Jul 18

SLanguages 2009 conference archives

I didn’t manage to blog about, SLanguages 2009, the annual conference dedicated to language teaching and learning in Second Life which is increasingly becoming popular.  But the conference website contains lots of valuable information, links and resources that I wanted to share the link with you. It is worth visiting even after the conference.

Many sessions at this year’s conference were video or audio recorded and presenters shared their slides. They can all be found in the archive.The presentation my colleagues Graham, Nick, Dennis and I gave — Virtual Worlds and Language Learning —  is also there.


Jul 14

Summary of my SLTalk presentation

Last Thursday, I was invited by Andreas Mertens, SLTalk.de to give a presentation on Language Learning in Virtual Worlds to a very diverse audience of around 13 professionals in different fields (3 SLTalk staff, two SL/RL authors, vice director of a school, consultants, a further education office, a culture manager, mfg innovation, and others). The presentation was in German.

I started my presentation with the statement “Language learning in Second Life is possible” and asked my audience to show me their opinions (rather than say or type them) by walking into one of the 5 sections of the Opinonator ranging from strongly agree to strongly disagree. I was positively surprised to see everybody in either strongly agree or agree. So, I did not have to persuade anybody of the value of SL for language learning 🙂

I then asked the participants to collaboratively come up with answers to the question why language learning in SL is possible before showing them my slide. I was once again surprised and happy to see all the reasons they came up with:

  • visual context
  • every day situation
  • you can hear native speakers
  • immersion
  • compared to a physical classroom, you can show more situations/settings
  • group pressure similar to a class situation (I asked for clarification here: if you study with a group of people in SL instead of alone, there is a bit of positive group pressure that helps the learner to continue and stay motivated)
  • learning through experience
  • fun

After so much enthusiasm and ideas in favour of learning languages in SL, I almost hesitated to ask my next question: “Why might learning a language in SL be not a good idea?” My aim was to have the participants think about what needs to be considered when learning or teaching in SL rather than finding reasons not to use it. Here are their answers:

  • complicated to use
  • steep learning curve of SL
  • struggling to take SL seriously (for those who think it is a game)
  • you can’t see the speaker’s (teacher or learner) mouth – difficult to show how a word is pronounced
  • takes a lot of effort to learn to use SL (this person added: I know several people who would even have problems installing it).
  • needs a powerful PC
  • lesson preparation probably takes long
  • age restriction

This showed me that the participants were well aware of the possibilities as well as limitations of Second Life. At this point, I showed a mindmap with an overview of my presentation.

Because they had already mentioned most of the points about the “Why?”, I could quickly move to the second section, the “How?” showing some snapshots of my previous classes and some student feedback. This section was divided into formal and informal learning with many examples for both.

The third section was about the teacher and teacher development in SL. I mentioned SLExperiments, VWLL, official organisations like EUROCALL and CALICO, who have their joint HQ in SL, and EU-funded AVALON and Niflar projects.

My reason for using the Opinionator at the beginning was not only to make my presentation more interactive and SL-like but also to present some of the tools I use in my classes by using them during this presentation. Other tools I used or demonstrated were

  • a slide presenter and a pictureboard (both creaeted by Dudeney Ge aka Gavin Dudeney),
  • the prim pointer that can be positioned in front of any viewer to point at specific areas or information on a slide.
  • physical cubes with hover text that can be pushed on different field with categories that I made for a matching exercise in a Business English session (see picture below)
  • the BrainBoard
  • and, of course, a Builder’s Buddy scene ( I chose Anna’s Italian kitchen scene).

The participants asked questions and commented throughout the session and once they had stood up to use the Opinonator, most kept standing with me on the stage, which made it feel like we were all doing the presentation together rather then me speaking alone, which i quite enjoyed.

Special thanks to Tobias Würtz, SLTalk for providing the snapshots.

