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 🙂

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.

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.

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 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. 

Jan 03

Virtual World & Language Teaching session

In October 2008, I mentioned I would moderate an EVO sessions with other online colleagues (Dennis, Graham and Nick). Now, it is sign-up time. Follow this link for a description of the session and a sign-up link. The session starts on 12 January 2009 together with 17 other very interesting sessions

I’m looking very much  forward to it. 

Dec 11

Communication breakdown

muvenation logoIn one of the meetings in SL that I regularly attend, there was a partial communication breakdown that let to a lot of confusion, misunderstandings and even hurt feelings the latter of which I wasn’t even aware of during the meeting.

As far as I can reconstruct what happened after looking through the chatlog and talking to the participants, the following seemed to have been some of the reasons for the communication breakdown:

  1. Some participants used voice some text
  2. Some of those using voice missed what was being written in text
  3. Some participants were not aware of the fact that the normal chat range is 19 m and what there actual distance to the others was. 
  4. Participants might have been confused about the roles and the agenda (Who is leading the session? What is the agenda?)

Because of number 2 and 3, some participants thought they or what they were saying was being ignored by the others.

Communication in SL, especially with larger groups, different members participating in the meetings, changing roles and agenda can be a challenge. Besides the issues mentioned above,

  • information overload,
  • non-linear discourse and
  • lack of body language

can cause disruption of a conversation.

Coincidentally, one of the new activities for section 3 is about collecting tools and building a guide for them (HUD, interactive book, bot, …) using the playfulness approach. Among the themes suggested is also one about tools for Communication and interaction. I’ve already been thinking of looking for ways of how to make group discussions more effective after having attended several (chaotic and ineffective) discussion with larger groups. Now, seeing what negative effects such communication breakdown can have on the rapport of a group, I want to look for tools and procedures that can help make such group conversations more pleasant and effective.

If anyone reading this knows of such tools or procedures in Second Life, I’d be more than happy if you left a comment and let me know. 

Tools

One tool I can already add to my list and can recommend to everybody in SL is 

  1. A chat range indicator (included in the Sloddle and Mysti tool) that shows a list of avatars within the chat range so that the speaker knows who can hear them.

 

Procedure’s that can help

  1. Explicitly mentioning/showing

a) who the moderator of the current meeting is

b) what the agenda is and in which order they topics will be dealt with.

(to be continued)

Nov 26

All about my avatar: Daffodil Fargis

 muvenation logoNo, I’m not obsesses with my avatar 🙂 If you are wondering why I am writing so much about my avatar and her appearance it’s because section 2 in module 1 of the MUVEnation course is all about appearance and identity. In activiy 9, we are asked to tell about our avatar’s history, motivations, characteristics, main activities and what effects we’d like to produce with our appearance. So, here i go:

My rezday is 28 August 2007. Nergiz signed up for SL and created me because she was curious about how educators were using it. I have to say I looked horrible at the beginning because Nergiz was determined not to spend any money on my looks and outfit. She didn’t know how to make clothes for me, either. I had to walk around like one of those newbies for quite some time. I was so ashamed of myself. I could feel that Nergiz wasn’t very impressed by SL at the beginning and she didn’t feel any relation to me. I am glad she didn’t know how to make snapshots at that time so there are no pictures of my pitiful state.

Then, finally, she met some generous people who gave her some free items for me, clothes, headscarves and even a new shape and skin. Now I looked a bit nicer and could even change my outfit now and then.
SL Daffodil in Central Park Dreamland 29 July 2008_001
My looks were more coherent and I resembled Nergiz a bit and she started to like me. We made some more friends and socialised. I quite liked that but Nergiz’ motivation was to find out how to teach languages here. So, we went on a search for educators and educational places. It wasn’t easy but slowly we were getting more connected.

Nergiz and I learned a lot during these days, weeks and months. She found more friends who gave her more freebie clothing for me and then she “earned” her first Linden dollars and we went shopping for the first time. It wasn’t easy to find something modest so she bought me a traditional Turkish outfit and even a Kimono (for free). Well, it wasn’t our style but it did fit in SL. 
Dressing up
Dressing up
After a while, we learned how we could modify some of the outfit we had found and I think i look quite all right now. Nergiz wants me to look similar to her, dress modestly and look friendly. She also wants me not to look too serious but also not too flippant. She doesn’t like formal outfit in RL and thinks it creates distance, which she doesn’t want between our students, colleagues and ourselves.

By now, we had met colleagues of Nergiz’ and formed a group for language teachers. Since then, we’ve been meeting every Friday. I even got my own classroom and house, which makes me feel more like a real SL resident.

We do socialize quite a bit in Second Life and have made many new friends. Finally, last summer, we felt ready to offer our first English course. It was so much work and we were excited but it was also a lot of fun, too. We and our students liked it a lot. I am happy because Nergiz has decided to keep me and continue teaching in SL and she can relate much more to me by now. That’s why she has filled in my profile and told people who we are with links to her Real Life activities.
Daffodil at her desk
 

Nov 25

What makes an Avatar look professional?

muvenation logoIn activity 7 of the current MUVenation session, we are asked to reflect on an consider our and our students’ perceptions of appearance in Second Life teaching settings. I answered some of the questions in my previous post as a reaction to a forum discussion but will address some of the questions given in this activity.

