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Oral Portuguese in a Virtual World (editions 1 and 2)

Page history last edited by cristina.sp.martins@gmail.com 6 years, 8 months ago

Oral Portuguese in a Virtual World (Português Oral num Mundo Virtual - POMV), 2 editions

University of Coimbra (UC)

 

In an attempt to diversify teaching techniques employed in regular face-to-face language courses at UC, and to contribute to the enhancement of students' oral skills, the UC team delivered 2 editions of the newly developed course, Português Oral num Mundo Virtual [POMV] (Oral Portuguese in a Virtual World).

During edition #1 6 sessions were delivered between September 17 to October 21, and edition #2 ran over the course of 5 weeks  (1 session per week) from November 13 to December 11, 2013.

Participation in the Euroversity project represents an important opportunity for expansion of existing expertise in online course development at UC. Some members of the UC team had already previously designed and delivered other types of online courses (Moodle-based, asynchronous and task oriented) for specific purposes and target groups. However, upon beginning the POMV course, none of the UC team members had any prior experience using 3D VW environments, such as SL, in online teaching activities. Under these circumstances, the guidelines provided in the Euroversity Good Practice Framework were the main foundation on which the course was based, which makes the POMV experience particularly relevant within the Euroversity project.

Both editions of the POMV course were, in fact, developed in order to meet the goals and requirements of the Euroversity project. In the first place, the UC team actively contributed to network building, seeking the experienced guidance and direct assistance of other Euroversity partners, especially when, during the delivery of edition #1, major technical and operational problems seriously compromised course activities. On the other hand, and given the new practitioner status of the UC team members involved in this project, the POMV experience optimally contributes to the evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of the last final draft available of the Good Practice Framework.

Bearing this goal in mind, this report has been embedded into the structure of the Good Practice Framework itself, providing direct responses and comments (in blue) to the questions and suggestions offered in each of its sections and subsections.

 

 

1. Pre-course section

1.1 Decision making process

The first step should consist of examining general issues such as:

  • What kind of students/learners is the course/learning event aiming at? For example, if you want to reach learners who are geographically scattered and can't attend a face-to-face course, an online course may be your best option.

The students were Portuguese level A1 learners who are in the Erasmus mobility program attending face-to-face language courses at UC.

For edition #1 of the POMV course students were recruited from the September Portuguese Intensive course (http://www.uc.pt/fluc/ensino/cpe/ci_set_13/cintsetingles). The A1 level class in this face-to-face course was delivered by a UC colleague who does not participate in the Euroversity project, but who is fully cooperative with all of the UC Euroversity team members. Edition #1 ran after the intensive face-to-face course had been completed by the students and was presented to them as a supplementaryb (and free of charge) learning opportunity.

Students participating in edition #2 were recruited from the semester-long face-to-face Língua Portuguesa I class run by Cristina Martins, one of the UC team members. The POMV course ran simultaneously with the regular face-to-face classes, and was also presented to students as a supplementary learning opportunity. 

  • What do these students/learners hope to achieve by taking this course?

        The students hope to accelerate the development of their Portuguese oral skills (oral comprehension, but especially speaking skills) and to both improve their academic results and enhance their cultural and linguistic immersion experience in Portugal throughout the duration of the Erasmus program.

  • What are the general aims of the course?

To provide Erasmus students with further structured interaction opportunities for developing oral production skills, given the limitations of currently overpopulated face-to-face classes, due to increasing demand. 

To expose the learners to rich and context-bounded target language input, aimed at improving their oral skills (both comprehension and especially production), and at developing awareness of socio-pragmatic aspects of language use. 

  • Are there specific constraints and expectations of funding and/or host institutions?

Both the Faculty Dean and the Head of the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures at UC were, as expected,  receptive to the development of the POMV project, given the general positive attitudes towards innovative teaching strategies in our institution. 

However, the development of the course could not involve any additional costs. As such, technical support was very limited (to permission to use of faculty computers and physical facilities), and both teachers and students participating in the course would have to do so on a volunteer basis, adding to regular current workload. 

  • What is the benefit to offer the course you are planning as online course instead of a face-to-face course? For example, virtual environments may help introverted students to improve their participation. In language courses, interaction during tasks can benefit from more spontaneous exchanges as virtual environments can be used to replicate real life experiences where learners may have to deal with unexpected situations.

This VW course consisted in an extra resource for developing particular objectives of pre-existing face-to-face language courses. SL scenarios were used for more realistic role playing activities (while shopping, taking a walk in urban and rural spaces, making transportation arrangements, placing requests, following instructions), for descriptions of objects and people, and for spatial orientation tasks.  

  • Have you researched existing courses in the same subject area in other institutions and/or your own? Yes. To the best of our knowledge, no level A1 Portuguese courses are currently available online, let alone using VW technology.
  • What is the added value of the course you are planning compared with existing face-to-face courses and other online courses?

To the best of our knowledge, this course was completely innovative in Portugal. 

 

Once you have decided the course is going to take place in a virtual reality environment, then other more specific issues must be addressed:

Does the course include a face-to-face component, or is it to take place exclusively in a virtual world environment? The course involves a face-to-face component. Have you identified the competencies which are better developed while using an online course and those that would preferably benefit from a face-to-face environment? Yes. Although the face-to-face course involves all components (receptive and productive written and oral skills), the POMV course was specifically aimed at developing students' oral skills.

