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Case Study: talkademy's project-based business english course

Page history last edited by gerhilde.meissl-egghart@chello.at 7 years, 10 months ago



CASE STUDY - talkademy's project-based business english course


This case study describes a course design, that talkademy started to develop in 2008 and has been used in at least 10 courses since then (including some courses on the AVALON project). As this design was used in several variations (different types of projects, student groups with different skills, different sizes of groups), the descriptions will be rather general and concentrate on the design ideas behind. A list of the concrete courses that were based on this concept will be provided at the end.




1. Pre-course preparation

1.1 Decision making process


Basic ideas:

  • In a virtual environment motivation and keeping students engaged is even more important than in a face-2-face course, as students can easily switch other activities (checking mail, facebook, etc.) without the teacher would notice
  • Project work helps to keep students engaged: it lets them take over ownership; it lets them do something, they really care about (that is meaningful for them); it addresses the desire for self-autonomy, as it gives them the choice what exactly to do.
  • Virtual environments offer a lot of opportunities for project work: film-making (screen-capture what the avatars perform in-world), collaborative building (e.g. exhibitions), doing real business (or at least check out opportunities for real business), etc.
  • The course design proposes a sequence of logical steps (a "storyline"), where one step (one session) logically leads to the next one. All activities that are done during the session (or as homework) directly feed into the next step. The basic steps are: 
    • Get inspired (look for ideas)
    • Find your topic (each student suggests a topic)
    • Build your team (teams are built around topics that students are interested)
    • Develop your project - get feedback
    • Mid-term presentation (feedback again)
    • Work it out
    • Final presentation (sometimes with reward ceremony)
  • We tried to include as much "external expertise" as possible, thus use the virtual environment's advantage of getting interesting people in at practically no cost (e.g. business people, film makers); sometimes we also used actors, who played the role of e.g. a customer
  • 3D and 2D environments are used in a "blended-learning" way. At the beginning we used Moodle to provide material to the students, later we switched to facebook.


1.2 Aims/objectives


The courses general aim was to improve self-confidence and fluency by immersing the students into situations that felt real to them (e.g. job interview, group discussion, presentation, sales pitch). These skills are highly demanded by universities/colleges for all students.


1.3 Funding

 The courses were paid by the university/college that offered it, thus talkademy was hired to deliver the course.


1.4   Environment and the learners

talkademy has its own island as SecondLife. The decision to use SecondLife was mainly triggered by the possibility to build oneself. When we started (in 2008) there were very few other environments that offered that possibility. Furthermore we wanted an environment with a really lively community and many interesting places to discover. For these purposes SecondLife was ideal.

We chose Moodle as 2D-learning environment as Moodle is free and widely-known. Moodle served very well in delivering material to the students, but was very little accepted for interaction (the forums that we established stayed empty most of the time). For this purpose facebook did a much better job.


1.5   Logistics and timetabling

Depending on the times our courses usally lasted about 8 sessions. Below that, serious project work (with a satisfying outcome) is hardly possible. If we had more sessions than that, we usually added some "bonus sessions" at times, when students were busy working on their projects, thus we gave them 2 weeks until their next presentation.


One important step was the onboarding process, which we tried to do before the actual start of the course, by offering "onboarding hours" where we were online and waited for students to log-in. Students got some basic training in the SecondLife enviroment, thus, when starting the course, we could (more or less) assume that the students were able to move, talk, text-chat and listen. We always try to have 2 tutors in each online session in order to relieve the main-teacher from the burden of struggling with students invidual technical problems.


1.6   Course syllabus

The course didn't follow any given textbook. The syllabus was fed by the steps that are necessary to deliver a project with the final project's presentation as the highlight of the course (in courses with film-projects, we did an "Oscar" gala and awarded the best script, camera, ...).


1.7   Advertising the course

Some courses were compulsory for a given set of students, others became part of the university's normal course offerings (e.g. at Bielefeld).


2. Course implementation


 2.1 Technical issues and support

As mentioned above, we tried to always have a second person (beside the main teacher) online for helping out with technical issues.

Our experience showed, that during the first 2 sessions technical problems were quite frequent, whereas after the 2nd session they had practically gone.

The most frequent and most critical technical issue is obviously the ability to talk and hear (thus find the talk-button and the volume control).

Other potential technical problems (e.g. loosing students on a fieldtrip) can be easily addressed by appropriate classroom-management: Make sure you have all your students in your friends list and be the last one to teleport away :-)  


2.2 Interaction

The teacher was online all the time and guided the students through the session. Additional interaction partners were the external experts / actors that were invited. Offline-interaction mostly happened via facebook (occasionally via eMail).


2.3 Resources

Resources/material was originally distributed via Moodle. Later we realised that it was not used very much and decided to switch to facebook. Here student interactions suddenly increasd dramatically. 


2.4 Ethical issues

Bullying is defintly an issue that the students must be prepared to. We use to say, that SecondLife is like the real world: Everything that exists in the real world exists in there as well.


3. Post-course


3.1 Assessment

Formative assessment in terms of getting feedback from teacher, peer-group, parallel-group and experts is an essential design principal. Fortunately we didn't have to grade in most of our courses.


3.1 Evaluation

The course design worked very well and was adapted over the years to different types of projects and students.

We did an online-survey after each course which showed us, that the majority of students considered the course interesting and valuable for the future life. The best comment ever we got was "I have learned more in your course, then in all the years before" :-)


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