I gave this presentation about language learning and teacher education in the 3D virtual world of Second Life at the final conference of the EU-funded Talk With Me project in Vienna in spring 2011.
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:
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:
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?
This question (in a more general form; not related to ELT) crops up every now and then on the various Second Life educational or research lists or other SL education platforms and among among individual teachers. Often it is a question asked by teachers who are not in SL and want an answer to this before they decide whether it’s worth spending their time on SL or virtual worlds. But SL-/virtual world-experienced teachers are also asking themselves this question and rightly so.
The same question was asked by Wlodekzimierz Sobkowiak during the EVO Virtual Worlds and Language Teaching session and generated quite a lot of discussion (you can find a collation of all contributions here) and again in our EVO session Teaching Languages in a Virtual World this year.
I’m not going to attempt to answer it in this post. Firstly, I should actually be working on something else rather than writing a blog post … and secondly, in this form, this question cannot be answered in my opinion.
I have read through the discussion several times and there was always this feeling that everybody was talking about a different aspect of SL relating to their own context but without really saying it. This made it impossible to come to terms with the seemingly simple question. After all, if we have been spending so much time in SL, there must be something that we find is worth our time and energy, right?
One statement or question related to the one above that I keep hearing is “why use SL if we replicate real life activities?” And usually there seems to be agreement among many educators that this certainly isn’t the best use of SL. But I kept asking myself “for whom”?
I believe that what has been missing in all of these discussions is the context.
Before we can answer this question about “added value”, we have to know the context in which someone (teacher, learner, …) wants to use Second Life or any other virtual world (or any technology for that matter). Two such contexts (and there are many others) are the mode of delivery of a course and the location of the students:
a) face-to-face class
c) face-to-face and in a country where the target language is spoken
d) face-to-face but in a country where the target language is not spoken
If the context is b) for example, you can justify using SL to replicate situations and activities that you would do in a face-to-face class because in such a situation, SL serves as a means to close the spacial distance between the learners and the teacher (compared to web-conferening and similar tools). The teacher and learners can be in one place and actually do things together (e.g. field trips). It is not (exclusively) used to add anything to the methodology. Though hopefully this would follow.
If you teach English in let’s say the US or UK and your students have paid a lot of money to be there and to immerse themselves in the language and culture, you better have some very good reasons to take them to SL. I’m not saying that there aren’t any but these would certainly not be the same as for situation b).
So, we cannot automatically dismiss activities as being too traditional or too real-life like (and thus less appropriate for a virtual world) without having a clear idea of the situation and the aims of a particular group of students and their teacher.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
– 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
1. Pre-task – 20 – 30 min
Invite everybody to sit around the fire.
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)
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.
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.
Through a comment by David Miller on my blog about recording videos in SL, I came to this blog with a video tutorial about how to make animations for SL. My first reaction when watching it was “Why is there no sound?” I even checked my sound settings on my computer to make sure volume wasn’t turned down. I had a strange feeling that something was missing and “craved” to hear the person making the tutorial speak to me.
Only when I read David Miller’s comment on that blog, did I realize that what I considered as lacking was actually something that made this tutorial more accessible for others like the deaf or maybe even speakers of other languages. I suddenly realized that, even though we have the tools and possibilities to make things more accessible we don’t always do it. Often this is not because we wouldn’t want to but because we are not always aware that we are settings barriers.
Coming back to video tutorials, I think ideal would be to create some that have voice and visuals (e.g. written text in the video highlighting keyboard shortcuts) and clearly visible step-by-step instructions. This way we could make them useful for more people. I can see that this is challenging because I’m sure we often mention important information in speaking in addition to what we actually show. Makes me think I should get different people to “proof-watch” my tutorials 🙂
Thinking about these issues makes me realize how wonderful environments like Second Life and other virtual worlds are for people with different abilities. In most cases you can choose whether you want to communicate in voice or in text or a combination of both. In addition to text and/or voice, you also have the visual 3D environment itself to help get across meaning. This makes it much more accessible than a 2D virtual class- or conference room, except of course, where sign language is used and it is important to see the real person via a web cam.
These are just some quick thoughts that came to my mind when watching the “silent” tutorial video. There is a lot more that one can say about accessibility and virtual worlds.
What do you think about accessibility of virtual worlds and/or tutorial material?
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:
I met Scottlo Scorbal , an English language teacher and podcaster based in Japan, when he signed up for the Virtual Worlds & Language Learning session that I co-moderated with three colleagues. Scottlo, reflected on what we did in the VWLL session with podcasts here and here. He was on of the VWLL participants who planned their first SL lesson and did a peer-teaching lesson during the VWLL session. A video recording of this lesson can be viewed here. I learned that he has been podcasting for four years now and uses podcasting (audio journals) with his students, too. Scott is also on Twitter. Scottlo invited me to do a podcast with him and talk a bit about language learning and teaching in Second Life. You can find the result on his blog Meet Scottlo Scorbo. Thanks Scottlo for giving me this opportunity!
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.