  • Are there any prior experiences with the course in a face-to-face or any other setting? Yes. The face-to-face language courses have been running at UC for several years, but there was no prior teaching experience involving the use of VW environments in online courses. Has it ever been tried and tested in a VW environment? No.Are there any similarities or differences between the different course/learning event formats? Focus was on the complementary nature of the two formats, in an attempt to take advantage of the specificity of SL / VW in task design and the development of the students' oral skills.
  • Do you have access to relevant content materials to be used, reused or adapted to fit different formats? Instructors involved in the POMV course design are very experienced in the face-to-face format and drew inspiration from their professional expertise both as language teachers and, in some cases, as linguists. However, all support materials for edition #1 sessions were completely original and most of those used in edition #2 were also newly designed.Are there any chances of the course being given again or materials being reused by other colleagues? Given the considerable investment of time and energy put into designing and developing both editions of the course, it would seem senseless not to reuse the materials. However, having delivered two editions of the POMV course already, experience has shown that materials are not always easily transferrable from one edition to another. Given the general instability of public spaces in VW environments such as SL, context bounded and scenario dependant sessions require constant upgrading and redesigning.

Do you have enough or adequate technical resources/technical personnel to assist in setting up and running the course? No. There is general technical computer assistance in the faculty (however, not on standby or on demand) and permission was granted to use some faculty computers (inside the faculty building), but the teachers and students had to basically rely on their own equipment and problem-solving capacities. Delivery of edition #1 suffered considerably from technical difficulties and limitations (student PCs that couldn't run SL properly, constant sound issues, SL crashing, bad internet connections in students' homes or public hotspots) costing the course to continuously lose students in each successive session. Sessions were originally designed to be one-hour long, but at the beginning, and over the course of several sessions, managing all the technical difficulties easily took up just as much time, stretching each session to a lengthy two hours and creating frustration in many students. In fact, so many technical issues frequently shifted the focus away from the course's central learning objectives. As such, edition #2 was designed as to bring technical requirements down to a manageable minimum. This led to the option of delivering the course with almost all participants concentrated in the same building, scattered throughout different locations, but physically near each other. Technical difficulties yet again experienced in edition #2 (sound issues and SL crashing) were, under these circumstances, easier to overcome: students experiencing difficulties were advised to participate in the session in the same room where the main instructor projected in-world activity on a large screen. This ensured a higher level of student engagement and commitment throughout this voluntary courseAnd, in case self-access and/or peer to peer, in-world learning activities are planned, are technical staff available with advanced 3D platform-specific know-how to create environments / objects that can make up for unavailable teaching functions. Not at all. For edition #1, we started off by designing sessions to be held in public spaces, but having experienced a very unpleasant and unsettling episode with griefers in the first completely online session, the UC team asked four Euroversity partners for help and gratefully received from them relevant advice and active assistance. In particular, Hanna Outakoski provided the POMV course with an AdobeConnect classroom which was very useful for creating a peaceful environment for teaching activities, and for restoring confidence in participants, and Christel Schneider came to a session to help out with useful pointers. Christel Schneider also gave the UC team access to the AVALON island where the remainder of the edition #1 sessions were eventually held. In edition #2 only SL public venues were used. Extensive location searching and evaluation allowed for the organization of a list of less risky sites. Selection criteria led to the inclusion of only G rated locations (since the griefers incident occurred in a M rated site) explicitly associated to educationally oriented institutions (universities, environmental organizations, etc.)

  • Do you have access to adequate VW venues for delivering a 3D course? The UC team has access to public locations and to the private venues made available by Euroversity network partners. 
  • Will you need the use of moderators and/or team leaders in the course? No.

Will it be necessary to pre-train participants in VW use? Yes, this was necessary in both editions, and session 1 was, in each case, devoted to this type of training, even if highly intertwined with language-learning tasks.

In edition #1, this first session took place, during the day, in the adequately equipped language laboratory at the Faculty building where each student had access to an individual workstation. This ended up being a great mistake, because students were not trained on the equipment that they would actually have to use in their own homes during the following evening online sessions.

Having learned this lession, for the first session of edition #2 all participants were thus required to bring their own laptop to check its performance. Two backup computers were available in case otherwise workable machines failed for some reason (which did happen from time to time), but students were encouraged to be as autonomous as possible. This led to a number of dropouts from the onset, but it was the realistic option.

Experience from both editions of the POMV course is that, given the proper equipment and internet connections (and these were the major difficulties), participants revealed the capacity to rapidly acquire the basic technical skills necessary for interacting in SL. 

 


 

 

1.2 Aims/objectives

Specific aims/objectives of the course/learning event should be defined taking into account:

  • expected target group profile, including their technical skills;

A1 level students of Portuguese living and studying in Coimbra with no or very little prior experience with the Portuguese language. Their technical skills were unknown to us, hence the option of a training session. 

  • technical/academic expertise of available professionals in the subject area of the course;

Instructors very experienced in delivering face-to-face Portuguese language courses, and some had previous experience in delivering online courses, but their technical skills in VW and SL were very basic, having improved during the course of delivering the two editions of POMV. 

