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.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Peer support - sense of community - collaborative learning

This was a blog I started in September before going to Japan. I will post it even though it is not complete, as my thinking underlies why I have been so interested in SecondLife for language learning, and hence why I plan to be doing my facilitation in SL.

From my on work in fostering student reflection and self assessment, I came to realise the importance of dialogue between teacher/student and student/student. The e-portfolio I trialled with first year students was not as successful as I had hoped. A key factor could have been because students were isolated - their only dialogue was with the teacher. Yes they had the discussion board, but I did not have the necessary facilitation skills to make it work. This year in another paper, I tried blogs for DIEs (description, interpretation and evaluation) and wikis for group work, with much more success. Two things were different: the DIE process was very much integrated into the course and the dialogue was weekly between teacher and student. The wikis were open to group members. Next year I will use open blogs for the first few weeks so students can get to know each member of the class earlier. It is both motivating and helpful.

Nancy White's talk impressed I particularly like the visuals - the chairs creating the group. It's an idea I would like to use.

In this course, I have enjoyed the peer support both indirectly through sharing in blogs, and through discussions, particulary using Skype, and the learning as a result. This is something to capitalise on with my own students.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Time as a key factor

RSS - why did I think it would be so difficult? Time? Because I was pressed for time, when I listened the first time to the YouTube explanation, it seemed too complex, so I left it for later. When I looked at it again, in a less pressured frame of mind, it was a very different experience. No problem at all - at least the basic use. This really brought home the realisation that time is the critical factor for all students, and whilst we academics bemoan the increasing demands made on us, I wonder how many actually realise the demands on students in terms of assessments, and volume of content. Do we need to assess so much, can we assess differently, and do they need to know so much content? It could be different in some disciplines, but for many, isn't it more important to know how to get information, and how to use it?

In language teaching, this is a consideration particularly for vocabulary, or in the case of Japanese, the number of characters we require students to be able to write from memory. Just how many characters will they remember two months after graduating? Now we use computers more than the pen, why do we still insist on accuracy of writing, when it is recognition that is important? It really is time to shift the paradigm from focus on content to one of process in the curriculum, and more importantly, to recognition of the increasing use of the world many of our students inhabit especially with respect to technology. Life long learning is not about learning facts, but how to find them, and what to do with them - interpret, evaluate and apply, and the most effective way to do it. All part of the experiential learning approach.

Also I wonder if it is because I now feel more comfortable - James Farmer said he thinks it takes about five weeks for his students. I certainly feel more comfortable and less anxious. I am enjoying feeling part of a group, the blogs, the lectures, and the acquisition of new knowledge, especially as I see it relating more and more to my own teaching. I wonder if I would have got here sooner had I had a buddy or made more use of the peer support that Nancy White talked about? That is something I am working on in my next blog.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Reflections on Konrad's lecture and myself as an online learner

I listened to the lecture again and was astonished at just how much I hadn't 'heard' the first time. Will need to listen a few more times as I felt my attention going a couple of times even when aware of the danger. Just how much do students in lecture theatres or classrooms miss? They don't hear it again. I realise how useful podcasts of summaries or key points from classroom lectures can be for on campus and off campus students.

I had heard that 'snacking' was proving effective for learning in some US trials, where students were able to listen to six or 12 minute summaries from lectures. This sort of learning (in frequent short bursts) is ideal for language learning, and the triallers in the States believed it was appropriate for the learning and lifestyles of many of their students. Te Ara Poutama at AUT is also developing podcasts for students of Maori language and dance.

The use of podcasts seems to have gone beyond snacking in some cases though:

Lectures. Podcasting is becoming more widespread, allowing students to download audio of class lectures and listen to them whenever or wherever they want. University of Massachusetts-Lowell, Arizona State University in Tempe and Temple University in Philadelphia will be able to podcast every lecture in every classroom this fall using software company Anystream's Apreso Podcast.

I have not read the full article for this link, but the abstract is interesting in itself. -

and the findings in this article are also interesting. You can download the article:

I appreciate the concept that blogging/online learning opens up possibilities for students to access resources that are relevant to their interests. This endorses my own approach in the last few years in my work with autonomous learning/reflection/e-portfolios. By allowing students to venture out (open the barn door) and apply the knowledge they gain in the classroom, they become more engaged in their learning, and their motivation is increased because what they are doing has more relevance. As a consequence, they are also able to reflect more meaningfully on the learning process through this experiential learning, and end up discovering things themselves that would not have been possible to cover in a lecture.

Access and linkages - I really like Konrad's ideas for making the community and activities clearly visible to everyone. Perhaps this is because I am a 'global' learner - I like to know where I am, how to get to places and what is expected of me so that I can plan my time. I don't mind layers that I have to explore, but not if time is limited. My students are likely to be in the same situation.

