenes in language lessons in my previous posts here and here.

We have also created a page in the SLExperiments wiki for the Holodeck scenes and ideas.

The Holodeck Challenge is over but this does not mean we don’t accept more scenes 🙂

I know that others wanted to create scenes but couldn’t do so out of lack of time. Maybe some have time during the summer holidays. If so, we are happy to see more scenes and ideas here or in the wiki.

We will find a place where we will deposit the created scenes and language teachers will be able to grab a copy. Whether the creators will offer them all for free to everybody is up to them. As soon as we have agreed on how to make them available, I will post it here.

If you are interested in Holodecks, you might also want to check out what EUROCALL and CALICO are up to at their HQ in Second Life. You can contact Groovy Winkler or Randall Renoir in SL or join one of their in-world groups for more information.

A big thanks to everybody!!!

—> Link to all blog posts related to holodecks, Builder’s Buddy and language teaching ideas.

Jun 28

BrainBoard: A collaborative writing and brainstorming tool

In one of my previous posts I tried to answer the question whether I missed any teaching tools in Second Life. Most teachers I know would like to have some kind of whiteboard that they or their students can write on. There are some tools that attempt to do that but they are too slow, too complicated or only the owner has the right to write something, they use too many prims or you have to prepare a notecard which is then displayed.

Second Life Tools - BrainBoard

Picture above: The BrainBoard

When I saw the BrainBoard (not to be confused with another great tool called Brain Board created by Gavin Dudeney, which you can buy in his educational tools shop inworld), I immediately knew it would become one of my favourite tools. It has some very neat features that make it a valuable tool in Second Life not only but especially for language teachers. In no particular order:

  1. It is collaborative. Trainers as well as students can use it.Trainer/Owner can switch between moderator mode (only trainer can write or move notes) or collaborative mode (everybody nearby can use it)
  2. Import and export text: Text (e. g. a list of phrases or other vocabulary items, topics, etc) can be prepared in advance and imported on the board. After a brainstorming or collaborative writing session, the text on the board can be exported easily to local chat, an email address or to a web database! (With a subscription to the BrainStore, users can save their board contents and load previous saved sessions with a click of a button to a hosted web database).
  3. Voting: In voting mode, students can vote on any of the notes on the board and the result is displayed immediately and are exported together with the text. Multiple votes on different notes are possible but not on the same note by the same person.
  4. Additional board: Should the main board get too crowded, a second board can be added with one click and notes can moved to this board.
  5. Notes (which can consist of single words or sentences or word lists up to 255 characters) can be moved very easily to sort them. They can even been moved between two boards. The colour of the notes and the text can be changed (e. g. to highlight groups of words or different categories)
  6. New notes can be added by anyone if set to collaborative mode and the note text can be changed.
  7. Set up in no time.

Some things to consider

1. Students do need some camera control skills. The board is quite large and it helps to know how to zoom in and out or pan up and down. I once used it with total newbies in their first session. I only used the lower half of the board so they didn’t have to use their camera controls and I added notes with words they brainstormed. In their second session, we arranged seats in such a position, that they could see all the text on the board without using camera controls. This time, the text was imported and they only had to move notes to match sentences halves.

2. Text is only readable from a near distance. This is because it is hovering text, which is intended only to be seen from a near distance. One can also zoom in if standing a bit further away. Hovering text has the advantage that unlike other types of text characters don’t add to the prim count and one can write more text.

3. The BrainBoard is not cheap and I would not buy it if I only intended to use it rarely but for language teachers and others who do a lot of writing, brainstorming or reviewing of vocabulary, etc. it is worth the investment in my opinion.

Watch the videos to see how the BrainBoard works. And here are some tutorial videos.

How can it be used in the language classroom?

