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Case Study: Business Talking LnU (Partner 10)

Page history last edited by David Richardson 7 years, 10 months ago

Pre-course preparation:

 

How the course came about

 

The predecessor to Linnaeus University, Högskolan i Kalmar, was a partner in the Kamimo Islands Project, funded by Norgesuniversitetet in 2007 and 2008. The first seven months of 2007 were taken up with practical matters, such as purchasing land in Second Life and terraforming, so the teaching environment can be thought of as having been made available in August, 2007. At around the same time the voice chat function in Second Life was made available in a more or less finished format, which made it practically possible for courses involving spoken language to be offered. The Project had already decided to run a pilot course in autumn 2007, a course in social English for doctoral students (designed to help them perform better in English when they attended international conferences). This course was used to test the environment for students and to prepare teachers for the kind of activities they'd need to perform if they started using Second Life for the delivery of regular courses.

 

By mid-September, 2007, it was clear that this environment would prove suitable for course delivery, so I called in my head of department, Nicklas Ammert, to show what the environment looked like and to ask if we could start offering regular courses in it. Nicklas' only question was about how much it would cost to run a course in that environment and immediately gave permission to start developing the course when he heard that there would be no additional costs for the university (Kamimo Island was wholly funded from project money at the time).

 

A syllabus was drafted for a Business Talking course, under the name of 'Oral Production' (see below for a discussion of this decision), which was approved by the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at Högskolan i Kalmar in November 2007 and included in the university's paper and on-line catalogues for Spring Term 2008.

 

Student Recruitment

 

The Kamimo Island Project provided a modest subsidy for the first cycle of course delivery from the 2008 funding (it amounted to just under €1,800), so I felt that we could restrict student numbers, partly in order to ensure that the pedagogical and didactic 'loading' on the teacher would not be too great at first. Thus the first round of the course was run with between 8 and 10 students, some of whom were colleagues from Högskolan i Kalmar who wanted to experience a course in Second Life for themselves. The others were all people who worked for medium-sized to large enterprises which use English as a working language who wanted to improve their own abilities to perform well at work.

 

One practical way the student numbers were restricted the first occasion the course was run was by choosing a fairly uninteresting name, Oral Production! As soon as the name was changed to Business Talking (in Spring 2009), the numbers of applicants quickly increased to the current level of around 150 'national' applicants and around 40 'international' applicants.

 

Funding

 

Apart from the Kamimo Islands subsidy, each student attracted the same amount of funding as any other student would attract. In the case of the Business Talking course, this amounts to €185, meaning that the course needs to attract approximately 20 students per term in order to reach break-even point.

 

Course Design

 

Conception

 

The Business Talking course was conceived as a complement to our existing on-line course, Business Writing. A typical target student was thus seen as someone working in industry who needed to improve her skills in English, with a 'writing' student needing to concentrate on written English in many different forms, and a 'talking' student needing to make the same sort of concentration on spoken English.

 

Thus, the types of course activities envisaged were presentations of information and plans, on an individual basis, group presentations, and situations where discussions and negotiations have to take place. The time considerations which were judged to be needed for a course like this were thought of as approximately 10 contact hours in world and 3 European Credits (we link the number of ECs to an amount of study time in Sweden).

 

Pre-existing Models

 

In 1999 and 2000 I helped design and run a similar type of course, but a face-to-face variant, at Mid-Sweden University in Härnösand, Sweden. I also designed and ran a great number of role-play exercises and role-play assessments for various courses, but particularly courses on Military English for Technical Officers on International Service (METOIS) which were delivered via the Swedish Army Technical School in Östersund, Sweden between 1994 and 2005. Elements of all of these courses were included in the Business Talking course.

 

Getting down to basics …

 

The first important consideration when we put on-line courses together is the budget. In this case we know how much income each course generates, but it's also a question of how many hours I'll be allocated to deliver the course. Then come a series of decisions to be made about the logistics, administration and technology being used. Finally, I needed to work out a series of issues about what kind of skills the students would need in order to study the course successfully.

