Sunday, 26 April 2009

A Coffee with Scott Thornbury

Well I have enjoyed almost all of the “A Coffee with …” sessions but feel that I have been totally insulted at the one tonight! I have spent most of the last hour or more feeling very angry – which is just about as far removed from my normal demeanour as it is possible to get.

It started well with people from many places; UK, La Paz, Bolivia, Bursa in Turkey, Barcelona, the Netherlands, Russia, Pacific North Western United States, Venezuela and more gathered together to listen to Scott’s views. Many of these people use Second Life frequently for language teaching or learning.

Nik introduced him and Scott started talking about the principles of Dogme and how the lesson is based on the needs of the learners and their interaction with each other. Gradually the talk came round to the use of Second Life, to start with he thanked the two people in the room who had introduced him to Second Life and admitted to not having really investigated the learning possibilities in Second Life. That was all fine but then he went on to say that although he could see the possibilities offered by Second Life and that technology but he had huge problems with the “question of identity and the avatar thing which I find bemusing or at best irritating… the very fact that I am sitting here looking like somebody I am patently not with a name that is not mine…… is fine for these purposes - we can all sort of play the game but I am not sure that I would want to learn a language this way. I know there are people who do like to in a sense hide behind a persona … but it seems to be and I think it is fundamental to a dogma approach if you take the view that the dogma approach does that learning and language learning in social contexts … in which people are interacting authentically and this is the whole point of the communicative approach that has been traduced… but this is what we are trying to restore is the notion of authentic language use because authentic language use and learning go hand in hand and memorability and motivation etc. etc. but if you dress all this up in avatar and fake environments and do it all online I am wondering what you are losing…"

He added that he is prepared to be convinced but did not seem to find the situation real in any sense - he was making fun of it all the way through, calling it a game and not seeing any of the real use of SL claiming that we put our identities aside!

He claimed it was role play and simulation – not beginning to understand that our avatars are an extension of our own personas. My avatar is an extension of me and very “real”. Nik did make this point very eloquently – thank goodness!

He seemed to feel that socialisation was either not possible or inferior in Second Life?

I truly fell that this man should not be in Second Life putting forward any views until he is experienced enough in the field to do so!

He claimed that the “real classroom should be used for what it is really good for which is the context for real people to come together to talk about real things in real time and a real space…” clearly dismissing the SL possibilities of real peole, real places and real time even though I consider this session to be real people in a place that is very real to me in time - now let's see is time a fiction?

So I guess all of us who teach in Second Life are non existent, he claimed that the “social context is not replicatable in Second Life” – then claimed to be not inexperienced and not adverse to the medium - it certainly seemed so!

When asked about web 2.0 use in teacher training he talked about video and audio files, websites, and says it is fairly basic – they have people all over the worlds but they do not meet up! Discussions and websites are the answer – mostly Web 1.0 – oh dear, a little web 3.0 or web 3D may benefit his students if he gave it a chance and them the opportunity!

To add insult to injury he managed to bring up once again his criticism of the use of the IWB in the classroom and I am not even starting on this one! It was interesting to see though he did not seem to have any idea of what the chatback is all about, he did not respond to one comment :-)

So – I do not exist as a real person in SL, it would seem that I can’t be a good teacher or learner in Second Life, and IWBs are useless…

Is there any point in carrying on?

Please just remind me if I ever show up at a talk that is going to involve Scott again, to leave before he starts, he is not good for my health!


Dennis said...


I'm amazed and dismayed. I'm amazed because I value you as a person and as someone with formidable SL expertise and it is distressing if you are upset and angry at what Scott said in his interview. It is confusing for me, too, because I think very highly of Scott's work, though I do not necessarily agree with all his views on SL.Mind you, it should not be forgotten that Scott has a reputation for being controversial. Frankly, I must think very hard about what he said and reaad your criticism before I can hope to come to some sort of balanced view myself.

Dennis said...

Posted for Rob who, for technical reasons, cannot post himself.

Hi Carol,

When I respond to criticism of dogme, a movement very near and dear to me, people tell me I'm overreacting. It's hard to step away from dogme and see it as others might do. Perhaps Scott has hurt your feelings more because of how passionately you feel about SL as a learning an socializing tool more than because he feels any particular antipathy towards SL?
Like Dennis, I'd like to gather more information. For one, I'd like to listen to the interview again since I was out of the room for some of it. Sorry you've gotten uncharacteristically upset, Carol. Life (first one) is too short for that. :-)

Carolrb said...

Hi Dennis and Rob
Rob you are probably right, I am not a Language teacher and have no feelings whatsoever about the dogme principals, until iatefl I had not heard of it then Dennis explained what it is to me. I gather that "throw away the text book" is in order and so long as you have a curriculum construction of some sort to guide you I can agree with that.

It is my passion for using Second Life as a learning, teaching and socialising environment that he upset so much - he was hust laughing at it the whole time.

Ohhhh still angry when I think about it :-)

Thanks for your comments!


wow! Carol, this was just forwarded to me via a DM.

I remember this interview and remember being as angry as you with it.

Months late. I know. And I don't work in SL - there were some um... other comments in there too that pissed me off.

Nice of Dennis and Rob to jump in here -erhaps ST was just feeling nervous about the inworld experience but yes, you are right, it was awfully insulting.