Apr 22

Holodecks and language learning

In my first post about holodecks, I mentioned some ideas how holodecks could be used for language learning. Meanwhile I had time to create a scene with the Horizons holodeck. In our last SLExperiments meeting, we sat in my holodeck living room I have created and brainstormed some ideas. Here is what we came up with (some ideas depend on the permissions settings which we still have to find out about):

  • Describe a scene students are in
  • Give a description of a scene to students (notecard?) and they build it in groups. Then, compare and talk about the differences
  • Students build scenes collaboratively (or alone), then describe why they built it that way, etc.
  • Instead of describing a scene, give students a description of a situation or a dialogue and have students build the scene which will then be used as to role-play the dialogue/situation.

Building scenes might sound difficult but the advantage of holodecks and the Builder’s Buddy script (see below) is that very basic building skills are sufficient. Students or teachers can use objects that are available as freebies (permissions need to be at least copy/modify) and don’t need to build anything from scratch.

A snapshot of my living room scene:

And here is a short video that shows how the scene is made to appear when needed:

A good alternative to commercial holodecks is the free Builder’s Buddy script. In my first post about holodecks, you can see pictures and watch a video of a scene that I created with the BB script. Should it turn out that it is not possible to build collaboratively with a commerical holodeck or the class has no money at all to invest in (a) holodeck(s), students can all be given the BB script.

Scenes like the living room or the worshop setting are not the only situation that you can use the BB script. Anything from complex building to simple creations (like in the following video) can be built.

When several prims that contain different scripts are linked only the scripts in the last object will be recognized. In such cases, instead of linking them, the BB script can be used

Another advantage of the BB script is that several scenes can be nested. If you are, for example, giving a presentation and you want to reveal  the “scene” step-by-step, this can be done relatively easily. The most important thing to remember here is to use different channels for the nested scenes.

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

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.

Apr 11

Building holodeck scenes in Second Life

muvenation logoNow, some of you might ask: “What on earth is a holodeck?” Those who have watched Star Trek are familiar with the term and this is how Wikipedia explains it. The article mentions several uses for holodecks (see Application) one of which is training. So, even in Star Trek, they had educational value 😉 Holodecks in SL, can be simple to complex scenes, built in advance and packed up which can then be created “on demand” by one click in a limited space. Unfortunately, the SL versions lack the function of simulating smell… Well, not yet… And, well, yes, it could be a disadvantage, too, but would definitely add to the immersiveness 😀

OK, back to the seriousness of this task. Here is a definition of Second Life holodecks, what they are used for and links to different kinds of holodecks. Loki Clifton, who introduced himself as “the grandfather” of holodecks in SL, was apparently the first person who invented holodecks for SL. He was kind enough to show us different types of holodecks and explained how they are used and demonstrated how to build a scene with a production holodeck. As our task would include building our own scenes, Loki generously agreed to give us all a copy for testing purposes – a 2in1 production holodeck.

Holodecks can be quite expensive compared to other tools in Second Life. There are some free or inexpensive ones but usually with very limited functionality. In most cases, they do not allow the owner to build new scenes, which is what we wanted to do. It is also possible to buy scenes for some holodecks. Again, this depends on the type of holodeck you have (here is an example). A free simple alternative is the Builder’s Buddy script, which functions in a very similar way.

Due to lack of time 🙁 , I have only been able to play around a bit with Loki’s holodeck but built my workshop scene for the MUVEnation task with the free Builder’s Buddy script. You can see the scene below.

Workshop scene packed - Builder's Buddy

Above: This is the box in which the whole scenes is packed. I can take drag it from my inventory on the ground anywhere I am and rez (= create) the scene with a click. I can also allow others to rez my scene. With the BB script, every scene is in its own box (or any other object used as base).
Workshop scene - Builder's Buddy

Above: Here, you can see the rezzed workshop scene (and the green box). The scene normally rezzes within seconds. I can reposition the scene by simply dragging the green box. All other objects then reposition themselves accordingly keeping their distances to each other. One click and everything is cleaned up and back in the box and the space available for other things.

