Nov 07

Taking a break

Daffodil relaxingI can’t believe it’s been over four months when I last blogged. And if I don’t count the last two posts, it’s been over seven months! I do miss it and have something to say too but I am not thinking of getting back to blogging just now.

Actually, I was planning to blog a lot during my 3-month summer break but then I decided I needed a complete break from my online activities for some time. Since starting to work full-time, doing my Master’s and after having spent a considerable amount of time working and learning online for the past three years, I felt physically and mentally tired. So, I took the complete 3 months off which I spent entirely with my family, who hadn’t seen much of me during the last year or so.

One task I had originally set myself for the summer break was to move my blog (and other online presences) to one new unified domain. As you can see, Edublogs has added ads to free blogs and disallowed embedding videos and useful widgets (see my Twitter “button” on the right). Also, I have started so many different websites for different projects that it was impossible to keep all of them updated. Yet another reason for wanting to move this blog is that I would like to write about educational topics that are not restricted to Second Life.

I’m not sure when I will actually get back to blogging. I might just continue a bit longer with lurking on colleagues blogs and maybe occasionally add comments. The ELT/educators blogosphere has grown considerably and there is a lot of fantastic “stuff” out there that’s worth reading.

So, I might be less visible on some online platforms and communities but I am here and I am following what is going on (though not so closely anymore for now) and at some point I will jump into the stream again and swim with you instead of just looking on 🙂

Feb 26

Slide Presentations with the new SL Viewer

Yesterday, I showed several possibilities how to use the new SL viewer function “web on prim” to browse websites and write collaboratively.

Another important function would be to be able to show slide presentations in Second Life. This is often necessary when students practise giving presentations in English.

Here is a short video showing a fully functional Google Docs presentation fullscreen on a prim:

Update 28 February 2010

Today, I tested with a colleague whether it is possible for others to see the slideshow and whether it is synchronous. It turned out that the former is possible what the latter is not. That means, the presenter would have to say which slide he or she is at. That’s not ideal really. So, we will have to look further.

A colleague has set up a wiki where we can post our experiences with media and web on prim and say what works and what doesn’t. So, we don’t have to duplicate efforts.

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.

Jan 25

It’s burning? What now?

A Second Life language lesson using a simulation

As part of the “Teaching Languages in a Virtual World” session, I gave a demo lesson using a kitchen fire simulations (this is a Swiss project and you can reed more about in English here und auf deutsch hier).

The following is a report on of this event including

– an outline of the lesson

– necessary preparations for the teacher

– video recordings of the discussion stage in the lesson

– video recordings of the discussion afterwards including teachers and language  learners.

This is a type of lessons that even teachers who are very new to Second Life and have little or no own resources can do.

Preparation

– fire pits, logs to sit on, fire extinguisher (this is all optional)

– notecard with instructions (placed in firepit(s))

– story and questions for pre-task

Lesson outline

1. Pre-task – 20 – 30 min

Invite everybody to sit around the fire.

SL TLVW Kitchen fire 2010_005

Lead into the lesson by telling a person story:

I like sitting around an open fire and chatting with friends…

But, sometimes things can get out of control. As a kid I was told not to play with fire.  Unfortunately, I didn’t listen and one day, when I was alone, I decided to cook something. But then I got caught up in play and forgot about the food on the stove. There was lots of smoke billowing out of the open window and the neighbours called the fire brigade. Fortunately, they weren’t angry with me but happy that I was all right.

Then ask some of the following questions and encourage students to speak:

Have you ever experienced a fire? Would you like to tell us very briefly?

Have you ever had to extinguish fire? How did you do it? If you saw a fire, what would you do? How would you react? Would you try to extinguish it yourself or call the fire department?

Do you know of any dos and don’ts when trying to put off a fire?

2. Field trip to the simulation – 20 – 30 min

-> Click the firepit to get the notecard with instructions

-> Go through instructions, clarify questions.

Fieldtrip to a Kitchen Fire Simulation

Second Life is an immersive environment and is therefore, often used for simulations that would be too expensive, too dangerous or plain impossible in the physical world (also often called Real Life).

