Tag Archives: teaching in second life

On roleplay: interview with Sir Edge, the battlemage

 

 

Anna: I think that the average age in SL is 35. Are you younger or older than 35?

Edge: older..around 45

Anna: What is your mother tongue?

Edge: Portuguese.

Anna: When did you create your first avatar, and why?

Edge: It was in 2008. I heard about SL and decided to see what it was.

Anna: Where did you hear about SL? Do you remember it?

Edge: On TV, they mentioned that Second life had ended a couple relationship and said something about avatars.

Anna: *Smiles* So you came in to end couples relationships, right *giggles*

Edge: No. I came in because of the avatars *smiles*

Anna: *Smiles teasing him* fine, fine. Did you study or learn English before entering SL? If yes, what was your level, more or less?

Edge: I did study English at school and I took 5 years of it , but I learned more when I went to England to work.

Anna: So your English was pretty good when you arrived in SL, I guess. Much higher than other Portugueses of your age

Edge: I’ve always enjoyed English more than the other languages in option.

Anna: Do you speak other languages?

Edge: Some French too and some Spanish.

Anna: *nods, staring at the man with curiosity… then shakes her head and asks the following question*: Has your English improved since you joined SL?

Edge: Of course ..It has been brought alive in the writing as it never did before.

Anna: But well, you had been living in England, you said: a much more immersive environment than SL *giggles*. Your answer surprises me, I have to admit it

Edge: Yes, but when we speak we communicate with sounds and I had to guess how to write most of the words

Edge: ..writing helps me spelling the right way

Anna: So.. you sort of learnt to write in English in SL *smiles* that’s interesting…

Edge: Yes.. you can say it revived the English with more accuracy.

Anna: Ah.. from your coming back from England and your creating your first avatar.. how many years did pass?

Edge: …oooh, many. I stayed in England just for a year, in an hotel.

Anna: *giggles* Me too, but only 6 months … I learnt a lot in those 6 months..

Edge: nods* That was 15 years ago.

Anna: Then your English, when you entered in SL, was not the same of 15 years before, right?

Edge: Was nearly forgotten

Anna: Like mine *nods*.

Anna: How long did your English take to come back, after you entered SL? More or less, of course.

Edge: Well, two weeks after that I was surprised of myself .haha

Anna: *laughs* Very quickly!

Edge: yes

Anna: And  why and when did you start roleplaying?

Edge: Well. I started in SL with another avatar and then I created this one, came right to Artstonia and I’ve been in this RP Sim since then

Anna: You hadn’t roleplayed before? And why did you come straight to Artstonia?

Edge: I looked for a medieval place and a new meter system, because I was in CCS before, with fire guns, and I wanted something more in the earlier ages

Anna: You were already fighting but not roleplaying, right?

Edge: nods* True.. but I saw folks Roleplaying, and somehow I sometime was amused by how they emoted and created plots. Hihi.. but all I ever did was killing. I was good at that.

Anna: Well, you are still a wonderful fighter, one of the best here in Artstonia for what I know.

Edge: There’s always one even better …..

Anna: Of course, otherwise it’s boring, to fight with no foes to defeat.*smiles* But let’s go back to the boring language topic *giggles* Since when you started to Roleplay, have you attended any course or engaged in other activities that could have helped you improving your English (reading, movies, trips etc)?

Edge: No, I never did any language activities but writing.

Anna: Do you mean that you write in English outside SL?

Edge: Ah!  No

Anna: Do you practice English only in SL or in other contexts as well (work, leisure, other virtual worlds or communities)

Edge: No. I live in Portugal. Just in SL so far.

Anna: How many hours do you spend roleplaying? How many hours in SL (in general,  RP or not).

Edge: Lately no more than a couple hours a day.

Anna: And before?

Edge: I spent much more hours, like 4 or 5  a day.

Anna: Do you see any difference in the language you use normally in SL and the one you use in Rpg?

Edge: Not me, but I notice many Rolplayers changing the way the write and speak. Ones with symbols, and others with short ways of writing.

Anna: Can you explain it better?

Edge: Hmm.. Some Rolplayers try to transmit accent on through their writing.

Anna: And what do you think about it? Do you think that it affects you? You may risk to learn a sort of “wrong model”, or it could affect the way some people might use the language?

Edge: Yes, it may affect the way some people that speak other language get the wrong English way , but those Rp players are not that many that can do great damage to the English.. But we may catch some wrong words as we are under the influence of each others.

Anna: Also because there are many whose native language is not English. Did it ever happen to you to learn a word and then discover it was not “English”? I’m asking it because it happened to me in RL, hanging around with Spanish people while I was in England.

Edge: Well.. it just needs to change one letter of a word to make the sentence means another thing, that happened to me many times. The result is not English nor any other language ..lol

Anna: *giggles* Yes, creative English, I call it.

Anna: Most rpg are in chat, that is people do not “speak” but simply write what they have to say. Do you feel comfortable with your spoken English? Do you know many words or expression in their written form but not how they sound?

Edge: nods* I’ve been learning words every day,  but I know that my spoken English is rusty as I haven’t spoken it for years.

Anna: You do not use voice in SL? Never?

Edge: I did long time ago ..was funny. But I don’t see the use to do that

Anna: What do you mean? You have micro…

Edge Yes, but not in every Sim one is allowed to speaking. At least in the ones I go.

Anna: *giggles* That’s very strange for us language teachers. Most of us almost only communicate by voice..

Edge: hehe… It makes it more simple yes?

Anna: Well, you  can walk and talk.. at least *giggles*.

Edge: hihi.

Anna: Can you remember and share with us a language learning situation in Rpg? A moment in which you realised that you were learning something new? Or a moment you were aware of some language learning taking place?

Edge: The RP classes are a good example of that here in Artstonia.

Anna: Ah.. why?

Edge: Because we learn RP and read the correct English writing

Anna: Yes, when one starts there is a lot of reading.. and well.. later too, if you join a guild, the tasks you have to do to go up in the ranks..

Edge: good thinking ..nods*

Anna: Would  you recommend to roleplay in SL to improve one’s foreign language?

Edge: Why not? It’s one of the best places. Otherwise is more gestures and symbols.

Anna: Thus you think that someone with a decent level of English could actually learn the language by roleplaying?

Edge: I’m positive about that .. I did and I believe I still have much to learn * smiles*

Anna: Is there something, language related, of course, that I did not ask you and that you would like to add?

Edge: I just hope my answers may be an help to someone new that wants to explore RP. It has been great, thank you

Anna: I’m the one who have to thank you, Edge, *smiles* it was very interesting to interview you.

 

 

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add a dimension to your learning.. with a good friend

In October 2010 Karelia Kondor and I prepared a presenation for the 3rd Virtual Roundtable Conference.

For me it was a real pleasure to be able to collaborate with Karelia: we met in Edunation thanks to Carol and became real friends by now. And I love to work with people: I like the energy that is produced and the learning and teaching that is taking place. In this case, I was the one who learned more, and I have to thanks Karelia to offer me this opportunity.

Since the conference was not on SL and then probably our “pubblic” was mostly new to Virtual Words, we decided to give an overview of what can teachers do in Second Life and to explain it from the point of view of  our personal experience.

