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Support for teachers in virtual learning spaces and Initiation to Second Life (redirected from Support in virtual learning spaces and Initiation to Second Life)

Page history last edited by Gary Motteram 8 years, 4 months ago

Teaching in virtual spaces (be it then Second Life, OpenSim or any other space) becomes a dynamic and flexible learning activityFraming questions for the case studies . For an experienced teacher flexibility is a source of inspiration and motivation. For a newbie these aspects may seem more chaotic and unpredictable, which may lead to less positive teaching experiences. In this chapter we will be looking at some situations where support in virtual learning space is needed. These situations were identified as problematic by teachers in the network already using virtual worlds for teaching, as well as by partners that are in the beginning of their virtual journey. Although some of the problems may not have any solid solutions (as yet) we will be looking at what kind of support there is available for teachers and students that choose to take a course that is partly or entirely set up in a virtual environment. Some support is offered here and most of the links here concern teaching in Second Life but have great value even for those who want to set up their educational programs in OpenSim.





1. Can I join Euroversity, if I don't know how to enter or use any virtual world?


Euroversity and the framework presented here is there for you no matter whether you are experienced user of virtual worlds or not. The network itself was motivated by the different needs of the initial partners, and such differing needs and goals will be the motivation and inspiration of the resulting association as well. Euroversity has developed a good practice framework that offers quidance, information and ideas for those that are considering or planning course activities or other educational events in virtual worlds. To get in touch with project partners you can visit the official webpage of the project at http://www.euroversity.eu/, or you can also follow the open Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/euroversity/.  Now the project is finished you can become a member of the Euroversity Association: http://www.euroversityassociation.eu.




1. How do I start?

Many people, students and teachers feel that virtual worlds offer an interesting alternative for class room teaching, but in many cases the first questions is how to start. There are many terms, words and concepts that, even at basic level of the exploration of virtual worlds, may seem difficult to get a good grasp on. Newbies (people new to virtual environments) start often off by reading about a virtual learning space, e.g. Second Life, because this information is easily available in the Internet. Without initiating support it may be, however, hard and it can take a lot of time to understand how one can get started in a virtual world. It may take even longer to find ways to utilize the space for e.g. teaching purposes if one has not got access to various teaching scenarios and guiding frameworks for teachers. This is partly why Euroversity was founded -- to bring togehter people that have many years of experience of teaching in virtual worlds and those teachers and students (or other interested people) that want to take the next step into virtual world of teaching and learning.


2. Initiation

We believe that good and solid initiation to virtual environment is needed in order to avoid e.g. loss of interest or loss of valuable teaching time. There are different ways to do this, and perhaps the best way is to combine different support models. This means that there is an actual support person available to help the teachers or students that are new to the space with hand-on support, and that in addition to this there are one or more supporting avatars available in-world. This kind of scenario is of course not very realistic for many reasons, one being that there are not so many skilled resource person available everywhere. When there is no support person available, learning to be in and use virtual worlds is often a matter of try-an-error. For some of the most experienced SL teachers in the Euroversity network this less favoured learning model has brought many positive side effects as the teachers soon become their own support persons and can start to help the students with various technical and other problems. Try-and-error model is of course not to prefer when the teacher is visiting the virtual world for the first times with the students, and is expected to solve technical problems and pedagogical challenges at the same time without really understanding the dynamics of the virtual space him/herself.


3. Documents and links

We cannot offer assistance to all teachers that are in the beginning of their virtual teaching careers but here is a initiation document for free use SL initiation for Euroversity.docx . You can use the document to explore and learn more about Second Life, or if you are looking for a template for SL initiation for your own teaching then you can upload the document, change and modify the document to suit your purposes. This document was created for teacher training programme in English at Umeå university, but the model can be used on any course that requires visits to Second Life or acquiring basic skills in SL usage. There are also official SL start guides available in the Internet at e.g. http://community.secondlife.com/t5/English-Knowledge-Base/Second-Life-Quickstart/ta-p/1087919. Here is a link to a thorough glossary for Second Life http://sites.udel.edu/udsled/sl-glossary/. If you have already started exploring SL then you might be wondering about the looks of your avatar and many people also feel that they want to start changing the appearance of their avatars quite soon after entering SL, here is a link to University of Delaware's detailed guide for editing the appearance of the avatar http://sites.udel.edu/udsled/appearance/ and here is a link to other useful tools noticed by the teachers and students at University of Delaware http://sites.udel.edu/udsled/resources/  and to the start page for Second life educators at that university http://sites.udel.edu/udsled/.