  • added value of the VW environment option in terms of the skills/competences to be developed by trainees;

As explained above: VW can provide scenarios and learning environments that can’t be created in a regular face-to-face classroom. Also, as some students mentioned, classes in a VW such as SL can, when no technical or other issues get in the way, be much more fun: avatars can fly and can engage awkwardly with objects (stepping on them, walking over them), creating humorous situations that are generally enjoyable and that create excellent opportunities for developing pragmatic competence (producing and processing metaphors, irony, indirect speech acts, etc.)

 

 


 

 

1.3 Funding

Funding requirements depend on a number of factors. To correctly estimate your budgetary needs, it is useful to consider the following issues:

  • Does the institution have access to a private venue in SL or in other 3D/virtual reality environments? No.
  • If not, is buying land or setting creation an option available to your institution?No.
  • If not, are you willing to set up a course in an existing public venue or is there an institutional partnership through which this access can be provided?

Both alternatives were tested during edition #1of the POMV course. For edition #2, the UC managed to use public venues exclusively. 

  • Creating or buying land is an expensive option and will thus increase costs. But there are cheaper  possibilities such as renting on an existing island or collaborating with others to pay the costs of an island. This was not an option given inexistent funds for running the course. 
  • Is there any guarantee of public funding or private sponsorship for setting up and maintaining the course? No.
  • If not, funding will depend entirely on tuition fees paid by individual learners or a corporate customer. Courses exclusively funded by customers/learners may imply high individual tuition fees and condition the access to the course of potential candidates due to economic restrictions. Besides this, if your students have to pay individually, your organizational load increases and so can your drop-out rate.Since the POMV course is a supplementary component of face-to-face courses, costs are covered by normal tuition fees already paid by students under the Erasmus program agreements.
  • Does your institution have the manpower, the technical and organizational capacity to set up and maintain the course, or will outsourcing be required?No outsourcing is possible given budget limitations, so the course had to rely entirely on existing infrastructures and creative abilities of the instructors.

 

 


 

 

1.4 Environment and the participants

Choice of environment depends on existing technical resources and should respond to participants’ constraints and preferences. These may even require adaptations while the course runs.

Once you have decided on what kind of environment you will use, make sure participants get a suitable introduction to the environment. Consider a "registration week" (or "onboarding hours") before the course starts, where each participant has to show up in-world and register. Doing that, you ensure that there will be no major technical problems when the course starts. Unfortunately, carefully attention to these procedures still does not guarantee the elimination of all important technical problems.  Tutorials [video or text] available off line are also helpful when trying to solve some technical problems. An additional possibility is to build this process in to the courses as well. It is also worth noting that many companies operate firewalls or security measures that may clash with VWs; make sure that access has been granted and works. It is important to note thatSL can crash for many other reasons, irrespective of firewalls and security measures, as the UC experienced precisely during the first session of edition #1.

 

If you choose a 3D VW such as SL or OpenSim, different issues arise considering the private or public nature of the location(s) where sessions will take place. Private locations are tailor-made and thus more easily adapted to course needs.

Public venues present different challenges. Consider the following suggestions:

  1. It helps to have a fixed meeting point [base] where all sessions can start from. 

 A Facebook page (private group) was created for each of the two editions and was used as base. 

Edition #1: https://www.facebook.com/groups/585329818175251/ 

Edition #2: https://www.facebook.com/groups/248122725338946/ 

In edition # 2 a physical meeting point was also created, given almost all  participants were present in the same building. 

Be sure to have selected locations carefully knowing what you can and can't do there. Have you checked the landmark at different times?

 This was carefully done on all  occasions, but during edition #1 evening sessions there were still full of bad surprises. For edition #2, extensive location searching allowed for the organization of a list of less risky sites. Selection criteria led to the inclusion of only G rated locations explicitly associated to educationally oriented institutions (universities, environmental organizations, etc.).

  1. This could give you an idea of what type of avatars might be present at those locations while your students are carrying out tasks. You might want to run a pilot with an experimental group to get to know the strengths and weaknesses of potential locations. During edition #2, the session schedule was moved to the 11:00-13:00 time slot, a period when all selected sites had been repeatedly found completely vacant.
  2. Open/public locations may disappear or change even while the course is still running. Prepare back-up plans, just in case! Back up plans were always prepared, and they most frequently involved the use of skype for oral communication, supported by visual materials made available through the Facebook private group page. In edition #2, the option was to systematically use pictures taken in SL during session preparation in the supporting materials that were provided to the students beforehand. This option had two advantages: (i) students became familiar with the setting in which the session would take place even if they had no available time to visit it beforehand, and (ii) SL scenarios could still be used, even if SL was not functioning and there a need to resort to plan B.
  3. It might be useful to provide a supplementary VLE, e.g. Moodle-like space or Facebook page, or other platforms, since the use of Facebook may raise concerns for some learners, for the distribution of different types of resources relating to the course. The Moodle-like space can also be used to introduce group members to each other.  

A Facebook page (private group) was created for each of the two editions and was used as base, as explained above. 

  1. Do you want to incorporate the design and dressing up of avatars into the course? It can be a useful pre-course training and experimentation exercise, but may also distract from the task at hand. During a workshop or team-building event, for example, might avatars standardised and set up ahead of time avoid distractions?