It was nice and reassuring as well to have Gizmo, Pionia and many other friends among the attendats, and to be able to rely on the wonderful organisation of Gwen.

Here are the slides, since we had a little problem with them and were not able to show them all.

For more information:

the recording: http://www.virtual-round-table.com/profiles/blogs/add-a-dimension-to-your

Karelia page: http://www.all-london.org.uk/second_life.htm

references:

introduction (video)

Italian Art: Gallery of the italian creativity: dynamics painting  and sculpture by Gleman Jun.
Sculpture: Both myself by Gleman Jun
Avalon Learning
 

For information on the project:
Slexperiment
 

Information:
Slanguages 2010
 

Information:
sharing resources (slide)
 

International School
One of the many places where you can find free resources for teaching in SL.
English at Cypris Chat (slide)
 

Virtlantis (slide)
 

Goethe Institut (slide)
 

Teleportnovela (slide)
 

Italianiamo (slide)
 

Games (videos)
Gymkana
Role play (video)
 

Artstonia (role play sim)
Chatlog: example of role play interaction
[2010/09/29 23:50]  gadget Cyberstar: greetings, anna
[2010/09/29 23:50]  anna Begonia: greetings
[2010/09/29 23:51]  Relm Foxdale: Greetings
[2010/09/29 23:52]  anna Begonia: greetings
[2010/09/29 23:52]  Whrek Nirvana: Eya Girly
[2010/09/29 23:52]  gadget Cyberstar: ooh goodie, the rat is here
[2010/09/29 23:52]  Whrek Nirvana: shut up
[2010/09/29 23:52]  gadget Cyberstar: and why would i do that?
[2010/09/29 23:53]  Whrek Nirvana: you’ve got shit spewwin out yur gums
[2010/09/29 23:53]  Whrek Nirvana: I’m sure relm doesn’t appreciate getting covered in it
[2010/09/29 23:59]  anna Begonia: *approaches Whreck, looks at his skin*
[2010/09/29 23:59]  anna Begonia: Sir, do you paint it every day? It would take long. How many hours?
[2010/09/30 00:00]  anna Begonia: do someone help you?
[2010/09/30 00:00]  Whrek Nirvana cocks his foot to the side and sweeps his tail around it, standing up tall in front of her, “Wha, You aint meanin ta tell me you aint never seen a tatoo before girly, THis down come off, its burned on my flesh”
[2010/09/30 00:00]  Relm Foxdale suddenly chuckles. “You have longer hair than me.”
[2010/09/30 00:01]  gadget Cyberstar: aye, frieking wood elfs, they dun know how ta cut hair
[2010/09/30 00:01]  anna Begonia: Oh, my god! burned! it has to be very painful! Why did they do it to you? *with a shrill in ther voice*
[2010/09/30 00:01]  Relm Foxdale grabs his ponytail playfully
[2010/09/30 00:01]  gadget Cyberstar: hey! no pulling!
[2010/09/30 00:01]  Relm Foxdale laughs
[2010/09/30 00:01]  gadget Cyberstar: pull my hair, i steal an ear
[2010/09/30 00:02]  Relm Foxdale: You wouldn’t dare
[2010/09/30 00:02]  gadget Cyberstar: try me
[2010/09/30 00:02]  Relm Foxdale frowns
[2010/09/30 00:02]  Relm Foxdale: Nah
[2010/09/30 00:02]  Whrek Nirvana holds his hand up and traces down his arms, “Traders and brands, each of these was given to me when I was slave to one or another, the Ravinica guild added the roses every time, or was it gruuls
[2010/09/30 00:02]  gadget Cyberstar: tatoos dun hurt, actually
[2010/09/30 00:03]  gadget Cyberstar: well, much
[2010/09/30 00:03]  Whrek Nirvana: they do when theyre seared
[2010/09/30 00:03]  gadget Cyberstar: yeah
[2010/09/30 00:03]  Relm Foxdale: Not very much, no
[2010/09/30 00:03]  gadget Cyberstar: i said much
[2010/09/30 00:03]  Relm Foxdale: Depends where they are
[2010/09/30 00:03]  Whrek Nirvana: take a hot Iron, dip it in ink, then brand the flesh
[2010/09/30 00:03]  gadget Cyberstar: well, ye stop feeling much after a whyle
[2010/09/30 00:03]  Relm Foxdale smirks. “You’ve never seen mine, Gadget.”
[2010/09/30 00:03]  anna Begonia: you were a slave? *goes nearer to Whreck* how can be that you were takein slave? You are so strong *smiles half shyly half mockingly* why did you not defend yourself?
[2010/09/30 00:03]  gadget Cyberstar: did nay know ye had one
[2010/09/30 00:03]  Relm Foxdale: But then I keep it hidden, for good reason
[2010/09/30 00:04]  Relm Foxdale: When i was with those…people
[2010/09/30 00:04]  gadget Cyberstar: ah
[2010/09/30 00:04]  Whrek Nirvana: I was a boy when I was taken at as a slave, and even now not much I can do to a camp of slavers ta stop em, though I’ve slipt outta theyre grips a few times as of late
[2010/09/30 00:05]  gadget Cyberstar: ye just gotta learn how ta fight right
[2010/09/30 00:05]  anna Begonia: I was told that there are raids sometimes in the village, they catch people, children or girls. Are they slavers?
[2010/09/30 00:05]  gadget Cyberstar: mostly just monsters
[2010/09/30 00:06]  Whrek Nirvana: Wouldnt doubt it, Sparten raiders are pretty notorious fer taken breedin stock, women and girls, athenians well take workers of men
[2010/09/30 00:06]  Relm Foxdale: Well, Gadget, I need to go to bed…it’s been a long day, traveling to Flotsam and back
[2010/09/30 00:06]  gadget Cyberstar: *frowns* alright
[2010/09/30 00:06]  anna Begonia: ah…. other mostners, not the one you have in the village, i guess
[2010/09/30 00:06]  Relm Foxdale: But thanks for dancing with me *smiles*
[2010/09/30 00:06]  gadget Cyberstar: goodnight, relm
[2010/09/30 00:06]  Relm Foxdale: Night
[2010/09/30 00:06]  anna Begonia: good Night lady
The real Virtual World
art gallery (slide)

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It’s time for me to sit on the other side

There are two kind of people in the world: normal people and teacher and students. For normal people the year starts on the 1st of January. For teachers and students it starts on the 1st of September.

And you know: new year, new promises and proposals (and new quitting smoking, collecting princesses’ and queens’ needles and learning languages adds on TV).

September is approaching and Anna Begonia is reflection on what she did, what she does, and what she wants to do. And she feels that she needs to take a break from sitting on the teacher -well, she does not like the word, let’s say facilitator- chair and would really like to sit again on the learner chair.

She wants to have time to experience learning, in all its form: from learning to fight like a ninja with Karelia Kondor, to brush up her German with Gwen Gwasi, to try to improve her English with Professor Merryman, to learn at last to use an holodeck, pupetree and all these stuff she keeps unused in her inventory. And to carry on at last her Mystery House project (what’s it? Aha, a mystery 😛 )

She feels not guilty towards the Italianiamo participants thanks to Misy Ferraris, who will start soon her Italian classes in SL.