 

One very important consideration is Swedish law: if we are to receive state money to run a course, we must be able to guarantee that any qualified student at least has the opportunity to pass it. A course running in Second Life poses particular challenges in this respect. We are, though, permitted to set reasonable conditions on what sort of technical competence and equipment we can reasonably expect students to possess provided that we state this in the course information. Getting the pre-course information right was thus a very important aspect of pre-course planning.

 

When it comes to recruitment and admission, this course benefits greatly from being a 'ordinary' course within my university's range of such ordinary courses! In other words, the state grant which each student attracts covers all the administrative procedures involved, from advertising the course in our catalogue and on-line to registering students and, ultimately, their results. Thus a lot of factors which negatively affect the sustainability of 'project-financed' courses don't apply to Business Talking.

 

The disadvantage with this situation, though, is that the university as a whole has found it difficult to understand what makes a course in Second Life different from all the other 'ordinary' courses. A lot of the administration around a course is geared to IRL courses on campus, so a great deal of the 'standard' information sent out to students tends to be irrelevant and confusing for Business Talking students. Course evaluations, for example, do not take place 'at the last lesson of the course on the form provided'.

 

Dr Alexandra Petrakou

 

Alexandra used the very first Oral Production course as part of the input for her doctoral thesis. Her focus was on what was happening in front of the computer screen, so she filmed every live session in Second Life to see how I handled it logistically and ergonomically. She wanted me to keep a journal of everything that happened, but I suggested instead a blog, which you can now find here. This contains a record of everything that happened on the course, from the early design to the final evaluation. It's now a matter of public record, since Alexandra has now published her thesis. Very little has actually changed in the way the course is run since then, so it's a good place to find information I recorded more or less at the time as the first round of the course developed (we're offering it for the tenth consecutive term this autumn).

 

Solving the problems …

 

The first problem to be solved when a student applies for the course is to make sure that she really understands that the course is actually taking place in a virtual world, and not on the campus. Our solution thus far has been to switch off automatic self-registration for the course and instead direct students who've been accepted on to the course to the Course Information Site. Here they'll find the timetable for the course and a section entitled 'Before Course Start', which makes sure that they've actually completed all the formal administrative steps they need to take before we can register them, and where they'll find the form they have to fill on paper and send back to me. I often get a comment about how odd it is to have to fill in a paper form to study an on-line course, but this form constitutes the only physical proof we get of their existence. Its real functions include sorting out which of the incoming students have actually been out to Second Life and created an account for themselves and also which times and days the students want to come along to our classes in Second Life (so that I have time to redirect people, if the group sizes are becoming unbalanced).

 

Another problem concerns the establishment of the student's identity when she comes along to the course launch meeting. 

 

A brief video with a discussion of the design consideration

 

 

WP1 Movie.mov from David Richardson on Vimeo.

 

 

 

Comments (3)

cristina.sp.martins@gmail.com said

at 1:33 pm on May 15, 2012

David brings up many very important and very basic practical issues (institutional decision processes , legal framework, budget and funding), all of which I feel must be accounted for in a good practice framework. One particularly sensitive issue is teaching load: some understaffed and subfinanced institutions will probably not be willing to transfer teaching hours to these types of courses. In these cases, SL, for teachers, may represent additional unpaid working hours.

Stella K. Hadjistassou said

at 11:49 am on Oct 3, 2012

David, I absolutely loved this short demonstration of your line of work. I think that it might be critical to take into account some of the critical issues that arise as students engage in verbal interactions. That is, many second language learners often experience a high level of anxiety. Studies have indicated that not all forms of anxiety generate negative results, but it would be nice to take that into more serious consideration. I am pretty sure your students loved the course.

silvia canto said

at 2:08 pm on Oct 9, 2012

David, very good and detailed description of the course that makes me see how very different it is [administratively in particular] from running a blended learning course in SL

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