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!
As mentioned in my previous post, today my colleagus and I presented at the Virtual Worlds Best Practices Conference in Second Life about our 6-week online teacher training session Virtual Worlds & Language Teaching. Many of our VWLL participants were present and supported us and I’d really like to thank them for this and for being such active participants during the session.
The roundtable was attended quite well although we had almost nobody from the US because it was too early in the morining on a Sunday 🙂
Although it was announced as a roundtable, it was more a presentation with a Q&A session at the end. We had many positive comments from the audience and it was obvious that there was interest from the questions we received. However, we did not have a discussion about language learning/teaching in SL or more specificially about teacher training in SL. I don’t know whether this was due to time constrainsts or whether participants needed time to digest what they had seen and were told. Maybe we, the presenters, could have asked some questions back to the audience. This will be something that I will think about before our next presentation.
Here are our presentation slides (not in any particular order):
And here are some snapshots from the presentation (courtesy of Carol Rainbow):
The session has finished and the presentation is over but the VWLL community in our Ning and in SL is still vibrant and interested language teachers are welcome to join.
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.
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)
To register, please visit: http://vwbpe09.eventbrite.com Registration is free to all conference attendees.
Hope to see you there.
- 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.
- Designing and implementing our own hands-on workshop
- Peer-evaluation of the workshops using an observation form based on the key factors that came up in activity 1.
- Writing an analytical “story” of our experience with our workshop using the STARR template for storytelling which was provided.
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
A beginner Second Life builder trying her hand at giving a hands-on building workshop.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Nergiz Kern learns to teach in a virtual world.
‘I don’t even have time for my first life and certainly can’t handle a second life’ is typical of the statements that I hear from sceptical teachers. Well, I don’t lead a second life either, but Second Life (SL), the three-dimensional virtual world is very much part of my first or Real Life (RL). It is one of the tools in my repertoire that in many ways closes a gap and, in some instances, enhances my classroom practice. It has now become very much a part of my professional development.
Getting into SL
At first, I was intrigued by what I heard SL had to offer to learners and teachers. I am a visual learner with an interest in technology and the internet. As a teacher, it was the immersive and collaborative nature of SL that appealed to me. I had also been looking for motivating ways to teach online and the game-like nature of SL seemed to be one such way. Consequently, I signed up for SL, created my avatar, the figure who represents me in SL, and started exploring.
Learning to use SL
My first trips into this virtual world were not very satisfactory. Only when I finally met some colleagues in SL and found out about educational places and tools did it start to make sense. It took me about two to three months of regular trips to SL, and intensive learning by observing and participating in events, conferences and lessons and trying out tools, to reach a point where I felt comfortable enough to start teaching. (Teacher support groups, networks and SL training courses are increasing for those who do not have that much time to invest.)
Teaching in SL
Once I had decided to start teaching, I needed students for my first SL English course. Finding students is a relatively easy task in SL because many learners are less sceptical than teachers, and many sign up to SL because they want to practise English. If you offer free classes, you will have no problem finding volunteers. Fourteen students signed up for my course but only around eight to ten of these were regulars (not all of them came to every session, though).
|From Second Life 101 Lesson 9|
They were from Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, India, France and Germany. Some were experienced SL users, others had just joined.
Basically, you can use all the places within SL to teach (except, of course, any inappropriate ones with mature content). It is actually a dream come true because instead of just looking at pictures of remote places, hotels, restaurants, sports, etc and pretending to be there, teachers can actually ‘take’ their students to these locations in a matter of seconds. This is called ‘teleporting’.
It is an advantage, however, to have a meeting point where the lesson starts and ends. This should be a place where teachers have the right to ‘rez’ objects (take items such as presentation screens, whiteboards, chairs, realia, etc out of their inventory and place them in the location so that they can be seen and used by everybody who is present). Our meeting point was a garden where I had my presentation boards, some chairs and a lot of space to move around. For groupwork and discussions after field trips, we also used my own house in SL, which is divided into two areas so that people in one room cannot hear those in the other, and no one can be heard from outside the house.
