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Case Study: AVALON Teacher Training Course

Page history last edited by Gary Motteram 8 years ago

This case study describes the development, design, implementation, and evaluation of the AVALON Teacher Training Course. The development of this course started in October 2009 and the course was implemented for six weeks between mid February and end of March 2010. The course took place on AVALON Learning Island in Second Life.

The case study will describe the pre-course preparation, the implementation phase and the post-course activities in order to create an understanding of the life-cycle of this particular course and to contribute to an understanding of life-cycles of online virtual courses more generally.


1. Pre-course preparation

1.1 Decision making process

The AVALON Teacher Training Course was planned as part of the European Union funded AVALON project (http://www.avalonlearning.eu/). The aim of the course was to design, implement and evaluate a Teacher Training Course for language teachers (of different European languages) in the environment of Second Life (to view the Island, please visit: http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/AVALON%20Learning/11/183/59). Developing language teachers’ skills in using Second Life was as important as introducing language teacher training activities in this course.

The framework for conceptualising how the teacher training course would work was developed within the team at the University of Manchester, who was responsible for the design, implementation, and evaluation of the course. A conceptualisation of Second Life was developed (AVALON Training Course Second Life conceptualisation.doc ) to guide the foundations on which the course would be built, including the course syllabus.



1.2 Aims and objectives of the course


The aim of the course was to create a pilot training opportunity for experienced language teachers or teacher trainers to help them develop their skills in using Second Life as an environment to design, develop and teach their own language or teacher training course. The course targeted language teachers from different parts of Europe, teaching different European languages. A further aim was to create a community of teachers who would support each other in Second Life by meeting regularly and sharing resources and ideas. The aims of this course were established mainly in relation to the needs/requirements/expectations of the AVALON project, which was about establishing 'good practice' for the teaching of languages in Second Life. [Anything to add here, Gary?]


1.3 Funding


This course was implemented as part of a European Union funded project and the funds for the course were covered through the funding recieved for the project. Therefore, teachers who participated in the course (as learners) did not pay for this course. The course was a pilot course, however, there were plans for a wider implementation of the course (or an adapted version of the course) beyond the life span of the AVALON project as a fee-paying course. [What were the numbers we were thinking of (Euros) if this was to become a fee-paying course?]


1.4 Environment and the learners


The course took place in Second Life, in an open environment. There were two tutor groups with 10 teachers (learners) in each group so the tutors knew the participating teachers well. This meant that it was easy to recognise outsiders joining in and to decide on whether to allow them to audit the course or not. We did not have any 'outsiders' consistently trying to audit the course so this did not become an issue in this course. The teachers were of mixed level of experience in terms of using Second Life. Those who were complete beginners were asked to join an induction session a week in advance of the start of the course to get set up with Second Life on their computers, to set up their Avatars and to familiarise themselves with the basic functions [I can't quite remember how and where Heike was doing this, but I'll search for this info when I get back on my office computer]. As indicated in section 1.1, the objectives of the course lay heavily in developing teachers' skills in using Second Life, and this focus on using Second Life effectively and efficiently for teaching purposes was carried through to the last week of the course.


1.5 Logistics and timetabling


The AVALON Teacher Training Course was a 50 hour course which included 'face-to-face' sessions in Second Life and the use of a Moodle space (http://lms.workademy.net/course/view.php?id=33) set up for the course. Teachers were expected to attend two-hour sessions twice a week (Tuesdays and Thursdays) for six weeks. They were also expected to enagage with the course's Moodle space contributing to a discussion forum, reading, and sharing resources. Before the course started all relevant information which included the course schedule, information about the tutors and links to different typesof resources, and a theoretical framework for teaching and learning languages in SL were put up on Moodle. As the course progressed, more links were added to various resources that tutors used in their sessions. All the tutors and teachers were then invited to introduce themselves in their profiles, to write a few words on the discussion forum and to encourage teachers to make use of this forum from the beginning of the course. All the teachers filled in their profile pages. 


Organisation of the time of the sessions of the teacher training course required taking into account a number of issues. These were to do with the length of the course, number of teacher–tutor contact hours, number of teacher self-study hours and the nature of the assessment at the end of the course. One of the main debates we had was about the length of the course. We discussed whether the course should run for six or eight weeks. We decided on a six week course based on our calculations made with the 50 hours specified by the deliverables of this aspect of the AVALON project. At the time we felt that a more compact course, with two sessions in a week in a shorter time frame would be more appropriate for the pilot, instead of keeping it longer with fewer contact hours per week, as we were not sure whether a course that was longer than six weeks might be too long for teachers who already had a busy teaching schedule outside Second Life. We specified this area as one for which we could get feedback from teachers once the course was complete with a view to making amendments for future courses.


