Saturday, February 16, 2008

Reflection on the course - Assignment 1

A The characterisitics of an online learning community and the implications for learning and teaching online

To reflect on what I have learnt from this Facilitating eLearning Communities course, I need to go back to why I did the course - I wanted to find out about online learning communities because we were developing fully online beginners courses in Japanese and Chinese for the first time. The other members of the team were concentrating on the technical aspects of developing language learning activities, structuring the course, texts and so forth. My role was to look into communities of learning. I came in with an understanding of learning styles, learner needs and preferences, the role of reflection, self-assessment, self-motivation, and effective learning strategies as a result of the research I have been doing on learner autonomy, CALL and second language learning. I had some experience of integrating ICT for blended learning, into face to face classes, for example an e-portfolio, and wikis and blogs on Blackboard. I had some knowledge of communities of practice from what I had read, but no personal experience of how to facilitate and maintain online communities.

Possible communities of learning on the new online language courses being developed: I knew we could have at least three communities, each with a common interest in learning a language but also with their distinct needs or interests:

  1. school teachers needing to learn a language in response to the inclusion of languages as a learning area in the New Curriculum 2007. These teachers would most likely be intermediate school teachers, but there could also be primary and secondary teachers. Their distinct needs or interests could include how to integrate ICT and intercultural competence into their learning, teaching and assessment activities.
  2. business people. Their distinct needs would probably be business etiquette and culture.
  3. our own students or students from other institutions. Their distinct needs would be varied but could well reflect their majors.

There are a number of definitions of communities of practice/communities of learning, such as the one provided by Etienne Wagner:

Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.

This captures the essence of 'online communities' that I have come to understand gradually during this course from my own personal experience as a student interacting with other participants, Bronwyn and Leigh as facilitators, and the input from the various experts who delivered the 10 minute lectures. It is a learning environment in which learning can range from social interchange (exchange of knowledge), to social constructivism involving negotiation of meaning resulting in new knowledge construction (Kanuka and Anderson, 1998). I believe the success of these forms of social interaction is dependent on how effectively a range of tools are integrated into the course, and how various characteristics of online communities and issues - such as learners' prior knowledge and technological competence - are handled and resolved by skillfull facilitating.

Using the 10 minute lectures as a framework, these are some of the key characteristics/issues that have struck me as having major implications for learning and teaching online:

The time issue for students to become comfortable in the environment. Identity and ownership are essential factors in this process (James Farmer: Identity and Ownership Online). Farmer talked about the importance of social presence defined as 'the ability to project self as a real person over time', and how blogs and social technologies help get over issues of ownership and identity. The key to this is a learner-centred environment, that allows expression and relevance to the individual. The other important factor Farmer advocated is that the teacher should interact, comment and participate as an individual, rather than just be the person who grades.

The importance of preparing the learning space. As teachers we cannot 'create' the community, nor know what motivates students. However, just as in the face to face classroom, we can endeavour to create the optimum learning environment to enable students to maintain motivation. In relation to this Konrad Glogowski (Classrooms as Third Places) talked about preparing an online space for learning before the formal learning takes place. In addition to allowing students to write something that is personally meaningful before formal learning takes place to enable students to develop their online identity, Glogowski talked about making the community and activities very visible, and not just a collection of for example, blogs. Access and linkages should be simple and straightforward. I had problems with navigation in the early stages of this course: joining late, I found that interaction between participants was already taking place on the discussion board and email forum, and blogs were being introduced. Information and materials relating to the course were available on the course blog and also on Blackboard. What seems obvious to me now, was not then when I was a 'newbie'. The feeling of being overwhelmed and unsure of where to find things spurred me into action to make changes to the online environment I had created for my own students.

What I learnt about social identity and ownership also explained why an e-portfolio I had been trialling was not as successful as I had hoped it would be. It was far too teacher-centred and inflexible and did not allow students to create their own identity. Students were also isolated in the e-portfolio as it was only accessible to the individual and the teacher, so there was no social interaction, and no opportunity to build or feel part of a community. I intend to use blogs this year for first year students to introduce themselves to each other, and write something personally relevant before the formal learning begins, and at the same time, to enable them to get used to the online environment. These blogs will be set up in Blackboard so the students do not have to worry about the technical details of setting blogs up for themselves.

The distinctiveness of social interaction and networking possible within online communities. Sheryl Nussbaum-beach (The art of building virtual learning communities) described virtual communities as the basis of educational reform that will impact on how we deliver our curriculum. They will ensure collaboration globally, transforming our classrooms by taking them out of their isolation, and the role of teachers will need to change to that of partnerships with their students. Learning will not be top down but we will connect with others across the globe, and individuals will be engaged by influencing each other by a learning process eg through blogs. There will be lots of discussion and interaction, and relationships will form based on trust. Roles will change, with an ebb and flow depending on what is going on and how this engages the individual - lurkers are a consequence of this process. One could also add individual circumstances of participants into the formula.

Relating what Sheryl said to my own experience on the course: being able to learn in this environment, especially having 10 minute lectures from the various speakers, is really extending the community beyond the classroom, and is a clear example of the benefits of the environment. I feel that it is also important that participants in an online course are made aware of the characteristics of online learning, such as the ebb and flow of roles and interaction, and that when they are not quite as active, they can identify the reasons why this is happening, rather than worry that it is a reflection of their lack of ability.

Increasing presence and reliance of technology. I agree with Sheryl's comment that the use of the technologies also reinforces the digital divide - between those who know how to use the technology and those who don't. This has implications for learning and teaching: it is already becoming apparent amongst language teachers. My belief is that language teachers need to keep pace with the changing profile and expectations of our students, the increasing presence of technology, and the educational goals of life-long learning, as evidenced in the Executive Summary of the 'e-Learner profiles: diversity in learning' report by Jeffrey et al (n.d.).

The implications of increasing use of technologies whether in blended learning or fully online learning means that through networking, students now have access to the same resources, tools and experts as their teachers, and that learning is no longer passive (George Siemens: Curatorial Teaching). The danger is that there will be an increasing digital divide between students who will engage with the new technology and those who do not, and that this will be a challenge for teachers. However, Siemens pointed out that we have always had to deal with students who have not wanted to take part in some activities for examples group work or presentations and those who will.

