Using Second Life to Teach English

Posted: January 10, 2011 in Teachers Tools..

The web application Second Life was all the rage a few years ago, when articles on it appeared on a daily basis. The virtual world became the darling of online media because of the behavior of virtual world participants.

Now, even if the media spotlight on Second Life has been turned off, Second Life still maintains a tremendous amount of activity that would interest educators. This 3-D web application can certainly make teachers and students stand up and notice.

What is Second Life?

It is a 3D virtual world where users can enter and explore using a computer. Travel can happen anywhere in the world, in an instant!

What can users do there?

There are many places in the virtual world. There are islands where learners can study
English in different ways, meet new friends from across the globe, solving puzzles and play games, and improve computer skills.

What are the technical requirements?

In order to run Second Life, users need a fast computer with good graphics card and a broadband (DSL) Internet connection. See http://secondlife.com/support/sysreqs.php for more detailed information

Educators can soon see that teaching in virtual worlds like Second Life is effective, especially when combined with real-life activities. Applications like Second Life give a lot of people more opportunities for social interaction, making it an immersive and practical learning experience.

Truly, Second Life is now seen as a venue for innovative online education, even attracting Harvard and Oxford participation.

Virtual language schools like Avatar Languages also integrate communicative and task-based approaches to learning. An example would be students being asked to create a video or audio podcast using Second Life, of them conducting live interviews or gathering information through listening, writing and reading.

This emphasis on teaching methods reflecting the importance of social learning can be seen in the following tips for designing language learning materials in Second Life:

  1. Design outside the classroom box and into the computer game box. Games involving driving, sports, strategy or shooting can actually be made collaborative because players need to communicate amongst each other. They can go to the Nissan Altima Island to pick up their cars, and have a driving competition. Or they can go to AOL Pointe to get a skateboard, with a list of tricks to do. There are a lot of places where being communicative can be the task itself.
  2. Build in ownership of the environment. This is applicable to those with their own islands, so students can have an area all to themselves, where they can post pictures or decorate rooms.
  3. Give students control of their learning / activities. In designing tasks like role-plays, let them improvise.
  4. Make learning and task goals clear to students. Always remember to let students know the goals and objectives of a project so they will know why they are doing a particular thing.
  5. Give individual feedback to students on their performance. Keep note cards ready to hand out at the end of the lesson.
  6. Maximize student to student interaction. With voice communication in Second Life, students can really work together, especially once the user has finalized how to group chat.
  7. Break down texts into smaller chunks and make ‘input’ tasks collaborative. Make it easy for students to read text, and give them chances to give their thoughts and opinions in groups.
  8. Get students moving. Second Life is filled with people from different parts of the world. Students should maximize the cultural backgrounds of the people they encounter, and explore the different places in the virtual world.
  9. Encourage students to express themselves using their avatars.
  10. Make tasks relevant to real life.

Sources:

Peachey, Nik. “Materials design for Virtual Worlds.” Retrieved October 14, 2009 from
http://nikpeachey.blogspot.com/2007/06/materials-design-for-virtual-worlds.html
“Second Life Education Gets Real: New Methods in Language Teaching Combine Virtual Worlds with Real Life.” Retrieved October 14, 2009 from http://www.avatarlanguages.com/pressreleases/pr3_en.php
Stanley, Graham. “Second Life for learners and teachers of English.” Retrieved October 14, 2009 from
http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/try/links/second-life-learners-teachers-english
Teaching: Using Second Life to teach Business English.” Retrieved October 14, 2009 from
http://cd-2006.blogspot.com/2009/03/teaching-using-second-life-to-teach.html

(Published 26 October 2009, Smart Communications Inc.)

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