Here is a short video showing how the above scene is being rezzed (built) and then, cleared with one click:

Besides the MUVEnation task, I am also working with a group of colleagues on a holodeck project. Actually two projects joined togehter now, one initiated by Kip Boan who shares his holodecks with the SL English group, the other by Leon Cych. The aim is to explore its uses for educational purposes. Leon has kindly provided me with a professional Horizon holodeck. So, after building simple scenes with the Builder’s Buddy, I will try my hand at building a scene for a holodeck. Here is a short video of Leon demonstrating a holodeck:

And here is another video showing some scenes of Loki’s holodeck:

Language learning and holodecks

The first use of holodecks for language learning that springs to mind is scenes for role-plays (checking in at a hotel, ordering food in a restaurant, etc.). Scenes could also be used for students to learn the names of objects (furniture, plants, animals, kitchen utilities, …). But one can also imagine creating different cozy places for more undisturbed meetings with students or different spaces for students to work in groups. The settings could be changed according to the topic the group is talking about. Students can also be asked to build their own scenes as a kind of project work. One interesting project I have come across is the Literary Holodeck Project where educators built scenes to represent different literary works.

These are only some initial thoughts. I hope working with my colleagues in the projects mentioned above will bring about more ideas. If you have ideas on how holodecks could be used for language learning (or learning/education in general) or you know of other educational holodeck projects, I would be very happy to read your comments.

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

Mar 26

Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education Conference

In January/February, my colleagues Dennis Newson, Graham Stanley, Nick Noakes and I moderated a 6-week online session for language teachers on Virtual Worlds and Language Learning. We are now presenting the outcome and discussing it with the audience at the VWBPE conference.Our roundtable is scheduled for Sunday, 29 March 6am SLT/PST (1pm GMT – your time zone) on ISTE island.

There are many interesting keynotes, presentations and workshops. Read the official press release below for for information about the conference.

vwbpe logo

ARE VIRTUAL WORLDS THE CLASSROOMS OF THE FUTURE?

2009 Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education Conference (VWBPE) Bringing together Educators from around the World in Second Life®, March 27-29.

______________

March 17, 2009  —  Virtual world educational environments may not replace real classrooms (yet), but they are becoming integral to the future of education, say the  organizers of the 2009 Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education Conference (www.vwbpe.org) to be held in Second Life®, March 27-29.  Conference keynote speakers and panels will focus on how virtual world environments can help today’s learners become all they can be and build the work force of tomorrow.

“We are a global grass roots community  that is collaborating and co-sharing knowledge about the role of virtual world environments in education today,” said, Marlene Brooks of Memorial University, CA (Zana Kohime, SL) program chair of the conference. “Our goal at the conference in Second Life® is to use virtual worlds as the centerpiece for discussion of the questions that impact all of our futures: What is education? What is teaching? What is learning?”

The three-day conference will be an opportunity for virtual communities from around the world to showcase projects, courses, events, and present research that lead to best practices in education. From presentations on the architecture of designing a virtual classroom and campus to projects that engage middle school students with math, science and languages to the award-winning 3D-Wiki technology created in Second Life used to design a medical clinic in Nepal, the VWBPE conference is dedicated to furthering the creation of innovative, interactive  and immersive environments.

Keynote speakers (see attached list) and panelists for the conference represent a wide range of institutions, leading universities as well as K-12 school systems that use Second Life ® as part of their educational programs.

The Virtual World Best Practices in Education (VWPBE) conference originated from the 2007 Second Life® Best Practices in Education Conference. Educators are one of the most vibrant and growing groups in Second Life® with an outreach to more than 6,000 SL residents.

For additional information and interviews, please contact;
Marty Keltz  (Marty Snowpaw, SL, Vice-Chair, Program Committee)
1-416-587-3381
Email: marty.keltz@gmail.com

To register, please visit: http://vwbpe09.eventbrite.com Registration is free to all conference attendees.

Hope to see you there.