The use I am making of Siemens' website, newsletter and links within it, and incorporating principles underpinning his connectivist approach into the other approaches I use (eg experiential learning), is one example of the benefits of the networking of the online community.

The role of peer support and collaborative learning. This was illustrated by Nancy White in the context of social networks like, peer assist and blogging. All these involve 'looking over the shoulders' of others and benefits the person looking and the person who is being looked at. As a member of this Facilitating eLearning Communities course, I have benefited from reading the blogs of other participants, feedback in my own blog, and the help I have received including from people outside the course (for example in Second Life) who also participate in this community.

Issues relating to open or closed access to participants' material. This 'looking over the shoulders of others' as outlined by Nancy White, has benefits, but having open access or closed access is a consideration in online learning, as can be seen from the summary of the discussion in Yvonne's facilitation exercise on the 'Pros and Cons of Blogging for Projects'.

These issues include:

  • whether students are comfortable with others reading and commenting on their work;
  • the need for other students to provide constructive criticism and questioning, rather than just affirmations (Derek Chirnside: Community in Courses).
  • the need to have structure and scaffolding otherwise reflection is unlikely to develop beyond description and learning remains shallow.

In the case of open versus closed, this is something I will be looking at in my own courses. I am considering a mixture: some activities open and some closed; and some open at fixed times. However there is value to being open, as I experienced myself when Nancy White made a comment in my blog: it certainly had an impact on my confidence and on feeling part of a community.

B Evaluate online communiation tools in given learning contexts eg in your own discipline.

The increased awareness of the potential of online communication tools for language learning is summarised in this You Tube video by Graham Stanley:

Language Learning and Web 2.0 Technologies

The new technologies have the potential to enhance language learning far beyond what could have been imagined only a few years ago, and now play a major role in ensuring relevance. I find I can now just focus on learning and teaching activities I would like without worrying so much about whether they can be achieved in terms of technology because this time next year it is likely to be possible. The pace at which technology is developing means we can do things now that we could not do this time last year. Tools such as podcasts and Wimba Voice Tools for example have made teaching oral skills effectively online a reality, not to mention the potential of Second Life. The integration of ICT into language teaching is very much an aim at the school level, and the knowledge and skills are reflected in the key competencies that are being introduced in all sectors. One of the implications of this activity is the need to have a shift in paradigm in learning, teaching and assessment, away from the traditional approaches to one that is more holistic and experiential (Corder & Moffat, 2005) and includes the principles of connectivism (Siemens, 2004). In fact Siemens has had quite an influence on my pedagogical approach and this lecture is a good summary of what I have learnt, thought and moved towards in my own teaching. My experience of using the various tools in this course has reinforced my own research findings that the tools alone do not guarantee learning; the important factor is how they can be used to enhance learning and teaching (as outlined by Siemens (+slideshow) . It is essential to have a sound pedagogical framework (Levy, 2007) .

The following is a reflection on some of the tools that have the most relevance for me at the moment:

What I have learnt about the tools: the course participants have been exposed to a range of online tools and I like the way Yvonne has divided them up into synchronous, asynchronous and tools. Probably the ones that have had most relevance for my own teaching have been email forums, wikis, blogs, Skype, and Second Life as a VLE. I now use and RSS feeds to manage my own learning and can see a practical learning and teaching function for them. Other social networking tools I have not become very familiar with include FaceBook and Myspace, the former I did not like on the same grounds as Siemens, ie 'privacy sacrifice' not acceptable. As a tool the concept is good but not the things that go with it. I am not very interested in pursuing Elluminate for my own teaching at the moment as I have access to the KAREN network, but I have enjoyed using it as a student on this course probably because of the interaction that took place.

Blogs: I had contributed to a blog the year before last to prepare for a joint presentation at conference in Japan. One of the other presenters was living in Mexico and the other in Japan. We actually moved to a wiki as it was much more suitable for our needs for editing. It has been a very useful experience having to use a blog as a student on this course to reflect on my learning experience, and having it open for people to comment. As mentioned above, I found Yvonne's facilitation exercise interesting and useful for raising awareness of a whole range of issues that can arise when using blogs in learning and teaching.

In terms of my own teaching, I chose blogs to address the issue of how to assess development of intercultural competence such as understanding, analysis, and changes in attitude and behaviour, aspects that are difficult to measure by conventional testing techniques (assignments, essays, multiple choice). It was also necessary to move away from percentages to performance indicators based on learning outcomes to enable students to have a clearer understanding of what was expected. The key issue has been whether to make these blogs open to the class or just keep them open to the teacher. Opening them up to the class might encourage peer feedback but the disadvantage is students might not reflect to the same extent as if the blogs were closed. I will still keep the blogs within BlackBoard for the first year students and for those on the fully online course initially at least as their technological skills are varied and I want to have the blogs all set up for the start of the semester.

Wikis: As with blogs, I had already used a wiki for the collaborative work for the conference in Japan, but I had not really learnt how to use it properly. There is no link to this wiki as it has been deleted. I used wikis as a tool in my new intercultural competence course last year to manage group work, providing a tool for students to record thoughts and work. This worked very well. The issue as with Blogs, is whether to make the group wikis open to the other groups in the course. Making them available to other groups would be useful to provide models for weaker groups, and encourage more collaborative work.

Second Life: I found the potential offered by SL for language and culture learning most exciting and have already discussed this in previous blogs reflecting on the facilitation plan and the facilitation exercise in SL. There is still a great deal more to learn and to explore about its potential for discussion and interaction, and there are already some exciting developments, as this site for English language teaching shows. In fact ideas from any discipline can be adapted for language and culture teaching and activities can be cross-discipline. During Carolyn's facilitation in SL, I was speaking to Yvonne about an idea to have business students meet with Japanese language students to talk about Japanese business etiquette and culture. This would add authenticity and relevance for the language students, and provide useful insights into ways of interacting in the Japanese business world for business studies students.

