Friday, 29 August 2008

Holiday Homework 1: Venturing on Second Life

I have known about Second Life for over a year and I have even been known to lurk on there. However, I really struggled to see how this could be used for “serious teaching”.

Challenging? Yes. I kept having flashbacks from the past, imagining that the flatmates from my long gone student days would have loved Second Life. After all, they were all into role-playing games and willing to stay up all night to throw a few dice about.

At the time, I was told this was educational too : numeracy (probabilities and sums at least), literacy (LOADS of reading involved). I did give it a go but I felt so uncomfortable I did not even crack under peer pressure after that.

Was it the role-playing I found uncomfortable? Not at all. Although I would describe myself as a quiet person- most of the time, I have no problems singing, playing an instrument on stage or taking parts in role-plays.
So what is the problem, I thought?

After a twitter discussion with Helena Butterfield aka Langwitch Shoshtakovich, we decided to meet in SL Barcelona. Langwitch teleported me-Isabelle Firanelli, pictured above- to the Plaza Real and we sat down for a coffee. Well, Langwitch taught me how to sit down and to fly over to the roof top. I even tried out my headsets without any success as the echo was terrible and I am sure Langwitch could have sued me for damaged eardrums if the noise was as bad at her end.

How did it feel? Very strange but also liberating and refreshingly different, something that could really work as an low-stress environment to practise languages in.

I then did more reading and had another Twitter conversation withNergiz Kern, Daffodil Fargis in SL. On her slexperiments wiki, Nergiz introduce herself as a teacher of general, business and technical English to adults with a wide range of teaching experiences in Germany, Brazil and the UK. Nergiz now lives in Turkey and she teaches online and in Second Life.

She also runs a very interesting and informative blog about her SL experiences at
After joining the wiki, I managed to attend the end of one of the weekly meetings Nergiz runs for language teachers. I managed to sit on somebody else’s lap and on top of a cat, so I was a bit nervous to try out my audio after that, but then again, the atmosphere was both really relaxed and stimulating. A Brazilian traveller even gate-crashed the meeting and Nergiz turned this into a learning opportunity for everybody, using a translation tool to help us communicate with him.

Next week, I am definitely giving it another go and now I have met like-minded language teachers, I might even carry out other SL experiments with different people. Ideally, I would love other “lurkers” to meet with me. This is an open invitations to all the language teachers out there who are still feeling odd about trying it out. Come on! Even Oldham MBC has bought a plot of land in Second Life (that discovery did make me realise that it could not be so strange if even my local council was going for it)

You will stand on tables, fall over or even drop into the sea, but I really can see that this is time well spent (honest). Remember the first time you touched a computer mouse? It is a bit like that …


Langwitch said...

How brave are you! I'm full of admiration...I have been in since we met (partly because my husband won't let me back on his computer and mine's too slow). I'll have to check out the links you mentioned. Thanks.
Helena :o)

José Picardo said...

Although I can immediately see educational potential for SL, particularly as regards adult learning and CPD (as suggested in your post), I am still struggling to see how SL can aid language learning in the school context.

I noticed you didn't mention this latter aspect in your post, is that because you too find this?


IC Jones said...

Hi Jose
Let's say that I cannot see myself using SL with a whole class in a computer room. However, I could see myself use it for particular activities on the iwb, where my avatar could demonstrate things (movements, directions, clothes, appearance...). That is of course if it is not blocked and if our wireless connection can support it (I know, I am asking for a lot). There is also the whole lot of issues linked with students going onto it: age limit, safety etc... which I must admit I have not looked into at this stage, hence the focus of my post. Thank you for making me consider SL from that perspective as well... and I do have a lot to take into consideration!
Despite all this,I do feel that SL could have the potential to hook students to languages, develop their independence and provide them with an environment where they would be more willing to take risks with their language skills.
Worth looking at, eh?


IC Jones said...

Hi there Helena

Could you be the next person I come across next time I go on ?
I have now left Barcelona and I am in Grenada, where I took the picture of my avatar for the blog post...
See you there, then!


Eloise said...

People are welcome to look me up in Second Life - but I don't do voice being hard of hearing.

Second Life can be pretty much used to teach anything. My biggest stumbling block was vocational skills but I'm developing tools for that on a fairly regular basis these days...

As for teaching language skills - you can easily create a Spanish, French, Italian or whatever café, hospital, airport etc. and have the student practise their language skills in a place that looks right. Although your school day may make it tricky, if you're working with over-18s (and to a lesser extent under-18s) you can meet native speakers of the language you're studying and chat to them without ever leaving the classroom.

I still wouldn't want a gas engineer or a surgeon trained solely in Second Life, nor will have such a thing any time soon, but there really is very little you can't teach to some extent in Second Life - and whilst it might start taking rather a lot of time it gets more and more natural and easier to teach than you'd think.

Although it's not the main reason for my blog, I've recently started keeping a track of success stories. None of them are about language teaching, but they're worth a look, and there may be some about languages soon.

IC Jones said...

Thank you for your comment, Eloise. I will certainly look you up and I am sure gain more insight from the case studies on your blog.