Sunday, August 10, 2008

A guest lesson in EFL in Second Life

Nergiz (Daffodil) Kern, based in Turkey, Webhead, creator of the slexperiments wiki (along with Alicia and Maru) with a group that meets weekly in SL, and founder of EDURIZON.COM, kindly invited me to be a guest on Saturday 9th. August, 2008 and teach her group of SL students - five men, from Turkey, Germany, Saudi Arabia, France and Egypt and two young women from Qatar. (The young women did not use voice for religious reasons, but they could hear and they used written chat energetically.)

Since I had not the rights to use some of the equipment in the first site we chose, we decided to move to outside my villa on Gavin Dudeney’s EduNation island.

Earlier in the day Nergiz came and gave me and instructed me in the use of Gavin’s screen viewer. She also brought along 7 mats and a burning fire.

Me on my graduation day

My main aims were to get the students asking me questions about myself and for me to learn something about them.

I’d decided to start with: “Let’s introduce ourselves”, but that intention got lost in the initial business of getting seated – and facing the right way to view the photos!

I’d chosen a number of personal pictures from what I had available in electronic form and planned to use them spontaneously, in no fixed order, according to how the presentation/discussion was going.

My grandmother and her tandem

This was just as well since at one stage the photos seemed to stick (or perhaps I hadn’t quite mastered how to select them).

As in First Life, it was a little unnerving before the beginning of the lesson waiting alone for the unknown class to come and wondering who would come (over the bridge) and how it would all go.

Students crossing the bridge

In the event there were not too many spoken or written questions to begin with, but there were quite a few written answers to questions like: “ Who do you think this is?” “Why do you think I’m showing you this picture?” “Which town do you think this is?” The young women from Qatar were particularly active.

In the last 15 minutes (prompted by Nergiz) I joined the students round the fire and there were quite a number of spoken and written questions – often quite demanding: “What do you think needs to be done so that education in Arab countries achieves more?” “What is your wisdom?” I took that to mean – “Have you words of advice for us?”

As people started to leave one student thanked me for my “pronunciation and English words”. Another thanked me for the chance to meet a person like me – whatever that might mean, and one of the men said he had visited my homepage and had a question about an Erasmus project mentioned there. One of the same students wanted to know how I'd come to concentrate on English. I got the general impression that most of the students had enjoyed the 60 minutes and had least experienced someone speaking English with a certain accent. And from Nergiz's notes in local chat I could see that she was explaining some of the vocabulary I had used.

I most certainly enjoyed the experience. At first I thought I’d spoken too much, but I can see that that was partly a result of the format we chose for the lesson. The presentation of the photos also led to the subsequent questions/discussion in the last 15 minutes. I didn’t learn much about the students, though – one of my declared aims.

What would I change in a future session?

1. I’d master the presentation device so I could choose the sequence of the photos and not be at its mercy.
Of course I’d like to know the students better. I think my teaching of EFL has become all about communicative relationships between the students and between me. I need to be able to judge when to intervene , when to hold back, when to encourage, when to ask pertinent questions or make encouraging statements. I felt at a disadvantage not knowing the students and not always being able, for technical reasons, to hear them easily. Clearly, though, it is not possible to get to know a group as a guest on one visit.

I can see that, perhaps even more critically than in First Life teaching, it is necessary to be crystal clear about the aims of a course and particular lessons and parts of lessons in it.

This experience has whetted my appetite for EFL teaching in SL. A priority must be for the teacher to master the control and manipulation of the SL environment, including the use of language learning/teaching tools, but then the prospects are exciting – not least in terms of in-world travel. Just think, as long as there is a pedagogical reason for doing so, within one or two lessons you and your class can visit, say, The Red Square, Virtual Mecca, Knightsbridge and Morocco. That will surely be motivating and generate language to be exploited .

Thanks to Nergiz for some of the photos.