Today, you are going to visit and experience a simulation of a kitchen fire. You will be placed in a situation where a kitchen fire starts and will have to decide how to react. The simulation will show you what the result of your reaction would be and whether it was a good decision or not.

Once you arrive at the location, accept the notecard with instructions that you will be offered in the blue pop-up menu.

Do the simulation together with your partner or your group and decide together how to react. You can do it a 2nd or 3rd time to try out different options.

—-> Make sure you have all the ambient sounds turned up for the best experience (see snapshot)

Jan 16

Online Session: Teaching Languages in a Virtual World

It’s EVO time again!

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

TLinVW-finishedlogo-banner-smaller

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

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

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

Jan 15

Accessibility of video tutorials and Second Life

Through a comment by David Miller on my blog about recording videos in SL, I came to this blog with a video tutorial about how to make animations for SL. My first reaction when watching it was “Why is there no sound?” I even checked my sound settings on my computer to make sure volume wasn’t turned down. I had a strange feeling that something was missing and “craved” to hear the person making the tutorial speak to me.

Only when I read David Miller’s comment on that blog, did I realize that what I considered as lacking was actually something that made this tutorial more accessible for others like the deaf or maybe even speakers of other languages. I suddenly realized that, even though we have the tools and possibilities to make things more accessible we don’t always do it. Often this is not because we wouldn’t want to but because we are not always aware that we are settings barriers.

Coming back to video tutorials, I think ideal would be to create some that have voice and visuals (e.g. written text in the video highlighting keyboard shortcuts) and clearly visible step-by-step instructions. This way we could make them useful for more people. I can see that this is challenging because I’m sure we often mention important information in speaking in addition to what we actually show. Makes me think I should get different people to “proof-watch” my tutorials 🙂

Thinking about these issues makes me realize how wonderful environments like Second Life and other virtual worlds are for people with different abilities. In most cases you can choose whether you want to communicate in voice or in text or a combination of both. In addition to text and/or voice, you also have the visual 3D environment itself to help get across meaning. This makes it much more accessible than a 2D virtual class- or conference room, except of course, where sign language is used and it is important to see the real person via a web cam.

These are just some quick thoughts that came to my mind when watching the “silent” tutorial video. There is a lot more that one can say about accessibility and virtual worlds.

What do you think about accessibility of virtual worlds and/or tutorial material?

Dec 19

Recording video in Second Life – part 1

I am sure you have all watched some video tutorials or machinima recorded in Second Life. Up to version 1.19, the SL viewer had a recording feature built in but this is not the case anymore. So, if you want to make recordings, you need special recording software.

Several such recording tools are available for free (some with the option to pay for a version with more features or longer recording time). Some of these have to be downloaded to your hard disk (e.g. Jing) and others are online tools (e.g. ScreenToaster, Screenr, ScreenJelly). If you search for “free video recording software”, you will find many more.

I tried making video recordings in the past with freely available software (Jing). This was fine for very short sequences. However my MacBook was not powerful enough to make good quality or longer recordings and Jing produced very large files (see one example here).

When I bought my iMac two months ago, I finally had a computer that was powerful enough. So, I started to look for commercial (and more professional?) recording software that was easy to use and provided me with all the features I thought I would need. I asked some colleagues for recommendations and I found a list of recording software for the Mac here. I downloaded the trial versions of four of them and tested them briefly:

My idea of easy-to-use software is that I can create a basic recording without having to read any instructions. All of the above fell in this category except SnapZ Pro. I have read a lot of positive things about SnapZ Pro so may be it was just me. It was the last one that I tried and had pretty much made up my mind which to buy by then.

iShowU and CaptureIt were both inexpensive, offered nice features like instant exporting and automatic snapping to the window that I wanted to record. However, ScreenFlow was the easiest (for me) to use, gave me the most flexibility and had the most features (that I wanted). At the same time, it was also the most expensive but as I wanted to use it regularly for recording lessons and making tutorials, I bought it.

