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.