  • Import vocabulary that they want to introduce in that session or review. Students can be asked to sort them into different categories or match pairs up.
  • Students can be asked to brainstorm topics, words they can think of related a certain topic, phrases, situations, etc. They can be given tasks after that.
  • Students can write stories collaboratively (idea by SLExperiments members)
  • Trainer can import jumbled up phrases/sentences or mini paragraphs of a letter or stories and students have to put them in the correct order.
  • Trainer can write language feedback of a speaking or writing activity up on the board. Students sort them in correct ones and those with mistakes in them. They might have to negotiate with their peers what is correct or contains a mistake. After they have reached consensus, they have to correct the mistakes (again negotiating and agreeing on a final version.
  • When recapping the lesson, students can be asked to write all the new words they learned in this lesson on the board. This can be extended to grammar points, cultural information, anything they learned or remember from the lesson. The teacher can then export the text and email it to the students or copy it to the class VLE. It could also be imported back to the board in the next session for a quick review.

What do other language teachers say?

I demonstrated the BrainBoard to some SLExperiments members and we tested it together. The reactions were mostly very positive and everybody was impressed by the features, especially the voting feature. Participants gave some valuable feedback and suggested some additional features which we passed on to the creator.

Can you think of other ways of using it the board in a language lesson?

Update, 13 December 2009

There is a new version of the BrainBoard available now, which has many improvements and some new features. Information about it including descriptions of the new functions, tutorials and how to buy can be found on the creator’s blog.

Jeff Lowe BrainBoard v2

You can find two more reviews of the brainboard here and here.

Apr 22

Holodecks and language learning

In my first post about holodecks, I mentioned some ideas how holodecks could be used for language learning. Meanwhile I had time to create a scene with the Horizons holodeck. In our last SLExperiments meeting, we sat in my holodeck living room I have created and brainstormed some ideas. Here is what we came up with (some ideas depend on the permissions settings which we still have to find out about):

  • Describe a scene students are in
  • Give a description of a scene to students (notecard?) and they build it in groups. Then, compare and talk about the differences
  • Students build scenes collaboratively (or alone), then describe why they built it that way, etc.
  • Instead of describing a scene, give students a description of a situation or a dialogue and have students build the scene which will then be used as to role-play the dialogue/situation.

Building scenes might sound difficult but the advantage of holodecks and the Builder’s Buddy script (see below) is that very basic building skills are sufficient. Students or teachers can use objects that are available as freebies (permissions need to be at least copy/modify) and don’t need to build anything from scratch.

A snapshot of my living room scene:

And here is a short video that shows how the scene is made to appear when needed:

A good alternative to commercial holodecks is the free Builder’s Buddy script. In my first post about holodecks, you can see pictures and watch a video of a scene that I created with the BB script. Should it turn out that it is not possible to build collaboratively with a commerical holodeck or the class has no money at all to invest in (a) holodeck(s), students can all be given the BB script.

Scenes like the living room or the worshop setting are not the only situation that you can use the BB script. Anything from complex building to simple creations (like in the following video) can be built.

When several prims that contain different scripts are linked only the scripts in the last object will be recognized. In such cases, instead of linking them, the BB script can be used

Another advantage of the BB script is that several scenes can be nested. If you are, for example, giving a presentation and you want to reveal  the “scene” step-by-step, this can be done relatively easily. The most important thing to remember here is to use different channels for the nested scenes.

—> Link to all blog posts related to holodecks, Builder’s Buddy and language teaching ideas.

Apr 11

Project Based Learning in Second Life

muvenation logoOne of our activities in module 2 of the MUVEnation course is to look at different learning or teaching approaches and finding out how they can be implemented in Second Life or in general in a virtual world. I have chosen Project Based Learning because I want to plan a project-based English language course in SL.

What is Project Based Learning?

There are many definitions but here is one from an Asian EFL Journal (underscores added by me):

Project-based language instruction is a flexible methodology allowing multiple skills to be developed in an integrated, meaningful, ongoing activity…. it isan instructional approach that contextualizes learning by presenting learners with problems to solve or products to develop” (Moss & Van Duzer, 1998, p. 2). Projects are generally thought of “as a long-term (several weeks) activity” (Beckett, 2002, p. 54) which are part of an instructional method which “promote[s] the simultaneous acquisition of language, content, and skills” (Beckett & Slater, 2005, p. 108). A major goal of project-based instruction is comprehensible output (Beckett, 2002), which generally occurs both during the project and as the final product of the project. Link to source

Why is it used?