I have been using ScreenFlow for a couple of weeks now and I have to say making recording with it and the post-production is a lot of fun. It only takes seconds to understand how to record. Basic editing is also very easy and for all other cases there are good video tutorials available.

My first recordings were of role-play activities in language classes in Second Life to allow me and the students to watch and analyze them afterwards (I will write a separate blog post about this later). Then, I made my first video tutorials for a group of teachers who were doing an introductory SL course with me. The first one shows how to use a presentation screen*.

In all of these recordings, I used the text feature, which I like a lot. It can be used to highlight certain phrases that were used (in lessons) or to show shortcuts in tutorials to make it easier to remember them. Next, I produced a series of videos that show the different ways of communicating in SL.

One problem with all of these first tutorials which a colleague mentioned was that they weren’t easy to follow. I knew from other tutorials that I had watched that they zoomed in on details. So, this was the next skill I learned and which I used in this tutorial*.

For all of these recordings, I used the built-in microphone of the iMac. Although, the quality is not bad, I think I will invest in a separate microphone next because the volume could be a bit higher at times and I have to remember to be close to the microphone all the time, which is not always easy when I have to do demonstrate things at the same time.

There is still a lot that I can learn to make these recordings better but I think it is a good start and, as I said before, a lot of fun, too 🙂

In another blog post, I will write how such recordings can be used in a language class and what type of activities can be done with them (other than creating machinima which I blogged about here).

Update

Torley has two tutorial videos in which he shows how to record and edit videos in SL with ScreenFlow: 1. Record in-world meetings 2. Edit videos.

*Edublogs.org has recently removed the possibility to embed videos on free blogs. Embedded videos in new or updated blog posts are removed. This is why I can only provide a link to the videos. I apologize for the inconvenience.
Related blog post: Accessibility of video tutorials and Second Life

Nov 20

Meeting with university students

In October, I was invited by a Second Life friend of mine, who teaches a course on Second Life and journalism at the American University of Cairo, to a meeting with his students. Their task was to interview me about education in Second Life, my work and other SL-related topics and to write a report. They were all journalism students.

For most of the students this was their firsts experience with Second Life. Most of them were present with their avatars. At the same time, SL was streamed on a screen in the physical room. They had decided that one student would collect the questions and ask in voice while the other students added additional questions and comments in local chat. I replied in voice but also added comments in text chat.

The students were very curious and asked a lot of good questions but they were skeptical, too, which I thought was good. Now, I am waiting to see their reports.

Nov 15

How to communicate in Second Life

There are many different ways in which avatars can communicate in Second Life. We can distinguish between:

  • public and private
  • text and voice
  • all vs groups versus one-to-one
  • SL groups versus ad hoc groups
  • features that are part of the SL regular communication features or other tools and settings (parcel settings, sky tables, etc)

It is important to know which possibilities exists and when to use them whether you hold staff meetings in SL, do training or give lessons.

In order to be able to easily communicate with others, it is good (and sometimes necessary) to befriend them first so that they are in your friends list. It is also possible to IM (instant message) or call avatars who are not in your friends list by searching for them but there are limitations when it comes to group chat as an example.

How to add someone as a friend:

Here is a series of video tutorials on the different ways that avatars can communicate in Second Life.

I know there are already many Second Life video tutorials but often they don’t show exactly what I want, so I have started to create my own. I have created these for a teacher training course which I am doing at the moment.

I usually don’t use a script when doing these tutorials, so you might here the occasional “er” and other mistakes. Live with it! 🙂 I am not going to record them again so soon.

SL Communication 1 – Public Text & Voice Chat:

SL Communication 2 – Private Text Chat:

SL Communication 3 – Private Voice Chat:

SL Communication 4 – Group Chat:

SL Communcation 5 – Ad Hoc Group Creation & Friends Conference:

SL Communication 6 – Parcel Voice Settings:

SL Communication 7 – Sky Tables:

You can buy the Sky Tables online here or in the in-world shop.

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