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.

“Makkah”

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.

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

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.