Her RL counterpart too is not possessive with her students: she tends to avoid having the same class more than one year in a row. They have to change teacher, listen to other pronunciation, experiment other teaching styles and personalities. And, let’s admit it: all of us have our manias, strong and week points. All of us teach better something and less well other thing and insist more on this or on that. So, changing is good.

And changing for us teachers (opss, sorry Anna, facilitators) is good too. And changing prospective, sitting on the other side, is very, very important.

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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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let’s make a game *

In March I had the honour to be invited by Anitel (the Italian national association of e-learning tutors) to give this workshop on games, and it was a pleasure for me to meet many other colleagues interested in e-learning and the learning potentiality of virtual worlds.

I can say that in all my second life I’ve been working with games and informal learning, first at Languagelab and then on my own. It was the right occasion for me to think on what I’ve been learning form all these experiences and share with others.

Here you can see the video summarising the workshop (thanks to Richy Ryba for the recording and editing of the video). For those who do not understand Italian, I summarise below the main points.

[Vimeo 10461171]

  • The first thing you have to take into consideration when preparing a game is your participants SL skills. Don’t ask them to do something they do not already know how to do or you will spend the first hour explaining technicalities… and who feels like playing a game after that?
  • If you are bringing your RL students in SL (and they meet on regular basis in RL) don’t organise games that can be played better in RL. The same kind of games can work pretty well if your students are on an online course (SL adds a socialising element to the game) but are a nonsense in F2F courses
  • Use SL to organise something that would be too costly, too complex or too risky in RL.
  • There are a lot of ready to play game in SL, mostly the kind of  “sitting around and clicking on a thing”. They can be ok but it’s much better if you make your own game (or you use them as part of a longer and more complex game).
  • When preparing a game, keep in mind what make SL unique: social interaction, spatial interaction (it’s a 3D environment, isn’t it?) and visual strength. Ah, ok there is also the suspension of disbelief, but we all know about that. Think of a game that uses space, visuals and social interaction and it will be an hit.
  • SL limits are as important as its strength: keep them in mind and exploit them. Sometimes they are more interesting and useful than strength points.
  • In order to prepare your own game you do not need to be a builder or a scripter: there are a lot of objects you can use, and scripts that can be useful to prepare a game.
  • The SL community is very supportive. If people see that you are working on something interesting and you ask a little favour (for instance, to modify a script that you already have) they will be very happy to lend you an hand. But do not pretend that they “make” the game for you, mostly of them have their projects in SL and are usually very busy.
  • In my opinion, what works best in SL are scavenger hunts (clever ones, where you have to solve problems and discover things to finish the game) and games where you have to solve a riddle, answer a question or do something in order to get to the next point.
  • And, last point: to collaborate people need to know each other. Don’t organise a game that need collaboration among the group without first allowing them the time (a couple of sessions) to know each other.

A big thanks to Astra Martian and Lisa Tebaldi for giving me the chance to run this workshop and meet their wonderful students.

*The original title of the workshop at Anitel was much better: Facciamo un gioco! that in Italian means both “let’s play a game” and “let’s create a game”.

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TLVW10: the story of “discovering Italian Renaissance” at Città Ideale


For the second year, Misy Ferraris and I  worked together to prepare an example of didactical use of SL for the Tesol Evo course Teaching Languages in a Virtual World.

As in our last event (about the Italian Carnival ) we decided to focus more on the Italian Culture than on language: most of the people who are taking part to the EVO course are English teacher and we think that it’s much more interesting for them to “live” an activity as student than to sit down and listen to the explanation of how we would or could do this and that. Therefore, if our class was about language, we would be forced to prepare a beginner class… and in my opinion SL is not for beginners: to much work and too little result.

We had spotted a very beautiful land: Città Ideale, and I had been thinking for a while of using it for some activities. Then Italianiamo went on to its second version and my real life got even busier.

This was the perfect occasion to try to use this land for teaching.

First of all, we contacted the owners of the land: Ketty Dagostino and Jo Magic, who where enthusiastic about our idea and offered their help and collaboration from the very start.

Once we had the owner permission… there was no way back. It was time to start thinking about the activity/ies.

I’ve always found that to bring a group to a new Sim in SL is not an easy task. Either you play the “guide” role, leading them and explaining what you see around, or you ask your student to explore the land and report back what they have found. In this latter case, they often tend to look a bit lost, and sometimes stay stuck where they are, and… even worse, they almost don’t speak (the worst thing you can do to a language teacher: keep quiet)

Since I find it extremely boring and useless to go around with a group of avatar and explain them about this and that, I’m always looking for new way to let them explore and use the space they are in for learning.

The best solution, I think, are treasure hunts. So I started thinking about one where people had to go inside some of the beautiful buildings of Città Ideale to find the answer and where each answer would give access to the next clue/question.

I needed a script (as usual 🙂  ) but I’m not a scripter 😦  . So I started searching in my inventory, in the scripts wiki… and finally I remembered of http://www.3greeneggs.com/autoscript/!!!

I made the script with just a couple of clicks. It worked wonderfully…  but only with me. I needed a scripter. TZN86 Blinker, the scripter of Città Ideale, came to my rescue. Once I solved the technical part, I could start thinking about the content, and again, thanks to the collaboration of the owners of the land I could have access to a huge amount of information.

The next part was simply to read, write questions, check everything, coordinate with Misy Ferraris and the people of the land, post the notice of the event and… cross fingers.

The result? Of course it can be improved. May be now I would ask less questions and give some indications of where the different buildings are, but on the whole I consider it a success. At least I had great fun observing the participants and giving them some little hints when they were stuck.

I hope they had fun too.

A big thank to everybody that made this event possible: the people who attended it and the people who helped us. As usual, to do something in SL, you need to collaborate and you get to know very nice and generous people

To read about Misy Ferraris part of the game, click here.

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Using Second Life to stimulate learners oral production

I wrote this article for the IV Cibercongreso de la CiberSociedad2009:  crisis analógica, futuro digital.

You can read the spanish version here

I’ve been in Second Life[1] for almost 3 years now and have had the chance to observe and participate in many language classes and activities. During this last year I started my own project, Italianiamo. Knowing my limits and the time I could invest in it, I decided to focus on what virtual worlds[2] do at their best: make people talk to each other.

Therefore, Italianiamo is not a language course: we do not have a syllabus to follow and we do not “do” grammar. In our activities, I don’t ask learners to use this or that structure, rather I try to stimulate their free oral production. I simply prepare the activity, when needed we go over some useful vocabulary together, and then I step aside to let the learners interact in the Italian language, helping them to overcome their communication difficulties or encouraging the conversation flow when needed.

Consequently, my task and main problem in SL[3] is to find or create a set of stimuli and to see how I can exploit them to make learners talk in a foreign language.

In this short paper I would like to share my experiences and reflections, focusing primarily on one of the many “tools” that can be used to trigger communication: SL itself and above all SL places.

