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.
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.
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.
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?
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)
Think about the following questions while there and take some notes for yourself after the simulation has finished:
1. How did you feel when you first saw the fire start? What was your first reaction?
2. Are you happy with the way you reacted, or do you think you should have done something differently? What?
3. Do you think that such a simulation in Second Life can be effective in training people for real life emergencies?
4. Did you learn anything about kitchen fires or how to react correctly in such a situation that you didn’t know before? What?
(Note that this is quite a realistic simulation that could be rather stressful for someone, especially if they have already experienced a fire. If it makes you feel uneasy, remember that you are in control and can leave the simulation at any time or teleport away).
Once back from the simulation, you will report about your experience with the simulations to your class members using your notes above to help you.
If it is a large group, one group goes first. Those outside can hear what is being said and can use their camera controls to observe what is happening inside. They are asked to take notes to give language feedback later.
Do the activity again with reversed roles.
3. Discussion + language work – 30 -45 min
Say: Before we speak about our experience, we’ll do a quick vocabulary exercise.
You have heard and read many words and expressions related to fire. For the the next task you have 1 minute. I’d like you ALL to type into text chat as many words and expressions as you can related to fire. Start now!
Words that were listed in the demo lesson:
JunCar Static: fire extinguisher
– burn, escape, help, put out a fire, call
– fire department
Werka Ferina: fire brigade
Jim Gustafson: extinguisher
Rhonwen Beresford: brilliant intense incandescent
San Krokus: extinguisher
San Krokus: put out
Jim Gustafson: blanket
San Krokus: firefighters
Werka Ferina: fire extinguisher
Heather8 Devin: fire blanket
Jim Gustafson: fire alarm
Alexandra Ergenthal: alarm, rescue, extinguish, blanket, oil/ grease fire
San Krokus: water
Jim Gustafson: smoke detector
Anza Rosenblum: fire brigade
Anza Rosenblum: put out
Misha Writer: danger, heat, burn
amal Cliassi: fryer
San Krokus: emergency
JunCar Static: burn
Alexandra Ergenthal: escape, fire brigade,roll on the floor
Heimlaga Svenska: smoke
Anza Rosenblum: explosion
JunCar Static: fire extinguisher
Heimlaga Svenska: heat
Jim Gustafson: heat
Alexandra Ergenthal: oven, electrical, water
nahiram Vaniva: arsonist?
Werka Ferina: fear
Astra Martian: hot oil
amal Cliassi: flame
Astra Martian: burning
Astra Martian: blanket
Heimlaga Svenska: alarm sounds
Alexandra Ergenthal: fire hose
Clarify meaning, pronunciation and use of some of the words.
Depending on time and students’ needs work with these words some more or leave this to the language focus stage.
Divide the students into pairs or small groups for the discussion.
They discuss the questions on the notecard (see above).
Teacher monitors and takes notes.
(If possible record these conversations. I will right in a separate post how and also how they can be used for feedback and language work).
Ask everyone to come back together. Some students report about their discussions if times allows for it.
4. Feedback and language focus stage
Peer feedback, teacher feedback, language work according to student’s needs which emerged (We skipped this in the demo lesson).
Extended tasks (after the sessions)
(I usually give the option of doing this in writing or orally)
– report about their experience
– report about a real experience with fire
– answer one of the questions above in more detail
– create a presentation or video about a topic related to fire and safety
– do a role-play and maybe record it (as a machinima)
– write a safety leaflet
Discussion with teachers and learners about the lesson
How did they like it? Ideas for improvements. How they experienced it as a learner. Difficulties…
Your feedback on the lesson and what you heard in the recorded discussion is very welcome.
In a previous post I have written about Project Based Learning in Second Life showing some examples and relating it to language learning. In this post, I would like to show a machinima project with English language learners. The course was run by Talkademy, a Second Life language school where I also teach at and the teacher was Andrew Standen-Raz. Andrew is a film-maker and English language teacher in Real Life. I think this project shows yet another way how Virtual Worlds can be used creatively for language learning and teaching.
What is machinima?
Machinima is a film-making technique within 3D virtual environments like Second Life. Read more about machinima here.
I saw the machinima at the Awards Ceremony, which was a live mixed-reality event (some, like me, in SL and students at the university). Students’ film was shown and then, they had to give a short presentation about the making of the film
I think it is amazing what the students produced during the course considering that they were complete Second Life newbies when they started the course. Also, Kudos to there English trainer, Andrew, who agreed to answer some questions about the course in an interview.