In edition #1, the design and dressing up of avatars was included in the face-to-face training session, but this was found to be very time consuming for beginners still struggling with learning basic skills in SL.

In edition # 2 the design and dressing up of avatars was included in the course as homework between sessions 1 and 2. Students had to create an identity and a biography for their avatars and had to dress them up according to a set of instructions. Then they were asked to take a picture of their avatars and publish it on the course Facebook page, presenting with the picture a basic descriptive resume.

 


 

 

1.5 Logistics and timetabling

Timetabling is particularly important to account for when participants are based in different time zones when using synchronous communication environments and tools. Be sure to schedule sessions at reasonable hours for all involved and don't forget to consider holidays in different countries.

Timetabling was a major difficulty in both editions of the POMV course. Students, even if physically located in the same city, were from different faculties and study programs and this made it extremely difficult for all of those interested in following the course to arrange an adequate timeslot that would be convenient for everybody.

Out of the 13 students initially interested in edition #1 of the PONM course, 7 were unable to come to the on boarding, SL training, face-to-face session held on September 17, from 16:00 to 18:00, and only one of these absent students eventually showed up at the following SL online class. Sessions 2 to 6 were scheduled to run in the evenings, usually on Wednesdays, from, 19:00 to 20:00 (but they always ran for almost an hour more, due to all kinds of difficulties and problem solving activities). However, the evening schedule ended up not working very well either for most of the remaining participants.

Due to this negative experience, edition #2 sessions were held immediately after the regular Wednesday 9:00 to 11:00 face-to-face Portuguese class. All willing students, provided they were free from 11:00 to 13:00 and had access to a suitable computer were, invited to meet their teacher in the Linguistics Research Centre after class in order to get prepared to participate in the extra POVM sessions. Out of the 8 students initially interested in the experience, 2 were unable to follow the course regularly due to workload management difficulties (2 others experienced problems with their personal computers and were frustrated by the constant sound issues we faced, and eventually dropped out).

 

Once timetables are established and publicized, it is important to start the session on time. For this to happen, people should be logged-in 10 minutes before the class starts.

It is worth noting that major technical (especially sound issues) can take much longer than 10 minutes to solve, especially for new practitioners. At least half an hour of each of the sessions held during edition #1 of the POMV course was devoted to problem solving (taking the actual lessons way over the pre-assigned hour). The time devoted to fixing technical difficulties eventually diminished over the course of 5 week period during which the sessions for edition# 2 were delivered, but only because all participants were located in the same building and were encouraged to reunite physically when unable to overcome their problems, thus saving valuable lesson time and avoiding the buildup of students' frustration. 

In any case, it may wise to start sessions with an activity that can be missed -- e.g. a game, some revision of last time, etc. -- with no major loss to the participants.

If your VW course is a component of a b-learning program, you might want to plan tasks for different groups. If this is the case, it is relevant to plan carefully the timetables for each group. Will all groups be carrying out the same task at the same time in different spaces or will each group have to make use of the same space [landmark, holodeck, etc] to do the task? If this is the case, it will be necessary to organize a calendar where the different groups write down when they will be carrying out the task, avoiding clashes and delays from groups having to wait until another one has finished. A Moodle-like space can be useful for managing these issues. Stress the importance of having to write down date and time in the calendar and to stick to it.

Total duration of the course, frequency and duration of sessions depend on many factors: content, aims, target groups, whether the course is part of a larger programme (or not), including (or not) a face-to-face component.

Initially, the UC team planned 5 to 6 one hour sessions for each of the POMV course editions, but, for reasons explained above, most sessions ran for up to two hours each.

In addition to the scheduled session times, the course may require that participants commit extra self-study hours.

The course is already an extra component of the regular f2f course, representing an additional workload for all involved, so this did not seem like a good idea. However, for the initial sessions of each of the course editions students were asked to do SL-related homework (dress-up avatars, take pictures of them,etc.) in an attempt to help them to train SL skills between classes. Otherwise, and except for lesson 6 of edition #1,students were always provided with support materials before each SL session, which allowed them not only to prepare vocabulary and structures, but also to become previously acquainted with the selected SL location in case they had the time to do so. 

Different types of set-ups can also be arranged. For example, students may all be logging in from the same institutional computer lab or they may be logging in from home. Some students may be on campus, some may be at work. Each different set-up will require different technical checks and support mechanisms and planning.

As explained above, SL sessions for edition #1 were accessed by the participants from home or from different public locations (a real challenge, that is not at all recommendable for new practioners who have limited or no access to technical support). During edition #2 sessions, all participants were on campus, in the same building and physically near each other. 

 


 

 

1.6 Course syllabus

Course syllabus should account for:

  • aims of the course
  • requirements of target groups
  • available technical resources and funding
  • the need for specific content materials

In many cases, course syllabi may also require an additional round of validation and approval by host/funding institutions.

If you use task-based teaching methodologies, make sure all tasks are tested before including them in your course. They need to be tested in the same circumstances as the students will encounter them in.

Tasks and activities to develop oral skills were made to fit into the existing pre-approved syllabus for the Portuguese A1 level course.  

If using a textbook, as for example with a blended approach, make sure that the virtual tasks are linked to the course syllabus.

