The Internet is a text-rich environment, smart phone technology and social networking facilitate the use of text, in a virtual world instruction can be provided in either text or voice mode and each has pros and cons. Shambles Guru provides a useful video describing the setup of voice in Second Life using Viewer 2.
Text allows you to think about what you are communicating, seeing the written word allows for some processing and editing prior to clicking the send button. Text can also be saved and referred to at a later time, always beneficial. Text is the preferred method to communicate when language translation is required and the appropriate communication with hearing impaired students. The downside of text is that it is difficult to simultaneously demonstrate while communicating in text. Another potential drawback is “text speak” and typos. Though typically understood there is potential for misunderstanding and it develops a habit of ignoring typos and using abbreviations. A class participant must be able to read and follow instructions in text. This has potential for problems depending on the audience and individual capabilities. Responding to individual questions in IM texting can be confusing (not seeing the message, having too many message boxes open, blocking view of the screen due to message boxes).
Voice allows an instructor to deliver a message the way that an instructor delivers in a real life classroom setting, a clarification is immediate and intonation is clear. The lack of visual cues requires an instructor to use other methods to engage students and to ensure the message was delivered. Ideally the students are also using voice so that 2-way communication can take place. This requires an etiquette system of watching the screen for who is speaking, listening to the spoken text and speaking at a specific pause, so as not to interrupt the speaker. It requires that the communicators listen more carefully than they may do in a real life classroom. The teacher must also be watchful of students as they are performing particular tasks in the virtual setting. The teacher needs to continuously move the camera around and watch students to ensure that students are performing tasks as directed, providing appropriate verbal direction as needed.
The ideal strategy is to use both text and voice. This addresses various learning styles and takes advantage of the pros of each method, minimizing the cons. This can be done is several ways. The instructor can:
- provide notecards with vital information, in text, to supplement the spoken instruction.
- type main ideas as he/she speaks.
- have an assistant or student type the text as he/she speaks.
- take advantage of the back channel in local chat to address questions
Teachers should practice the strategies in order to become comfortable and adept at using them, ultimately selecting which is most appropriate.