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. 

Jan 01

Building a tree

 muvenation logoTeachers teaching in Second Life might need to have at least some building and skripting skills (to design learning space, create or manipulate tools, etc.). In order to further develop these skill, we are asked to build a tree. Other objectives of this activity are:

  • to cooperate in a community project
  • to experience and develop master-apprenticeship model and other forms of peer to peer support
  • to explore informal learning opportunities in-world

My building and scripting skills are still very basic and although I haven’t needed more sophisticated skills for my lessons so far, I do want to improve them. 

My tree

I tweeted about this assignment on Twitter in the hope to find others to help me brainstorm what kind of tree to build. Carol Rainbow replied and had some good suggestions. In the end, I decided to make an ice tree fitting the season 🙂 What I knew from the beginning is that I wanted to make my tree do something and not just a tree to be looked at. Again, because of the season and because of the ice tree, I decided it should recite a snow poem. It would be the first time for me to create the necessary sound files to upload to Second Life.

I started building some crystals for “leaves” and was looking for a tree trunk that I could use. I wanted to change the texture to something that looked icy. Then, Carol joined me and she found a leafless, snow-covered tree in her inventory which was luckily modifiable and transferrable. I made several copies in different sizes of my crystal and attached them to the branches of the tree. I also added a snow emitter so that it snows.
Blue singing tree
Meanwhile, I had given up on finding a good snow poem and decided it should be a winter song instead but I didn’t know how to overcome the 10-second limit (sound files uploaded to SL need to be under 10 seconds). I don’t have the rights to stream sound on the MUVEnation sim. Carol made my day by telling me about Psyke’s Music script that connects 9-second long sound files to a continuous sound. I was thrilled not only because this solved my song problem but also because this would be extremely useful for creating objects for my language lessons. I found a free version of my song, a very popular German song about a snow flake, Schneeflöckchen.

The only drawback that the script has is that all the sound files need to be exactly 9 seconds long. I’m sure there is an easy (automatic) way of splitting a longer sound file into 9-second bits but I haven’t worked much with sound files, yet so that this took me ages. I uploaded my six 9-second sound files and dragged them onto my tree together with the script. Carol also showed me what to do to have the cursor turn into a hand indicating that this object does something when clicked on (write “Touch to play music” into the description field of the object in edit mode). So, now, I had an ice tree that snowed and played a song when clicked on 🙂 Thank you for all your help, Carol!

Some days later, I felt like I didn’t really build a tree and wanted to create a second version from scratch. I used the same ice crystal and coloured them. The script is the same, too.
Ice Tree
My main problem when building is that aligning objects takes me incredibly long although I use camera control to look at my object from all angles and zoom in on my objects. I know I can use the grid but that wouldn’t help with objects like my tree. Whenever I added a crystal and thought it was positioned correctly on a branch and I looked at it from another angle, I saw that it was not where it should be at all. Another issue with this tree is that the number of prims I used is very high, which is something that good builders always try to avoid. Therefore, I am looking forward to the master builder session on the MUVEnation island which will take place soon.

My trees and all the other trees built for this activity are located on the MUVEnation island (temporarily). 


Nov 22

MUVEnation concert ;)

It’s weekend, and I have done all my homework and as  Anna said today, “we are still on holiday”. So, I headed into Second Life and found some MUVEnation participants (Morgan, Anna, Alpha) and a former student of mine to join me in playing the drums on Boracay island. I had tried it before but it is not so much fun alone and it sounds better, too, when several drums are played together. It’s addictive! 🙂

I love the sound of drums and even took a short course once. In Second Life, you can become a master player instantaneously 😉

I’ve tried to record the sound but couldn’t do so unfortunately. Anna and Jaime have recorded it on video. I’m curious to see them and if they publish it, I will embed them here. For now, enjoy the pictures and visit Boracay if you want to play the drums yourself.

Nov 20

Animation override

Actually, I’ve been in Second Life for over a year now but I’ve never cared much about my duck walk in SL or any other fancy animated behaviour. I’ve changed my appearance, bought loads of free clothes but … I know, of course, that the duck walk is a give-away of a newbie and it does look funny. So, some time ago, I searched for female walk animations but most of what is available for free or linden dollars is not the kind of walk I have in mind. Why on earth should any woman want to walk like that? 