SL: a year long full immersion

When I arrived in SL and started exploring this new world I was struck by the number, interest, and variety of existing places. They are there, ready to use and to interact with. In addition, they are often inhabited by native speakers and owners[4] usually do not object if you bring a small, well behaved group of learners to visit their land[5].

I would say that SL is a kind of dreamland for language teachers, above all if they are living and teaching abroad: it’s almost like being in the country you want to learn the language of, a cheap and quick surrogate for Italy, in my case.

Actually, SL allows a kind of full immersion. It’s somehow even better: it’s spread over the year, not condensed into the two weeks or one month summer courses we are used to. Yet, as you can understand, the perfect world has not been invented, and one comes across problems here too. Let’s look at what some of them are:

Making people talk

We all know very well that to just throw learners in a new, unfamiliar place and ask them to talk about it does not work. People talk about what they know, not about what they ignore. I would imagine that in that case they would limit themselves to looking around, ask some questions and make some short remarks, while probably the teacher would be tempted to explain and speak too much in order to cover the embarrassing silence.

But it’s they who need to talk and practice the language, not me! I assure you that my Italian is pretty good and I do not need to visit virtual worlds to practice and improve my fluency.

The solution I often hear is:

a) ask learners to prepare the topic somehow, for instance by consulting Wikipedia, in order to explain it to class,

or

b) divide learners into small groups and send them out to visit a place and then report on it to the class.

This might work very well in a “normal class”, where students have homework and are presumably willing (or obliged) to spend some of their free time in doing it. Italianiamo is not a “class”, people just drop in -when they can and feel like- to talk in a relaxed and stimulating environment. They enjoy learning and talking in Italian and that’s what they are there for.

However, I wonder whether explaining what one read the night before is real, spontaneous communication. Do people feel the need to explain to each other everything about the Cathedral of Milan or are they simply fulfilling a task? Is it relevant and important for them to explain everything they just learned on a topic decided on by their teacher?

I wanted to try something different, and since my activities are free and I have no boss to report to, I could dare to risk more. Participants know that we are all learning and experimenting together and therefore are more willing to accept failures and little disasters on my part.

Using SL spaces to talk in a foreign language

In order to use existing places we pretended to be improvised tourist guides, inventing the history of the region we were visiting on the basis of a very scarce information (namely: the Real Life[6] image of some of the attractions of the Apulia region and some key words that could be useful), discussed the ideal architecture and function of a creativity hub (a project that had been developed both in RL[7] and SL), visited a car factory trying to understand together how cars are manufactured, went to a bookstore to talk about how we choose books and our preferences in literature, discovered SL art in a gallery, talked about our tastes in an Italian fashion and design showroom, dreamed about holidays in a travel agency, went through what we usually do in airports while waiting for our flight in…a virtual airport, followed and gave directions in the twisting little streets of the Rome district of Trastevere. We even went out to dinner together once.

The preparation of these activities represented an enjoyable challenge for me and much satisfaction. Let’s look at what one has to keep in mind when organising these kinds of activities:

Visiting Trastevere
At the restaurant
In the aquarium of Genoa
In a SL art gallery

Finding suitable places

First of all, I had to find the place: an interesting Italian land.

Not an easy and quick task, since as you can imagine, the percentage of interesting places that can be used for learning Italian is very low compared to English ones, and yes, it’s true: many SL places are boring, empty shopping malls.

In addition, Italian land owners, in an understandable attempt to make their land accessible and enjoyable by more visitors, often also (or only) offer information in English, thus somehow disrupting the sensation that we are immersed in an Italian environment.

Moreover, places sometimes disappear. It happened in the early days of the World Wide Web too, as a colleague was telling me not long ago. He, a real early adopter of the ICT for language teaching, found more than once that the page he had used the previous term were not online anymore, and that instead of improving his lesson plan on the basis of past experience, he had to start (almost) from scratch again.

The same thing is happening in SL now because Second life is now as young as the web was back then. It’s quite common that, after having found a wonderful place, designed an activity, and tested it you find out that you have to start everything anew because that land has changed, or worse, is not there, nor anywhere, any more. This sometimes happens even while one is thinking of an activity: the little district with intricate streets is now reduced to a mere square and the beautiful island[8] became a sort of ugly suk.

This, for the teacher who has spent sometimes weeks combing the metaverse[9] for suitable places, is a real loss of time and energy and can be very discouraging. I hope and believe that in the future SL will become stable in this sense, more like the Internet we know nowadays, with a large offering of places that “stay there”, and that we can utilize for our teaching activities.

Coming to term with reality in virtual reality

Once you’ve found a place, what you are going to do there and how you are going to use it do not depend only on your ideas and aims: you are a guest on someone else land, and therefore we cannot do anything we might want to there.

The owner of the land can restrict the ability of its visitors to fly[10], run scripts[11], rez[12] objects, take landmarks[13], teleport[14] directly from one point to the other, or even talk[15].

This is very understandable, since in this way the owner is avoiding griefers[16] attacks and keeps his or her land clean and tidy. As a consequence, you need to check and come to terms with your restricted perms[17]… and be careful: perms can vary from one spot to the other of the same land!

Therefore, it’s useless to plan a nice scavenger hunt with the help of huds[18] or other scripted objects if your scripts will not work there, or to prepare a board for some brainstorming if you cannot rez any object. It’s better to first find out what you will be allowed to do and then design the activity accordingly.

But, most important of all, is to know what your learners can do in SL. Do they have the right skills to perform what you are asking of them? How is their connection? Do they usually experience lag[19]? Finding out about their level and abilities beforehand will let you design your activities accordingly, and spare you from having to spend the first hour explaining how to do this or that. And yes, understanding an explanation and asking for help can be a very good exercise, but it’s also a bit frustrating and tiring if in the end you do not manage to do anything else.

Meeting native speakers

Native speakers are one of the primary reasons we are all here. To have the chance to meet people from almost all over the world and speak with them is one the main strengths of SL.

In SL, it is quite easy to start a conversation, much easier than in RL, I would say. In RL, it’s not normal in our daily lives to stop a passer-by and begin a conversation. If you don’t believe me, just try it! Walk into a plaza in RL and start talking with the people who are there. Unless you are in your 20s (and the person you are talking to is as well) they will probably stare at you, thinking that you have some mental problem. But in SL, this is a normal and completely acceptable behaviour, may be because we all look as if we were in our early 20s in SL.

Thus, people in SL can give you and your group of learners nice surprises: they can invite you on a guided tour of their island, or you can end up chatting about local languages and cultures. When it happens, just forget about the planned activity and grab the occasion that is being offered.

I would not base my activities on “going around and meet people”, however. First of all it’s something learners can do on their own, they do not need my help. Also, I noticed that they usually tend to speak more to people they already know and are at ease with, and that it’s often difficult for them to participate in a discussion among native speakers. As a matter of fact, most of the participants of Italianiamo are level A2/A2+, and, in my personal experience as a language learner, by the time you understand what someone is saying, someone else is already answering, and it’s hard to find the right moment to speak.