Mar 20

Conducting a hands-on workshop in SL

muvenation logoIn module 2, section 1, we explored hands-on workshops in Second Life. The activities consisted of

  1. Analysing hands-on workshops using an analysis grid and coming up with a list of key factors for the design and delivery of successful SL workshops. My personal list is here.
  2. Designing and implementing our own hands-on workshop
  3. Peer-evaluation of the workshops using an observation form based on the key factors that came up in activity 1.
  4. Writing an analytical “story” of our experience with our workshop using the STARR template for storytelling which was provided.

Peer evaluation

Constructive feedback from peers can help tremendously in helping a teacher to improve their teaching practise. Peer observation and evaluation can be rewarding for both sides, the observer and the teacher being observed. Having read most evaluations, in this workshop activity peer observation did not work well in my opinion. One reason might be that the observation form had not yet been complete before some of the observations started. Another reason, I suspect, was that peer feedback was “public” and could be viewed by all course participants and coordinators. This might have been a dilemma for some who might not have wanted to be critical openly. Additionally, as many of the participants are still very new to SL and this was the first workshop they had conducted in a virtual world, peers wanted to be encouraging. This is perfectly fine but for feedback to be developmental, there should also be suggestions for improvement.

As a result, I think peer observation and giving constructive feedback is a skill that needs to be practised. Also, as trust is an important factor in peer evaluation, these should not be made public. Instead, in a course, where all could benefit from reading about others’ evaluations, participants could be asked to collect main points they observed together with suggestions for improvement in a separate place without names, kind of like a  teacher who gives general class feedback at the end with relevant points that they observed while monitoring a class activity.

My STARR story: Building a Board Game with Daffodil

Summary
A beginner Second Life builder trying her hand at giving a hands-on building workshop.

Situation
What was the setting in which this case study occurred?
After having observed and analysed hands-on workshops, we had to plan and deliver our own. It was difficult for me to think about a topic for my workshop. I had thought about and discarded several ideas due to time, space or other constraints. My building and scripting skills are limited but I decided I could manage a beginner building workshop. I knew I wanted it to be useful to my peers and fun.

Task
What was the problem to be solved, or the intended effect?
To plan and deliver a workshop for beginners to build a simple interactive board game within a time limit of 60 minutes. The number of participants was limited by the number of building spaces provided to a maximum of 12.

Actions
What was done to fulfil the task?
When I had decided on building a board game, I first wanted it to be a collaborative building task but in the end I didn’t dare to do it. I was not sure I could handle all the problems with permissions that might come up, especially with beginners. So, I decided every participant would have their own building space which would be their game board. This meant that there was not enough space nor time for everybody to build a complete game that we could play together at the end but it would be enough to demonstrate the skills and the concept.

Preparation: I prepared 12 boards/building spaces for participants. This meant some of them would be out of normal chat range. I modified my SpeakEasy HUD script to make it shout the instructions (suggested by a friend) but we would also communicate and needed a save means for this. Not everybody knows how to shout. I thought of putting up a sign but participants might forget to and by habit simply hit the enter key. A friend came up with the idea of chat relay but an experienced workshop tutor said it caused lag. Another friend suggested I use group IM. Why didn’t I think of that? Sometimes, in a stressful situation (and preparing the workshop was stressful for me because I had no time), we forget even what we know.
I wanted to announce a demo of my workshop in another group of educators to test it, improve the instructions but again because of lack of time, I could not do that. On the day of the workshop, an experienced friend asked me on Twitter whether I wanted to do a run through. It was only three hours before the actual workshop but I agreed and am so happy I did. As a result, I simplified my instructions, deleted some slides and additional information and most importantly found out and solved some issues with permissions.

Another issue that came up in the run-through was that participants would have several windows open at certain times in the workshop (edit window, notecard, group or local chat window) plus needed to look at the slides and back at their objects. I could not avoid any of these but I decided to tell participants this would happen and gave some tips at the beginning (making windows smaller or minimising them when not needed).