 


 

 

1.7 Advertising the course

Consider different and complementary advertising channels targeting different interest groups and institutions:

  • host institution dissemination networks
  • social media
  • e-mails
  • personal contacts
  • flyers
  • press releases in the local press or specialized media
  • posters in conferences, meetings, fairs and other related events

 

Given the very experimental nature of the POMV course and the very limited experience of the instructors, it seemed reasonable to start by advertising it first to those most directly interested (the A1 level students of Portuguese) and also to those institutionally involved: the Heads of the Faculty and Department and other interested colleagues. Dissemination activities can naturally follow this now informed experience. 

 


 

 

COURSE IMPLEMENTATION

2.1 Technical issues and support

With a project/course that so heavily depends on technology for all aspects of interaction and communication, technical issues are very common and can be expected. Thus one should be prepared. There are several ways to mitigate such challenges, but a predetermined (yet flexible) strategy is needed and should be decided upon prior to the commencement of the course. Even so, careful preparation will notguarantee the elimination of all important technical problems.  

The following points of advice should be taken into account:

  1. Troubleshoot your particular platform prior to using it to anticipate the issues and to make sure things are always up-to-date. 
  2. Sort out technical issues before the course starts - test systems and anticipate issues (see above: “onboarding hours”).
  3. Have additional staff available for technical assistance (e.g. tutors or tech support made aware of your course) - at least for the first 2 sessions.

During edition #1, sessions were delivered by one main instructor (Cristina Martins or Isabel Pereira) and 2 supporting instructors (Anabela Fernandes and Cristina Martins or Isabel Pereira).

During edition #2, sessions were delivered by one main instructor (Cristina Martins) and 1 supporting instructor (Isabel Pereira).

  1. If you are the one who runs the session: Make sure your own technology and computer setup runs reliably well. Maybe, have a backup machine, in case something goes terribly wrong.
  2. Make sure you have alternative contact-info of all participants: (e.g. Facebook, Skype, e-mail, Moodle, etc...), so, in case of a disconnection or other forms of trouble, you can reach them in time; tell them to have their Skype/Facebook/e-mail open during (or shortly before) class or at least as a backup policy if something goes wrong.

In both editions, Facebook and Skype were systematically used. 

  1. Have fallback-solutions for partial problems, like audio issues. (e.g. use Skype if Second Life-voice does not work.)

Having struggled with sound issues from the very beginning, and having used Skype systematically as the backup solution, SL sound ended up being definitely abandoned during the second session of edition #2 and Skype was adopted officially as the sound channel for the remainder of the course editions.

  1. Have quick solution guides with an easy referencing system to allow for very quick communications with SMS or Skype chat in order to get students active again without losing too much time (see example and prototype in the Dropbox WP2 folder "Uni-Bielefeld FAQ - final") Plan fallback-sessions: e.g.: if SecondLife is not available (which sometimes happens), have a Skype-session prepared; a Facebook-session or AdobeConnect room available, ...

Hanna Outakoski shared with us a very useful document with good problem solving tips in English, that we then adapted to our needs and posted on the POMV Facebook pages for each edition.

  1. Train students well when their initial motivation is high - teach them to use text-chat if they can’t hear; teach them to answer if you ask a question; teach them to actively participate - in order to show, that they do not have technical problems.
  2. Have a "help session" per task for some or all participants, particularly at the beginning. State clearly what is allowed or possible for each tool and what is not a possible problem solving strategy. (i.e a text chat session can not be a substitute for an oral activity)
  3. Have a screen sharing software (like Skype, iChat or other 3rd party software solutions) to use to offer distance help. The teacher should use the software prior to the course and provide a how toon screen sharing so that the time it takes to solve the problem is lessened and does not include problem solving the solution. (i.e. fixing Skype to use it to fix another problem.

 


 

 

2.2 Interaction

In general:

Given the fact that (oral and written) interaction is key to realizing the majority of the course aims (especially in language teaching), the availability of good quality voice and related user technical skills is a vital precondition. It is therefore advisable to invest in proper training and preparatory sessions & materials (also see 3.1. above) and, (b) if resources allow, in having an assistant present during in-world interaction hours. In this way loss of teaching and learning time due to lack of basic SL skills can be avoided as much as possible.

 

2.2.1 In-world Communication Modes

This section can best be divided into two categories according to: (1) who or what one is communicating with and (2) the types of active and passive communication channels available.

1. Human / non-human forms of communication; these are the types of relationships and roles to keep in mind. Virtual worlds have different potential than a normal classrooms. There is more to consider and more to exploit. Additonally, there are certain risks to consider according to how open and public the virtual environment is.The types of human interaction are primarily the following: peer2peer, teacher and student; student and actor, student/teacher and other virtual world residents.

  • The basic human roles are: students, teachers, actors for role play in the case of language learning or experts in the case of the teaching of other subjects, natives and moderators
  • Non-human interaction is primarily achieved with in-world interaction with bots
  • Other non-human interaction includes: basic interaction with objects and the varied outcomes (e.g. normal object commands, switches, shops [free and paid], control panels, teleport points, boxes and accepting objects) -
  • Since humans (especially students) are involved, risk management has to be considered before one acts in a virtual world. This is covered in a more detailed fashion in the section below, 3.4 Risks and Ethical Issues.

 

Human-human interaction prevailed (teacher-student and student-student), even if human-object interaction was also relevant for some of the tasks. 