If I were to say just one thing about the online communication tools - it is my raised awareness of the potential they offer to enhance learning and teaching, and I endorse Veronique's comment where she reflects on online communication tools, that they must be used to meet a learning and teaching need and not just for the sake of using them:

The tools must fit the purpose, that is, to enable and support the desired learning experiences, and be relatively simple and user-friendly.

There can be difficulties mastering them, but as George Siemens said, if our goal is learning, then we will get round the various technical issues in order to achieve the learning outcomes. In my own case, while I have not mastered all the various technologies available, I have a much better understanding of them, and will deal with the technical issues when I need to use a particular technology for a learning and teaching issue.

My Wiki will be an ongoing project open to language teachers within my own institution and in other institutions in all sectors, to encourage discussion and create a resource bank of ideas for language learning activities integrating these tools. I regret not having the time to participate in other participants' wikis as I think they are a very effective tool for collaborative learning. I have found that they help address the issue of time and place to do group work for face to face students as well as totally online students, and can be a forum to manage the needs of specific groups of students. For example, speakers of Mandarin or Korean in an interpreting paper where the teacher only speaks European languages, can exchange ideas, raise questions and seek clarification from each other after lectures.

C Articulate the skills required for maintaining a successful online learning community.

What I have learnt about facilitating:

Bronwyn in her email forum discussion of 18 September 'The Community', talks about Gilly Salmon's five stage model, and that the aim of this course is to get participants to stage five - the facilitator stage. As I said at the beginning of this blog, I believe the success of the forms of social interaction in an online learning community, is dependent on how effectively a range of tools are integrated into the course, and how various characteristics of online communities and issues - learners' prior knowledge, technological competence, and other factors as identified by Yvonne in her blog - are handled and resolved with skillfull facilitating.

Arnold (2006) concludes that the degree of student engagement in social activities or cognitive activities depends on the extent of teacher involvement and input in the activities. Just as the need for teacher involvement varies according to the activity, the nature of the involvement and input required also varies. All this requires skill on the part of the facilitator. The teacher versus facilitator debate is still going on in the Facilitating eLearning Communities course email forum as a result of Carolyn's facilitation in SL. I do not think facilitating is new or only applies to online communities but the online community does have specific issues because of the environment and the reliance on technology. If we are concerned with teaching learners how to learn, then we need to develop the skills outlined by Arnold (2006), and in other frameworks and models such as the Australian Flexible Learning site, and Salmon's 5-stage model.

To look over the shoulders of three other participants in this course, I think that David, Veronique and Yvonne have all covered points I think are relevant and very useful with reference to facilitating. However, the issue is translating them into practice. I think a key factor is having a sound pedagogical framework and factors such as:

  • relevant learner-centred learning and teaching activities that engage and motivate the student. This requires an understanding of learning styles, needs and preferences, motivation and the affective aspect of learning, in order to keep students engaged.
  • inclusion of 'process' (learning to learn) as well as subject content. Research has shown that in order for students to be able to work effectively within a CALL environment, they need to be autonomous learners (Blin, 1999; Hoven, 1999).
  • alignment of, and clear links between learning outcomes and performance indicators, learning and teaching activities, and assessment activities, with regular reminders of what students should be doing to meet the learning outcomes. This article by David Nicol provides some useful guidelines for assessment. In fact the whole issue from the Escalate website is useful.
  • regular dialogue - teacher/student and student/student that takes into account the affective as well as cognitive and metacognitive aspects of learning.
  • a good understanding of the technologies available and competence in essential ones especially those being used for any particular learning and teaching activity.
  • a good understanding and management of the characteristics specific to online learning (eg the ebb and flow). This was done very well on the Facilitating eLearning Communities course.

D Summarise the ideas, experiences and understanding of at least three other participants in the course and whether you agree with their postings - perceptions and beliefs about facilitation.

Perhaps an important question is whose blogs did I tend to read and why? I regularly read Veronique's postings and I read Yvonne's from time to time. I dipped into Sarah's and Carolyn's when I recognised topics I could relate to. Sarah has a mutual interest in e-portfolios, and Carolyn and I have Skyped, and she has developed an interest in Second Life. Unfortunately I skimmed topics in their blogs as I did not relate to discussions on midwifery, but I will go back over some of them as the discussion on learning and teaching does trigger ideas for language teaching. Why did I start reading the blogs written by these particular participants? I think it was because they commented on my blog so I knew their names and they helped me feel part of the community (although I kept forgetting whose blog was whose as their names were not in the titles).

I liked Veronique's and Yvonne's blogs because they seemed to be like-minded. Whether this sort of affirmation is effective learning or not (as discussed in Derek Chirnside's lecture/discussion), I found it was what I needed to feel comfortable. I also gravitated towards Veronique's blog because the entries were never too long, and were well laid out and easy to read. I would often go to them to check my understanding of what was going on (a guest talk or discussion), or to catch up on something I had missed. She also offered the opportunity for us to help each other, and often gave me links and guidance either through emails or Skype. Yvonne often related her experiences and new knowledge to her classroom teaching, and having been in the secondary sector and taught some business studies, I understood the issues she was reflecting on. Both Veronique and Yvonne raised questions. Some of the other blog postings were offputting because, under pressure of time, they seemed just too long (like this one has become) , others I dipped into depending on the topic of discussion. I only really started reading David's blog at the end of the course; I find his postings interesting because he was not afraid of being provocative.


Just as one matures as a learner as one masters one's discipline, and is 'immature' when starting a new discipline, the same can happen on an online course. Some of the participants on this course were more 'mature' and comfortable from the start, others matured as they progressed through the course: they became aware of requirements, their knowledge grew and they became more comfortable with the tools and the environment. The challenging thing about this course for me was its cyclical nature - access to new tools and strategies occurred throughout and even up to the end. As Bronwyn says, different people are engaged at different times, and more at certain times than others. I became really engaged when Second Life was introduced right the end - that was challenging but has added a new and exciting dimension to my approach to learning and teaching languages and culture. I think, in the case of language learning, there is still a way to go to develop a methodology/pedagogy for online learning communities, and that second language acquisition theory may well have to adjust to take the environment into account.

