I received this press release today – there are lots of ‘teaching English’ classes being held in Second Life, but this is explained beautifully in terms of its pedagogical approach and how it uses the affordances of Second Life:
New Methods in Language Teaching Combine Virtual Worlds with Real Life
La Paz, Bolivia, October 31, 2007 – - Educators are now finding that teaching in virtual worlds such as Second Life is most effective when combined with real life activities.
The 3D virtual world, Second Life, provides language learners with new opportunities for socially interactive learning, and when it is blended with other online teaching methods language learning becomes a truly communicative, immersive and practical experience.
Second Life has established itself as an arena for innovative online education, attracting universities such as Harvard and Oxford and also specialized e-learning institutes. One such institution is the virtual language school, Avatar Languages, which has pioneered an approach to language teaching it calls “SurReal Quests”. These Quests combine Second Life language teaching with real life and a wealth of media-rich online resources by integrating communicative and task-based approaches to learning.
Consider for example a lesson where students create a video or audio podcast using Second Life to conduct live interviews; the student then uses online texts, audio and video to further accomplish the tasks, while practicing speaking, listening, writing and reading skills. “Students learn best when doing real work, such as creating podcasts, brochures or videos. Now we have a teaching methodology where students produce real work by communicating with real people in virtual worlds” says Howard Vickers, Director of Avatar Languages.
Howard Vickers says that “the result is that language lessons mirror the way we use language in both social and work situations. They are more natural, communicative, engaging and effective; which is increasingly what language learners are looking for”. Pierre Moussy, a student at Avatar Languages, who has recently created a podcast about Berlin as a part of his English classes, notes “Podcasting has made me focus on all the languages areas I need to improve like pronunciation, vocabulary and fluency. It relates well to what you need in real life and I’m now thinking to do something more directly related to my work”.
In recent years, educational theorists have been calling for new teaching methods to reflect the importance of learning as a social activity and the need to develop a range of communication skills. “Second Life’s social dimensions provide students with opportunities to develop a wider range of skills” says Andrés Guiloff, Rector of UNIACC University in Chile and coauthor of Generation.Net: cultural collision in the classroom, CEU, 2007. This has become especially important in workplace training, where we naturally use a mixture of communication styles, such as email, internet, phone, meetings and written reports. “Second Life allows students to strengthen certain types of communication skills that they perhaps had not fully developed in real life” adds Daniel Farcas, Prorector at UNIACC and fellow coauthor of the book Generation.Net.
Second Life recently introduced voice capabilities, allowing its 9 million member-residents to talk with each other in real-time. This has enabled educators to provide more communicative lessons. “The introduction of voice to Second Life really brings e-learning to life”, says Howard Vickers. “This is a new era in distance education, where online learning is truly social and immersive”.
Currently Avatar Languages is unique in offering this Quest-based approach, but the language school hopes that before long other language educators will be taking a similar approach.
For a free trial lesson or further information on SurReal Quests and Second Life language teaching, contact Howard Vickers or visit www.avatarenglish.com.
Avatar Languages is an online language school in the 3D virtual world Second Life. The school provides professionally qualified and experienced native speaking teachers who offer individual and customized language classes to students globally. Avatar Languages was established by Howard Vickers, an English teacher with international experience, currently based in Bolivia.