Do you think avatar appearance is an important aspect of educational activities that are being undertaken in Second Life? What is a appropriate professional avatar appearance for education? 


A lot depends on the nature of the course. Appearance in an art or design course, will matter more than in a language or philosophy course, I assume. But even in courses where appearance is not the focus, out of the ordinary outfit or avatar shapes might not be appropriate. They might be simply distracting, seen as immoral, not serious looking enough, too serious looking or unfitting in an educational setting. Reasons for seeing a certain appearance as unfitting can be related to different cultural norms, religious believes or expectations about and knowledge of Virtual Worlds (game? serious?). In general, I would say that extremes in whatever direction should be avoided both by teachers and students and more so at the beginning of a course or with participants who are new to Second Life.
Does your avatar have a professional appearance for educational contexts? Yes, no? Why? 

Dressing up


Again, what professional is depends on the kind of educational context. As a free-lance language teacher working in-company as well as doing private tutoring, I am very flexible regarding my outfit and usually wear more casual clothes, which is seen as appropriately professional where I taught/teach. This is also the way I dress in Second Life. Although, in SL I often tend to look more formal and often wear dresses which I almost never do in RL. This has partly to do with my not being able to find the kind of appropriate clothes that I am looking for.
Is there any appearance you would never use to teach in Second Life and why? 
Yes, I would not appear in anything that reveals (too much) skin. This is based on my religious believes but also on what is considered inappropriate for teachers in Germany as well as Turkey. I would also not appear as a very unusual avatar (animal, robot, etc) if it is not part of the lesson, in order not to become the centre of attention as the teacher.

The ability to change avatar appearance could be described as an affordance of Second Life. How can the ability to alter avatar appearance be used as a teaching tool? 


Looking at it from a language teaching/learning perspective, being able to change the avatar’s appearance is a wonderful “tool” for role-play activities to make avatars feel and look more real and thus help to find into one’s role. I can imagine many activities like “describing an avatar to practise colours, shapes, and other adjectives and descriptive language”, “showing one’s favourite outfit and telling why – similar to “show and tell” activities at schools”, etc. I could even imagine to have a session about “What is an appropriate outfit for a student/teacher in SL/RL” kind of discussion like I am writing here about. I would have such a session at the beginning of a course to find out what expectations students have and might try to dress accordingly within my own limits and comfort-zone.

Nov 21

Sloodle: Second Life + Moodle

Since I had heard of Sloodle for the first time at SLanguages2008, I had wanted to learn more about it and integrate it with my Moodle® (an open-source Learning Management System). It is very interesting for me because I used Moodle for my Second Life English course last summer.

http://slisweb.sjsu.edu/sl/index.php/Sloodle

Some weeks ago, I came across a message by Daniel Livingston in an e-mail list about Virtual Worlds saying that he had created a self-paced tutorial exercise taught in Moodle and in Second Life to learn about Sloodle’s features.

I went through the tutorial, which I can highly recommend, and learned about all the features of Sloodle version 0.3. The tutorial was fun, although it would have been even more fun to test chatting and some other tasks with a partner or a group (which Daniel recommends). I new about the chatting and blooging features but I was positively surprised to find out that there is much more that Sloodle makes possible. Here is a list from a Sloodle cheatsheet:

• Web-intercom. A chat-room that brings Moodle chatroom and Second Life chats

together. Students can participate in chats in Second Life using the accessible

Moodle chatroom. Discussions can be archived securely in a Moodle database.

• Registration booth. Identity management for Second Life and Moodle. Link students’

avatars to their Moodle user accounts.

• Quiz tool and 3D Drop Box. Assess in Second Life – grade in Moodle. Set quizzes

or 3D modelling tasks in an engaging 3D environment. Review grades quickly and

easily in the standard Moodle gradebook.

• Choice tool. Allow students to vote (and see results) in Second Life as well as in

Moodle.

• Multi-function SLOODLE Toolbar. Enhances the Second Life user interface. Use a

range of classroom gestures, quickly get a list of the Moodle user names of the

avatars around or write notes directly into to your Moodle blog from Second Life.

• Presenter (in development). Quickly author Second Life presentations of slides and/

or web-pages on Moodle. Present in Second Life without having go through lengthy

processes to convert or upload images.

• … and more. More tools are being prototyped on a regular basis.

So, yesterday, I went ahead and finally upgraded my Moodle website and installed the Sloodle module. Then, I went in-world and bought the latest version of the in-world Sloodle tool set and the toolbar HUD (heads up display). Configuration was easier than I thought. As a test, I sent two blog posts from SL directly to the Moodle blog.

Now, I am looking forward to learning more about it’s uses and using it in my next Moodle+Second Life course.

Update, 24 Nov 2008

The free Moodle host Ninehub has Sloodle installed. You can sign up for free to start a course right away. The host supports itself with adds that are shown at the bottom of the pages as far as I can see.

Update, 15 May 2009

Another free Moodle host that has Sloodle already installed and this one is without ads!!! http://www.keytoschool.com/