Sunday, 16 August 2009

Nik Peachey talking about teaching English in Second Life





Nik structured his talk around the SWOT analysis http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SWOT_analysis

"SWOT Analysis is a strategic planning method used to evaluate the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats involved in a project or in a business venture. It involves specifying the objective of the business venture or project and identifying the internal and external factors that are favourable and unfavourable to achieving that objective."

I will work through the points raised in SWOT order though Nik didn’t :-)

Strengths – Nik identified 3 strengths:

1. The attachment to an avatar, owners often refer to them in the third person, many refer to them in the first person but most have a strong identification. This puts Second Life in advance of the 2D web.
2. Also Nik identifies the attachment to space as a strength and I know that many of my students consider the plot where I teach as home. I actually own a plot and rent two other plots but feel far more at home in the sandbox on EduNation ll where I spend a lot of time. Nik refers to his own virtual office, I feel at home in a big empty space :-) but the attachment is there in both cases.
3. Nik says that he has more of a feeling of having met a person whom he has encountered in Second Life rather than just by e-mail or Skype, I certainly feel that I “know” people that I have met in SL even before I have met them in real life, and often know far more about them having had some in-depth conversations in SL that probably would never have happened in real life. This could be because that people with similar interests meet in SL even though they maybe geographically distanced.

Weakness

1. Nik identified the absence of social norms of etiquette as a weakness. At the start of the session he set a standard whereby anyone who wanted to ask him a question was to do so by IM. I personally do not agree with that anyway – I feel that questions should be open for all to see not hidden away so that someone can decide whether they want to answer them or not! As it was people who wanted to ask questions did so with voice so the necessity to record them did not arise.
Nick did not feel happy with constant chat back going on, Dennis agreed that he found it annoying, but we all greeted everyone who joined the group – it would be rude not to do so, and when the joke was made about not being able to teach Italian without gestures even those people who were not using chat showed that they appreciated the joke by using chat for /smiles, lol, :-) etc.
2. Nik’s second weakness point was the lack of response, eye contact, gestures etc., is an issue but I feel that those chat responses actually replace the smiles, eye contact etc that we are used to in a real classroom.
3. Nik’s third point was the commercial aspect of not being able to teach big groups. It is well established that it is hard to teach more than 10 or 12 people and set paired or group work. I find discussions easy using Dekah’s Decks but for building it is harder. Ideally if teaching small groups and setting tasks that involve something like building it would be best to have a small parcel for each group to use. As a non commercial teacher of course I do not have to deal with this problem so it is unfair to comment.
4. Nik’s final point is the way that sounds and video is activated in SL. It is true that it is hard to get everyone watching video at the same time, it depends too much on the individual’s own computer and bandwidth – this is one thing I do struggle with constantly depending on video for much of my teaching material. I send people out of SL for the most part – I would prefer not to but it is so much easier to do so at present. He also mentioned Flash games etc, these are easy to play on the web but not possible in Second Life. Graham mention Disruptive Technology explaining that things we take for granted in one medium are not necessarily available in another medium – it takes a while to catch up and gave the example of video on the web. It used to be difficult and love quality – now it is very successful. Nik made a point about it being hard to interact with objects regarding playing sound.
5. Nik’s fifth point is one that infuriates us all – the lack of adequate text sharing facilities. We can use notecards but have no formatting facilities, we can’t use images or web addresses in notecards. It is hard, though we have managed to use images and shared writing facilities on various boards, but none of it is easy or totally successful. Marisa asked about sharing handouts etc – in my own case I do that through the ordinary 2D web not even able to use a VLE as not all teachers who do my course have access to that.

Opportunities

1. Nik identified the sense of space and being able to give student a sense of space or their own virtual space making a really good opportunity to get people to engage with the virtual world.
2. He identified websites that give opportunities for language exchange such as Live Mocha and similar language exchange sites and how they could be improved by offering that facility in Second Life.
3. Nik said that Second Life offers opportunities for authentic learning, and that Second Life is more authentic than first life where classrooms that have desks in rows which is synthetic and does not correlate to how language is learned normally.
4. Extracurricular opportunities such as role play, drama etc can be more successful in Second Life than real life because costumes, stage sets etc are so much easier to produce, looks better and it can all be filmed. People feel happier as they are not themselves – they are hiding behind an avatar.
5. The potential to create a video game is a good opportunity. SL is not a game, there are no rules or objectives, it is more like a playground where you can create your own games. It should be very motivating and engaging, the visual strengths in the environment makes it ideal. We need large spaces and good games to engage students. It should be possible to get student to practice tasks until they succeed.

Threats

There were two threats identified by Nik : Reliability and Stability.
1. These are key if you are teaching in Sl as a commercial product, one can never be sure that it is going to work reliability - though in all of my teaching sessions I have only had to abandon 1 session and I have taken part in two 24 hour conferences and only had a problem for the first 20 minutes of one of them. I have attended dozens of seminars and had no problem. I think it is far more stable than it used to be but there is still that element of will it / won't it?
2. Nik's reference to Stability was based on the changes brought about by constant upgrading where things got altered frequently and you could not be sure that the user interface was going to be the same as the last time you used it. Again this is something that has settled more recently, we have less upgrades and generally it seems much more stable than a year ago for example.
3. Marisolde (I think) identified griefing as a threat but Nergiz said that you can often engage griefers in discussion etc., and that has been my experience to a certain extent. Simply to mute them is to solve the problem if you are away from your own area so that you cannot evict them.

For a recording of the session visit : http://blip.tv/file/2482035/
There was lots of discussion about how to engage students etc. once the session was concluded and this is on the recording.

It was a very enjoyable and fascinating session much appreciated by all attendees. It was interesting to think about teaching in Second Life through the SWOT Analysis, it gives food for thought and that is always good :-)

2 comments:

Shelly said...

Carol,
Thank you for doing this! I really enjoyed the talk. This was the first Nik Peachey chat I was able to attend since really being active in Second Life a few months ago. In September I have my first lessons with a group of students. We will have a real life classroom but venture into second life for lessons as well. I really enjoyed hearing the various options for group learning in Second Life and possible problems.

Carolrb said...

Hi Shelly
I am pleased that it is useful. I write up most of the things that I go to. If I can help in any way with your students in SL let me know!