Meeting people from Apulia
A tour in Sardinia

In any case, native speakers are motivating: I mean, we are learning a language to talk to them, not to our teacher. They offer a wonderful occasion for listening to (and understanding) the “real” language, a chance to hear different accents and to experience first hand a new culture, without filters. That’s why I chose to open Italianiamo to native speakers: they are always welcome to join us in our activities.

Do we always have to go somewhere?

Of course not! Sometimes to stay at home is the best solution. We do not need to go to a theatre to discuss: “Do you go to the theatre?”. We need to go to a theatre if we are going to attend a performance and then compare our opinions about it (this last is best if done in a quiet bar). To talk about the last performance we went to, there’s nothing better than a cosy lounge.

In a RL classroom you have many tools (chalkboard, photocopy machine, cd player, video player, the room you are in with it’s walls and objects, if you are lucky a projector, if you are even more lucky an interactive digital blackboard…) and each time you choose which one is the best to perform the task at hand. The same happens in SL: you have some tools (voice[20], chat, different lands, different settings, objects in your inventory[21], etc.) and it’s how you use them that determines the success (or not) of your class/activity.

Talking about Italian gastronomy
Trying to sing Italian songs in SL

There are times when it’s better to stay home: when you need to use boards or other tools, for example, or when you want to use objects or a scene you have prepared. And since teleporting is easy and quick, you can decide to introduce the topic of the day at home and then journey together to see a place that will work as further stimulus.

A land of your own

Owing land is very useful.

At the beginning of my Second Life I did not see the point of owning or renting a place of my own. I thought that those who had a land simply wanted to play houses. I mean: you have sandboxes[22] if you want to try to build[23] something, and it’s much more fun to go around than to stay home and offer tea with biscuits to friends.

I tended to (mis)judge those who kept their activities in their “places” as people who did not understand the real potential of SL. I was wrongly convinced that they were afraid of taking their learners out of the classroom (by which I mean not just a four-walls room, it can be a park or a whole theme-based land) for fear of losing them, for fear that what they found in the outside world would be much more interesting (and useful for learning languages) than what they offered. A senseless fear, since a good teacher, in SL or in RL, is more than merely a native speaker, and offers an added value.

Needless to say, I have changed my mind to some degree. I still think that to be in SL and not to grab the opportunities it offers is a pity, but having a place on your own not only let you use more of SL (rezzing objects or settings and games you have prepared, for instance) but also because it’s nice to have a quiet place to meet, a landing point for those who want to participate in your activities, and an information hub for those who want to know more about what you do.

It’s tough, but worthwhile

I have the impression that I have pointed out so many “problems” and “difficulties” one has to deal with, that you are probably wondering why you should take the trouble to give it a try. This was not my intention. As I said before, I’m an enthusiast of this new world and of its potential for teaching languages.

Second Life and all the other virtual worlds that have mushroomed into existence in these last years are a new tool for all of us, one we should explore to see their pros and cons, their strengths and limits, what we can do and what is technically not viable, what we can use them for and what is achieved best via other tools. Although we may find many obstacles in our path, we also enjoy the freedom of being able to make mistakes, and to learn from them, without any big drawbacks: our learners are also curious and willing to try out new ways of learning, and to risk and explore, otherwise they would not be here.

Learners in SL are usually very motivated and eager to find more occasions to practice the language, and their improvement in fluency is awesome: those who at the beginning were looking up words in online dictionaries are now able to go to Italian lands and make friends, those who studied a foreign language long ago saw how it came back to them with very little effort, and those who at first were too shy for speaking and kept using the chat soon found themselves talking into their microphones without even noticing it.

I think that the “secret” is that to learn a foreign language here has an immediate purpose: to talk with other people, whether other learners or native speakers, and to know each others and do things together. We are not all closed in our classroom, we move inside the space of a large, new world still to be explored, we share a space that allows us to do, see, and live things together, we share opinions, give each other advice, help each other, get involved in projects and activities. And to do all of it we need to talk, talk, talk. And it’s as easy, and as immediate, as teleporting.

*  *  *

This paper is the result of first hand experiences, of a trial and error process, therefore I will only list here some useful resources for those who want to try their luck in SL.

My main “founts” for this article are some friends and colleagues with whom I shared adventures and sometimes hours of work with in SL: Graham Stanley, Paul Sweeney and Sally Langer. Some of their ideas and experiences are in this article.

 

Useful bibliography for educators in SL

Global Kids’ Second Life curriculum. Global Kid. Web. 27 Sept. 2009.
http://www.globalkids.org/?id=117

Are you ready to teach in SL? University of Cincinnati. Web. 27 Sept. 2009.
http://www.quibblo.com/quiz/7--PShe/Are-you-ready-to-teach-in-Second-Life

Mychael Rymaszenwki et al. Second Life: the official guide.
Indianapolis: Wiley Publishing, 2007

Aimee Weber et al. Creating your world: the official guide to
advanced content creation for second life.
Indianapolis: Wiley Publishing, 2008.

Footnotes


[1] Second Life: a 3D virtual world owned by the linden lab. Further information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Life

 

[2] virtual world: a world hosted in your pc or on a server. It can be in 2 or 3 dimensions. The most popular ones are multiuser. Further information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtual_worlds.

[3] SL: Second Life

[4] owner: SL is mostly privately owned. Many leave their “territory” open to those who would like to visit it.

[5] land: a land is a plot of …land. It can be very small (512 m² or less) or a whole island (also called region: 65,536 m²).

[6] Real Life: the physical world we are living in and our everyday lives. Also called First Life in opposition to Second Life.

[7] RL: Real Life

[8] island: also called a Region. An island is 65,536 m².

[9] metaverse: often used as synonym for virtual worlds and, within SL, of Second Life.

[10] fly: in Second Life you can move by walking, running, flying, or teleporting.

[11] script: code that make objects interact with each other or with the avatars, i.e. the virtual representations of the people in SL.

[12] rez: to create an object or to take an object out of the inventory (a folder with one’s personal belongings) to use or show it to other people.

[13] landmark: an object that allows you to teleport directly from one point to the other

[14] teleport: in SL is possible to go directly to a desired place by teleporting, a bit like in Star Trek.

[15] talk: in SL you can chat, send IM to another avatar, or talk in public or private conversations using a simple headset.

[16] griefers: people who enjoy themselves by causing havock and damage.

[17] perms: permissions, i.e. to talk, to rez objects, to use scripts, etc.

[18] hud: head up device: a device that can be seen only on your screen and that give you information, show you images, etc.

[19] lag: difficulty to move, to see or to interact with the surrounding environment. It can be caused, among other reasons, by slow internet connections.

[20] voice: the ability to speak with an headset

[21] inventory: different folders with all the personal belongings.

[22] sandbox: a place you can use freely for a determined amount of time.

[23] build: in SL you can create objects: furniture, houses, clothes, smaller objects. The only limit are your skills. Almost all the content available in SL is user generated.

 

Version en castellano

Second Life[1]: una herramienta para estimular la expresión oral

Pronto celebraré mi tercer cumpleaños en SL[2]. A lo largo de estos tres años, he tenido la ocasión de observar y participar en muchas clases y actividades para el aprendizaje de lenguas extranjeras y, el año pasado, empecé mi propio proyecto: Italianiamo. Al no poder invertir mucho tiempo en la preparación de las actividades, decidí limitarme a lo que, a mi parecer, los mundos virtuales[3] hacen mejor: fomentar la comunicación entre personas.