I decided to offer a pre-intermediate general English course as the majority of the potential students I had talked to were at this level and already had enough knowledge of the language to be able to follow a course where they would not see their teacher face-to-face. In the end, I had a mixed-ability class, with students ranging from elementary to intermediate; I didn’t turn down any student because it was a trial class and they were very eager to participate. It was a six-week course, with two 90-minute sessions a week on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The synchronous ‘face-to-face’ lessons took place in SL. In addition, I used Moodle for homework assignments, to make resources (vocabulary lists, slides, additional exercises, etc) available after class and for discussions and questions. As SL has a game-like nature, I wanted to make homework interesting and varied, too. So I selected online games to practise vocabulary and grammar, and used voice-recording tools for further speaking and listening practice. Whenever possible, I gave students the choice to submit their homework either in writing (blog posts) or in spoken form (recorded), depending on what they thought they needed to practise most.
In order to decide what to teach, I looked through my material and notes of past lessons for this level and browsed through some coursebooks to see what topics, skills and structures they covered. I wanted to have a mix of topics, structures, skills and activities to make it interesting and relevant to the students, but also for me; I was keen to try out different things to see whether or how they worked in SL. I also knew what kind of difficulties students from the participants’ countries usually have. However, I didn’t plan all the lessons prior to the course; I left myself free to be able to base some of them on the needs of the students. I would only discover these needs once the course had started.
I adapted materials, games and activities to SL where possible. Sometimes, this was easy (eg finding pictures for a topic and uploading them to SL to show on a slide/PowerPoint projector or picture board). I found that activities such as ‘twenty questions’, short dictations or board games, and pair- and groupwork were also possible in SL. One style of activity that did not work, however, was mingling. Although SL offers three-dimensional sound (people who are closer sound louder than those further away), students have to move much further away from each other than in real life, otherwise voices get completely mixed up. As a result, they ended up taking turns in pairs, with the others listening.
I had a whole range of tools available thanks to generous experienced SL educators and programmers, who usually give them away for free. Tools I used in this course were: a presentation screen for slides, picture boards, a board that displays notecards/text, a timer, and objects that automatically hand out their content when touched (eg notecards with instructions or homework). What I missed most was a whiteboard that I could write example sentences or draw on spontaneously (now there are some tools that make this possible). Writing words or sentences can be done in the chat area or on notecards and then displayed, though they aren’t in colour and there is no way to highlight things (except by using asterisks or capital letters). However, drawing is not possible at all without prior preparation of slides.
|From Second Life 101 Lesson 10|
I discovered that there are also, however, things that are possible in SL but not in RL. I tried to capitalise on these as much as possible. Most lessons took place ‘outdoors’ and we went on many field trips. Corrections could be done in text chat or with private instant messages without interrupting the students or putting them on the spot. Text chat (and even voice chat) could be saved for review and vocabulary work or given to students who missed the class.
I soon realised that more rigorous planning is needed for SL lessons than for RL lessons, and that preparation in general takes more time because you cannot simply point at the coursebook. The lesson plan has to be written, pictures found, vocabulary, example sentences, grammar explanations and homework instructions written. Once you are in SL, pictures and slides have to be uploaded, the inventory folder needs to be organised: tools, notecards and slides have to be named appropriately so that they can be found easily, places to go have to be selected, etc.
|From Second Life 101 Graduation party|
After planning a couple of lessons and teaching the first sessions, I found that my lesson planning was taking a long time, partly because I was thinking in terms of RL and trying to transfer those lessons into SL. Sometimes this was justified, but often it was possible to be more spontaneous, using different activities and tools that were available to teach in a more SL-style. To give one example, instead of showing pictures of objects, it is possible simply to drag them out of one’s inventory. So, all kinds of realia (including such objects as houses, airplanes, animals, etc) are instantaneously available in the ‘classroom’, not in two dimensions, but in three. Fewer uploads of pictures also means less money spent as each upload costs ten ‘Linden dollars’, the currency of SL. This is not a lot of money (at the moment of writing 266 L$ = 1 US$) but it can accumulate. On the other hand, you do not have to make any photocopies, so you are saving money there.
