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?