Por lo tanto, Italianiamo no es un curso de lengua: no hay un sílabo que seguir, ni tampoco hay clases de gramática. En nuestras actividades no pido a los participantes que utilicen tal o cual estructura lingüística, sino que intento estimular su producción oral libre. Sencillamente preparo la actividad y, si es necesario, vemos juntos alguna palabra o expresión que podrían ser de utilidad; luego dejo que sean ellos quienes interactúen en italiano. Por mi parte, intervengo sólo si es necesario, para ayudar a superar dificultades de comunicación o estimular la conversación.

De forma que mi objetivo, mi deber y también mi mayor problema en SL es encontrar o crear una serie de estímulos y ver como puedo explotarlos para que los participantes hablen en una lengua extranjera.
Me gustaría compartir aquí mi experiencia y mis reflexiones, centrándome principalmente en una de las varias herramientas que se pueden utilizar para fomentar la comunicación: SL y, sobre todo, los diferentes lugares accesibles en este mundo virtual.

SL: una full immersion de 365 días

Cuando llegué a SL y empecé a explorar este nuevo mundo me impresionó la cantidad, interés y variedad de los lugares existentes. Allí están, listos para poder interactuar en ellos y con ellos. Además, a menudo podemos encontrar hablantes nativos y los dueños[4] no tienen reparos si se lleva a un grupo reducido y bien educado de aprendientes a sus tierras.

Podríamos afirmar que SL es una especie de mundo de ensueño para los profesores de idiomas, sobre todo si viven y trabajan en el extranjero: es casi como estar en el propio país. En mi caso, una versión low cost y de rápido acceso de Italia.

De hecho, SL nos permite acceder a lo más parecido a una inmersión total. O incluso a algo mejor, ya que la inmersión no se reduce a la estancia de dos semanas o un mes en el extranjero a la que todos estamos acostumbrados, sino que queda repartida a lo largo del año. Sin embargo, como todos bien sabemos, el mundo perfecto todavía no ha sido inventado y también aquí hay que enfrentarse a algunos problemillas. Veamos cuáles:

¿Cómo hacer hablar a la gente?

Llevar a un grupo a un entorno nuevo y desconocido y decir “hablad” no funciona. Eso lo sabemos todos muy bien. La gente habla de lo que sabe, no de lo que ignora. Imagino que en una situación de este tipo se limitarían a mirar a su alrededor y a hacer unas pocas preguntas y algunas observaciones. El profesor, mientras tanto, tendría la tentación de explicar y hablar demasiado, para llenar el incomodo silencio.

Sin embargo, son ellos los que necesitan hablar y practicar el idioma, no yo! Os puedo asegurar que mi italiano es más que bueno y que no necesito visitar mundos virtuales de ningún tipo para practicarlo.

Las soluciones propuestas a menudo son las siguientes:

a) pedir que los aprendientes preparen un tema, por ejemplo, buscando sobre ello en la Wikipedia, para luego exponerlo a sus compañeros;

o

b) dividir a los aprendientes en grupos pequeños y pedirles que visiten un lugar en SL para luego explicarlo a sus compañeros.

Dos opciones que sin duda pueden funcionar muy bien en una clase “normal”, en la que los estudiantes tienen sus deberes y están motivados (u obligados) a hacerlos. Italianiamo no es una “clase”. La gente simplemente se deja caer por allí los lunes –cuando y si tiene ganas– para charlar en un entorno relajado y, al mismo tiempo, estimulante. Les gusta aprender y hablar italiano, y es ese el motivo por el que acuden a los encuentros.

De todas formas, me pregunto si explicar lo que se ha leído la noche anterior es comunicación auténtica y espontánea. ¿Acaso lo que uno quiere de verdad es hablar con los compañeros sobre el Duomo de Milán o simplemente está “haciendo los deberes”? ¿Qué importancia y relevancia tiene para el alumno explicar lo que ha aprendido sobre un tema que le ha asignado el profesor?

Quería probar algo diferente y, puesto que todas mis actividades son gratuitas y no tengo que responder de mis acciones ante ningún jefe, puedo atreverme a más. Los participantes en Italianiamo saben que estamos todos aquí para aprender y experimentar, de forma que están más dispuestos a aceptar fallos y pequeños desastres por mi parte.

¿Cómo usar SL como herramienta para practicar lenguas?

Veamos algunos ejemplos. Para explotar las lands[5] existentes nos improvisamos guías turísticos, inventando la historia de la región de Apulia basándonos en unas cuantas informaciones (para ser exactos, las imágenes en Real Life[6] de los puntos de interés que íbamos visitando y algunas palabras clave); debatimos sobre la arquitectura y la función que debería tener un centro para la creatividad (un proyecto que se desarrolló simultáneamente en SL y en RL[7] ); visitamos una fábrica coches intentando entender cómo es el proceso de fabricación de un automóvil; fuimos a una librería para comparar cómo elegimos nuestras lecturas e intercambiar opiniones sobre literatura; descubrimos el arte en SL en una galería; hablamos de nuestros gustos en una exposición sobre la moda y el diseño italiano; soñamos vacaciones en una agencia de viajes; comparamos lo que solemos hacer en los aeropuertos mientras esperamos para embarcar… en un aeropuerto virtual; tuvimos que entender y dar indicaciones en las callejuelas del barrio romano de Trastevere; y hasta nos fuimos todos a cenar juntos una noche.

La preparación de estas actividades fue para mí un estimulante desafío y una satisfacción. Pero veamos ahora qué hay que tener en cuenta al organizar actividades de este tipo.

En el barrio de Trastevere

Cenando con los amigos

En el acuario de Génova

En una galeria de arte en SL

La búsqueda de la land adecuada

En primer lugar, hay que encontrar el lugar adecuado: una land italiana interesante.

No es algo que se haga en un abrir y cerrar de ojos. Como podéis imaginar, el porcentaje de lugares interesantes, que se prestan a ser utilizados para el aprendizaje del italiano es muy bajo si lo comparamos con los ingleses. Además, es absolutamente cierto que en SL hay muchos centros comerciales feos y aburridísimos donde, además, no hay ni un alma.

Y por si eso no fuera bastante, a menudo, los dueños italianos ofrecen información también (o sólo) en inglés, ya que quieren que su land la puedan disfrutar todos los residentes de SL. Es algo muy comprensible, pero de esta forma se pierde la sensación de estar sumergidos en un entorno totalmente italiano.

Otro aspecto que hay que tener en cuenta es que, a veces, las lands desaparecen. Lo mismo pasaba en los inicios de Internet, como me contaba un colega hace poco. Fue un auténtico early adopter de las TICs para la enseñanza de las lenguas y tuvo, en más de una ocasión, la desagradable sorpresa de ver que el sitio web que había utilizado el año anterior en clase ya no estaba en línea. Así que, en vez de poder mejorar su clase después de haberla experimentado previamente, tenía que volver a empezar desde cero o casi.