For the purposes of the pilot we felt that team teaching on the part of the tutors would be more productive both for tutors and teachers. Tutors would be able to bring their respective experiences together in preparing their lessons and teachers would benefit from having two tutors in cases where there were technical difficulties. In such cases of difficulty one tutor could help with technical aspects of Second Life while the other tutor could carry the lesson forward. In preparation for the two sessions of teaching per week in Second Life, tutors met with their teaching partners to discuss what activities they would do in these sessions. There were also e-mail exchanges between tutors of the two groups before sessions where tutors told each other where they were likely to do their session on AVALON Island. This was necessary as tutors wanted to avoid having the two groups close to each other during sessions. The sessions for both groups took place at exactly the same time. However, as the island is quite large, there were no problems relating to one group interfering with another group or hearing another group throughout the 6 week period.


1.6 Course syllabus


The course schedule designed for this course includes topics to be covered in the course both in terms of developing skills in operating in Second Life and in terms of developing language teaching skills (AVALON Teacher Training Course Schedule _Weeks 1-6_.pdf). The topics were set out on a weekly basis, which meant that tutors could decide how to distribute the topics of each week through the two sessions. The content of the course, including the schedule itself and everything on Moodle was designed to be of as much help to tutors in delivering their sessions. The choice in the amount of and type of activities to be used in class was mainly left to the discretion of the tutors. This led to tutors of the two groups doing different activities in their sessions, which was anticipated and endorsed by the developers of this course. The tutors of the two groups would come together before sessions to talk about what activities they had planned and to share ideas. In reality, once the course got underway, tutors of the two groups did not have that much time to get together before sessions and mostly did their own activities and there was a feeling, among tutors, that the nature of the activities was quite different in the two groups.


The course syllabus and all the necessary information about the course was put up in Moodle before the start of the course so that the teachers would be able to familiarise themselves with the course. However, due to the course running for the first time, the resources and readings for each week were put up before the first session in each week.


1.7 Advertising the course


This section is quite subject specific, relating to the teaching of languages in a virtual environment. Following the decision on the course dates and times, an advertisement for the course was prepared (see Appendix 2) and distributed to various lists via e-mail. Also, flyers that advertised the course were placed in various departments in the University of Manchester and a specific e-mail was sent to the Language Centre of the University of Manchester. In addition, the advertisement was sent to the British Council offices around the world. It was also sent to committee lists of established organisations in language teaching such as IATEFL, and to communities like Webheads in Action. It was also distributed through social networks like Twitter, Facebook and Nings. Within a few days there were more than 20 teachers who e-mailed the AVALON team at Manchester to show interest in the course. By the time the course started we had received an e-mail of interest from around 85 teachers.


2. Course implementation


2.1 Technical issues and support


Teachers who participated in this course received some technical support (depending on their level of experience in using Second Life) at the beginning of the course as part of one or two induction sessions. After the course started the tutors were mainly responsible for providing the technical support teachers needed. There were teachers who had not used Second Life before at all and the technical support took quite a bit of time before, during, and after the sessions. On hindsight, it might have been better to have allocated one or two sessions running parallel to the first two main sessions where complete beginners in using Second Life could have had some extra support from the tutors is setting themselves up and practising the basic skills like navigating, using voice, chatting, sending messages, teleporting in Second Life. The tutors were willing and happy to provide the extra support after sessions if teachers had questions aboutt echnical aspects of Second Life. This meant that some tutors were at times staying over the two hours of their teaching time for this kind of support. One advantage of having two tutors in the sessions was that there was always on tutor who could help out in the technical domain if something unexpected happened or if any of the teachers struggled with a techncial aspect while the other tutor continued with the lesson. We do, however, recognise that employin tow tuors for a class of 10 students is not always possible in such courses.


Many of the technical issues experienced were to do with sound. There were many instances throughout the course where teachers (and at times tutors) did not have sound or did not hear what others were saying. The text-chat box was used in these times but this was fairly difficult in the context of delivering a lesson with activities. Teachers with no experience in Second Life prior to the course also took time to get used to navigating. This became less of a problem as the course progressed.