The other aim I had was to experience being an online student. This apparently according to Kempe 2001, Salmon, 2000b, Ambrose, 2001, cited in Effective Online Facilitation in the section 'On teacher preparation' , is what teachers should do to learn how to be effective online facilitators. This has been such a valuable experience, as I am aware of the fears, needs and frustrations that can occur and that can affect motivation. I am particularly more aware of the anxiety that can occur when the technology goes wrong, and especially if one's computer does not work. I have more ideas about the types of activities that can engage students, cater for different learning styles, and develop the necessary knowledge and skills both to master the content of a course and also to develop necessary competencies such as self-assessment, reflection, appropriate strategies and the sustaining of self motivation. While I might not have mastered all the tools, I am more aware of how they can be used to meet particular learning and teaching needs.

Sheryl said that a true test of a community is whether it continues after the course. I have every intention of continuing to participate in this community if that is possible. I find the contact is stimulating, and continued participation will help me keep up with changes, exchange ideas and see what peers are doing in their learning and teaching even though not in the same discipline.

Thank you to the members of this community for sharing your thoughts, knowledge and shoulders, and to Bronwyn and Leigh for your support and guidance. I have really enjoyed the experience (which is what learning should be about. Proof? I am still here!) and have learned so much. I feel I have achieved my personal aims and outcomes.


Arnold, N. (2006). Future foreign language teachers' social and cognitive collaboration in an online environment. Language Learning and Technology, 10 (1), pp 42-66, retrieved 10 February, 2008 from

Australian Flexible Learning Framework (2003). Effective Online Facilitation: Australian Flexible Learning Quick Guide Series (2003). Retrieved on 26 August, 2007 from

Blin, F. (1999). CALL and the Development of Learner Autonomy. In R Debski & M Levy (Eds.), World Call: Global Perspectives on Computer-Assisted Language Learning, (pp. 133-147). Lisse: Swets and Zeitlinger.

Corder, D. & Moffat, S. (2005). Teach them how to fish – the link between portfolios and competencies. The New Zealand Language Teacher, 31.

Corder, D. & Waller, G. (2007). Using a CALL package as a platform to develop effective language learning strategies and facilitate autonomous learning. In L. Miller (Ed.). Learner autonomy: Autonomy in the classroom. Dublin. Authentik Language Learning Resources Ltd.

Corder, D. & Waller, G. (2005). An analysis of the effectiveness of an in-house CALL software package for the learning and teaching of kanji (Japanese characters) and the development of autonomous language learning skills. CALL-EJ Online, 7 (1).

The Higher Education Academy (2008). Technology and e-learning special. Escalate, 10, available from

Hoven, D. (1999). CALL-ing the Learner into Focus. In R Debski & M Levy (Eds.), World Call: Global Perspectives on Computer-Assisted Language Learning (pp. 149-196). Lisse, The Netherands: Swets & Zeitlinger.

Jeffrey, L. M., Atkins, C., Laurs, A., Mann, S. (n.d.). e-Learning profiles: Diversity in Learning. Report on research findings of TeLRF Project. Retrieved 30 August, 2007, from;jsessionid=HNVT8nL0pHX5dp2m2cq362

Kanuka, H. & Anderson, T. (1998). Online Social Interchange, Discord, and Knowledge Construction. Journal of Distance Education/Revue de l'enseignmement a distance, 13 (1). Retrieved on 23 February 2008, from

Levy, M. (2007). Culture, culture learning and new technologies; towards a pedagogical framework. Language Learning & Technology, 11 (2). Retrieved November 20, 2007, from

Petersen, M. (2005). Learning interaction in an avatar-based virtual environment: a preliminary study. PacCALL Journal Volume 1 No. 1 Summer 2005, Pp. 29-40. Retrieved 10 November, 2007 from

Salmon, G. (2004). The 5-stage model. Retrieved from

Siemens, G. (2004). Connectivism: a learning theory for the digital age. Available from

Wagner, E. (n.d.)

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Reflection on the facilitation exercise

The Facilitation Exercise

The facilitation exercise I did in SL was not directly linked to my area of teaching ie language learning, or an activity to development intercultural competence. However I would need to be able to take language students to sites and to provide them with the opportunity to interact, so the facilitation experience was valuable (see conclusion). It could be argued that I was enabling the participants to experience different SL cultures (Japanese and Norwegian).

Preparation (with comments for implications for learning and teaching)

Search and exploration of potential sites, and arranging times of visits with hosts. This was timeconsuming and tricky with the Online Japanese host as there was 18 hours time difference. For Kamimo Island, the time difference was 12 hours and the host was unable to confirm whether she would be there.

  • Need much more time to find and investigate more sites and contacts.
  • Need to consider when students would be able to come online (computer specifications and time).
Mastering of SL navigation skills, including communication and movement.
  • Need practice sessions to ensure all students are reasonably confident.
Preparation for 'students': finding out SL names of group members so that I could offer them friendship and then communicate.

  • As above; best to schedule into class time if possible or have an evening session just to familarise, and to accept friendships and understand what LM and TPs are.
Updates in blogs so that the students had some understanding of the sites before the visit. The Japanese online site was obvious, but not Kamimo. I assumed the participants would read the blogs in advance.

  • Preparation is essential, and the nature will depend on the aims and learning outcomes of the SL session.
Arrangement of a meeting place - Koru, with the intention of teleporting anyone who did not know where it was. The facilitation was to start at 7.30 with group members gathering at Koru from 7.15.

  • For an activity involving teleporting to different sites, this is essential for novice groups.
Briefing to take place at Koru before heading off to the first site.
Introduction of teaching colleague to SL so that there would be at least one Japanese teacher present.

  • This is only successful if all participants turn up on time. The briefing should really only be reinforcement.
Discussion - rather than discussion as in other online mediums, the focus would be on the interaction of participants through their avatars.

  • Need to develop appropriate learning and teaching activities for students.