SL es ahora tan joven como lo era entonces Internet. Y también aquí, a veces, después de haber descubierto una land maravillosa, de haber diseñado una actividad y haberla ensayado, hay que volver a empezar de cero porque el lugar ha cambiado o, en el peor de los casos, ya no existe. De vez en cuando esto sucede incluso cuando todavía se está diseñando la actividad: el pequeño barrio con un entresijo de calles es ahora una simple plaza y la isla[8] maravillosa parece más bien un zoco de periferia.

Todo ello representa una verdadera pérdida de tiempo para el profesor que se haya pasado días y, a veces, semanas peinando el metaverso[9] en búsqueda de lugares interesantes. Espero y estoy convencida de que en el futuro SL será más estable en este sentido, más parecido al Internet que conocemos hoy, con una inmensa oferta de lugares estables que se puedan utilizar para actividades de tipo educativo.

Hay que ser realistas, incluso en la realidad virtual

Una vez encontrado el lugar adecuado, lo que se hará en él y lo que se podrá utilizar no depende sólo de nuestras ideas y de los objetivos que queremos alcanzar: somos huéspedes en la tierra de otra persona y no podemos hacer lo que nos da la gana.
El dueño de la land puede restringir algunas capacidades de sus visitantes, como volar[10], utilizar scripts[11], rezear[12] objectos, tomar landmarks[13], teletransportarse[14] de un punto a otro y hasta hablar[15]. Desde su punto de vista es muy comprensible: de esta manera puede defender su propiedad de los griefers[16] y mantenerla limpia y estable. Desde nuestro punto de vista, es una molestia y nos limita mucho. Así que, antes que nada, lo que haremos será averiguar los permisos[17] y tenerlos en cuenta. Y cuidado: a veces cambian de un área a otra de la misma land.

Así que de poco sirve plantear una búsqueda del tesoro con la ayuda de un hud[18] u otros objetos scriptados si tus scripts no funcionan allí, o preparar una pizarra para el brainstorming si no tienes permisos para rezear objetos. Más vale averiguar antes lo que está permitido y partir de allí para diseñar nuestra actividad.

Pero tal vez lo más importante es pensar en lo que tus aprendientes saben hacer en SL. ¿Son lo bastante expertos de SL como para llevar a cabo las acciones que les estás pidiendo? ¿Tienen buena conexión a Internet? ¿Experimentan lag[19] a menudo? El riesgo es tener que pasar la primera hora explicando “cómo se hace” y por más que el simple hecho de comprender las explicaciones y pedir aclaraciones pueda ser un buen ejercicio, está claro que la experiencia resultará bastante frustrante si al final eso es lo único que se consigue hacer.

De charlas con los nativos

Los hablantes nativos son una de las principales razones por las que estamos todos aquí. Tener la posibilidad de conocer a gente de casi todo el mundo y hablar con ellos es uno de los principales puntos fuertes de SL.

En SL es habitual y bastante fácil hablar con desconocidos, mucho más que en RL. En nuestro mundo real no es usual parar a alguien por la calle y empezar a charlar. Si no, vete a una plaza, siéntate al lado de alguien y ponte a conversar con él. A no ser que tengas 20 años (y tu interlocutor también), te mirarán mal (con cierto aire de divertida compasión) y pensarán que no estás del todo bien de la cabeza. En SL éste es un comportamiento normal y aceptable, quizás porque todos tenemos aspecto de veinteañeros.

Así que no es raro tener bonitas sorpresas en SL, como una improvisada visita guiada por el dueño de la isla o una charla con italianos sobre dialectos y culturas locales. Son ocasiones que no se pueden perder. Entonces, vale la pena dejar a un lado todo lo que se había planeado y dejarse llevar por lo que surge.

Sin embargo, es evidente que las actividades de SL no se pueden basar en “ir por ahí y encontrar a gente”. En primer lugar, es algo que los aprendientes pueden hacer por su cuenta, no necesitan la ayuda de un profesor. En segundo lugar, me he fijado que muchos de ellos, por lo general, hablan más con gente que ya conocen un poco y con quienes se sienten a gusto. Para ellos a menudo es difícil participar en una conversación entre hablantes nativos. No hay que olvidar que el nivel de la mayoría de los participantes de Italianiamo es A2/A2+ y, tal como aprendí de mi experiencia como estudiante de lenguas, en este tipo de situaciones, cuando uno consigue entender lo que se está diciendo, una tercera persona ya está respondiendo y es casi imposible encontrar el momento para intervenir.

Hablando con la gente de Apulia

Un tour por Cerdeña

De todos modos, no cabe duda de que poder interactuar con hablantes nativos es muy motivador. Al fin y al cabo se aprende una lengua extranjera para poder hablar con ellos, no con el profesor. Son una ocasión única para escuchar (y entender) la lengua “real”, para entrar en contacto con diferentes acentos y la cultura local, sin filtros. Esa es la razón por la que Italianiamo está siempre abierto a los hablantes nativos, que pueden acompañarnos en nuestras actividades siempre que lo deseen.

¿Qué tal si esta noche nos quedamos en casa?

¡Por supuesto! Quedarse en casa es a veces la mejor solución. No se necesita ir a un teatro para hablar de teatro. Hay que ir a un teatro si vamos a asistir a una representación y luego charlamos sobre esta (esto último mejor si se hace en un bar, tomando una copa). Para hablar sobre los últimos espectáculos a los que hemos asistido, nada mejor que nuestra sala de estar.

La gastronomía italiana

Cantando canciones italianas

<p<En el aula de la vida real tenemos muchas herramientas (la pizarra, la fotocopiadora, el reproductor de discos compactos y vídeos, la sala en la que nos encontramos –con sus paredes y sus objetos–, con suerte, un proyector y, con todavía más suerte, una pizarra digital), y en cada momento decidimos cual de ellas utilizar para nuestros objetivos. Lo mismo pasa en SL: hay algunas herramientas (la posibilidad de utilizar la voz, el chat, las diferentes lands, varios escenarios que se pueden adquirir o construir[20], los objetos en el inventario[21], etc.) y es la forma de emplearlas lo que determina el éxito (o no) de nuestras actividades/clases.

Del mismo modo, en algunos casos será mejor quedarse en casa, por ejemplo cuando se necesitan pizarra u otros objetos que tenemos que rezear. Y como en SL uno puede teletransportarse muy fácilmente, se puede elegir introducir un tema primero en un lugar tranquilo y luego ir todos juntos a visitar la land que nos servirá como ulterior estimulo para la conversación.

Una land propia

Así que, tener un trocito de tierra puede resultar útil.

En mis primeros días en SL no le veía la razón en poseer o alquilar un lugar para mí. Pensaba que los que lo hacían querían simplemente jugar a las casitas. Lo que quiero decir es que, si uno quiere construir algo puede utilizar una sandbox[22] e ir por ahí a descubrir lugares bonitos resulta mucho más interesante que quedarse en casa a tomar té con galletitas con las amigas.