2.2 Interaction


In this teacher training course, teachers who participated were encouraged to get in touch with the tutors through e-mail for any questions, concerns they had at any time. There was usually interaction between tutors and teachers before and after the sessions in Second Life, about their teaching experiences outside Second Life (in their real classrooms) and this type of interaction was a result of both the teachers and the tutors having common interests as language teachers or language teacher trainers. Teachers also interacted with each other and with the course tutors through the discussion forum in Moodle. The discussion forum was used regularly by teachers to share their teaching experiences, and to share their impressions of teaching in Second Life, often with a critical argument about its various aspects.


Teachers participating in the course also had plenty of opportunities to share teaching experiences and talk about their professional life outside Second Life.


2.3 Resources


Information about and access to many of the materials and resources used for the teacher training course are indicated in the Teacher Training Manual, written up after the course was completed as an open-access guide for teachers who wish to teach languages in Second Life (https://avalonlearning.pbworks.com/w/page/28702491/Teacher%20Training%20Manual). For each activity provided in the manual, suggestions for materials and resources to be used with that activity are included.


The resources for this course were mostly created and prepared by the tutors for their respective sessions. In other words, each tutor pair prepared their own resources for the activities they prepared for their sessions and did not necessarily use the same resources and materials. However, there was a very open sharing policy of the materials between the tutors. On a number of occasions tutors teaching different groups made use of each others' materials, either conducting similar activities with the materials or adapting the materials to suit their own teaching purposes.


The participating teachers were provided with many links and resources (e.g. notecards, items) during the six week period in their training and they developed a large 'inventory' in Second Life.


2.4 Ethical issues


As the participant trainees in this course were adults and professionals, and possibly due to this there were not any significant ethical issues that emerged. One issue that the course designers were insistent on was attendance. Before the course started those teachers who were offered a place on the course were asked to take up the offered place only if they were able to commit to each session. Even so, we were not able to have full attendance in each session but the trainees would always write to the tutor in advance if they were nt able to attend with their excuse. In most cases the excuses were reasonable. This was a pilot course that was offered for free adn there were many applicants so the main concern was that those accepted on the course would not attend regularly taking up the place of another trainee who might have been able to attend more regularly. In a fee-paying course this may be less of an issue.


3. Post-course


3.1 Assessment


The assessment for the language teacher training course was carried out at the end of the course. Just before the fourth week of the course teachers were asked to get together, ideally, in pairs, in preparation for their final presentations. They were given the task for their final presentation (this was also put up on

Moodle earlier on in the course) which comprised of the following parts. They were asked to produce a 10 minute PowerPoint presentation (to present in SL) describing a lesson which takes account of the potential of SL for their teaching context(s). They were told that the presentation should be accompanied by a plan of the lesson (no more than 2 sides of A4 paper) which they could then put into the Moodle area. They were also to do one activity from their lesson (15minutes) during the session briefly describing what they want the activity to achieve. Teachers were told that they needed to participate in the project to receive a certificate at the end of the course. As part of the preparation for the presentations the teachers were shown how to use Powerpoint slides in Second Life. Interviews with teachers after the course showed that teachers met in their pairs frequently outside of course times to work on their presentations. Some comments from teachers after the course suggested that they had to spend quite a lot of time outside of class hours to prepare for the project when they had busy teaching schedules in their daytime jobs. However, the 26 hours devoted to self-study in this course would justify the preparation periods out of the teacher-tutor session times. Teachers commented that the opportunity to work in pairs (and in groups of three) gave them opportunities for useful interaction with teachers with the same goals as themselves. Some of the pairs and groups who worked together during the course or for the final presentations have taken their friendship and collegiality outside the boundaries of the course by collaborating on teaching related events in Second Life or by simply getting together socially in Second Life. Tutors commented on each presentation after they were finished and fellow teachers also asked questions and made comments on the presentations. Tutors did not mark the projects and presentations. Tutors mainly commented on how well the ideas in the presentations were connected to theory of teaching and learning in Second Life (see Appendix 6 in WP5 report) and also on the appropriateness of the activities they designed for use in Second Life.

Teachers were then asked to put up their lesson plans on Moodle (please see http://lms.workademy.net, Project Forum). Teachers were presented with a certificate issued by one of our project partners, ICC International Language Network (see Appendix 2a and 2b for an example of the certificate).