Multi-tasking for the tutor can be challenging, too. In other lessons I taught in SL, it often happened that I received several IMs from friends who did not know I was teaching, from students who wanted to be teleported (instead of asking peers or finding the LM in their inventory), IMs from students present who preferred to ask a question privately than in local chat plus group notices or IMs from groups I belong to. At the same time having to deliver the lesson, change slides, take notes, chat with students in local chat, etc. can be quite demanding. And I am usually much more exhausted after a SL lesson than a Real Life one. In regular classes, I establish some rules with students (e. .g “send teleport requests to peers not the teacher”, “don’t IM teacher during the lesson except when it is required in a task or absolutely necessary”, for friends: “when I am in busy mode, it really means I am busy and will not reply”. This was not possible really for this workshop because it was a one-off session.

Tools can be of great help in delivering lessons but they can be a real pain, too. I rarely use more than two teaching aids or tools in a session. Of course, this depends a bit on the situation. The same goes for the actual topic and the lesson plan. For the workshop, I decided a slide screen, a material giver and (the invisible) SpeakEasy HUD was enough. I had prepared slides of the different steps to avoid having to give long-winded instructions. I used a screen that I had recently be shown by a friend on which you can highlight areas. Very useful indeed! I also printed out the instruction text and crossed off what I had already said with the SpeakEasy HUD.

I was a bit worried that my workshop might be too simple and my instructions too detailed. However, it was declared as a beginner workshop and details can always be ignored by those participants who don’t need them 🙂

At first there were only the two participants who had also signed up as criticla friends. But then two more came. The session went smoothly and participants could follow the instructions easily. I have to say, however, that several were not beginners. A late-comer started on his own and was able to catch up. One participant had frequent crashes and fell behind. Another participant did something I had not expected and this caused her problems for the later steps. I helped by giving her additional instructions in IM to remedy the situation. I am still not sure what caused this: my instructions, language issues or the participant being distracted by private IMs (which I suspected).

From MUVEnation hands-on workshop

Latecomers can cause havoc in a workshop. I did not observe enough workshops in SL to know how experienced tutors deal with them but having planned to deliver my workshop in the MUVEnation sandbox, I knew I could expect latecomers and guests and this was to some extend even welcome. I did say how I would deal with them in my workshop description (observe or take the worshop material and try on your own) but, of course, not all would have read it. Some just popped in to do something in the sandbox, saw that something was going on and started chatting with me: “Long time no see” 🙂 I was determined not to have the flow of the workshop be interrupted too much by these but I didn’t mind observers and I didn’t want to sound unfriendly or unwelcoming. So I said a few words but indicated in local chat that we were going back to the instructions.

Surprise guest: At some point, a former SL student of mine suddenly materialised on a participant’s board. He was one of the students who were on the slide that I had shown at the beginning of the workshop showing him and peers playing my first board game. I thought I was dreaming and tried to make sense of it. I know a lot can happen in SL but I started thinking “my showing a slide of him can’t have made him appear in my workshop. Yeah, after being in SL for a longer while, you start believing such weird things can happen 🙂 It turned out that he had been teleported by the participant on whose board he arrived. I had introduced them some time ago and apparently they had developed a friendship.

All participants were able to finish their game. Although, none of them had prepared questions in advance (I had asked for this as preparation for the workshop). Nobody seemed willing to spend the time to write all the question notecards but they did write some so we could test the games. When taking their objects (the board with the tiles) into their inventory, they could not take the boards although I had set permissions to copy/mod. I had forgotten to tick one more box and when I did, participant were able to take them.

Lessons learned
What did you learn from the experience?

