Jun 23

Language teacher communities in Second Life

When I started exploring Second Life in 2007 to find out whether it had to offer something for language teaching and learning, I didn’t know anybody in SL and only made slow progress, which was very frustrating. You can read more about my first steps and experiences in these blog posts:

First steps in Second Life
Starting a Second Life (published article – ETp, Issue 61 March 2009)
All about my avatar: Daffodil Fargis

Snapshot_014

During an EVO session in 2008, we visited SL and I finally met some language teachers who were also interested in SL’s language teaching and learning potential. Although, some Webheads had met  in SL for some time, there didn’t seem to be any meetings anymore. Two friends and I wanted to meet regularly to explore SL together and share our knowledge. This led to the founding of the SLExperiments group in the spring of 2008. Read about how we started and some SLExperiments activities in these posts:

Thanks to the SLExperiments group
Holodeck or Builder’s Buddy challenge

We had regular weekly meetings in SL for one and a half years and learned a lot together. We have also been collecting resources on the SLExperiments wiki like links to papers, books and articles related to teaching in virtual worlds.

Meanwhile, many more language teachers have joined SL and through the SLanguages conferences I have met more teachers who had already been in SL much longer and had had experience with teaching. There were also some universities and SL “schools” offering language courses. However, most teachers seemed to work on their own.

One interesting community was Second Life English, whose founder is Kip Yellowjacket and who has an island in SL which is dedicated to language teaching and learning and a web presence. Kip has been quite successful in creating a community of teachers and learners.

Cypris Chat and English Village (which is probably the oldest community) have a similar concept and bring together teachers who want to learn teaching in SL with students who want to learn or practise their language skills.

Then, there are the two EVO sessions VWLL (2009) and TLVW (2010) which brought several hundred teachers interested in language teaching in SL together and some stayed active and even started teaching after the session. (VWLL and TLVW Nings will cease to exist soon. We will move the content to our wiki, which we will make public soon).

More organizations and universities have become interested in virtual worlds. This resulted in EUROCALL and CALICO to join forces and create a virtual presence in SL and online. Then, there are the EU-funded projects AVALON and NIFLAR. AVALON has a web presence and an island in SL. One of their aims is training teachers to teach languages in virtual worlds in a pedagogical sound way and to create a teacher community for continual support.

It is wonderful to have so many individual teachers and communities in SL now. Many of us are members in several or all of these communities. However, there is also a downside, it is impossible for many of us to be active in all of them.

So, recently, we have decided to bring the SLExperiments and AVALON members together and start having regular meetings twice a month at different times. We hope this will boost participation and help build a stronger community who can share their knowledge, test activities with peers, and share lesson plans and resources.

Both communities and their platforms will continue to exist and members can, of course, have other meetings besides the two mentioned above.

Do you know of other language teacher and learner communities in SL which should be mentioned here? Can you tell us a little bit about them?

Are you a member of a teacher community in SL? If so, can you tell us what benefits it has has for you and what kind of activities you do?

Mar 04

Absolutely Intercultural Podcast

In a previous post, I described a tour of Makkah and Al-Andalus on which I took teachers who were participating in the Teaching Languages in a Virtual Worlds workshop. Anne Fox from Denmark, who is a fellow Webhead and participant in the TLVW workshop included part of this tour in the popular podcast Absolutely Intercultural, which she produces together with a German colleague.

SL TLVW10 Middle East Tour_009

She wanted to highlight intercultural aspects of the TESOL EVO sessions in this particular podcast

“since it draws people from all over the world both as moderators and as participants and is built on the voluntary efforts of a growing band of enthusiasts.”

The other two session that are mentioned are Becoming a Webhead (BaW) and Multiliteracies.

Absolutely Intercultural has been nominated for the European Podcast Award in both Denmark and Germany and you can still vote.

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 23

Homeless in SL

Two weeks ago, I was checking my email when suddenly there was a flood of messages from Second Life coming in:

Your object “……’ has been returned to your inventory lost and found folder by Kip Yellowjacket …

Normally, I would have been alarmed and thought something must have happened but I only felt a strange kind of sadness because I knew what was happening. I was surprised by this feeling…

Like many other teachers, I was lucky to have met Kip Yellowjacket, the owner of Virtlantis, early in my Second Life. He not only gave me my first Linden dollars but also a place I could call home. Well, he called these plots “launchrooms”, which teachers could use as a meeting point with their students and “launch” from their to other destinations in SL.

I was so happy to have a place that I could decorate like I wanted and invite friends, colleagues and students to, that I spent long hours to make it look nice. At that time, I didn’t know about prims and that there is a limit of how many one could use on an island … 🙂

SL Launchroom new 16 July 2008_003

But that was not the end of Kip’s generosity. Some time later, he started building houses on Virtlantis and he gave these away for free, too. I was lucky enough to get one. It was called Casablanca and I loved it from the first moment. It was huge, had two large rooms and in the middle a garden. It also had two porches. Once again, I started decorating and Kip helped me with positioning the furniture.

One day, I was preparing for a lesson which would partly take place in my home. When I logged in half an hour before the lesson, I was in for a shock. My house had been vandalized!

SL Casablanca 19 July 2008_002

It was the first time that I had experienced something negative in Second Life and strangely enough it felt real to some degree. Unfortunately, it happened two more times and I decided to move to another house on Virtlantis.

This one was smaller but cozy and to make up for all the annoyance I had a sea view now 🙂

Daffodil at home

Daffodil at home

Daffodil at her desk

This time, I hung up some pictures from my real life home, which I uploaded and even had a copy of my real life praying rug. In the front garden, I had planted daffodils, which Dennis, a dear friend, had given me as a gift.

I’m really sorry now that I didn’t take more pictures of it but I had been very busy. So much so, that I even didn’t log into SL for days and if I did I mostly teleported to some other place for a lesson or meeting.

At the end of last year, I rented a plot on EduNation for a teacher training course I would be giving. So, this became my temporary second home for some weeks.

My EduNation Home

Then, I had to make a decision. I was busy with my Master’s, which I had recently started. Then, several SL projects were coming up, which would all take place in different locations. I knew I wouldn’t have time to be in my home … Funny enough, this wasn’t an easy decision but I made up my mind and wrote to Kip telling him I would give up my home. I took my personal belongings back into my inventory, had a last look and teleported away. I also gave up my home on EduNation.

Sometime later, these messages started coming in…

Your object “……’ has been returned to your inventory lost and found folder by Kip Yellowjacket …

Your object “……’ has been returned to your inventory lost and found folder by Kip Yellowjacket …

Kip was sending me the furniture (one more act of generosity) … he was finally taking apart my home… I was staring at my computer screen and thinking:

“You are homeless in SL now.”

I didn’t think it would make me feel sad. It’s just a computer server somewhere and some pixels, right? Well, obviously it wasn’t. Second Life is a place. It’s a place where I work, meet friends and go to places. So, having a home is an important part of (second) life.

Many thanks to Pamela Arraras, whose blog post about “The importance of having a home” inspired me to finish mine.

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.