How am I doing so far? I realise that for me, online learning means I have to be very organised and methodical or I will get left behind. I am already having to catch up as I started late - and although this is not a comfortable situation to be in, it is a good experience as I am now more sympathetic to students who start courses late. I need to really manage my time carefully: log on and do something frequently, and plan what it will be and when eg Mondays read resources, Tuesdays read other students' blogs and comment on them, Wednesdays listen to lectures again and write up my own blog. I also think it would have helped had I had a buddy to work with. The disadvantage might be that the staff members might not be able to monitor my progress so clearly - although I could always record it in my blog. But it would help to get to know someone on the course, and if they live in the area, perhaps to phone each other or to use Skype to talk things through? It feels good when someone makes a comment in my blog or in response to an entry in the discussion board. Someone is interested enough to read my thoughts, and this brings a sense of belonging.

Another thing I have realised is not only do I have to feel comfortable in the online environment, but my physical environment must also be conducive to learning. I use a laptop at home but the wireless was not working so I had no choice but to sit at the computer in my study. I prefer to be able read or write in different places - for example where the sun is coming through the window - which I could do with paper, pen and a book or article. Having to make myself sit at the computer in the study was creating a sort of physical and psychological barrier. I have now got a new router and the wireless is working. It means I can log on anywhere and even listen to the lectures while cooking! I can add to my blog as the ideas come instead of jotting them down on paper and writing up later. This means the course is more accessible and fits in with the snacking idea too.

My next challenge: RSS.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Why I am doing this course, and reflections on first two weeks

Having joined late, it has taken time to find my way round the site. Still a little confused still about where to find things and where to post things. There seem to be lots of layers.

As with most people in education, there is an awful lot going on at the moment for me:

  • preparing two papers for a conference in Tokyo in early October (and I will be overseas for three week approx from 2 - 22 October); one paper is on use of e-portolios for learning, and one is on activities to foster reflection, self assessment and deep learning.
  • developing and teaching this new Intercultural Competence paper - only level 5 but still demanding - although very much related to language teaching in that language and culture are inseparable, it means going 'back to school' to familiarise myself with relevant models, theories and frameworks.
  • developing in a team, online beginners language papers - hence the reason for doing this course.
  • plus we are in the process of restructuring the school, so . . .

Why enrol for this paper? The main one is I need to learn about online communities and experience online learning as a student. The beginners language papers will target intermediate and possibly high school teachers, business people, and possibly university students who have timetabling problems. We will need to cater for different learners and different needs.

The other reason is, my research interests are autonomous learning, which takes in learning strategies, motivation and reflection. This paper links in very well with my interests and the readings look very relevant.

How am I doing so far?

I am achieving my first aim - finding out just what it feels like as an online student who is not really into technology. I happily use email, and wikis and blogs (but set up through Blackboard so haven't ventured out yet into the wider world), have heard about RSS but have no idea how to use it, nor blog links. But I now understand why I would want to use them to make life easier. I go along with Stephen Downes when he says it is easy to focus on the technology and we should let the learners choose their own technology. But at the same time, we need to remember that some learners are like me - they don't know what choices they might have, and it is wise to set off on familiar ground - possibly just an email forum and a blog already set up ie scaffolding. Part of the problem is not having the time to explore and play with things and it is frustrating. But there is a huge sense of achievement and motivation when you achieve something small.

I will deal with my learning styles later but it is clear that although I would say I am an autonomous learner, in this new environment, I am right back at the novice stage and appreciate guidance until I get my feet. Having said that, I am enjoying the challenge, and the exposure to the different approach to learning.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Spurred into action

Having reflected on my own experience, trying to find my way round this course, I decided I needed to go into a course on Introduction to Intercultural Competence (IIC) I have set up this semester and really make things explicit for students. In week one they were introduced to an e-portfolio which has three sections: generic capabilities, IIC, and Basic Spanish (most students are doing a language major in Japanese or Chinese, and some no language at all. Spanish is there as a 'common' language). They were also introduced to a wiki for their personal learning log (PLL), to describe, interpret and evaluate an intercultural issue or incident. Both the e-portfolio and the wiki are only accessed by the student and the lecturers.

Some students tried to engage immediately with the PLL but did not really know how to differentiate between the three sections; not many took up the e-portfolio. In week three (last week) I introduced wikis for group project work/presentations which they are starting now. And I introduced blogs which can be accessed by all, for students to introduce themselves. All these tools are set up for the students on Blackboard, accessible through clearly labelled buttons.

Confusion. Some students are using the blog instead of the wiki, some have not made any entries in the PLL . . . I understand now why some of this has occurred. Even though they have time in the computer room with me once a week, not all attend, and I did not actually insist they make an entry of some sort so that I could help them with content.

When you design something yourself, you are too close to it and don't appreciate the problems that students can have.

Self Introduction

Hello everyone. I enrolled just this week and am trying to find my way round the various sites and trying to find out what I am supposed to be doing in each one. I use blogs, wikis and e-portfolios in my teaching but it is still a challenge with the sheer volume of information all at once.