  • Instructions can never be detailed enough
  • Talk your ideas through with someone
  • Always do a run-through before you do the workshop for the first time
  • Don’t expect participants to have read through your announcement and have prepared for it.
  • Be prepared to do shortcuts and don’t force participants to do all the steps if it is not absolutely necessary.
  • Always double-check permissions of your material.
Mar 17

Intercultural meeting in SL

One of the many ways that Second Life can be used for learning and teaching languages and maybe one of the most authentic ways of learning and practising the target language are intercultural meetings. An English teacher from Dubai and a Second Life colleague of mine, Chris Surridge, from Korea have recognised SL’s potential for this very early and came up with a wonderful intercultural project that culminated in a Second Life meeting of their students. Chris repeated this project and linked his students with other cultures after the first successful meeting.

A couple of weeks ago, the topic of Muslim women in SL came up in the SLED list. Somebody was interested in how Muslim women from more traditional cultures were using SL and how their SL lives might reflect back into their RL lives and vice versa. I had several English students from the Middle East in my SL course and know some others from the Muslim community in SL, so I replied to the request. Several other educators who read this message contacted me to ask whether they and their students could meet me and other Muslim women in SL to talk about their lives and career choices and how similar or different they are in SL and in RL, what Islam means to them and why they wear hijab (the Muslim headscarf) in RL and/or in SL. I thought this was a great opportunity for my former students to practise their English with an authentic task and a topic that I knew would interest them. So, I asked and they agreed to meet with the educators and their students.

SL meeting 16 March 2009_001
The first of these meetings with a professor at a university in the US and her Spirituality and Human Behaviour students took place today. Unfortunately, none of her students logged in with their avatars but the professor’s screen was projected so that all students could follow the conversation and ask questions through their professor. There were around 6 Muslim women from the US, Egypt, Syria, UAE and Qatar, and I, of course 🙂 We also had a lady who was not Muslim but dressed like one because she was interested in Islam and a lady from France who was also not a Muslim but belonged to the same Muslim community (Ummah of Noor) which is open for everybody to join. The meeting took place on the Islamonline dot net SIM which shows a replica of the Al-Haram and the Ka’bah in Makkah, the holiest place for Muslims. The meeting officially lasted one hour and the conversation was extremely lively.

SL meeting 16 March 2009_003
Although, this was more an ad hoc, one-off meeting and we had no opportunity to meet the students from the US and have deeper discussions (it was more a Q&A session), the students watched and “listened” very intently (according to the professor) and the Muslim ladies replied to the questions in length and with much enthusiasm. It’s a shame that the discussion board where the US students will continue to discuss this topic is closed to the public and we cannot participate.

With a little bit of preparation and more time, these kinds of meetings can be transferred into real learning opportunities for both sides which go way beyond learning for a subject. How much more authentic can learning become? This is where technology does not get into the way of communication but makes it possible. How else could a group of students from the US have met Muslim women from so many different countries so easily to learn first hand about the lives of these women?

Mar 09

Are you ready to teach in Second Life?

Are you planning to teach in SL? Do you have the skills it takes to be able to do so?

Chris Collins or Fleep Tuque in SL, a very experienced SL educator, has shared her first draft of a teacher “self-assessment” quiz  “to help faculty determine if they’re ready to bring students in world” and asked other SL educators for feedback. On the SLED list, she points out that: “It’s not meant to be an exhaustive test of competency… but more in the spirit of those “personality tests” that give you a sense of where you fall in a spectrum.”Chris says she used the Global Kids Second Life Curriculum (an excellent resource!) as a guide for this quiz.

In the the feedback received from the SLED list and Twitter, some asked questions like “does one really need to be able to manage land in order to be a good SL teacher” or “just because I don’t have anything in my picks tab does not mean I don’t know how to do that”.

But the most important question is does scoring well in this skill test mean that a teacher is pedagogically ready, too.? Skills are one “side of the coin” and are important but pedagogy is “the other side”. We can’t simply transfer face-to-face or even online teaching pedagogy to Second Life (or any other virtual environment for that matter). A question could for example be:

You want to introduce the topic of world religions to your students. Do you…

a) have the students sit in your virtual classroom and lecture about the topic?

b) invite an expert who gives a slide presentation?

c) have students find out about different religious themed places in SL, take snapshots, come back and report to the class?

d) have students do c) and meet SL residents who subscribe to different world religions, interview them and then, create an interactive exhibition?