Again, given the game-like nature of SL, I wanted to make my lessons fun and interactive. Interactivity and student-centred lessons in SL are even more important than in RL for several reasons. Firstly, most people in SL are there because they want to have fun and they want to do things, not just listen to somebody. Secondly, we may meet synchronously at the same virtual location but, ultimately, everybody is sitting at home in front of their computers. So, the teacher cannot see who is listening attentively and who is nodding off. Keeping the students active and having them move around, teleport to different places, form groups, etc and getting them use voice as often as possible, will make sure they are not in the kitchen preparing food while their avatars are the only ones ‘listening’ to the teacher!
Each lesson was self-contained as I could never be sure who and how many would attend the following session. However, some of the lessons were still connected thematically (eg a lesson about news, practising asking questions, interviewing peers, interviewing a guest, watching a presentation, giving a presentation).
|From Second Life 101 Lesson 11|
We took two field trips where one student was the tourist guide and showed the tourists (all the other students and the teacher) their favourite SL location. Another field trip was to Reuter’s SL office. We played word, board and other games to practise and review previous lessons. In one lesson, students had to build objects following instructions; this practised the names of shapes, colours, prepositions of location, and how to give instructions. We had a guest speaker for the students to interview. I also set up flags of different countries along the street to practise country and nationality names. We sat together in my living room to talk about our trips and to tell stories that the students had written in groups (using realia that I had placed on tables). And finally, we had a graduation party with virtual food and drinks, games, an exhibition of what students had built for homework, lots of laughter and chat in English, and, of course, framed certificates of participation.
|From Second Life 101 Lesson 10|
You can find detailed downloadable lesson plans, post-lesson evaluations, student feedback, tips and pictures taken during the lessons on my blog: https://slexperiments.nergizkern.com/.
The students didn’t have to pay for this course, but I asked them to fill out feedback forms after each lesson and at the end of the course. This student feedback was immensely helpful for me in planning future sessions and finding out what works and what doesn’t. I was amazed how well they were able to reflect on their learning in the lessons (most came from rather traditional educational backgrounds). All felt that their English had improved and 60 per cent thought that SL lessons were better than RL ones. Eighty per cent said they would participate in another SL English course, with the remaining 20 per cent saying that they didn’t know whether they would or not. There was no one who said they would not participate again.
This was a wonderful experience for me and I am excited about the possibilities virtual worlds have to offer. The class was for me as real as in RL and the students said they felt like a real class, too. I was very happy to see that they also met outside class and talked with other in English. The sessions were exhausting at times and we had a few problems (time lag, crashes, etc) but nothing that affected the lesson too much. After all, things can go wrong in RL classes, too! However, people are usually more critical of new tools and see mostly what is lacking rather than what they can add to our teaching practice.
Can you survive as a teacher without SL? Sure, you can; at least for a while and maybe if you teach in an English-speaking country where your students can immerse themselves in the language by stepping out of the door. However, if you are in a non-English-speaking country or have distance students, SL can add a lot to your teaching.
SL also offers many opportunities for students to practise their English informally outside class time. They can visit different places and immerse themselves in the language without leaving their homes. This is a huge advantage for those who cannot study abroad, for financial or other reasons. It gives distance students a feeling of presence and really belonging to a group. SL may be a good tool to get shy students more active as it is their avatars speaking or writing in English and not them. It also offers something for different types of learners.
Teachers do not need to offer complete lessons in SL. In the course of face-to-face classes, they can pop into SL for short sessions, project work, an interview, to demonstrate something or to take a field trip. This can even be done as a whole class with one computer and an interactive whiteboard. Teachers who do not want to or cannot use SL in class, can still set homework (providing all the students have access to it) asking them to interview people about something, do some research and write a report about places they visited or do SL quests and scavenger hunts.
It is predicted that all the internet will be three-dimensional in the near future. So teachers and their students who use SL are picking up a real-life skill.
* * *
I will certainly continue teaching in SL or other virtual worlds and can only encourage other teachers to do so, too. Please contact me if you have questions or need help to get started.
This article was first published in English Teaching Professional, Issue 61 March 2009.