1. Second Life Granny
2. The Murderer in You
3. The Slightly Different Camping Trip
4. The Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side
Making of the Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side
Nergiz: Can you briefly describe the project and how long it lasted? Andrew: The idea to use machinimas for teaching English was initially part of an online language programme developed by the founders of Talkademy, Gerhilde Meissl-Egghart & Klaus Hammermueller. I joined them after they had started their project, initially as a teacher. They had the technical expertise and background to build the Talkademy Environment in SL. When I saw the potential of SL through their work, I decided to offer my film experience to create the “i film academy” concept: taking students sometimes with zero film knowledge step by step through all the steps to make a Machinima–a short film concept combining “Machine & Cinema”–and using the fun part of making a film to motivate students to improve their language skills. The project has been going now for one trial 10 week session as part of an Austrian University Business English programme. The idea now is to develop the concept further by promoting it as a way to connect teachers and students via the internet. Across the EU initially, then further afield via a simple programme that helps students to improve their language skills, to connect to others and to develop cross-cultural communication, something that is quite important these days!
Nergiz: Very interesting concept.That partly answers my next question: Did you have any previous knowledge about film making and was that necessary? Did you read up on this topic? Andrew: Previous knowledge is always important, but one could also say that to be a good teacher requires the desire to help students improve themelves and to make the most of their own potential. Every teacher starts somewhere. I do have extensive film experience, as well as some good teaching experience, and both were necessary to begin the i film academy concept. I wrote the i film programme based on my film production experience, with valuable input, editing and technical support from Gerhilde and Klaus. and combined this with my experiences of teaching language through drama techniques as a model for how to interract with the students.
Nergiz: So you had experience in both fields. Did you see yourself more in the language teacher role in this project or more as someone who teaches the students how to produce a film or both? Andrew: Good question. Making films is of course fun and creative, but it is also very hard work. The i film academy course is designed primarily as a language course and I always had to keep that in mind, especially when setting homework or grading the students on their assignments. The students were attending my classes as part of a Business English course. So it was easy to explain the process of making a film through business terms, ie. writing a good script is like developing a business plan. And from there it was not so hard to grade the students based on their ability to use complex language, to improve through the course, and on how they used language to communicate effectively with each other and with their teacher while making a motivational project such as the Machinima.
Nergiz: What was the students background? Was this course part of their curriculum or optional? And was this a face-to-face class or distance? Andrew: The students were offered this class as part of their business English course. The project was always designed to be via SL. This is why it interested me. Initially someone might ask how can one possibly teach filmmaking solely through an online portal? But when you see how it is possible for someone in Portugal for instance to teach three students in Belgium how to use simple capture camera and edting technology, then you see how amazing SL can be when used for something postive and productive. Nergiz: I agree. Andrew: I never met the students. We only communicated in class in SL or via email when I sent them extra instructions or motvational information
Nergiz: Obviously, they had to do a lot of the work outside class. What kind of tasks did you do with them in the synchronous sessions and what was done outside class time? Did you do any language work with them? Andrew: The most important two steps were: first to work with them in class on understanding what it is to make a film, what is involved and how serious the students had to take the process. Making a film is not just fun. And the idea was of course to encourage them to always view this as an English lesson as well, so we decided to include some basic Business English phrase learning, and to impress on the students that their use of language would be assessed for improvement through the course. The work in the class was sometimes learning fun drama techniques, such as acting short comedy skits to each other, or I had the students present their latest storyboards or scripts and the other students commented on them. This allowed the students to get comfortable speaking and discussing interesting topics and complex issues in English. Outside the class was only for additional advice via email.
Nergiz: Did you give any specific language feedback after these discussion/drama sessions? Andrew: Gerhilde, Klaus and I had a lot of intense discussions when planning the course, to try to make a balance between classical language teaching and the non-traditional techniques. The consensus was that this was more of a “training” course, geared toward encouraging the students to get more comfortable writing, speaking and developing concepts in a foreign language. The feedback I gave the students was in small part correcting their use of language, but a larger part encouraging their efforts without using grading in a de-motivational way.
Nergiz: So, would you say this was a general English or an ESP class? Andrew: I would say this class is something different again–the course I taught was an aditional part of the traditional language course curriculum. So this course functions best when used as an “add-on.” It could not entirely replace a standard English course.
