EduMachinima Fest for Teachers and Students

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The annual SIGVE EduMachinima Fest is unique in that it is for both students and teachers.  Those who enter their work will have the opportunity to create and share their manipulation of images, sounds, music and words effectively to convey … Continue reading


Machinima as a Teaching and Learning Tool

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Teachers are generally a creative and resourceful bunch, and though we do make use of commercially produced materials, we often customize them for our students.   Unusual, humorous, poignant and the relevant materials (pictures, artifacts, movies, stories) help us to … Continue reading

Value of Voice: Language Instruction in Virtual Environments

Learning a language is facilitated in a virtual environment with opportunities to use audio in a non-threatening venue, quickly change settings to encourage use of diverse vocabulary, and practice with native speakers from different geographic locations and accents.

The particular English Language class I observed took advantage of a traditional lecture and presentation board, using both the native tongue of the learners as well as the target language, English.  Students responded to questions in local chat providing the instructor an easy way to ascertain grasp of the topic.   One strategy that Alfonso Perfferle uses in his English for Spanish Speakers class on Second Life is to pair students and assign one member of the pair a note-card with questions associated with the topic or grammatical focus of the day.  Pairs of students then conduct a private voice call and practice speaking, using the note-card as a guide.  Text is available, as needed, for clarification.  The paired chat does not disturb other students and can be practiced and repeated in a trusting environment.  

Responses from students in local chat allows for quick formative evaluation.

In addition to the structured and more formal activity pictured here, this class of English Language learners logon from remote locations around the world to participate in "field trips" providing an opportunity to practice English in a variety of settings from shopping and restaurants to amusement parks and historic sites.  Time zones and physical locations are secondary factors in this particular classroom, the instructor is physically located in Miami, Florida while the majority of students are located in Spain.

Learning the Music Business in Virtual Worlds

As I walked down 6th street in Austin Texas recently, I was met with an array of live musical performances, with the exception of the 104 degree weather it was not unlike teleporting around the musical venues in a Virtual World.  On multiple grids professional musicians, hobbyists, students, career changers and potentials all perform for an appreciative  live audience.  Setup in a virtual venue includes plugging equipment into a computer to provide a live stream and logging into a virtual environment.  Virtual worlds offer easy to access venues so the novice band  playing in a garage or the professional blues singer and guitarist in a practice room are able to logon and perform for a live audience from the comfort of their home or studio.  Musicians even perform with colleagues from another geographic location, appearing together inworld.

The Arts are experiencing cuts in education spending and students hoping to pursue a career in music, drama, or art related areas may need to access alternative arenas for exploring, practicing, and performing their talent and related skills.  Accomplished musicians perform in virtual venues, across virtual grids all times of the day, every day. Perhaps “virtual performances” will become a mainstream outlet for entertainment, at the very least it is a potential learning ground for aspiring performers.

In addition to performing, song-writing and employing technical tasks, aspiring musicians can practice skills necessary in the music business such as working with an agent and dealing with bookings,  public relations, promotion,  marketing, and even managing finances.  As the mode that we access music is changing, so is the way we provide and access entertainment.

Teaching Strategies for Using Voice and Text in the Virtual World

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.

Culture and Foreign Language, Virtually

Learning of foreign languages can be somewhat of a challenge in the United States, partially due to proximity to countries where another language is spoken, yet global perspectives are essential and better  addressed through a multi-lingual  and multi-cultural citizenry.  “According to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, a higher percentage of students are studying a foreign language than at any time in history.”  The Case for Foreign language Classes Education Week ( July 12, 2010).  Students need to become prepared to conduct business and compete in a global economy, our competitors across the globe are addressing it.

Foreign language instruction is an area that can be handled effectively through virtual environment experiences.  Foreign language teachers will tell you that practice in the native tongue with native speakers is a “best practice”.  In real life it often includes field trips, at the very least to a local restaurant or community,  students from affluent homes may participate in a trip abroad.

In a virtual environment, students can be placed in a variety of social situations, with native speakers, to practice newly acquired linguistic skills. There are instant translators available in virtual worlds that can translate written text to a limited degree, and/or students may turn on voice and actually practice speaking with individuals from another country.   Environments can be constructed to elicit the practice of particular vocabulary such as sporting, arts, cultural, or social events.  Students (through avatars) engaged in conversation and interaction will naturally acquire cultural lessons as well.

ESOL students could use the environment similarly.  A characteristic that encourages language practice for the second language learner is the ‘security’ of the avatar.  Students learning a foreign language may express a reluctance to speak, for fear of being made fun of.  An avatar representation offers some shielding from potential or perceived ridicule.

A virtual setting may very well be the most ‘natural’ setting we can provide, at a reasonable cost, for foreign language instruction.

Cultural Evolution

The sophistication of the modern world is a collective enterprise, according to Matt Ridley Humans:  Why They Triumphed – WSJ Saturday May 22. This notion validates the collaboration those in virtual worlds often make reference to.  I know that my learning has been positively impacted through the collaboration I have had with “friends” I have never met, friends who live in another time zone and in a different culture than mine.  My “experience”  is richer through my interaction with others who share my interests but not my geography.  Trade, in ancient times, caused ideas to spread and cultures to evolve – today we can trade ideas and move the evolution of culture through online  activities in virtual worlds.  What are the implications for our students?  The 21st century Pen-pal can be an avatar who works with someone from a different culture and solves problems in real-time.  Am I being overly hopeful that this would bring greater understanding between people?