What went well

  • There were about five participants at various times - more than I had expected.
  • I managed to get the participants to all the sites and show them around and help those who got lost.
  • I was able to interact with most of the participants on an individual basis.
  • Some of the participants interacted with the host of the first site, Jupiter Lusch of the Online Japanese Courses site. As this study by Petersen suggests: 'the use of avatars, 3D graphics and real time chat provided opportunities for [target-language] interaction, while at the same time offering a means to overcome many of the technical constraints on communication inherent in network-based environments.
  • Participants helped each other.
  • Although there was not a great deal of 'chatting', the participants experienced meeting each other in Koru and what it would feel like for students to stand around wondering what to say or do, or what was happening.
  • At least two of the participants are interested in following up on the use of SL in their own discipline areas.
What did not go well

  • The whole process extended to over an hour and a half and I felt I had not finished it off properly. It would have been good to discuss impressions immediately after each site, or to arrange an opportunity to discuss it after. The most straightforward would have been through emails or meeting up again at Koru in SL itself. It could also have been done through comments to this blog, but being the end of the course, not all members would be around. Also members arrived and left at different times.
  • Technical issues: SL had had a recent update, and wouldn't let me in at 7.00. It took 15 minutes to get in, so I only arrived at Koru a few minutes before the first group member. I would have preferred more time so that I could monitor the situation and come up with contingencies. There was also a problem with lag, and some things weren't happening, for example acceptance of friendship weren't coming through as quickly as usual. Also, I thought I had taken photos but they didn't come through, and I was too busy to check.
  • People arrived at different times, so the intended briefing on the sites at Koru was not done properly. The host of the first site had sent me an IM to say she was there. It was 1.30 am for her - she had stayed up especially for the visit - so I needed to move the group quickly, but I did not know whether all of them had arrived. One course member tried to join an hour into the session but I missed her IM and Skype message.
  • Getting even a small number of members to the first site was time consuming. Some logged into SL after we had arrived at the first site, so were teleported there, but I had to keep a look out for them to arrive in SL.
  • The whole process required very good multitasking skills: monitoring what was going on at the site in terms of time, questions; monitoring IMs, being aware of different SL ability of members. My colleague had only just gone into SL for the first time that afternoon.
  • For group members, navigating itself took a lot of focus and was not conducive to discussion, especially by typing, at least not for novices. Voice might have helped.

What I have learnt and could do differently in the future

Time frame
: there was too much to cover for the profile of the group consisting of members with a range of SL skills and interests. A facilitation that requires navigation to this extent, needs to factor in the skills of the group and be scaled accordingly for the time allowed.

Voice vs written: The whole process of getting around can interfere with just how much you can take in - as I had experienced when trying to keep up with Aklom. I have since been on two facilitation sessions at Aklom's invitation. They both used voice rather than written, and it was much more effective: the facilitator could concentrate more on monitoring the situation while talking, and members of the group could assimilate more and concentrate more on navigation.

As Isa had pointed out to me, because it is not possible to see students' faces or to see what they can see on their screens, it is difficult to know just what the student is experiencing. If voice is activated, it might be possible to pick up more of what is actually being experienced or what they are looking at. I found out later that the text can be recorded on ones desktop. I am not sure about voice.

Management of group: It is necessary to be a bit more assertive to get attention to round people up before moving on to avoid losing them, whether going to a new site or to a different location in the same site. With an inexprienced group, there is definitely a need to have a tail-end Charlie who is well-briefed. For this facilitation, I needed to communicate more with the group, in other words, to provide more direction and support at critical moments which seemed to be arrivals and departures, and to keep the focus on the aims of the visits. People kept disappearing and appearing and I am not clear whether this was just because of technical difficulties.

When being hosted, it was difficult to get away to the next site - some members were interested and were asking lots of questions, and it was difficult to gauge whether the others were getting bored and needed to be taken to the next site. If another host was waiting at the next site, it would be necessary to get everyone there. Having a tail-end Charlie would provide the flexibility needed fo this sort of situation.

Preparation: I should also have encouraged everyone to read the blog on the sites before the visit as some were not sure of the purpose of visiting the sites. If they were students, it would have been a requirement to read up on necessary information, whether the activity, coordinates or site information, with some discussion before the event. More details in frequent emails before the event would have helped.

I would send an IM to everyone in the group, with a note attached showing the schedule and LMs. This would make the navigation to the sites much easier instead of just relying on TPs. Also, if we did lose people in the site or they were booted off SL for any reason, they could at least go back to the starting point. It would be good for people who were late, as they would know the schedule, and could navigate to the sites themselves. It is not enough to rely on teleporting. A hud is another possibility. This is like a rubrics cube of photos of the places and could be left at the meeting point for each person to wear. Then all it involves is clicking a picture in turn to get teleported to the planned sites. It is also useful to give out a list of names of participants or the tail-end Charlie, so that an IM can be sent to them if the facilitator does not respond.

Navigation skills: for a tour that requires quite a bit of navigation such as this, it is best if all have some basic SL navigation skills, and at least use the movement arrows.

I wasn't sure just how much they had read in my messages, or what they could see - as their views might be different. I would need to learn how to monitor this somehow.


My preparation time had been taken up with just mastering the technicalities and finding sites, that I had not thought through the learning outcomes sufficiently, nor put sufficient preparation in place for my participating students. I might have had a few more taking part had I posted some articles or links earlier. This reinforces the need to:

  • ensure the facilitator has sufficient SL competencies as well as those for facilitating.
  • ensure sufficient and appropriate preparation is done - the learning outcomes, the lesson plans (beginning, middle and end), preparation of students - technical and background. This article by Berge provides useful check lists.
The Australian Flexible Learning site lists a number of challenges for facilitating online learning and online communications. The text in red are what I would say relate to the experience I had in facilitating in SL:

Facilitating online learning - some of the challenges

  • Designing the right mix of online and off-line activities (referred to by some as 'blended learning')
  • Keeping tabs on individual students' progress
  • Catering for different learning preferences and learner needs
  • Adopting student-centred approaches, and learning to become a 'guide' or 'facilitator'
  • Dealing with the pragmatics of teaching online - e.g. administrative and support requirements, and issues of time
  • Dealing with technical issues.