Nergiz: Now, to you 🙂 What did you enjoy most during this course? Andrew: that is an interesting question! I love teaching, even difficult students Nergiz: I think it is important that teachers enjoy themselves Andrew: Absolutely. Like all teachers I have had “moments” when you struggle to remain calm, and to keep control and times when you despair that your students will ever understand that you are trying to help them to improve themselves. With this class, I had students who were already highly motivated, at university level. These students were hungry to learn and smart enough to learn the SL technology. Nergiz: Sounds like a dream class 🙂 Andrew: There were times even these students despaired that their work load from other courses was too high to cope also with making a film, or that they could not manage something with the technical side of making machinimas, but we worked through it. My favourite part is always using the drama techniques. When you take student who have never performed in front of anyone, who are maybe shy, who think they are not creative, and then you see them surprising themselves when they improvise successfully, then you know it is all worth it.
Nergiz: I can imagine how satisfying that must be. Would you do a similar course again and if so, would you do things differently? Andrew: Yes, I would certianly do the same course again. This was just the pilot class, so there are things we can improve. I constantly revised the class as we went along, with input from Gerhilde, and took on board the students input as well. That is very important. These days, you have to include the students in the process, not dictate to them.
Nergiz: Absolutely! What did the students think about the project? Andrew: We do have feedback forms but we are still analyzing them. I do know this–after the class, a couple of students asked me if they could connect via facebook. So I guess that is a sign I did something right!
Nergiz: That certainly is! 🙂 What is your opinion about virtual worlds in language education? Andrew: Hmmm, again an interesting question. The first time I saw SL, I thought, here is the future of social networking. Here you can actually see someone, and interract with them almost like in the real world, so a vast jump ahead from facebook etc. The main question about all of our uses of the internet is “do we use these tools like social networking for positive and productive purposes, or do we focus merely on junk?” What internet innovators like Gerhilde and Klaus have achieved with Talkademy is a means to use the virtual worlds of SL for the most useful way of all — teaching. Nergiz: I obviously agree. Andrew: My input to then use these virtual worlds as backdrops for teaching film making is merely one more way that I hope to add some positive input into the internet.
Nergiz: Thank so much for answering my many questions! Do you have any other comments? Andrew: Not really. I think your questions covered it. Hopefuly you can also join us more with Talkademy or the i film academy. I am sure you would have some great input. Nergiz: Thanks! Well, this was very insightful. Thanks a lot for taking the time! Andrew: You are welcome
Many dismiss holodecks or Builder’s Buddy scenes (see my previous posts here and here) as tools for learning and teaching languages in Second Life thinking they are only good for role-plays (e.g. restaurant scene to practise ordering food). While I personally don’t like role-plays that much, they have their place in language teaching. However, when we started the Holodeck Challenge two months ago, we asked participants to be creative and literary think out of the box when creating scenes for language teaching and learning. And they did!! I am still amazed what they have come up with — those who built scenes and participants who were at the final event and contributed with their ideas. The final event took place on Saturday, 28th July 2009.
Here are snapshots of some of the scenes and some ideas that have come up:
1. Mary Roussel’s gardens
Mary added some free educational tools to her beautiful class spaces which can be used to brainstorm and write words collaboratively and to display notecards.
Her teaching idea:
Send students to a furnished building to collect furniture names. Then, they come back and write the words on the board, which can then be used to for further activities.
If I had been taught in such lovely class spaces, I might have liked school more.
2. Mary’s Venezuelan market
Role-play different tourist/sales-person dialogues (not only for buying/selling souvenirs. Tourist could ask questions about the culture, city, life in Venezuela, etc).
Learn/teach the names of the objects in Spanish
Talk about Venezuela
Talk about markets and customs associated with them in different countries/cultures
Talk about traveling, holidays, souvenirs, shopping, etc.
Talk about handicraft, art, …
Mary created this Souvenir Market because there seems to be nothing about Venezuela in SL.
All participants loved this scene. It is such a lovely scene that it made me want to stay there longer and explore. It also made me want to say something. I wanted to express my feelings and ask questions about the place and objects. I think this is a very important point in language teaching. If emotions and feelings are involved, then students do want express them and they will more readily seek and accept help to formulate what they want to say in the target language.