 

2. Active: Written / Spoken - this is the primary way students communicate with each other. Besides gestures and implicit actions, this is all there is. Exploitation of these tools and methods are an active and continuous part of the teaching in virtual worlds. Mastery of these tools and methods by teachers are essential for good teaching in virtual worlds.  

This communication can be divided into synchronous and asynchronous means.

  • Synchronous - this is communication which goes back and forth and happens at the same time and represents most of the active communication in class. Some of the tools that represent this form of communication are the following:
    • IM, Private Calls, Class chats, SMS, (although SMS is mostly like an email and primarily asynchronous, it can be used in a synchronous manner when trouble shooting or communicating back and forth.)
    • Adobe Connect, or other similar tools, can be synchronous and used in combination and collaboration with virtual world teaching as an alternative mode of interaction or as a back up. (see sections 3.1 and 3.2.4)
    • Chat window can be used as a synchronous feedback tool
    • Chat window can be used as a white board for correction and other input
    • Powerpoint Presentations (when delivered live with presenter)
    • Internet browser as a window out of the classroom and into certain topics and learning material (e.g. contained in Moodle)
  • Asynchronous - allows for students to miss class or part of class but still stay up to date and allows communication at a casual pace outside of classroom - extends learning outside of the classroom. Here are some examples of asynchronous communication and their uses:
    • In-world IMs can be set to be delivered asynchronously and emailed to the user when they are not online any longer.
    • email is asynchronous
    • Powerpoint slides (when downloadable or in an archive or repository, i.e. Slide Share)
    • Tools like Facebook, Twitter and Skype can be both depending upon their use and which functions are used
    • m-learning when connecting with these tools - students can get messages on Twitter or FB on their mobile phones (or use Moodle, e.g. forums)
    • use of LMS with forums or other social tools
    • Chat log - this can set to be recorded in SL and then archived or posted to LMS; it can be used to profile classes or individual student issues or mistakes, used to build exercises, resource to build vocabulary list from or based on

During synchronousin-word sessions, oral communication and interaction prevailed but written chat was also used not only for language learning activities (to clarify vocabulary, for example) but to communicate technical difficulties.

Between SL sessions, and as explained above, students had access to written materials through the course Facebook page.

 

Passive: Reading/Listening (Audio/Visual) - Often the biggest input mode and the way in which the students spend the majority of their time interacting with the world is through this mode (everyone cannot be talking all the time). Since these failures in these functions at the student level cannot be observed, it is essential to develop strategies and knowledge regarding the working of these functions. They are critical to the success of the learning experience and so that students are not lost staring at a screen and with minimal engagement. The following should be considered:

  • strategies for listening (positioning, what is seen, controlling audio, etc)
  • knowledge of audio settings:

- setting audio to camera or to avatar

- setting the individual volume

  • pre-alerting students to a possible need and ability to turn off volume in areas visited that are not controlled by educational group - use of a pre-made guide to can help with this (see point 7 in Section 3.1)
  • zooming in on a presentation
  • opening windows in external browser for better viewing and listening experience

Note that the simultaneous voice/text functions can be used for note- and minute-taking. While the primary speaker is presenting his/her ideas or work a moderator or assistant can summarise the main points in text to provide real-time minute-taking on the record, which other participants can see and interact with - without disrupting the primary speaker.

 

2.2.2 Interaction triggers

i. teacher designed tasks: models used for task design may differ depending on the objectives of the interaction planned during the in-world activity (e.g. deepening understanding of concepts through peer to peer (collaborative learning)) or the promotion of exchange of information & negotiation of meaning (e.g. in language learning & ICC development).

For an example of teacher designed tasks in a language learning context please see www.niflar.eu under the tasks section as well as the guidelines followed to design them in such context

ii. methodology and approaches

iii. user driven, informal activities

iv. object triggered interaction (including games)

 

Activities designed by teachers were user-driven, informal and sometimes included games. Students who were able to resist the technical difficulties experienced, gave the instructors very positive feedback regarding the relevance of the tasks, finding them generally enjoyable.

 

2.2.3 Session & Group Management

The greatest power of virtual world teaching is its ability to bring together individuals - students and teachers - regardless of spatial limitations and a reliance on travel. In such an environment, group and session management is essential to success. There are a number of tools and approaches to consider for success.

Creating Groups and Friends

  1. friending people and fellow classmates in-world makes them easily traceable and means that they can be sent a location or "found" when "lost".
  2. grouping friends can help keep things organized and helps when something is going wrong and a quick solution is needed.
  3. SL dashboard setup for optimal group management - get everything in the right place and in a useful position.
  4. There is a need for a group building tool to be created or found.

In-world Tools to enable and facilitate group and pair work (i.e. in-world objects)

  1. Skytable and chairs with controller - these are paired chairs that sit across from each other at a table which enable partners to be transported to another level where they cannot be heard by anyone else. Great for partner/pair work or small groups.
  2. Divided rooms or sandboxes - this tool allows users to be in the same room, but they can only hear people in their designated area. Great for small to medium sized groups in a larger group context.
  3. Rooms with internet browser in the round (on all walls) - this super-sizes the internet experience for a group and empowers brainstorming and collaborative searching (e.g. team whiteboarding solutions like Twiddla).
  4. Object based group building - building groups around objects that indicate the different groups and limiting the number of students (e.g. “everyone pick a favorite animal and stand by it - groups cannot have more than 3 members.”)

