Jun 23

Language teacher communities in Second Life

When I started exploring Second Life in 2007 to find out whether it had to offer something for language teaching and learning, I didn’t know anybody in SL and only made slow progress, which was very frustrating. You can read more about my first steps and experiences in these blog posts:

First steps in Second Life
Starting a Second Life (published article – ETp, Issue 61 March 2009)
All about my avatar: Daffodil Fargis

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During an EVO session in 2008, we visited SL and I finally met some language teachers who were also interested in SL’s language teaching and learning potential. Although, some Webheads had met  in SL for some time, there didn’t seem to be any meetings anymore. Two friends and I wanted to meet regularly to explore SL together and share our knowledge. This led to the founding of the SLExperiments group in the spring of 2008. Read about how we started and some SLExperiments activities in these posts:

Thanks to the SLExperiments group
Holodeck or Builder’s Buddy challenge

We had regular weekly meetings in SL for one and a half years and learned a lot together. We have also been collecting resources on the SLExperiments wiki like links to papers, books and articles related to teaching in virtual worlds.

Meanwhile, many more language teachers have joined SL and through the SLanguages conferences I have met more teachers who had already been in SL much longer and had had experience with teaching. There were also some universities and SL “schools” offering language courses. However, most teachers seemed to work on their own.

One interesting community was Second Life English, whose founder is Kip Yellowjacket and who has an island in SL which is dedicated to language teaching and learning and a web presence. Kip has been quite successful in creating a community of teachers and learners.

Cypris Chat and English Village (which is probably the oldest community) have a similar concept and bring together teachers who want to learn teaching in SL with students who want to learn or practise their language skills.

Then, there are the two EVO sessions VWLL (2009) and TLVW (2010) which brought several hundred teachers interested in language teaching in SL together and some stayed active and even started teaching after the session. (VWLL and TLVW Nings will cease to exist soon. We will move the content to our wiki, which we will make public soon).

More organizations and universities have become interested in virtual worlds. This resulted in EUROCALL and CALICO to join forces and create a virtual presence in SL and online. Then, there are the EU-funded projects AVALON and NIFLAR. AVALON has a web presence and an island in SL. One of their aims is training teachers to teach languages in virtual worlds in a pedagogical sound way and to create a teacher community for continual support.

It is wonderful to have so many individual teachers and communities in SL now. Many of us are members in several or all of these communities. However, there is also a downside, it is impossible for many of us to be active in all of them.

So, recently, we have decided to bring the SLExperiments and AVALON members together and start having regular meetings twice a month at different times. We hope this will boost participation and help build a stronger community who can share their knowledge, test activities with peers, and share lesson plans and resources.

Both communities and their platforms will continue to exist and members can, of course, have other meetings besides the two mentioned above.

Do you know of other language teacher and learner communities in SL which should be mentioned here? Can you tell us a little bit about them?

Are you a member of a teacher community in SL? If so, can you tell us what benefits it has has for you and what kind of activities you do?

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 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.

Preparation

– 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)

Jan 16

Online Session: Teaching Languages in a Virtual World

It’s EVO time again!

The EVO (Electronic Village Online) sessions are free 6-week online teacher development sessions for language teachers. This year’s sessions have started on 11 January. This means we are already at the end of week 1! However, it is not too late to join. This year, there are twelve sessions that you can choose from.

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I am moderating the “Teaching Languages in a Virtual World” session with my colleagues Mary, Nahir, Dennis, Graham and Wlodek. We have already 322 participants now from all over the world, from total beginners to very experienced. You can read more about our session here.

This year, we have set up a mentor system. That means, that participants with experience in the use of SL who have volunteered to help can set up events in addition to what the moderators are offering to help new users. This way we can offer many more sessions catering for different time zones. For the advanced users it is an opportunity to practise training newbies if they have had no experience with this yet. It also means that they don’t have to wait until the sessions become relevant for them but can be active from the start, and it helps us moderators to accept and manage this large number of participants. This is also a great opportunity for both newbies and experienced users to get to know each other from the start. So far, feedback has been very positive.

If you want to participate, request to join our TLVW Ning.

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.

Dec 20

Thanks to the SLexperiments group

While this blog is about my personal Second Life teaching experiences, explorations and experiments, there is also a SLexperiments language teachers group, which I founded together with two wonderful colleagues of mine, Alicia Barbitta and Maru del Campo. We started to meet regularly in Second Life to help each other learn SL skills, share our resources and discuss language teaching and learning in Second Life.

While there are many educator groups in Second Life, the SLexperiments group focuses specifically on language teaching and learning. This has attracted many language teachers and also some teacher trainers, scripters and researchers. We have grown to over 80 members and have met regularly every Friday at 11am SLT since spring 2008. 

We have had many good discussions, helped each other acquire SL skills, gone on field trips and shared many tools and resources in-world and on our wiki.

SLexperiments 19 Dec 2008_005

I want to thank Alicia, Maru, Carol, Dennis, Steve, Gavin, Daf, Nelba, Graham, Ismail, James, Michael, Birgit, Minhaaj, David, Nellie, Vance and all the other members, regular and irregular participants for making the SLexperimens meetings such a pleasurable experience where we not only learned a lot together but also socialised and had lots of fun. You have all made my Second Life richer and I have learned a lot from and with you.

I wish you wonderful holidays and hope to see you all again next year.

SLexperiments 19 Dec 2008_001