Facilitating online communications - some of the challenges

  • Avoiding the dangers of misinterpretation of text (and assisting students to do the same) (Sherry et al. 2001, p. 4)
  • Dealing with silences (the dread of all online moderators) and getting students to actively participate (Benfield 2000)
  • Finding the right voice (i.e. techniques for communicating and responding to achieve particular outcomes - see Collison et al. 2000)
  • Finding the optimal balance between private email and public discussion (Collison et al. 2000)
  • Standing back, and allowing students to discover the power and potential of the medium for self and group learning and not purposely or inadvertently dominating or stifling discussion.
Whilst there are the technical demands of operating in SL, the following described by De Schutter et al also apply:

'Unlike asynchronous conferencing, the synchronous media afford little time for reflection and deliberation. Moderators of synchronous audio-conferences therefore face a daunting task. They must support both process and content, guide interaction through meaningful feedback and deft questioning strategies, and provide additional cues and information as needed. Moderating functions can be fulfilled collaboratively by teacher and learners, in the interests of effective information-sharing. Experience and practice is mandatory in the acquisition of moderating skills. '

To place this facilitation exercise on the scale of Salmon's model, I would say we reached the second stage: stage one being access and motivation (at least two other members of the group are exploring SL); the second being online socialisation (familiarising with the learning environment).

Although not a particularly good example of a successful facilitation exercise because of time and inexperience, it was successful in initiating the exploration of a new medium for online learning and teaching. It was personally satisfying as I met a number of people from Koru (Kiwi Educators Group) and other sites who have helped me, shown me the strong sense of community within SL, and opened up avenues for further discussion and possible collaboration both in teaching and research. I believe it is an exciting medium for learning and teaching, and although there is still a lot of work to be done to develop the pedagogical framework for effective learning and teaching in SL, I am encouraged that the results of Petersen's study that 'demonstrate that the application of virtual worlds in CALL offers new opportunities to engage learners in the kind of interaction that may facilitate the development of second language competences'.

It would have been good if I had had more time to investigate and plan for the facilitation exercise, but I learnt a lot and it has opened up an area that I will continue to explore for learning, teaching and assessment of development of language and intercultural competence.

Australian Flexible Learning Framework (2003). Effective Online Facilitation: Australian Flexible Learning Quick Guide Series (2003). Retrieved on 26 August, 2007 from

Petersen, M. (2005). Learning interaction in an avatar-based virtual environment: a preliminary study. PacCALL Journal Volume 1 No. 1 Summer 2005, Pp. 29-40. Retrieved 10 November, 2007 from

Salmon, G. (2004). The 5-stage model. Retrieved from

Monday, December 3, 2007

Summary of plan for faciliation in SL

The facilitation in SL was a very valuable experience as I intend to continue exploring its potential for language learning and teaching. Because my plan was disjointed and appeared in a number of emails, I will summarise and comment on it here, with some theoretical basis for my interest in SL as a potential learning and teaching tool for languages.

Age range: mature 'students', all educators.

Number in group: open to as many of the Facilitating e-learning communities course who had time to participate, The original intention had been to facilitate colleagues who are developing online beginners language papers for the first time in order to show them sites that had potential for learning Japanese. However the time of year did not make this possible to prepare them and get things organised, because of exams and other commitments on their part, and I had a very limited timeframe to investigate SL sites, develop sufficient skills to carry out the facilitation, and arrange the visits with hosts. As a result I anticipated that there would be no linguists so the range of sites chosen needed to take this into account, as discussed in a previous blog: A third SL site for facilitation - and decision time. As it happened I approached one of my colleagues and she agreed to join the faciliation session but only had time for a very short introduction to SL on the afternoon before the session.

Most of the group were new to SL, but as they were all educators, the issue of their learning styles was not taken into consideration; the issue of introducing them to a VLE as a learning and teaching tool was the key aim. In fact, Carolyn has since shown in her blog how VLEs are very relevant to learning and teaching in the area of health and how she is widening her own networking. As for SL and student learning styles, this is discussed in 'Reason for choosing the medium' below.

Topic/concept to be discussed: it was expected that there would be ongoing discussion and questions as we visited each of the sites. More discussion could have taken place after in the email forum, or it might still occur once this blog is posted. Added to the discussion aspect, was the potential for interaction with each other in the VLE through the use of avatars, as discussed by Petersen.

Expected results: participants would gain experience in a VLE environment, and be able identify potential uses of VLEs for their learning and teaching, especially if we did the exercise planned for Incognita if there were sufficient time, as discussed at the end of my blog A third SL site for faciliation - and decision time.

Reason for choosing the medium: A VLE was something very new to me and seemed to offer a whole new range of possibilities, and subsequent reading has supported this view. A VLE brings together all the different modes for language learning: audio, visual, text, and gaming. The fact that a range of ICT tools (eg blogs and videos) can be accessed and integrated, makes SL a very powerful flexible tool that can cater for a number of learning styles and preferences particularly the 'digital natives' as seen in this site on Real Teaching in a Virtual World (see especially the section 'Key Difference'). In terms of actual language learning, I was reminded of the use of glove puppets to encourage students to use a language along the lines discussed by Blaz, on using stuffed animals and glove puppets as a non-threatening way to encourage participation. Blaz also talks about the importance of using authentic material to foster enthusiasm, and simulations such as booking into hotels, and buying train tickets. With a VLE such as SL, these simulations can be authentic because it is possible to build the hotels or railway stations. This makes language learning relevant, as discussed by Avatar Languages. SL also also enables students to visit sites where they can experience different cultures, and to meet up and interact with speakers of the target language. It therefore has potential not just for development of language skills, but also for intercultural knowledge and skills.

Second Life is already being used by some commercial organisations to teach language, and is also being evaluated for teacher training as well as a whole range of programmes. This discussion about SL, teaching methodology, and vocational and technical education on the Australian Flexible Learning Framework site is relevant for language learning. The discussion also shows how SL can be used for development of key competencies in learners for any discipline. Key competencies have been identified by the NZ Ministry of Education as educational goals at all levels of education: they feature in the Tertiary Education Strategy, and are one of the directions of learning in the NZ Curriculum Document. Many of the elements of the key competencies are inherent in language learning, but how to develop them is the challenge for language teachers. I shall discuss this further in the blog in which I reflect on the Facilitating e-learning communties course.