3. Anna Begonina’s shop scenes
Anna teaches Italian in Second Life and always comes up with creative ideas. She said that although, there are a lot of shops in Second Life, shops and items are mostly named in English even in Italian places. Shops also often move or close so you can never really on using them again when you need them for a class. Also, most items in a shop cost money and are not modifiable. This is why Anna has created two different market/shop scenes in which the objects show typical Italian brands and the names of the objects are in Italian. They are modifiable so that objects can be moved, copied, renamed or retextured (e.g. for teachers who teach other languages).
Dennis has created a garden which can be used as a nice place to sit together and talk about anything that comes up in a language lesson. As it is as a Dome garden, he could obviously not give specific ideas or language points that would be taught there.
One thing that is special about his garden is that the some of the textures that he used (like the walls) are from Real Life, which would well be a starting point for discussions as well as the up-side-down trees, which he wanted to “correct” but we thought he should leave as they are 🙂
6. Carolrb Roux’s garden scenes
The first one is intended as a meeting space (above).
The second one is The Owl and the Pussy Cat garden. It is a beautiful place to explore. There is music, hidden objects in the trees and the garden, a snake ladder game and many other things from the poem. Carol even recited the poem for us as a special treat because some of us didn’t know the poem.
This is a nice room to sit together to read and talk about a book. It also makes a nice space for other kinds of meetings and discussions.
Carol also generously helped other participants to build their scenes and troubleshoot them during the two months which this challenge lasted.
I don’t remember whether any were mentioned because I had some technical trouble at this stage but I can imagine the following:
Have students explore the garden and think what this could be about
If students had to memorize the poem, playing in the garden can help them remember the poem. They can walk from place to place and recite the lines connected to the objects.
It can also be simply a fun activity after having worked with the poem as a kind of bonus or reward.
I’m sure Carol and others have more ideas.
7. Nahiram Yakubu’s flea market street scene
Nahiram has created this beautiful flea market scene.
I missed most of this because I had to relog but one idea nahiram mentioned when I was back is the following:
Students take out objects from their inventory and set up there stand or area. Then, they can all walk around and explore the market, ask questions about the objects on sale and haggle over the prices of the objects. If students don’t have enough freebie objects in their inventory, they can either be given different boxes full of objects by the teacher or sent freebie shopping in SL first (depending on the available time). If two students have the same object, it could be interesting because they might have different prices and would have to justify why theirs is more expensive.
Of course, their could be an activity first to learn or review the names of the objects or this could come at the end and only if necessary.
8. Shawn’s maze
Another brilliant idea and very different way of using holodecks for language teaching purposes. Shawn has built this (and other scenes) with the Horizons holodeck.
Students work in pairs. One student sits on a chair that automatically lifts them up to a certain hight where they have a good bird’s eye view of the maze. The other student stand in front of the entrance of the maze and waits for instructions. The student on the chair gives directions to the student on the ground and guides him either to certain objects that are distributed in the maze or to the exit.
I can imagine adding extra fun to this activity by having them go to certain objects in the maze to interact with them (e.g. retrieve their content, get a copy) and then find the exit. Several teams could compete with each other using IM voice/text chat so that they wouldn’t be overheard by the other teams.
We have tried this activity with some colleagues and it generated a lot of speaking (giving instructions, clarifying, asking for help, providing help, vocabulary, different tenses and structures).
The Holodeck Challenge is over but this does not mean we don’t accept more scenes 🙂
I know that others wanted to create scenes but couldn’t do so out of lack of time. Maybe some have time during the summer holidays. If so, we are happy to see more scenes and ideas here or in the wiki.
We will find a place where we will deposit the created scenes and language teachers will be able to grab a copy. Whether the creators will offer them all for free to everybody is up to them. As soon as we have agreed on how to make them available, I will post it here.
If you are interested in Holodecks, you might also want to check out what EUROCALL and CALICO are up to at their HQ in Second Life. You can contact Groovy Winkler or Randall Renoir in SL or join one of their in-world groups for more information.
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.
Situation 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.
Task 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.
Actions 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).
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.
Lessons learned 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.
Another MUVEnation task after a long break. This is for module two, activity one: Analysis of hands-on workshops. We were provided with a very comprehensive analysis grid which was very helpful in compiling the list of factors. Factors I found missing were
Importance of announcements (clearly defined task, aims, level, duration, prerequisites, …)
Pace of delivery (too fast can cause stress, too slow can break the flow or bore participants)
Motivation (to come back, continue learning, finish the task, …)
This is by no means a complete list but what I have collected through attending in-world workshops, chatting with experienced workshop instructors and adding a bit from my own SL teaching experience where appropriate. I have not numbered the lists because the factors are not in a particular order and there is no specific number of items. Also, this is related to SL skills workshops. Other types of workshops, seminars or lessons will call for partly or completely different approaches.
