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 http://books.google.com/books?id=mCK94P-VB5UC&pg=PA18&lpg=PA18&dq=glove+puppets+and+foreign+
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).
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 http://www.paccall.org/Journal/PacCALL-Journal-2005-1-1.html