Jul 21

EUROALL and CALICO in Second Life

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

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

Randall's new tree house

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

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

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

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

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

Groovy Winkler and his dog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holodecks in Language Classes

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

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

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

Holodecks in Language Classes

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

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

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

Nergiz: Do you have any other comments?

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

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

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

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

Snapshots by Nina/Nagora

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

Jun 28

Holodeck or Builder’s Buddy Challenge

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

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

1. Mary Roussel’s gardens

Holodeck Challenge Final EventHolodeck Challenge Final Event

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

Her teaching idea:

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

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

2. Mary’s Venezuelan market

Holodeck Challenge Final Event

Teaching ideas:

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

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

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

3. Anna Begonina’s shop scenes

Holodeck Challenge Final Event
Holodeck Challenge Final EventHolodeck Chalenge Final Event

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

Teaching ideas:

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

4. Anna’s kitchen scene

Link to snapshot with kitchen scene

Teaching ideas:

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

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

5. Denni’s Dogme garden

Holodeck Challenge Final Event

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

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

6. Carolrb Roux’s garden scenes

Holodeck Challenge Final Event

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teaching ideas:

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

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

I’m sure Carol and others have more ideas.

7. Nahiram Yakubu’s flea market street scene

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

Teaching ideas:

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

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

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

8. Shawn’s maze

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

Teaching idea:

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

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

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

You can see more snapshots in the SLExperiments flickr pool.

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

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

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

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

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

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

A big thanks to everybody!!!

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

Jun 28

BrainBoard: A collaborative writing and brainstorming tool

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

Second Life Tools - BrainBoard

Picture above: The BrainBoard

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

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

Some things to consider

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

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

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

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

How can it be used in the language classroom?

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

What do other language teachers say?

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

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

Update, 13 December 2009

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

Jeff Lowe BrainBoard v2

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

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 03

Starting a Second Life

TEACHER DEVELOPMENT

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: http://slexperiments.edublogs.org/.

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.

Feb 09

Second Life Educational tools – What is missing?

Pollster Set I have been asked several times which tools I miss in Second Life. When I first started thinking about teaching in SL, I searched for some kind of whiteboard that I could write on because that is one of the most basic tools we teachers use in Real Life. Then, I started wondering whether I wouldn’t start teaching in a more traditional or at least RL way if I had a whiteboard. Why use Second Life if we teach there like we do in Real Life? 

I changed the way I think about teaching in SL and the tools I need. We only miss things if we have certain expectations. The expectations we have about teaching in SL often come from our RL experience. We have a whiteboard in RL and are used to using it so we want one in SL. Once I started seeing SL as a new tool itself and as a place that offers its own possibilities which often don’t exist in RL, I stopped missing tools and instead looked at what is there and how I can best make use of those tools.

Some tools that are there, can also stand in one’s way instead of helping deliver a better lesson. SL educators have to ask themselves the same questions like educators in RL: “Do I use this technology/tool because it is there or does it really benefit my students and improve my lesson delivery?” I do have a large collection of SL educational tools. However, I have only used a handful in my classes, mainly a notecard/landmark giver, a notecard displayer, picture boards and a slide presenter. I might use a different set in a different course if need be but I have to justify it to myself. 

Having said that, I have found several whiteboard tools and mash-ups with websites where I can write and even draw on 🙂 but I don’t think I will make much use of them for now.

Finally, I have to admit that there is one thing that I do miss. It is not a tool but a feature. If text in notecards could be formatted (bold, underline, text in different colours), I would be a happier SL teacher 🙂 

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

Dec 15

St. Catherine Monastery in Second Life in danger!

This post is a bit unusual for my blog because it is not related to teaching languages in Second Life but it is definitely related to education in SL. So, please, bear with me and read the rest. My hope in writing this post is to raise awareness of what the St. Catherine Monastery in Real Life stands for, why it should remain in SL and hopefully to find a new home for it in SL.

Pictures taken by Patricia F. Anderson

Some weeks ago, Marlyn Tadros, who built the SL version of St. Catherine Monastery, told us on the SLED list that the Monastery will disappear because of the costs involved in keeping it up. Although there has been some interest, unfortunately, no new home has been found for it so far. Personally, I think it would be extremely sad if the Monastery disappeared because of its huge historic and current relevance.

So, what’s so special about this Monastery and why is it important for it to remain in Second Life? The Monastery is one of the greatest examples of religious tolerance and peace and we need such examples more than ever today. Please read this article about the history and the importance of the Monastery. 

But why the fuss about the SL version? Because not everybody can go to the Sinai and visit the real one but everybody who has broadband Internet can access Second Life and visit it there. It’s been replicated beautifully and I especially like the library and of course Prophet Mohammad’s letter of protection that has ensured its existence in Real Life to date.

I was planning to take my SL students there when talking about peace and tolerance in our English lessons and was also hoping to visit it during inter-faith dialogues I am planning to hold with a church that is now active in SL. 

You can find the St. Catherine Monastery in SL here until the end of 2008.

If you know somebody that might be interested in giving the Monastery a new home in SL, leave a comment here or contact me and I will pass it on to Marlyn Tadros.