But now I am interested in animations in general. Today, I have spent the morning with buying and testing animation override (AO) HUDs (heads-up display) or scripts. Most of them come with prepackeged collections of animations. But if you don’t know how to add or delete some of the animations, you are stuck with some very weird ones. I’ve tried several different ones. Some are menu-driven, some have (annoying) buttons that appear on your screen and some are controlled through commands in chat. I didn’t like any of them except one that can be added to the MystiTool set. I haven’t set it up, yet but it sounds like the best solution if it also gives me the freedom to exchange or delete the animations that come with it.

Meanwhile, I simply added an animation override script to a bracelet that I usually wear and just added one female walk animation for now. It’s not really a normal walk but the best I have been able to find so far. So, no more duck walk 🙂

Nov 17

MUVEnation – Ideas for newbie orientation

Micro learning activities

After having looked at and compared different orientation islands and stations, we have to devise our own activities for one module based on the Global Kids Curriculum. I have chosen the Level 1 module Taking a Closer Look. By the end of this module, they should have learned (mission’s powers):

  • Using the computer keyboard to focus, zoom and pan
  • Using the camera control feature to focus, zoom and pan

The activity should

  • Allows the development of the mission’s powers (see above)
  • Is engaging, playful
  • Complies with the list of principles for an effective design of an orientation session.

I have decided to create activities for this module because I have seen in several tutorials that camera controls are one of the most important and most-used features of Second Life. I can only agree with this from my own experience and that of my students. As some MUVEnation participants have pointed out when comparing orientation stations, this should even be one of the very first skills that are taught because seeing the screens and pictureboards used to explain SL features require this skills the way the are set up.

I have come up with some ideas to practise zooming and panning. Due to time constraints, I will not be able to fully develop all the steps and create picture boards with the necessary instructions. I will also abstain from describing the instructions I would give.

My ideas

First of all, flying would not be allowed for any of the following activities.

After looking at a pictureboard with instructions on how to zoom to get a closer look, they have to stand on the hot spot and zoom in on an object, picture or board with a text and either read or describe it.
MUVEnation week 1 act 7/5

How long does it take until a newbie learns how to see their own face? Here, they will be instructed on how to do that and then have to practise it and take a portait snapshot of themselves.
Daffodil at home

To practise zooming in on a moving object or avatar, they will be instructed to ALT+click on that object or an avatar and follow where it is going and describe what they are seeing or take snapshots and post to flickr. This is best done in an area where there are walls or hills to prevent seeing the moving avatar directly.
MUVEnation week 1 act 7/4

The hot spot marks the area where a box is hidden underground. Avatars would be told that there is a box. Using camera controls or keyboard shortcuts (which would be shown and explained first on a board) the avatar has to pan to find the box and retrieve its content as proof of completion. If they already have the skills to take snapshots, they will be asked to wear the item they have found as proof and take a snapshot of themselves and post it to Flickr.
MUVEnation week 1 act 7/1

Now, they would be instructed to pan upwards until they find the box in the air. Find what is on top of the box and, depending on the skills they already have, either take a copy of the item and wear it, take a snapshot or both.
MUVEnation week 1 act 7/3

Happy to hear your thoughts.

If any of the MUVEnation newbies wants to test these ideas, let me know.

Update 18 November 2008

Two other question we were asked to addres are:

How was the work with the GKCx?

The GKCx is very comprehensive but I had to read through the modules carefully several times to understand the steps. It was too detailed for me. It’s a lot of text.

What challenges do you foresee?

These activities are very easy to set up and even mobile. Where ever we have the right to rez objects, we can quickly set up the hot spot, boxes and pictureboards. Teachers with minimum experience in building can set it up easly. There is no need for scripting knowledge. For newbies: hand coordination? Mixing up and forgetting when to use which shortcut. But learning and practisng this is the whole purpose of the activity.


Nov 13

MUVEnation – Evalutation of Orientation Stations in Second Life

muvenation logo
Most orientation stations in Second Life are “traditional” – picture boards with screenshots and text explanations. They might look time-efficient but they don’t offer any interactivity so that new users can immediately try out what they are reading. I believe in learning by doing in order for new information to really become practical knowledge. This is why I have looked at two orientation stations that have a different more interactive and playful approach.