Comments (6)

hanna.outakoski@samiska.umu.se said

at 4:43 pm on May 10, 2012

Gary, this is a great description of the course but what if the course has already been described in e.g. AVALON. Is this the "minimum" length of a case scenario or could it be shorter if it was linked to an already existing description. I am actually kind of hoping you'd say no since this way of presenting the course is much clearer than the one in Avalon... / Hanna

Gary Motteram said

at 6:31 am on May 12, 2012

Hi Hanna, we have described the courses in AVALON, but as you say they were described differently. The purpose of these case descriptions is to show, in effect, why the courses were designed in the way they were. What the thinking was that lis behind the course? What types of practice do they reflect? Are there any particular pedgogic practices or theories that guided their creation.

hanna.outakoski@samiska.umu.se said

at 8:38 am on May 14, 2012

Great, so we can add a link to Avalon but follow this format when describing the course for frame work purposes. It makes more sense to me since the frame work can use evaluated courses and the decsription of them can vary from the description of courses that are or were being run during Avalon. I will write my case studies according to this model, which I feel has better potential in bringing out the good practice as well as the problems better than my old course description. Gary, you will erase these comments before this site is published, right? My comments are mainly for us who will be working with this later...

David Richardson said

at 9:19 am on May 14, 2012

Interesting description, Gary. I reacted to the length of the course too - 50 hours seems a lot of time in which to train a teacher to use SL. I'm just about to write something about how the Business Talking has handled student induction, and the dilemma I faced there was how to get the participants up to speed without giving them the impression that this environment was altogether too 'difficult' for them to work in. This, I suppose, is the dilemma facing a teacher trainer as well. If, for example, we manage to deliver this 'Teaching in English' course successfully, we may well have a great number of 'other subject' specialists suddenly wanting to try a virtual environment out for themselves in their own subject areas too … and I bet we'll have a demand for teacher training courses in virtual worlds in that context too.

I haven't had to induct another teacher into using SL yet (although that day will surely come when we offer the Teaching in English course, since I intend at least one of the other teachers on the course to be a colleague from LnU, so that we aren't so vulnerable, if we're going to sustain the course). With other types of technology and technical environments, such as the use of Adobe Connect and Moodle, we've always found that the 'apprentice' model has worked best: an initial one-to-one session lasting about 45 minutes in order to help the newbie the absolute basic minimum skills she needs to run her first session; instructor participation in the first live session for the newbie (usually for only a small part of the session) and then progressive support from both the instructor and the newbie's colleagues as she discovers more and more things she'd like to do. You could probably train about 25 newbies this way with the same outlay of time from the instructors.

cristina.sp.martins@gmail.com said

at 1:35 pm on May 15, 2012

For me, one of the most interesting aspects of this case study is the fact that the use of SL is embedded into a moodle format, with which I am more familiar with, as I think many more other teachers are too. To view SL based activities as another available option and an alternative to the more popular activity formats normally used in moodle environments can, perhaps, help to "market" the idea in the teaching community. What I am saying is that to look at SL, when it is a new thing, from your "comfort zone" may not be as scary and intimidating as when you just look at it "by itself" dissociated from anything you are already familiar with.
The level of detail presented in tutorials on how to use SL is very useful for beginners. All of them are thematically organized in the moodle and it looks like it is easy to find what you might need.

Stella K. Hadjistassou said

at 10:09 pm on May 17, 2012

Gary, I love Susan Brown's approach, especially in bridging that gap between theory and praxis, which she does very well in this case. She utilizes multiple theoretical frameworks, such as the "Communities of Practice" and constructivism which expanded the participants' learning opportunities. I think Susan brings to the table what many scholars have failed to implement in SL: a solid theoretical framework. I think her experience and expertise in this field guided her in creating those affordances that offered opportunities for constructive learning. I also enjoyed her uptake on constructing a learner/student-centered environment. I've also tried to implement a solid theoretical framework while working with ESL/EFL learners in Second Life; however, at the same time, I think we need to consider the "cultures-of-use" that arise in each situation (Thorne, 2003). That is the use of any medium is culturally-embedded and one has to take into account these cultures-of-use before devising any course material, especially when it comes to transatlantic telecollaborations in the SL metaverse. I guess I am mainly referring to the local setting here and the challenges that I've encountered while asking cypriots to engage in transatlantic telecollaborations with Arizonans in SL (SL is not so widely used here)...while i had no trouble getting my students in AZ to explore this metaverse. I would really like to read her latest articles...I will look for them soon

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