Workshop design: planning and preparation
Detailed/accurate instructions and supplies prepared in advance and handed out at the beginning of the session. The folder should include all the material needed, like textures, scripts, and sounds, slides, but also a notecard with the instructions so that latecomers or those falling behind can catch up (Copyright: This might lead to the instructions being used by others for their workshops but they can be copied from local chat anyway.
Announcements to tell participants about prerequisites needed (level, pre-knowledge, objectives, duration…)
Limit the number of participants to be able to be able to provide sufficient individual help.
Picture/slide or in case of building, a finished version of the object that participants are going to build placed visibly.
Improving/adding to instructions (clarification about questions asked during a session can be added to the instructions for future session.
Interesting topic (obviously there isn‘t always a choice but even though the learning aim might be fixed, like „basic building“, „how to build a box that hands out content“, the instructor can make it interesting and timely „Gift box building“.
Spacial design: In most building workshops, the space seems to be designed very traditionally with neat rows for participants (though often with cushions instead of desks and chairs) and instructor sitting/standing in front facing the group. This means, the instructors have to shout instructions. Asked whether it has any advantages, I was told that it didn‘t. I discussed other options with instructors: A circle of a 20m diameter would eliminate the need to shout. On the downside, some students would face the instructors back and and would need to use the camera controls more to see the slides used for the class. A semi-circle might be the best option.
Workshop design: delivery and instruction
Start punctually but plan activities/workshop in such a way that latecomers can catch up with the least disruption. Agree on and display (slides) rules of conduct for such cases (and also on how you intend to deal with questions, etc.).
Especially in beginner workshop, provide visual/textual help with SL user interface (e. g. how to zoom in on slides, use camera controls).
Most instructors, I was told, copy/paste instructions from notecard that has been prepared in advance (see planning and preparation). Although, this is already a much better solution than typing instructions life, I use a tool like the SpeakEasy HUD instead of copy/paste. The HUD automatically brings up the next step of the instructions typed in advance in a notecard with one click on its icon eliminating the need to have a separate window with the text opened. The HUD gives me enough flexibility to react to questions during a session or add personal (live) remarks to not make it feel impersonal.
Show slides instead of trying to describe things in text. A combination of both is probably the best to cater to the needs of different learner types.
Use slides and other means to show/tell first what participants are going to do next and then do it. This gives participants a sense of direction and confidence.
Show the final product(s) and explain or demonstrate what it is good for and when it is used (knowing the purpose of what is being done.
Make the different steps visual (slides of steps or instructor building the object together with participants) so that participants can check whether they have done steps correctly.
When using slides, make sure the rez quickly (e. g. by pre-rezzing them on a small prim or using presenters that have this feature built-in).
Keep to the subject/topic (e.g. if a class is about basic scripting don‘t lecture about the history of programming) Participants usually want to to do something and have something to take away.
If too many participants have problems and need help, it is good to be able to call another instructor for help. Even better would be to always have a ”helper” there who help with technical or similar problems. After such a session ”problematic” session, it is important to analyse why the problems occurred and try and eliminate the cause as much as possible.
Personalize activities whenever possible even if it is simple things like choosing ones own textures, sound, text or colour.
Conversational flow/Communication dynamics: Allow participants to interrupt, ask questions and react to comments by them whenever possible during the session to make session less stressful and more light-hearted. Especially when the instruction text has been pre-prepared, it can sound very impersonal if nothing else is ”spoken”. Also, these mini-chats give those who have fallen behind a chance to breathe and catch up. This will create a positive atmosphere and lower the affective filter and thus enable better learning.
Whenever possible and if the nature of the workshop and time allows, allow participants to reflect on what is being done. A pure step-by-step instruction on how to build something or script might be time-efficient if only the result is important but will not result in real learning. For learning to take place, participants need to think about the process and reflect on their learning (if not possible during the workshop than outside of it by providing learners with questions).
Implementation of the workshop: follow up and evaluation
Decide which questions to answer in local chat and which in IM (If one participants asks a question, replying in local chat might confuse others. However, even if a question has been asked in IM but could be relevant for all, it should be answered in local chat).
