Feb 26

Slide Presentations with the new SL Viewer

Yesterday, I showed several possibilities how to use the new SL viewer function “web on prim” to browse websites and write collaboratively.

Another important function would be to be able to show slide presentations in Second Life. This is often necessary when students practise giving presentations in English.

Here is a short video showing a fully functional Google Docs presentation fullscreen on a prim:

Update 28 February 2010

Today, I tested with a colleague whether it is possible for others to see the slideshow and whether it is synchronous. It turned out that the former is possible what the latter is not. That means, the presenter would have to say which slide he or she is at. That’s not ideal really. So, we will have to look further.

A colleague has set up a wiki where we can post our experiences with media and web on prim and say what works and what doesn’t. So, we don’t have to duplicate efforts.

Feb 25

New SL viewer opens new possibilities

Yesterday, I tested the new SL viewer with some SL colleagues. I have to say I really like what I have seen so far. Of course, it will mean that we have to relearn some things. But so far it has been relatively easy to find what I was looking for and Linden Lap has already provided short video tutorials showing the new features.

The main novelty and something many SL educators have long been waiting for is the “web on prim” feature. And this is really brilliantly solved now. Not only do we not need any parcel media settings anymore to show websites or stream audio and video, websites are completely interactive: links can be clicked, websites synchronously browsed, pages can be scrolled, one can even log in to Ning, Twitter, etc, and update once status… Collaborative writing tasks on Etherpad are possible. And all of this is set up very easily. It is even possible to play online flash games or use other flash-based tools for more serious work. I also like the fact that we can now not only watch youtube videos directly without any conversions but also many other video types. I have my own videos on vimeo and can show these in SL now!

This will not only make educators lives much easier but will make many tools like clunky whiteboards and slide presenters redundant. Uploading of slides will also not be necessary anymore, except if one wants to use the textures for building. This will make it much easier to assign tasks like having learners do presentations or talk about pictures/snapshots. So far, it cost money to upload their slides and meant they had to learn how to do this or send their slides to the teacher who then had to upload them —  a waste of time and money.

(Click the icon on the left of the word “vimeo” to watch it fullscreen.)

I am sure once we have gotten used to the new viewer, we will come up with many other activities that can be done more easily now or that were not possible at all in the past. This will, however, only be possible when everybody in a class uses the new viewer.

Having said that, just because we can browse the web in SL and do all that cool stuff does not mean we have to. I often use no tools at all in my classes as SL has to offer a lot on its own. However, I do occasionally miss a good writing tool. So, being able to do that now with Etherpad, is one of my favourite new functions of this new viewer.

I believe that the new viewer is indeed easier to learn to use for new users. This will make it easier to bring learners into SL without having to spend too much time explaining the User Interface.

I am sure there are still some things that need to be sorted out (e.g. with the old active speakers list it was faster to mute several people), but this is the beta version and we have the chance to provide feedback before the final version is released.

Anyway, these are my first impressions. Have you tried the new version yet? Seeing what you can do now, can you think of how to use these for language teaching/learning activities? Will these change the way you have taught or do you use the Second Life environment without any such tools anyway and it won’t make any difference?

Feb 08

So, what’s the added value of SL for ELT?

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
b) distance
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
e) …

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.

Feb 06

Recording video in SL – copyright issues

As I mentioned in part 1 of the recording video blog posts, I have only recently started recording in Second Life. It had never crossed my mind that I might need to worry about copyright when making recording in SL. I had simply not thought this might be something to have to consider. I was made aware of this when I came across a video tutorial about copyright by David Miller, who had left a comment on my part 1 recording post.

The question of permissions cropped up again after my kitchen fire simulation demo lesson when a TLVW participant asked the following question:

“When you plan a lesson in a site other than your own, do you have to ask the owner for permission? What is the best policy in this case?”

Marian Heddesheimer, who is experienced in making machinima in SL, gave the following advice:

“The permission questions is a good one. I made machinima in Second Life (http://blip.tv/file/835879) and I had the same problem.