Orientation Station Campus

This is a very small orientation station set in a forest. On arrival, the avatar has to click on the sign attached to a tree to receive a notecard with instructions and some initial tips. Avatars can practise the most basic skills like camera and movement control, flying, manipulationg objects, using the pie menu, offering friendship, using IM, teleporting and buying. In order to learn these skills, avatars have to complete small tasks like “count the fish in the pond by using camera controls” “use build tools to move pieces in place (to build a totem), “teleport to a location, buy a freebie, come back and unpack it”.

The skills that are practised are essential and well-chosen and the tasks are fun, especially when done with a partner or a small team. I did some of the tasks with a colleague of mine who still considers herself a newbie. We laughed a lot while doing some of the tasks but she was often confused and didn’t understand the instructions. Even I was confused at times what we were supposed to.

We both concluded that it is not so much an orientation station but rather a further pracice station where students can be sent to after having learned the basics at an orientation station station. It is not appropriate for complete newbies because it doesn’t explain or show “how to” do things but rather “what to do”. So, students are either expected to find out “how to” by trial and error, which can be a good learning experience, especially if done in a team, but also frustrating if there is nobody to help when students get stuck. I assume that originally there was someone to guide students in doing these tasks.


Orientation Center Virtual Ability

This is a very friendly-looking Orientation Centre build for people with disabilities and chronic illnesses to help them learn SL skills. It offers comprehensive step-by-step tutorials which are presented in a very clear way, with additional tips in a different colour. The path is highlighted by large blue arrows drawn on the ground. No way you can get lost here.

At the beginning, the information is presented on signs like on most other islands but very friendly looking signs.

Then, the stations become more interactive and task-based. Avatars read how to do something and can immediately practise it by doing fun tasks:

Practise buying and item: T-shirts and other freebies that can be bought for free

Practise using camera controls: Finding, zooming in and clicking on butterflies. Visual and auditory confirmation.

Practise buying clothes and changing appearance: a house full of freebies for a good start into an avatar’s new Second Life

At the end of the tour, you can click on a mail box to receive a feedback form. This shows they want to keep in touch, serve the community and improve things. Having said that, it seems to be outdated.

There is a Mentor Park, where you can touch a bell to request assistance:

You are making a call to ask for assistance from the SecondAbility Mentors. These are experienced residents here to help new SL residents. Do you want to call a SecondAbility mentor? (call/cancel)

There is a separate area for advanced tutorials.

Some extra points:
– Congratulations and a shower of stars when managed flying
– Mac specific notes (first O. island that I see this).
– A balloon tour of the island

Besides offering clear instructions and congratulating one now and then, it is such a lovely place that I was happy to stay there and try out everything even though my intention wasn’t learning anymore. And as we know, a good atmosphere and nice surroundings can lower the affective filter which is very important for learning to take place.

In general

Both places I have visited were empty except for one friend who I had asked to come along and another MUVEnation participant, doing her homework. Therefore, it is a good idea to go with at least one other person to the Orientation Islands. Besides being more fun, students can immediately practise skills like sending IMs or invitations to teleport.

Nov 09

First Steps in Second Life

muvenation logo

My avatar

I remember that I was horrified at what I looked like when I came into being in Second Life. At that time, Linden Lab(s) didn’t have such a choice of avatars right from the beginning. However, I was still very happy that I was at least wearing clothes. A significant number of avatars seemed to be “born” naked into SL. My clothes, consisted of an ugly pair of jeans and a block-striped red-and-white sweater — the only choice if I didn’t want to look half-naked. Obviously, the first thing I did was to try and change my appearance. With no money at all, and no idea at that time that there were freebie stores, my choices were limited to the “Appearance” menu. But whatever I tried, I remained ugly . Consequently, no pictures of me from that time exist 🙂

My identity

Interesting for me is, how I identified with my avatar from the start and wanted it to represent me and had chosen a name related to my real life name. That was why I was really unhappy about what “I” looked like. I am also a very visual person and learner and trained and worked as a photographer so visuals are important to me.