Monitor students‘ progress by asking how they are doing after major steps and if possible, by looking at their builds/objects and trying out if they function as they should.
Assessment depends on the nature of the workshop and what the expected outcomes are (An object with certain looks or function or a script can be assessed by their looks, accuracy or trying if they work. The process might also be taken into account. In other workshops like ”how to best use communication tools“, assessment could be by level of engagement, correct etiquette or relevance and nature of contributions), collaboration might be assessed if that was a requirement or completion of a task or solving of a problem.
Implementation of the workshop: recall and transfer of learning
Recapitulation is important at the end of a session for better learning to take place. I haven‘t seen this done in any of the workshops I have attended. In my lesson, I always plan to show the sign-posts from the beginning of the lesson again to help recap but often run out of time and can‘t do it.
Provide access to a network and/or forum where participants can help each other in between sessions. I use Moodle forum and created a Second Life group for my students.
Provide additional help, material, exercises and information after the class. These could be accessed in-world or on the web. I use Moodle (for chat logs, vocabulary lists, other material) and web 2.0 tools (for exercise, self-paced practice). The instructor of the scripting workshop I have attended, Simon Kline, provides video tutorials of the topics covered in-world.
Motivation: Providing a forum, in-world group and creating a network can also be highly motivating. Another way of motivation participants is to showcase their ”products“ and success stories. In my course I did this by making an exhibition of students‘ builds, a party at the end and framed SL certificates. The scripting instructor mentioned above compiles some successful stories of his students.
Note: It is important to keep in mind that this list of some key factors is for hands-on workshops like those for learning about basic SL building and scripting. Workshops can take very different forms and factors affecting success will vary and not all of the above will be suitable. A lot also depends on whether the workshop is one of a serious or a stand-alone one, whether participation is compulsory or voluntary and other such factors.
I found the workshops I have attended interesting and learned new skills plus took away a finished product and scripts and knowledge that I can use/apply for other tasks. I found one of the building workshops a bit stressful and the delivery a bit impersonal whereas there was more interaction in the scripting workshop. In both the scripting workshop and a gift box building workshop there was humour which I find essential in any learning environment.
I had the chance to talk to two instructors, Simon Kline and revochen Mayne, who I would like to thank very much for the extra time they spent with me to talk about their workshops and what they think are key factors for successful hands-on workshops.
I have been asked several times which tools I miss in Second Life. When I first started thinking about teaching in SL, I searched for some kind of whiteboard that I could write on because that is one of the most basic tools we teachers use in Real Life. Then, I started wondering whether I wouldn’t start teaching in a more traditional or at least RL way if I had a whiteboard. Why use Second Life if we teach there like we do in Real Life?
I changed the way I think about teaching in SL and the tools I need. We only miss things if we have certain expectations. The expectations we have about teaching in SL often come from our RL experience. We have a whiteboard in RL and are used to using it so we want one in SL. Once I started seeing SL as a new tool itself and as a place that offers its own possibilities which often don’t exist in RL, I stopped missing tools and instead looked at what is there and how I can best make use of those tools.
Some tools that are there, can also stand in one’s way instead of helping deliver a better lesson. SL educators have to ask themselves the same questions like educators in RL: “Do I use this technology/tool because it is there or does it really benefit my students and improve my lesson delivery?” I do have a large collection of SL educational tools. However, I have only used a handful in my classes, mainly a notecard/landmark giver, a notecard displayer, picture boards and a slide presenter. I might use a different set in a different course if need be but I have to justify it to myself.
Having said that, I have found several whiteboard tools and mash-ups with websites where I can write and even draw on 🙂 but I don’t think I will make much use of them for now.
Finally, I have to admit that there is one thing that I do miss. It is not a tool but a feature. If text in notecards could be formatted (bold, underline, text in different colours), I would be a happier SL teacher 🙂
Time was again an issue because of late arrivers. However, a lot of time was also lost because my security presentation board did not allow others to use it although I had given them the rights and it said so. This meant we had to find another solutions for students to be able to show their pictures. I did not want them to have to pass them on to me for me to to show them. They should be able to do this independently. I was very happy, that the Island manager, Breathe Swindlehurst, came to visit and he gave the class members the right to rez objects so that they could use their own boards or those present in the conference room. Unfortunately, it meant also that I had to rush two students during their longer presentations and there was certainly no need for the alphabet game, which I had planned in case students would not have done their homework.