Chris is revising the skills tests (and also looking for a new home for the quiz). I think the test is a brilliant idea which gives educators a quick overview of what SL skills they need and where they are standing. I hope she’ll add some pedagogical questions to it or even better device a separate quiz for that purpose. This might even be a collective SLED list educators’ effort. 

Feb 12

Key factors for the design and delivery of successful Second Life workshops

muvenation logoAnother MUVEnation task after a long break. This is for module two, activity one: Analysis of hands-on workshops. We were provided with a very comprehensive analysis grid which was very helpful in compiling the list of factors. Factors I found missing were 

  1. Importance of announcements (clearly defined task, aims, level, duration, prerequisites, …)
  2. Pace of delivery (too fast can cause stress, too slow can break the flow or bore participants)
  3. Motivation (to come back, continue learning, finish the task, …)

This is by no means a complete list but what I have collected through attending in-world workshops, chatting with experienced workshop instructors and adding a bit from my own SL teaching experience where appropriate. I have not numbered the lists because the factors are not in a particular order and there is no specific number of items. Also, this is related to SL skills workshops. Other types of workshops, seminars or lessons will call for partly or completely different approaches.

 Postcard from Second Life.

Workshop design: planning and preparation

  • Detailed/accurate instructions and supplies prepared in advance and handed out at the beginning of the session. The folder should include all the material needed, like textures, scripts, and sounds, slides, but also a notecard with the instructions so that latecomers or those falling behind can catch up (Copyright: This might lead to the instructions being used by others for their workshops but they can be copied from local chat anyway.
  • Announcements to tell participants about prerequisites needed (level, pre-knowledge, objectives, duration…)
  • Limit the number of participants to be able to be able to provide sufficient individual help.
  • Picture/slide or in case of building, a finished version of the object that participants are going to build placed visibly.
  • Improving/adding to instructions (clarification about questions asked during a session can be added to the instructions for future session.
  • Interesting topic (obviously there isn‘t always a choice but even though the learning aim might be fixed, like „basic building“, „how to build a box that hands out content“, the instructor can make it interesting and timely „Gift box building“.
  • Spacial design: In most building workshops, the space seems to be designed very traditionally with neat rows for participants (though often with cushions instead of desks and chairs) and instructor sitting/standing in front facing the group. This means, the instructors have to shout instructions. Asked whether it has any advantages, I was told that it didn‘t. I discussed other options with instructors: A circle of a 20m diameter would eliminate the need to shout. On the downside, some students would face the instructors back and and would need to use the camera controls more to see the slides used for the class. A semi-circle might be the best option.