Finally, an equally valuable aspect of SL for me, was the social networking for academics, and the collegiality shown towards me in a very short space of time. I have discussed this in a previous blog. Graham Davies reinforces this in his blog that the technology is better than video conferencing. He also provides a link in methodology that is in line with my own research background when he quotes what his colleague Chris Jones stated in the title of an article he wrote in 1986: 'It's not so much the program: more what you do with it: the importance of methodology in CALL'. As I found in my own research into CALL and learner autonomy, the technology alone does not guarantee learning will take place, but how you interact with your students, how they interact with each other to construct their learning, and how the technology is used to enhance this process.

Blaz, D. (2002). Bringing the standards for foreign language learning to life. Eye on Education. Larchmont, NY. Retrieved on 11 February, 2008 from

Corder, D. & Waller, G. (2005). An Analysis of the Effectiveness of an In-house CALL Software Package for the Learning and Teaching of kanji (Japanese Characters) and the Development of Autonomous Language Learning Skills. CALL-EJ Online, vol 7 (1).
available from

Petersen, M. (2005). Learning interaction in an avatar-based virtual environment: a preliminary study. PacCALL Journal Volume 1 No. 1 Summer 2005, Pp. 29-40. Retrieved 10 November, 2007 from

Sunday, December 2, 2007

A third SL site for facilitation - and decision time

I continued my search for useful sites. Aklom had given me the landmark for Terra Incognita - an island developed by Australian, Lindy McKeown (Decka Mah), University of Southern Queensland, for her PhD as an action research program in which participants investigate the use of a 3D environment Second Life in their work.

This could be a possible third site, especially from the intercultural aspect of language learning, because it is an example of a very cultural site - more so than Kamimo. It is very Australian, and would be ideal to host Japanese students (or any overseas students) to enable them to get the feel of Australian culture. It has a Japanese garden; would be interesting to find out why it was included in the build. The site also has more examples of what can be done with the technology in SL: I liked the flying pod that gives you a two-minute tour of the island, and the teleporters in most locations so you could choose where to go next. This would be a fun site to finish the facilitation - if there is time.

Of course, I could ask Arwenna if we could visit her beautiful garden. This too would be a good place to host Japanese students as it is so NZ. She has squirrels and native bird song, and a shop. Good topics to start conversations and interact.

Whilst looking around Terra Incognita, I met a student from Mainland China, who was finishing his undergraduate studies in Canada. He was looking around for an institution to continue his studies. He told me about Little Kyoto, and gave me the LM for it.

I couldn't find any information on Little Kyoto in a search, so am not sure what its purpose is. My first impressions were good, but then I began to feel a bit uncomfortable. There was a character running around with a samurai sword, and a row of shops with some not too tasteful posters. This site really needs a bit more investigating, so is not really suitable to bring the group to, which is a shame because it really recreates traditional Japan.

Decision time: Time is running out, so I have decided that the first site will be the Japanese online site, the second probably will be Kamimo and the third, if time, Terra Incognita. I am torn between Kamimo and Terra Incognita for the second site. I know more about Kamimo, and have invested more time there. The group I am facilitating are not linguists, so Kamimo would be interesting for them as any discipline can actually use it for learning and teaching, either paying the nominal fee to use the classrooms, or the grounds for no payment. Also, it could be used for any of the languages we teach, and would be suitable for intercultural competence sessions, for example as an exercise to see if students could identify any elements of Scandinavian culture. I am not sure about the possiblity of using Terra Incognita. However, it would be suitable for the purpose of showing the group what else can be done in SL. In addition, I can think of some fun activities to set the group members. I would get them to go off and investigate one place each on the island and report back on how they would use it in their discipline. I will just have to be flexible and see how it goes on the night, especially time-wise and size of the group.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Second location for facilitation - Kamimo Island

At another impromptu meeting with Isa on Monday 26th, we ended up in Arwenna's garden. What an ideal place to bring visitors from overseas to experience a piece of NZ. Arwenna contacted someone called Aklom Haifisch, form Norway for me. Aklom joined us in the garden and we had an interesting discussion about the work she does and related projects.

Educational value of SL: Where else could you have discussions like this with academics and technical experts from not only different parts of NZ, but also the world?

Aklom doesn't teach languages but has done some joint research into SL and improvement of social English. We arranged a meeting for 10.30 Tuesday 27th on Kamimo Island, her base, for her to show me around. That was an interesting experience, and really pushed the concentration and motor skills. For a start, when she wasn't flying, she was on skates! She gave a lot of information, and it was hard to take it all in, especially as someone had sent an IM and I was trying to respond, listen to what Aklom was saying, and keep up.

We visited a number of places, one being a classroom with video and smart board. Lecturers can load up a video, and students can click on the arrow above 'say' at the bottom of the SL window, to watch it. Anyone can hire the classroom for L500 (about $2 - US I assume). You just add the hours you want to the calendar to book and then pay Aklom. Anyone can use the grounds for free, for activities.

There are other buildings with unusual rooms for meetings - the hut by the sea, and the building with the grass roof, which will eventually have a teleport to a room in the sky. There is a secret room too, and a waterfall to negotiate - quite tricky, especially when you get inside and have to find where to land. But it's worth it. The next challenge is getting out again!

This is definitely worth bringing the group to as it is a place that any discipline can use.

Aklom showed me how to activate voice and hearing by going to the Wizard in . I thought I hadn't made it work, until we met up with some of Aklom's friends who were both talking. They had sound waves above their heads. Noone was typing so it was quiet. Then I picked up some sound. I clicked a button near the mic, and then the mic. Immediately there was a shrill feedback. Noone knew where it had come from - I did. I had to own up. They asked me to tone the mic down. Hearing voices changed things. I took me right out of the scene and I became an observer rather than a participant - like watching a cartoon. It might be because my avatar wasn't typing when I said something, so I couldn't identify with it.

Aklom spent over two hours with me, which was really kind. That is what I am finding in SL - a real sense of community.