Amazingly, most students had done their homework and prepared a presentation. Nobody volunteered to be the first presenter so I thought of a way of deciding who goes first and asked them for the first letter of the street they live in (we had done SL birthdays and names already). It turned out that one student didn’t know the street’s name 🙂 I was so speechless that I didn’t ask how that was possible. Will have to do that.
As they had been free to choose the topic, they were very different. Most students used visuals and one even streamed recorded audio through her microphone. This was the first time that we heard voice from “her”.
Students said that they were nervous before and during their presentation like in Real Life. This is for me one more proof that SL is immersive and students do take their lessons seriously . It does, however, also mean that shy students can still be shy and it does obviously not eliminate nervousness.
The presentations where a kind of assessment test about the progress they had made in the course. I took notes and sent them a personal detailed feedback letter the following day.
This session was extremely stressful for me as the teacher. I had to deal with IMs from students and observers while listening to the students’ presentations and taking notes for later feedback and trying to help them with technical and other questions.
When I look back, it seems lost time at the beginning was the main issue. There is not all too much I can do about it because, as in Real Life, some students will always be late but in SL they have more (valid) excuses. In a paid course, and if the activity planned for the beginning allowed it, I would be a bit stricter about starting punctually and would talk about and agree on a a late-arriver policy with the students.
In this course, I did not plan to teach much grammar or had specific system lessons (with two exceptions). Most of it was review for most of them and most teaching was incidential. The course was short, the needs different, levels different, and there had been no pre-course assesssment. So, I had to find a middle way. The main aim was to get students speaking, using what they knew actively and, thus, becoming more confident.
I was totally real-life exhausted after the lesson and the never-ending graduation party (see next post) but very satisfied and happy about how everything had gone. This course was a wonderful experience and I have proved to myself that teaching a language in Second Life is possible, in many ways in a much more immersive, interactive and collaborative way than in Real Life but, of course, also with some drawbacks. For me personally, it was definitely immersive but I am aware of the fact that this differs from person to person. You have to allow it to be immersive and be a little playful and pretend at times (that the food is real, the fall was dangerous, etc.). Students’ feedback and their performance during the course shows also that learning does take place.
Finally, I do not see Second Life as a tool or place for learning that will replace Real Life schools. However, especially for distance and online learning, it means a huge opportunity to enhance the learning experience which no teacher should dismiss.
I have to be careful at the beginning not to allow students to get used to arrving late. But there were only two so I really had to wait. But the time was still used well to introduce each other (we had a visitor) and we weren’t so many so there was enough time at the end.
The review was very brief because it was only a reminder. Students had more problems with the grammar words (noun, adj, ad) as so often, than with the actual concept. Some students were, however, confused about the difference so it was good to have planned the controlled practise in game form.
Students loved the game but the pace was a bit too slow. This was partly due to the fact that this was the first board game they had ever played in SL and I had to explain it and due to the nature of SL (everything seems to take longer).
Impromptu game: Only three students were left and only one of them used voice, unfortunately. The girls had to type fast so practised “fluent typing” rathern than their speaking fluency. Therefore, I was not very satisfied with this part. I want to have one girls-only course/class in the future so that everybody can speak.
I couldn’t hand out the homework notecards nor could I drag them into my notecard giver. So I copied the homework text into local chat (it is also available on the course website).
Students had done last week’s homework and written a letter to Dennis. For the next (and last) lesson, they have to prepare a mini-presentation. I will give them individual picture boards and if necessary some Linden dollars to upload a few pictures for their presentation (I limited the amount and some students are also ready to donate some dollars).
Games are a very appropriate way to transfer controlled practise pen-and-paper exercises into interactive student-centred, kinaesthetic games which are fun to play. They do take more time, of course, for the same amount of questions. This was my first attempt to create such a board and it turned out it is much easier that I thought it would be. The only think I have to figure out is how to get two different scripts working in the proper order or independently.
The Impromptu Speech game does really only make sense when students use voice. I planned it hoping there would be more students using voice.
Update – 18 August 2008
Some students learned a lot of new words and expression others some. Some practised speaking “a lot” some “enough”. For some it was the right level for one too easy. Everybody liked all activities and think the homework is/was useful and fun. Best activity: The dice/board game and challenging the other team