Build-in SecondLife Tools for Group Management (e.g. build in chat, IM and individual phone calls)

  1. Using Chat, Phone and IM for group management - there are a multitude of approaches; most are obvious.
  2. Combined approach with FAQ Guide. Using a guide with a well structured table of contents and referencing system to give students with problems or when they are lost - often the biggest issues that break up a group. (See Point 7, Sec. 3.1)
  3. The built in SL Minimap and world map combined with touch teleporting - to find people, teleport to them or offer a teleport to them, and get them where they need to be.

Besides Voice (via Skype) Chat was the main tool used in both editions. New locations (when moving from the original one was necessary) were posted on the Facebook page, and this worked very well.

 

2.2.4 Additional Means of Communication

It is advised that any participant in virtual world teacher take an integrated and multifaceted approach to e-learning resources. Therefore research of additional communication tools and integration of such tools into ones teaching toolbox is essential. Information is needed about additional tools (mail, forum, Skype, Facebook) to support communication with and between course participants. These resources change at a rapid pace and what is popular today may not be the tool of choice in the future. Therefore, it is essential to check lists like100 most used educational tools for reference.

Below is a list of possible resources for extended support and fallback solutions (a description of each of these tools along with function and software type is essential to keep this information up-to-date as market leaders may change.)

a. Adobe Connect: AC was used during two sessions in edition #1 as a courtesy of Hanna Outakoski, who provided the POMV course with an AdobeConnect classroom.

b. Skype: SL sound was found to be highly unreliable and Skype was the main backup solution for this problem. Given the persistency of SL sound issues, Skype was eventually adopted in edition #2 as the main sound source and students were instructed to turn off the SL sound at the beginning of each session.

c. Facebook: as mentioned above, each one of the editions were supported by a private group on FB:

Edition #1: https://www.facebook.com/groups/585329818175251/ 

Edition #2: https://www.facebook.com/groups/248122725338946/ 

d. Twitter

e. Google+

f. Moodle or other LMS (Sloodle add-on for Moodle)

g. Wordpress or similar Blog

 


 

 

2.3 Resources and Materials

A small note on the use of resources and materials: Whatever resources (in-world material, documents in an LMS, quizzes, etc.) that you plan to use, make sure they are available and functional (test them before class starts!). Always think about reusing existing material and how to share material that you create yourself with your students for a better pedagogical experience and for the existing teaching community so that we learn and benefit from each other.

The UC team will be happy to share the material created for the two editions of the POMV course with Euroversity partners.

Regarding finding resources and materials, there is a large number of resources that exist that can help enhance a virtual world class be more successful (e.g. places, in-world objects, in-world games, browser functions and apps). It is usually just a matter of locating what you need and making sure the in-world setup you use is compatible with the resources you wish to use. (e.g. Browsers, tools or white boards)

 


 

 

2.4 Risks and Ethical issues

  • Risks - Risk management has to be considered before one acts in a virtual world that is open to the general public. There are users who are not associated with one's class that one should be aware of. Information that is not public should be carefully handled. For such considerations the following should be kept in mind:
    • strategies and tools for dealing with hostile natives (people encountered when visiting a public place)
    • data protection: keeping private or sensitive data safe (example of sharing Doodle link in Euroversity meeting and it being wiped by a hostile spammer.)
    • Identity theft (e.g. emails, student ID, group links, etc..)
    • seedy areas in-world - students should be warned of alternative uses of Virtual Worlds (i.e. romantic and sexual purposes), and be given instruction on how to deal with such anomalies.
    • age limits: make sure the environment you use is compatible with the age of your students
  • Bullying - This is definitely an issue that the students must be prepared to deal with, and teachers should have a plan about how to diffuse certain anticipated situations. It has been said by those with a lot of experience in Second Life, for example, that it is more like the real world than one might anticipate; everything that exists in the real world exists there as well, even the less than pleasant aspects. (Avalon TT Course Assessment)

As described above, bullying was one of the main problems the UC team faced during edition # 1 of the POMV course. 

 

 


 

 

POST-COURSE

3.1 Participant assessment

When considering learner assessment for the course there are certain points that need to be taken into account. Firstly, a decision would have to be taken on whether the virtual tasks will be assessed or not (will they represent in themselves a percentage of the final grade?) ; and secondly, whether the course assessment is going to take place in world or out of world, that is, if the virtual world is just going to be used as a tool to support learning but not be the place where assessment occurs. Here the word “task” is used to refer to all activities/exercises taking place in the virtual world, be it a task, a project or a game, since not all courses given in this type of platform will necessarily be task-based. This will involve careful consideration on how the contents of the virtual world course material are going to fit in the assessment process.

All students participated in each of the editions of the POMV course on a voluntary basis and were not subject to individual assessment. 

 


 

 

3.2 Virtual exercises: assess or not assess?

If tasks are to be assessed it will have to be decided whether it will be done on performance of individual learning tasks or on the entire set of tasks that the course may require. The participants will need to be aware in advance of the assessment criteria for their performance during these exercises. The assessment criteria itself also needs to be given some thought to make sure it is in line with the course’s goals and objectives.