Workshop design: delivery and instruction

  • Start punctually but plan activities/workshop in such a way that latecomers can catch up with the least disruption. Agree on and display (slides) rules of conduct for such cases (and also on how you intend to deal with questions, etc.).
  • Especially in beginner workshop, provide visual/textual help with SL user interface (e. g. how to zoom in on slides, use camera controls).
  • Most instructors, I was told, copy/paste instructions from notecard that has been prepared in advance (see planning and preparation). Although, this is already a much better solution than typing instructions life, I use a tool like the SpeakEasy HUD instead of copy/paste. The HUD automatically brings up the next step of the instructions typed in advance in a notecard with one click on its icon eliminating the need to have a separate window with the text opened. The HUD gives me enough flexibility to react to questions during a session or add personal (live) remarks to not make it feel impersonal.
  • Show slides instead of trying to describe things in text. A combination of both is probably the best to cater to the needs of different learner types.
  • Use slides and other means to show/tell first what participants are going to do next and then do it. This gives participants a sense of direction and confidence. 
  • Show the final product(s) and explain or demonstrate what it is good for and when it is used (knowing the purpose of what is being done.
  • Make the different steps visual (slides of steps or instructor building the object together with participants) so that participants can check whether they have done steps correctly.
  • When using slides, make sure the rez quickly (e. g. by pre-rezzing them on a small prim or using presenters that have this feature built-in).
  • Keep to the subject/topic (e.g. if a class is about basic scripting don‘t lecture about the history of programming) Participants usually want to to do something and have something to take away.
  • If too many participants have problems and need help, it is good to be able to call another instructor for help. Even better would be to always have a ”helper” there who help with technical or similar problems. After such a session ”problematic” session, it is important to analyse why the problems occurred and try and eliminate the cause as much as possible.
  • Personalize activities whenever possible even if it is simple things like choosing ones own textures, sound, text or colour.
  • Conversational flow/Communication dynamics: Allow participants to interrupt, ask questions and react to comments by them whenever possible during the session to make session less stressful and more light-hearted. Especially when the instruction text has been pre-prepared, it can sound very impersonal if nothing else is ”spoken”. Also, these mini-chats give those who have fallen behind a chance to breathe and catch up. This will create a positive atmosphere and lower the affective filter and thus enable better learning.
  • Whenever possible and if the nature of the workshop and time allows, allow participants to reflect on what is being done. A pure step-by-step instruction on how to build something or script might be time-efficient if only the result is important but will not result in real learning. For learning to take place, participants need to think about the process and reflect on their learning (if not possible during the workshop than outside of it by providing learners with questions). 

Implementation of the workshop: follow up and evaluation

  • Decide which questions to answer in local chat and which in IM (If one participants asks a question, replying in local chat might confuse others. However, even if a question has been asked in IM but could be relevant for all, it should be answered in local chat).
  • Monitor students‘ progress by asking how they are doing after major steps and if possible, by looking at their builds/objects and trying out if they function as they should.
  • Assessment depends on the nature of the workshop and what the expected outcomes are (An object with certain looks or function or a script can be assessed by their looks, accuracy or trying if they work. The process might also be taken into account. In other workshops like ”how to best use communication tools“, assessment could be by level of engagement, correct etiquette or relevance and nature of contributions), collaboration might be assessed if that was a requirement or completion of a task or solving of a problem. 

Implementation of the workshop: recall and transfer of learning

  • Recapitulation is important at the end of a session for better learning to take place. I haven‘t seen this done in any of the workshops I have attended. In my lesson, I always plan to show the sign-posts from the beginning of the  lesson again to help recap but often run out of time and can‘t do it.
  • Provide access to a network and/or forum where participants can help each other in between sessions. I use Moodle forum and created a Second Life group for my students.
  • Provide additional help, material, exercises and information after the class. These could be accessed in-world or on the web. I use Moodle (for chat logs, vocabulary lists, other material) and web 2.0 tools (for exercise, self-paced practice). The instructor of the scripting workshop I have attended, Simon Kline, provides video tutorials of the topics covered in-world.
  • Motivation: Providing a forum, in-world group and creating a network can also be highly motivating. Another way of motivation participants is to showcase their ”products“ and success stories. In my course I did this by making an exhibition of students‘ builds, a party at the end and framed SL certificates. The scripting instructor mentioned above compiles some successful stories of his students.

Note: It is important to keep in mind that this list of some key factors is for hands-on workshops like those for learning about basic SL building and scripting. Workshops can take very different forms and factors affecting success will vary and not all of the above will be suitable. A lot also depends on whether the workshop is one of a serious or a stand-alone one, whether participation is compulsory or voluntary and other such factors.

I found the workshops I have attended interesting and learned new skills plus took away a finished product and scripts and knowledge that I can use/apply for other tasks. I found one of the building workshops a bit stressful and the delivery a bit impersonal whereas there was more interaction in the scripting workshop. In both the scripting workshop and a gift box building workshop there was humour which I find essential in any learning environment.

I had the chance to talk to two instructors, Simon Kline and revochen Mayne, who I would like to thank very much for the extra time they spent with me to talk about their workshops and what they think are key factors for successful hands-on workshops.