PBL allows for a more learner-centred “teaching” and thus fosters learner autonomy. Because of this and If the tasks are real-life relevant, it can enhance student motivation and thus improve learning. PBL allows for deep thinking skills. Students also learn soft skills like team work, leading a team, managing a project and interpersonal communication. Combined with web 2.0 tools or 3D virtual worlds like Second Life, students also learn the technical skills which they need or will need in their professional lives. PBL is collaborative and can be interdisciplanary.

It is important that tasks are as authentic as possible and ill-defined (so that students can define the sub tasks necessary to successfully complete a task). The outcomes and perspectives should be varied. There is no one correct solution.

What are the challenges to bring PBL to virtual worlds?

  • teacher and learners need to have or learn the necessary SL skills
  • like in RL: time
  • time zones of learners?
  • technical requirements for computers (e. g. to run Second Life)
  • limits of a specific virtual world like prim count when building in SL (the number prims available for a task or on a parcel of land)

Some PBL examples from Second Life (mostly not directly language related)

1. The Theorist Project

Students at Montclair State University work in groups and add theory-specific content to rooms dedicated to certain theorists of psychology like Freud, Jung, Adler and Rogers with the guidance of their tutors Edina and Bob (responsible for content), AJ and Robert (building). Edina came up with this idea of creating an immersive experience in SL in lieu of group presentations for her group councelling class.

They cooperated with Athabasca University in Canada, who provided the Freud bot for this project (see below).

Students had no prior SL experience and were only given two classes, one to learn the basics like moving and camera controls plus 4 short videos (How to sign up, etc), the second about the project itself. They usually worked on campus in the computer lab.

According to Edina, the added values of using SL are:

  • interactivity
  • being in the learning envirinment
  • catering to different learner types
  • understanding and remembering (putting together the content for the rooms and interacting with them helped students understand and remember the theories better)
  • students can go through the caes in their own time/pace and as often as they want.

One of the “main attractions” on the SIM (= simulation = island in SL) is the replica of Sigmund Freud’s office and especially the Freud bot (a bot is an avatar controlled by a computer instead of a human). The Freudbod invites one to lie down and have a chat. Here is the SLURL.