Not all aspects of participants’ performance in the virtual world need to be assessed. It may well be that these assessed components form part of the overall course assessment and other aspects are evaluated in other places. Other times the virtual sessions will not be considered a final product themselves or be graded/ assessed. In that case, these virtual collaborative activities can contribute to the body of preparation work for other formal assessments (midterm, final exams and homework activities) or research purposes. In cases like these, you can also opt for making the virtual activities compulsory to certify completion of courses.

 


 

 

3.3 Process of integrating virtual participation in your course description.

The following three aspects will ensure that the assessment of virtual sessions in a course runs smoothly:

1. Depending on your institution, making the virtual sessions compulsory as part of students’ final grade might require negotiations with governing bodies and any accreditation issues will also need to be considered. This aside from the fact that the virtual exercises can have a certain weight in students’ final grade or simply be a requirement to complete the course without representing any percentage of the final grade.

2. Having a clear assessment criteria for the virtual world component and course grading definition will help with any appeals against grades. Consider for example any possibilities that will allow you to keep records, the same way you would do it in a face-to-face setting. This can be done by means of recording the sessions but explore other possibilities available for your chosen platform.

3. Do not underestimate the time needed to assess and evaluate participants' performance. This needs to be quantified and built into the 'time budget' for any course. Think for instance about the assessment of tasks that have been recorded. The instructor will need to view them all as opposed to the immediacy of awarding grades while students are doing them in a physical classroom.However, the fact that the task is recorded, may lean towards more equitable grade awarding and actually be a point in favour of using virtual reality for learner assessment rather than the face-to-face context.

 


 

 

3.4 Challenges

The virtual world provides opportunities for a two way immediate communication between teacher and student and it also allows this type of communication to support peer assessment. Because of the immediacy of the medium, it may be easier for students to identify faults in presentations for instance. However, the are challenges when assessing theses interactions: knowing who is speaking and so who is the subject of assessment; turn taking; and finally, some may remain silent (hidden) in large groups.

 


 

 

3.5 Evaluation

3.5.1 Course evaluation

Once the course has come to an end the evaluation part will give us an idea of how it worked in order to have the opportunity to improve and/or make changes.

 

3.5.2 Evaluating tools

Feedback on virtual sessions can be collected immediately in the virtual spaces with tools such as votemasters. Online surveys, (recorded) interviews with participants and teachers and informal meetings with participants are a few of the possibilities to carry out more extensive evaluations. Others, like archiving (written) conversations might serve this purpose too but are more labour intensive in terms of immediate feedback. In order to make the most of your evaluation take special care when designing it to include aspects referring to content, methodology, environment, learning potential, organization, etc.

Be aware that your institution might have its own evaluating procedures for course evaluation. Explore the opportunity to be able to run your own course evaluation or the chances of adding your own questions to the institutional evaluation form and/or procedure.

All students who participated in both editions of the POMV course were asked to fill out the local version of the Student Questionnaire for Evaluating the Good Practice Framework designed within WP 4 of the Euroversity project, by accessing https://docs.google.com/forms/d/17ts5Amdo7JXa9kHe8p7lAShK9pCMz1t1yY_bWzUOcR8/viewform#start=openform 

However, up until now, and despite insistence, no student has filled in the questionnaire. 

 

 

3.5.3 Evaluation design

The design of the evaluation can be a task for an external evaluator but in any case, the perspectives of the different parties (course designers, course tutors, administrators and learners) should be reflected. Items for consideration when evaluating a virtual world course or learning event could include: the course’s virtual environment, the tasks, speech partners, learning potential, support of social interactive needs, communication with teacher and peers and global evaluation[for some examples please seehttps://avalonlearning.pbworks.com/w/page/7682815/Feedback%20Questionnaires]Feedback from teachers, peer group and experts is an essential design principal.

It is important to follow the progress closely to see whether the design principles you are using in the course are being successful or if changes need to be introduced. This can be done informally (brief comments from participants) or formally (questionnaires at the end of each virtual session) together with teacher observation.

Given the experimental nature of the course and the small number of students that ended up taking  the majority of the classes in each of the editions of the course, it was easy to receive informal feedback from participants and to adjust to their needs accordingly. There was also significant discussion among the goup of tutors as to how to overcome difficulties. A correct assessment of the many pitfalls experienced during edition #1 was essential for the design and implementation of edition#2. The 4 students who participated in the edition #2 sessions from beginning to end (4 others eventually dropped out, due to schedule or technical difficulties) gave the instructors very positive feedback regarding their learning experience.

 

3.5.4 Task/activity evaluation

As well as evaluation of the course as a whole, you can also choose to evaluate virtual tasks/activities individually.

 

3.5.5 Evaluating tools

This can be done during the course on a regular basis, for example after each activity with an online survey or with a more informal/brief discussion with participants together with teacher observation. Aspects regarding the virtual session evaluation could focus on achievement of proposed goals, difficulty of task, duration, technical problems, suitability of instructions, learning outcomes, etc.

If done during the course this gives us the opportunity to make any changes (ifneeded) in other course tasks. If this evaluation is done at the end of the course it will give us the information needed to develop more effective pedagogical and instructional material for future courses.

The information gathered from these evaluations is very valuable. Not only will it help us improve future courses but its results could also be used for research and dissemination purposes.

 

See above. 

 

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