Mar 30

Podcast: Being a language teacher in Second Life

I met Scottlo Scorbal , an English language teacher and podcaster based in Japan, when he signed up for the Virtual Worlds & Language Learning session that I co-moderated with three colleagues. Scottlo, reflected on what we did in the VWLL session with podcasts here and here. He was on of the VWLL participants who planned their first SL lesson and did a peer-teaching lesson during the VWLL session. A video recording of this lesson can be viewed here. I learned that he has been podcasting for four years now and uses podcasting (audio journals) with his students, too. Scott is also on Twitter. Scottlo invited me to do a podcast with him and talk a bit about language learning and teaching in Second Life. You can find the result on his blog Meet Scottlo Scorbo. Thanks Scottlo for giving me this opportunity!

Mar 29

Presentation: Language Learning and Teaching in Virtual Worlds

As mentioned in my previous post, today my colleagus and I presented at the Virtual Worlds Best Practices Conference in Second Life about our 6-week online teacher training session Virtual Worlds & Language Teaching. Many of our VWLL participants were present and supported us and I’d really like to thank them for this and for being such active participants during the session.

The roundtable was attended quite well although we had almost nobody from the US because it was too early in the morining on a Sunday 🙂

Although it was announced as a roundtable, it was more a presentation with a Q&A session at the end. We had many positive comments from the audience and it was obvious that there was interest from the questions we received. However, we did not have a discussion about language learning/teaching in SL or more specificially about teacher training in SL. I don’t know whether this was due to time constrainsts or whether participants needed time to digest what they had seen and were told. Maybe we, the presenters, could have asked some questions back to the audience. This will be something that I will think about before our next presentation.

Here are our presentation slides (not in any particular order):

And here are some snapshots from the presentation (courtesy of Carol Rainbow):

The session has finished and the presentation is over but the VWLL community in our Ning and in SL is still vibrant and interested language teachers are welcome to join.

Mar 26

Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education Conference

In January/February, my colleagues Dennis Newson, Graham Stanley, Nick Noakes and I moderated a 6-week online session for language teachers on Virtual Worlds and Language Learning. We are now presenting the outcome and discussing it with the audience at the VWBPE conference.Our roundtable is scheduled for Sunday, 29 March 6am SLT/PST (1pm GMT – your time zone) on ISTE island.

There are many interesting keynotes, presentations and workshops. Read the official press release below for for information about the conference.

vwbpe logo


2009 Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education Conference (VWBPE) Bringing together Educators from around the World in Second Life®, March 27-29.


March 17, 2009  —  Virtual world educational environments may not replace real classrooms (yet), but they are becoming integral to the future of education, say the  organizers of the 2009 Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education Conference ( to be held in Second Life®, March 27-29.  Conference keynote speakers and panels will focus on how virtual world environments can help today’s learners become all they can be and build the work force of tomorrow.

“We are a global grass roots community  that is collaborating and co-sharing knowledge about the role of virtual world environments in education today,” said, Marlene Brooks of Memorial University, CA (Zana Kohime, SL) program chair of the conference. “Our goal at the conference in Second Life® is to use virtual worlds as the centerpiece for discussion of the questions that impact all of our futures: What is education? What is teaching? What is learning?”

The three-day conference will be an opportunity for virtual communities from around the world to showcase projects, courses, events, and present research that lead to best practices in education. From presentations on the architecture of designing a virtual classroom and campus to projects that engage middle school students with math, science and languages to the award-winning 3D-Wiki technology created in Second Life used to design a medical clinic in Nepal, the VWBPE conference is dedicated to furthering the creation of innovative, interactive  and immersive environments.

Keynote speakers (see attached list) and panelists for the conference represent a wide range of institutions, leading universities as well as K-12 school systems that use Second Life ® as part of their educational programs.

The Virtual World Best Practices in Education (VWPBE) conference originated from the 2007 Second Life® Best Practices in Education Conference. Educators are one of the most vibrant and growing groups in Second Life® with an outreach to more than 6,000 SL residents.

For additional information and interviews, please contact;
Marty Keltz  (Marty Snowpaw, SL, Vice-Chair, Program Committee)

To register, please visit: Registration is free to all conference attendees.

Hope to see you there.

Mar 03

Starting a Second Life


Nergiz Kern learns to teach in a virtual world.

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

Getting into SL

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

Learning to use SL

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

Teaching in SL

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

From Second Life 101 Lesson 9

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

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

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

The course

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

The preparations

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

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

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

From Second Life 101 Lesson 10

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

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

From Second Life 101 Graduation party

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

The lessons

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

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

From Second Life 101 Lesson 11

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

From Second Life 101 Lesson 10

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

The feedback

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

The future

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

Jan 03

Virtual World & Language Teaching session

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

I’m looking very much  forward to it. 

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

muvenation logo

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 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’

muvenation logo

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.