Tendía a juzgar (erróneamente) a los que preferían mantener sus actividades dentro de sus lands como gente que no había entendido el verdadero potencial de SL. Tenia (erróneamente) la impresión de que temieran llevar a sus estudiantes fuera de sus clases (y por clase no entiendo sólo una sala con 4 paredes, puede ser un jardín o una isla) por miedo a perderlos, por miedo a que encontraran el mundo exterior mucho más interesante (y efectivo para aprender lenguas) que su oferta de clases. Un miedo sin sentido, ya que un buen profesor, tanto en SL como en RL, es mucho más que un hablante nativo y representa, de por sí, un valor añadido.

No hace falta decir que he cambiado en parte mi opinión. Sigo creyendo que estar en SL y no aprovechar las oportunidades que este nuevo medio ofrece es una lástima, pero considero que tener un sitio propio no solo permite utilizar mejor SL sino que también te ofrece un punto de encuentro tranquilo y estable, tanto para los que quieren participar en las actividades/clases como para los que quieran informarse.

Es duro, pero vale la pena

Al releer lo que acabo de escribir, tengo la impresión de que he presentado tantos problemas y dificultades que probablemente muchos se estarán preguntando por qué tomarse tantas molestias para probar SL para el aprendizaje de idiomas extranjeros. Si eso es lo que pensáis, pido disculpas: no era mi intención. Como dije antes, soy entusiasta de este nuevo mundo y de su potencial para las lenguas.

Second Life y todos los demás mundos virtuales que han ido apareciendo en los últimos años son para todos nosotros herramientas nuevas. Ahora es cuando tenemos que explorar sus ventajas y desventajas, sus puntos fuertes y sus limitaciones, lo que podemos hacer y lo que es técnicamente imposible, para qué los podemos emplear y qué, por el contrario, se lleva a cabo mejor con otras herramientas. Aunque encontremos muchos obstáculos, disfrutamos también de la libertad de podernos equivocar y aprender de nuestros errores sin muchas consecuencias: nuestros aprendientes también son gente curiosa y deseosa de probar nuevas formas de aprendizaje, de arriesgarse y de explorar. De lo contrario, no estarían aquí.

Los aprendientes que he encontrado en SL están, en general, muy motivados. Ellos mismos buscan ocasiones para practicar las lenguas y sus progresos son impresionantes: los que al principio recurrían constantemente al diccionario ahora tienen amigos entre los residentes italianos; los que habían estudiado italiano hace mucho vieron como las palabras y las estructuras volvía a su memoria de manera natural; y los que, al principio, eran demasiado tímidos para hablar y se limitaban a escribir en el chat se vieron un día utilizando el micrófono sin tan siquiera darse cuenta.

Creo que el “secreto” es que aprender una lengua extranjera aquí tiene un objetivo inmediato: comunicarse con los demás, sean nativos o extranjeros como nosotros, para conocerse y poder hacer cosas juntos. No estamos todos encerrados en nuestra clase, nos movemos dentro del espacio de este nuevo e inmenso mundo por explorar. Un mismo espacio que todos compartimos, lo que nos permite hacer, ver y vivir cosas juntos, intercambiar opiniones, darnos consejos, ayudarnos unos a otros, participar en proyectos y actividades. Y para poder hacer todo esto, tenemos que hablar, hablar y hablar. Y es tan fácil e inmediato como teletransportarse a otra realidad.

* * *

Éste es el resultado de una experiencia directa y de un proceso de ensayo y error. Por lo tanto me limitaré a dejar un poco de bibliografía para quienes quieran probar fortuna en SL.

Sin embargo, me siento en el deber de citar como “fuentes” a Graham Stanley, Paul Sweeney y Sally Langer: amigos, colegas y compañeros de aventura en SL, con quienes compartí largas conversaciones y, en algunos casos, horas de trabajo. Parte de sus ideas y experiencias quedan reflejadas en este artículo.

Bibliografía para educadores en Second Life

Global Kids. Global Kids’ Second Life curriculum.
http://www.globalkids.org/?id=117 [Consulta: 27-09-09]
University of Cincinnati. Are you ready to teach in SL.
http://www.quibblo.com/quiz/7–PShe/Are-you-ready-to-teach-in-Second-Life [Consulta: 27-09-09]

Mychael Rymaszenwki et al., Second Life: the official guide. Wiley Publishing, Indianapolis, 2007
Aimee Weber et al., Creating your world: the official guide to advanced content creation for second life. Wiley Publishing, Indianapolis, 2008.

Notas
[1] Second Life: es un mundo virtual en 3D propiedad de Linden lab. Más información en http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Life
[2] SL: Second Life
[3] Mundo virtual: un mundo hospedado en un PC o en un servidor. Puede ser en dos o tres dimensiones. Los más conocidos son multiusuario. Más información en http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtual_worlds.
[4] Dueños: la mayor parte de las islas de SL tienen un dueño que no es la Linden Lab. Muchos dejan sus tierras abiertas a quienes quieran visitarlas
[5] Land: una land es un lote de tierra. Puede ser muy pequeña (512 m² o menos) o toda una isla, también llamada región (de 65.536 m²).
[6] Real Life: la vida real, el mundo físico en el que vivimos en nuestro día a día. También se llama First Life (primera vida) por oposición a Second Life (Segunda Vida).
[7] RL: Real Life
[8] Isla: también llamada región. Una isla mide 65.536 m².
[9] Metaverso: sinónimo de mundo virtual y, dentro de SL, de Second Life.
[10] Volar: para moverse por Second Life se puede andar, correr, volar y teletransportarse.
[11] Script: (LSL, Linden Scripting Language): lenguaje de programación que permite que los objetos interactúen entre ellos o con los avatares, es decir, con la representación virtual de las personas en SL.
[12] Rezear (to rez, en inglés): crear un objeto o extraer un objeto existente del inventario (un conjunto de carpetas que contienen las pertenencias de cada avatar) para utilizarlo o enseñarlo a los demás.
[13] Landmark: un objeto que permite teletransportase directamente de un punto a otro de Second Life.
[14] Teletransportarse: en SL es posible ir directamente al un lugar teletransportándose; Algo parecido a lo que hacían en la serie Star Trek.
[15] Hablar: en SL uno puede comunicarse a través de un chat, enviar mensajes personales a otros avatares o hablar con la ayuda de un simple micrófono.
[16] Griefers: personas que se divierten sembrando el caos y causando daños.
[17] Permisos: por ejemplo, para utilizar el micrófono para hablar, rezear objetos, utilizar scripts, etc.
[18] Hud (Head Up Devices): dispositivo que se puede utilizar para dar información, mostrar imágenes, etc., y que es visible sólo en la pantalla de la persona que lo ha activado.
[19] Lag: dificultad para moverse, ver o interactuar con el entorno. Una de las causas principales es una conexión a Internet lenta.
[20] Construir: En SL cualquiera puede crear objetos: muebles, casas, ropa, etc. El único límite es la destreza personal de cada uno. Casi todo lo que se puede ver en SL ha sido generado por los usuarios.
[21] Inventario: un conjunto de carpetas que contienen las pertenencias de cada avatar.
[22] Sandbox: literalmente, caja de arena. Un lugar que se puede utilizar libremente durante un determinado periodo de tiempo.

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