I had an impromptu but very necessary meeting with Leigh on 28th - when we eventually found each other. I had sent him a land mark (LM) of where I thought I was. I had been there the night before, true, but I had moved away from it and was totally lost.

Mental note: teleport (TP) someone rather than send a LM - at least they end up beside you.

Leigh practised teleporting and sending landmarks with me. I feel confident doing that now.

Mental note: learn how to send offer of friendship so that people are on my contact list. Without that I can't teleport them. Make sure to get the correct spelling of their names too.

To do:

1) email Aklom to check a few details as she is not likely to be there for the facilitation - I will have to be the guide, so will also need to go back and practise finding the various places.

2) IM Jupiter Lusch to confirm time and date of visit.

3) check a possible third place to visit.

4) do some background reading on VLEs and language learning. This article by Petersen looks like an interesting.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Making contacts in SecondLife

I decided to go back into SL to try and sort out clothing and that hat - funny how even in a virtual world, appearance is important. Every time I have gone into SL, there is always someone there - mostly someone I have met before. When I went in on Friday 9 November, I 'came across' Arwenna Stardust. I was a bit startled and felt I was trespassing, as I had landed in the building she has been showing us around when I had visited with the course group. We had a good chat once I had worked out how to get the 'chat' working. There are so many things to monitor and move - it makes me think of an airline pilot coming into land. Of couse we got on to the topic of clothes, and she was very kind and gave me quite a few clothes for my inventory. I must look awful for her to give me so many!

Lesson: don't choose a way-out avatar when you first join SL. It just makes life complicated.

Arwenna also invited me to join the Kiwi Educators group and, very importantly, showed me how to place a landmark. This made me feel much more secure - I had a base to come back to if I wandered off and got lost! And I had spot in the sandpit. However, I quickly forgot how to place a landmark.

Mental note: have a play and work it out.

I went along to the 8.00 pm group meeting the following Sunday in Koru. I arrived in the sandpit and there was a red arrow pointing the way for me. I used that and the map to find Koru. When I arrived, there were a few people sitting around on cushions, including Arwenna and Isa Goodman. I walked right in - but am not sure whether I should have waited to be invited.

Mental note: find out about the social etiquette for entering into spaces.

I was invited to sit down but had to be taught how to. Logical when you find out. My avatar was very dramatic and leaped in the air and then sat down with a bump. Embarrassing. Do they all do that?

Mistake: I sat between Arwenna and Isa and couldn't see either of them.

Mental note: Sit opposite next time. Also I can't see my own face - not sure how to. Find out how to.

At that meeting I learnt more about SL from Arwenna and Isa. One useful thing - how to search for groups that could be useful. I found an Online Japanese group and was also given a couple of land marks.

The following weekend, I went to another Kiwi Educators group meeting. I was given a hub for newbies. Still haven't worked my way through all the things in it, but gather it's to help newbies explore. Everyone started to talk about things I didn't really understand and I clicked the teleport button to one of the landmarks I had - couldn't remember how I'd got it.

I teleported to it - before standing up despite being warned - and landed with a bump in a place that reminded me of Venice.

Mental note: stand up before teleporting.

This time, nobody was around and I felt uneasy, so I teleported to the Japanese Online group. Nobody there either but sent an IM to the owner. A few days later, I got an invite notification by email from Jupiter Lusch, the Japanese Online group.

In the meantime, it was decided that seeing as I was interested in finding out more about the potential of SL and language learning, I should do my facilitation for the course in SL. A timeline was set. I had two weeks to find places of interest or potential for language learning/developing intercultural competence, learn how to get myself around, and the basics for communicating and what I needed for facilitating.

When I went into SL on 25 November, I met Toddles and we had a long and interesting talk about languages. He also taught be a few more moves, and we worked out how to type in Japanese. It is just the same as typing in a word document - not complicated at all.

I then visited the office and classroom owned by Jupiter Lusch of the Japanese Online Courses.

We discussed SL and language learning, and then bringing the course group to have a look around. It took a while to work out a suitable time, with the time difference - east coast USA - six hours and one day behind, but eventually arranged a meeting for Monday 3 December, 7.30 NZ time. Jupiter invited me to join the group, and the membership above my head changed. I could see the possibility of using the classroom for meetings with other teachers of Japanese from around the world to brainstorm uses for SL, as well as getting students of Japanese to meet and talk about why they are learning Japanese, experiences in Japan, as well as to meet Japanese speakers.

Mental note: find out how to change the membership over my head, back to Kiwi Educators when back in NZ.

I felt comfortable about teleporting myself and about landmarks.

Mental note: find out how to teleport people.

Friday, November 9, 2007

SecondLife - an earlier post

Having been in Japan for three weeks, it was quite an experience to come back into the course with SecondLife!

But then, was it so different from what I had experienced in Japan? Some of the things I saw were almost surreal in terms of beauty, difference, or eccentricity.

Which of these shots are real life Japan, and which are from SecondLife?

The potential of SL for language learning and teaching has captured my imagination. I need to look into the educational potential. If glove puppets can remove inhibitions for language learning, just think what an avatar can do!

My first visit - and I had to choose my avatar. Not much to choose from. They tell you that you an change it once you get in. But things seemed to happen so quickly that I didn't have time to change. My first location was Orientation Island - good advice from Veronique. I learnt to walk, drive a car, fly and few other things. I'd had enough by the time I had got handed the key to SL - apparenty I had passed all the tests - I hadn't realised. So I left after having a quick walk round Help Island.

The next visit was unexpected. Having logged in to Elluminate, our speaker on SL was unable to join us because, we were later to learn, of some distressing news. So the group decided to go into SL. I was teleported from Help Island, and found myself alone in a field. I eventually found everyone by moving to the dots on the map.

Arwenna Stardust showed us round, but apart from having a good time at the disco and looking around a reconstruction of a concentration camp/prison, I can't remember much. I was probably concentrating too much on how to do things like keeping up with everyone so I wouldn't be left behind, and following the conversation at the same time.

Definitely needed another visit to sort out the clothes and the look. And I had to get rid of that hat.