Orientation Island

I like to figure out things on my own and had been using all kinds computer software and the Internet for quite some time plus I found the Orientation Island and the people I met there boring. I was also extremely curious about the places in SL. So, I ventured into my new Second Life skipping most of the tutorials. Only later did I realise that this had not been a good idea. There was just too much to learn and the trial and error approach was taking too long.

The next paragraph is a quote from my other blog of June 20, 2008

I have to say, I was rather disappointed because of the poor graphics, the empty places and the steep learning curve. I had also no idea how to find those educational places. Most places I managed to find were deserted. The first conversations I had with “residents” were also not very promising.

It took a couple of months for me to give it another try. I learned how to move around watching some Second Life tutorials. And after attending a live guided demonstration during a six-week EVO BAW08 course, I finally started to understand its significance for education. I was intrigued by the possibilities it offered for distance and language learning.

I started to collect teaching tools and to learn more basic SL skills. An online teacher friend from Mexico, Maru suggested to meet once a week to learn and share our experiences. This was a great motivator for me. Shortly afterwards, we were joined by Alicia, a teacher friend from Uruguay.

Motivating: Learning with a group

As I mentioned in my blog post above, having a group to learn together with was extremely motivating for me. Now, I was eager to learn more in order to have something to share with the others. I attended many events, conferences, talks and workshops, met many interesting people and had a growing list of friends that I could ask for help or simply socialise with.

SL Jeremy Harmer Talk 30 March 2008_006

Jeremy Harmer’s first presentation in Second Life

SL Storytelling presentation 16 May 2008_003

SL Casablanca 20 March_002

Virtual Morocco – a University project

SL Daffodil in Central Park Dreamland 29 July 2008_001

Daffodil contemplating her findings.

Second Life Friends and a my first “home”

By now, I had also met some generous people who had given me some decent clothes and even a small place of my own where I could set my “home” button to. I was looking more acceptable now (at least to myself) and I wasn’t bumping into walls that much any longer 🙂

SL Launchroom new 16 July 2008_003

My first “home” base.

SL beginners need guidance

Thinking back to my experience, the frustration and loneliness I felt and the hours spent on searching places of interest, I always accompany my friends that I introduce to Second Life right from the signing-up process to the first hour in SL. I help them through Orientation Island, show them other OI they can go to when they want to learn a news skill and we go shopping for the first freebies. Of course, they add me as a friend, and I explain how they can contact me in-world to ask for help.

Important step forward: specialised Orientation

I think one important step forward are specialised sign-up pages and Orientation stations for specific groups like ISTE for teachers, preferably staffed with life tutors or guides. When I recommend SL to educators or business people, I do not give them the general secondlife.com link but the one for educators and business people where there are more appropriate pictures and descriptions of SL..

A side note: While doing this MUVEnation task, I learned how to send snapshots from SL directly to flickr .

Nov 08

MUVEnation Pree-week 1 activities

muvenation logo

Getting to know each other and familiarising ourselves with the tools

It’s been only ten days into the MUVEnation course but a community is forming and Moodle and Pbwiki are buzzing with activity. More than double the intended number of participants have been accepted but the coordinators expect a lot of lurkers, participants who enrolled but do not want or cannot participate fully but will rather observe from the sidelines and maybe participate in the forums, now and then.

The course is about virtual worlds but we will be using many different Web 2.0 tools for collaboration (Moodle, wiki, Second Life), communication (Moodle, wiki, Twitter, Second Life group notices/IM) and aggregation (Netvibes, Flickr, Twitter, muvenation blog). I am very happy that I have used all of these tools at some point and use many of them regularly. If not, I would feel completely overwhelmed by having to learn how to use Second Life plus all these tools. I believe this is the case for many participants and I can just imagine how they must be feeling at the moment. But, I know from my own experience when I started learning about web 2.0 tools during the EVO 2008 session “Becoming a Webhead” that things will fall into their place slowly. 

As this is about peer-to-pear teaching, volunteers are needed to help with the various tasks. By volunteering to help feed all the participants’ blogs to the MUVEnation Twitter account, I had the change to use Twitterfeed for the first time and learned how to use it. So, already in pre-week 1, I learned how to use a new tool and I got to know many of the participants through the introductions and interactions in the Moodle forum.


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!