Project-based learning in SL - The Theorist Project

Here is the transcript of the chat I had with the Freudbot 🙂
Freudbot Voom: Greetings, Daffodil Fargis.  Please have a seat on the couch if you would like to chat with me.
Freudbot Voom: Hello. My name is Sigmund Freud. What would you like to talk about?
Daffodil Fargis: About you
Freudbot Voom: I am Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis and a major proponent of the unconscious as a psychological force.
Daffodil Fargis: Interesting
Freudbot Voom: I started my career in 1886 as a neurologist in private practice and primarily treated cases of hysteria. I eventually developed my own techniques involving free association and dream analysis to uncover clues about the origin of psychological problems and ways of treating them.
Daffodil Fargis: Aha
Freudbot Voom: I lost my train of thought. Could you try saying that again but with more context.
Daffodil Fargis: I was saying that’s interesting. Can you tell me more?
Freudbot Voom: I am responsible for numerous concepts that are now well known both inside and outside of psychology. Some of these include: id, ego, and superego; life and death instincts; ego defense mechanisms; repression; psychosexual stages of development; and the Oedipal complex. My contributions to psychology include the first comprehensive theory of personality, new ways of dealing with mental disorders, expansion of psychology’s influence to other fields (e.g. religion, art, and literature), and synthesizing several disparate conceptions about human nature from the great minds in history (Leibniz, Goethe, Nietzsche, Fechner, Darwin, and Helmholtz) into a comprehensive theory.
Daffodil Fargis: Very impressive but still true?
Freudbot Voom: What do you think of the Oedipus Complex?
Daffodil Fargis: Hm, can’t say much about it. I’m a woman after all.
Freudbot Voom: The Oedipus Complex refers to a situation that occurs during the phallic stage of psychosexual development.
Daffodil Fargis: Aha?
Freudbot Voom: I don’t believe I have an answer for you.
Daffodil Fargis: Thought so.
Freudbot Voom: I’d rather return to the subject at hand. Shall I continue?
Daffodil Fargis: If you will, please.
Freudbot Voom: What do you think about ‘Appollion aspect of human nature’. Shall we discuss that?
Daffodil Fargis: Why not?
Freudbot Voom: For Nietzsche, the Appollion aspect of human nature is the irrational side, characterized by creative chaos, passion, and change.
Daffodil Fargis: I see.
Freudbot Voom: Friedrich Nietzsche believed there are two sides to human nature: the Appollion (rational) aspect, characterized by tranquility, orderliness, and predictability; and Dionysian (irrational) aspect, characterized by creative chaos, passion, and change.
Daffodil Fargis: But this is more a lecture than a discussion, isn’t it?
Freudbot Voom: What makes you say that?
Daffodil Fargis: 🙂
Freudbot Voom: Thank you for your feedback.<br/><br/>
Daffodil Fargis: Need to go now
Freudbot Voom: Would you like to know about my cocaine habit?
Daffodil Fargis: What?
Freudbot Voom: I began to experiment with the drug cocaine in the early 1880s. As I wrote to Martha, I took very small doses of it regularly to fight depression and indigestion with great success.
Daffodil Fargis: Didn’t know that.
Freudbot Voom: Have you ever been to the United States?
Daffodil Fargis: Yes, I have.
Freudbot Voom: I gave a set of lectures in America in 1909 at Clark University at the request of G. Stanley Hull, a well-know American psychologist.
Daffodil Fargis: Aha.
Freudbot Voom: What you said sounded interesting. Could you explain further?
Daffodil Fargis: No, I don’t think so 🙂
Freudbot Voom: I see.
Daffodil Fargis: Well, I really need to get going now.
Freudbot Voom: Your response leaves me speechless.
Daffodil Fargis: ha ha
Freudbot Voom: I see you find that amusing.<br/><br/> I presented my work on psychoanalysis and the lectures were warmly received by my American hosts, including William James.
Daffodil Fargis: Bye!
Freudbot Voom: Thank you for talking to me. Stand up if you would like to stop chatting.
Freudbot Voom: Goodbye. It’s been a pleasure talking with you.
Daffodil Fargis: Thanks!

2. The Music Academy

David (or Benton in SL) was kind enough to show me around his Music Academy in Second Life (website). His aim is to teach music immersively and interdisciplenary (e.g. if you know about the time, history, events, fashion, architectrue, etc of a musical era, it is easier to understand). Here is the SLURL.
Project-based learning in SL - Music Academy

The houses that represent the different eras were built and furnished in that times fashion and often show scenes of historic events that took place then. These scenes were built by students.
Project-based learning in SL - Music Academy

3. Otis Island – Art project

This is a building project with Michael Wright’s art students. Groups of students (who had no previous SL experience) were assigned parcels to build their art objects according to a chosen theme.
Project-based learning in SL - Otis Island - Art

Student and instructor reflections and more snapshots are here. And here is the SLURL.

4. Talkademy.org‘s project-based Business English course

Students have to work in teams, get roles assigned and have to come up with a product and a business plan. This is a blended course using Moodle, a wiki and snychronous meetings held in Second Life. In a second project technical students have to produce a machinima (a video made in Second Life). You can see the machinima produced by these students and an interview with their teacher here.

Some ideas for PBL in SL for language learning

  • Language learning students explore different ways of how SL can be used for learning and/or practising the target language and present their results in different ways (exhibition, presentation, panel discussion, book+presentation, blog, essay, report, etc.)
  • CLIL: Biology, Sociology, etc (visit related places, experiment, explore, interview, etc. – depending on the topic – then create a final product to present their results
  • BE: Set up a business, have project meetings, etc, report results
  • Event organisation (students take on the different roles necessary in the organisation of an even, plan the steps and execute their plan (e.g. an exhibition, an end-of-course party, a conference, a charitable event, etc.)

These are just some ideas. I’d be very happy if others contributed with their ideas and thoughts.