For legal reasons, you usually have to ask creators of buildings, clothing or attachments if you may use it in the movie. I think for school it’s not as important as for the movie (since you don’t publish it worldwide). I personally would just ask the owner of the place. In most cases they will be delighted if you like their place for a class.

I would also check if a place will be used by other people on a regular schedule. For example, most SL schools are open for everybody to use their sandboxes and classrooms, as long as your class don’t clash with one of their scheduled classes.

From my experience, most of the owners of SL places like people to come and use it, because they will benefit from the traffic (it will increase their search rank in the SL search). And technically, you cannot break anything in SL accidentally and sandboxes have auto-return so that you won’t harm anybody if you forget to pick up some of your prims after class.”

Now, this answered some questions but also raised more for me. So, I asked Marian:

“I am a photographer in my first profession and I know a bit about copyright issues but was surprised to find that I would have to ask creators in SL when making recordings. I mean, in some cases, I would do it. If an object, house or island played a major role in my recording, I would certainly ask for permission. But the house may be full with objects (e.g. furniture, deco) from all kinds of creators. Would I have to go and ask all of them for permission? In RL, you wouldn’t need to, would you?”

Marian’s very informative reply:

“Yes Nergitz, that’s right. You won’t ask in real live if you have a desk, a chair or a suit in your picture or movie. But it’s different if you see the label “Armani” on the suit or if there is a bottle “Pepsi” somewhere in the picture. You definitely would better get permission to use these brands if you want to publish photos or videos showing these brands.

In SL, you usually don’t ask for every desk or chair, as long as it is nothing special. But if you do a scene in a fancy castle for example, and the creator of this castle will recognize it in your photo/video, they may be able to sue you because you used their creation to create a work on your own and you publish it. It’s even worse if there is a brand name on the object. For example if you buy Nike shoes in world, you cannot be sure the creator has Nike’s permission to sell their brand in SL. So if they will see your photo or video, they will first come after you because you used their brand in a photo/video without written permission.

For me as a director and producer, this was the hardest part in machinima to get all these permissions, because I needed to get them in writing. Technically, I should have sent out papers to sign, but I just used notecards and kept the returning notecards so that I had a proof that I’ve got permission. After the first movie, we decided to use only material that we created ourselves because it’s sometimes too difficult to contact the creators.

This usually is not so important if your photos/videos will be viewed in a small community like in your classroom. But if your video becomes famous on youTube for example, you can face the risk of a very expensive lawsuit if you overlook something.

In my movie “the future is hear” you see some Pepsi-Machines in the background that I have blurred out. The producer who took the job in the first place wanted to get permission from Pepsi (she claimed that she know some people there, but in the end we found out that these people did not exist), so after we could not get the written permission, I decided to remove all brand names form the movie. I think it took me one or two full days to accomplish that for the already finished cut 🙁

For school projects, it might be less difficult, because some countries have the concept of “fair use” which protects educators from being sued. In Germany we don’t have this, so we have to be extra careful :)”

This makes perfect sense and is not that different from RL then.
I can imagine how much work it must have been to find and get permissions from all the creators (or blur the brand names).

I’m not intending to make machinima myself (although there is such a project at the school I occasionally teach) but I have started making tutorials. So i’ll keep these things in mind.

Another related issue is asking for permission when recording students, trainees or anybody else who happens to be around when recording, like I did in the first recording here . Again, this is similar to real life and permission has to be asked before recording and especially before publishing them. I also try to remember to hide avatar names that normally show above each of them but it is still often possible to recognize who they are and it is safer to ask for permission.

This is what Graham Stanley has to say about recording students and getting their permission:

“When we filmed (and recorded) students during the AVALON Business English course, we asked for permission to do so and received it verbally. But we also asked all the students involved to sign permission forms too just in case. Even though the machinima is only intended for use with teachers in the Teacher Training course, it’s only ‘fair’ that you do what you can to get permission from those people involved”