A teaching experience. Some reflections

I was contacted by Luisa Panichi to teach in an Italian beginners course for the Avalon Project. For me it was an honour and a great responsibility. But above all was a learning occasion, so I accepted without hesitation… and then started to worry :) ).

For me it was a long list of “first time”. The first time I actually teach an “Italian course” (I’ve been always busy with informal learning until now), and the first time I had to manage a rather large group (10-15 people).

You will ask: “What? You have been doing things in SL for almost 3 years and never faced a group of 15 people?”

People coming to Italianiamo -let’s confess it :) – are not that many. And when I was at Languagelab it was quite different.

Recognising who is talking

Let me explain it better. When new people drop by at Italianiamo they are one or two for session. But we already know each other and recognise each other voice. Therefore you know that if you hear a “new voice” it belong to the “new person”. And this was the case as well at Languagelab: you ended up knowing almost all students, so when you were running an event for them, you had already met them before and learnt how their voice sounded.

But if they are 15  strangers, as your new students the first days of a course… well, it’s another story.

Next time you are in a large meeting, pay attention. Are you able to recognise immediately who is talking? Or at least, do you know immediately if the person talking is sitting in front of you, on your right or on your left? No. Not at all. Unless you already know the people in the meeting.

In RL, voices come from a direction, we hear where the voice come from, and we turn to that direction, thus spotting who’s speaking.

In SL voices have no direction: everybody is just speaking into your ears.

Of course the teacher can keep an eye on  the active speakers list and on the “green brackets” on avatar’s head, but a teacher is often doing many other things while he or other people are talking: rezzing objects or boards, writing key words in chat, fetching people who got lost on the way, etc. So I assure you that until he’s learnt to recognise his student’s voices, he will have no clue to know who’s asking a question or who’s asking for help.

A solution could be to have a one-to-one chat with each participant (for instance while testing their oral level) so that the teacher could get used with their voice, but since it’s not always possible, be prepared to ask “who said this? Who asked that” when needed. I’m sure your students will understand.

Technical problems

Technical problems are rather common in SL classes. It does not matter if students had their introductory SL skill class before starting, someone will always have technical problems. Some are not important (if you are a white cloud for the whole class… well, you can still follow and participate in it) others are hindering a person class participation: mostly voice problem or crash problems.

For a teacher that’s working alone (if it’s a tandem teaching… well one goes on teaching while the other can help the student to set up his micro) it can be a big problem. He can spend a couple of minutes helping the student, but he cannot spend half an hour with it.

I found short, very focused video tutorials helpful and I would have liked to have made them before the beginning of the course rather than “on demand”.

Video tutorials in my opinion are much better to explain “what to do and where to click” in SL than an inworld explanation. The student can see the teacher interface, where he/she clicks, which menu is she/he opening, etc. and following instructions became easier that in those conversation among blinds that we are forced to carry in SL.  “On the left upper corner of your screen. Do you see it?” (silence on the other part).” If you see please write “yes” in chat”. “Yes, I’m clicking on it, but nothing happens”. “Ok, what is written on the button you are clicking on?” etc.

And… most important : he/she can see it alone, after the class (if the problem is not urgent) or during the class but without interrupting it.

I think it’s better for the student too. It does not have to be easy for a student to ask for help and then feel that all the other students are waiting for him. I mean, having technical problems is already enough frustrating and we do not want to add to it feeling somehow bad about it.

Student does not react

I remember my first workshop. It was about creating a gesture. And I remember me spending time and energy to communicate with one of the avatar who… was obviously having problems because she was not following any instructions, nor answering to my questions.

Later, I learnt that she is always multitasking: she opens her SL viewer, park her avatar there and then… skypes with friends, writes articles for her blog, answer mails.

In conferences she usually leaves her micro on, so we can all hear her typing over the voice of the speaker.

Now when I see her in meetings, I mute her directly. It’s rude, but it’s useless to send her IM asking her to close her micro: she’s doing other things and will not read your messages.

That’s was not the case with the students in this course. They were all really good and participative and it has been a great pleasure for me to meet them all and work with them.

But let’s see some typical VW issues that can be at the base of the problem.

  • First of all: do the student know that someone is asking him (him, and not the group or another student) the question? When asking a question to someone, always say the name of that person, and teach your student to do the same.

If the name of the person the question was addressed to was specified, and we do not get no reaction whatsoever, it can be that:

  • The student did not understand the question but is too shy to admit it: ask the student if he/she understood the question.
  • The student understood the question but he’s thinking his answer: leave the student some time before starting to stress him.
  • The student is googling up words (you can hear him typing): leave him some time but then ask for the answer.
  • The students is distracted by IM: can happen, may be he’s just writing: “busy. In class.” Repeat or ask to repeat the question.
  • The student crashed. Check it by bumping into the student.   If he/she is phantom and you can walk through, he/she has crashed.
  • Sound problems. Sound problems divide themselves in different categories.

- He/she forgot her micro closed (I constantly do it :) ). Solution: say and write in chat that you cannot hear her/him. (that was easy!)

- He/she has voice problems: ask her/him to write in chat the answer, go on with the class and try to help him later, so you are not interrupting the activity.

- No sound: he/she did not hear the question. Solution: Write in chat the question but be aware that not everybody is constantly staring at chat. So write it a couple of times.

  • RL interferences: like telephone ringing, someone came to say something, doorbell ringing, etc. It’s normal and understandable, we all have a RL.

In many cases, you will never know what was going on. I usually allow some time  (while i’m checking all those points) and then go on. If possible, I will go back to that person later, hoping that this time he/she will be able to answer and participate in the class.

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “A teaching experience. Some reflections

  1. Nick Noakes

    Great post Anna, really helpful. The short videos that you mentioned … did you create these “on demand” and if so, is there a URL?

  2. antonella

    well, on demand means: we had a problem (voice problems or “dressing problem”) and after the class I prepared the video (in a strange language that resemble vaguelly English)
    For the end course party, I prepared it before and sent the link to the students.
    You can see them all here: http://x.blip.tv/posts?view=archive&nsfw=dc
    Ah, I see now that I did one for camera controls too. Forgot about it.

    I’m happy that you enjoyed the post :)

  3. Helen / Karelia

    An excellent post Anna .. good to have a ‘checklist’ of anticipated classroom management issues .. really looking forward to actually DOING this some day! You clearly established a lovely group atmosphere with your class which I experienced at the final award ceremony – thanks for the invitation”

  4. antonella

    Thanks Helen,
    thanks for coming to the course party. It was great to have other italian speakers and learners to interact with!

  5. A great blog, Antonella.
    I can underline everything you said. :)
    Also as a student it is good to know the other side of
    “teaching” in SL. And as a very beginner of offering language activities I now know that professionals have the same bugs as me. ;)
    Thanks again.

    • antonella

      Thanks Abraxas :)
      I saw that you are offering German conversation class on monday (21.00-22.00 CET). Until now I’ve never found time… but wait for me! Beeing “of duty” in SL is wonderful: one can do many interesting things :)

  6. You are very welcome and you are totally right. It is also a very new and exciting experience for me! :)

  7. Pingback: add a dimension to your learning.. with a good friend | Anna Begonia's blog

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