4. Linden Labs own tutorials (for Second life)

If you search for instructional videos at Youtube you will also be able to find more detailed help for e.g. building and creating things. User Torley (Linden Labs own representative) has created a helpful databank of tutorials for Second Life (check e.g. the tutorial for how to get rid of common annoyances in Second Life https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zajGLGuAf-A. Youtube has also tutorials in other languages than English.



During our project we have gotten comments from teachers and practicians saying that it is difficult to see the potential and to do any planning for virtual teaching if you don't have any knowledge on how to use the virtual space for teaching. This is of course a dilemma and a paradox with this kind of teaching models as the need for using the virtual world for teaching must come first and there should be motivation for choosing virtual environment so that the full potential of the environment can be seen by the new users.


We have identified two different kind of needs from the teachers' point of view -- the need for the basic skills in order to be able to teach in virtual environments and the need for pedagogical support (ideas, models, methods, tasks and task design, learning theories, explained learning goals, specific content areas). Having access to pedagogical and didactic models suited for online virtual teaching is very important. The models are not only converted into useful teaching tools, but what is important is understanding how and why one should do things in the virtual learning environment. We believe that our Good Practice Framework can function as a great guide when teachers are still looking for ideas and models to build their own teaching on.


Some teachers also wonder whether or not teaching models used for language teaching are suitable in other disciplines. Euroversity takes an interdiciplinary view on teaching in virtual worlds although many of the more experienced users of virtual worlds in the projects come from languages background. Some of the courses that have been used either as models for the good practice framework or that have arisen from the learnings and knowledge gained from previous courses in the project show that lessons learned in language studies and teacher training programs can be accomodated into the areas of e.g. anthropology and gaming. One of the partners (P7, Umeå university) has also many years of experience of communication training in Second Life in the pharmacy program that is of value for other educational programs where personal communication with the client, patient and their relatives or e.g. distance education students is required and part of the training program. In order to learn more about the interdiciplinary applications of the project visit the Presentations area on our web page http://www.euroversity.eu/. There you will find the presentations (recordings) given in our Webinar series. If you are interested in presenting in the series yourself or would like to attend to the live webinar sessions, contact Hanna Outakoski at Umeå university http://www.sprak.umu.se/om-institutionen/personal/?uid=haaoki98&guiseId=48259&orgId=497aea1408f9928467aa9f8712319dcb3f0ee6d1&name=Hanna%20Outakoski or send her a message via Second Life where her alias is Hanna Velde.


  This is Hanna Velde in Second Life.


The best reason to choose a specific virtual learning environment is that it suits the purpose of the course or gives additional and valuable tools for the teacher either in teaching or in demonstrating certain aspects of education or the program. An example of this comes from North Sami education in Northern Sweden, Umeå University. Year 2008 a decision was made to migrate all previous campus and face-to-face teaching for beginners in North Sami to the Moodle/Sakai online course platform. Moodle /Sakai did not offer great possibilities for real time communication training which was the main content of more than 50% of the course. Second Life with its voice chat and 3D environment that was perfectly suited for teaching a spatial language like North Sami (where location, directions and movement are a crucial part of the language and reflected also in the morphology of the language) was then chosen as a complementing learning environment on the course. With the support from the AVALON learning project the teacher of the North Sami course got the basic skills needed for setting up a course in Second Life. Home university of Umeå also supported the course by giving a grant for the language teachers of North Sami, Spanish and Finnish so that they would be able to collect enough experience of teaching in SL in order to implement virtual environment teaching on other online language courses at Umeå university. You can learn more about this particular case at Case_Study_North_Sami_for_beginners_(steps_1_2). The point we are trying to make here is that choosing the environment first and then trying to find purposeful course content to suit the environment is not the optimal way to start no matter how appealing a virtual environment may seem, technological tools are just tools and should be put to work when there is some work for them to be done. This is also why all virtual environments can offer great teaching opportunities if they are chosen according to the course contents. If the entire course is to be run in the virtual environment, then the contencts and goals of the course should determine which environment is the most suitable one and how the learning goals are best met in that environment, not the other way around.


Another way to employ virtual environments in teaching is to teach about them or about something that is presented in them, not necessarily in them. Or to teach some aspect of the course with the help of a visit to a certain virtual location. One example of this is a visit to an artgallery in Second Life where all the best know 1800's artists and their most know works are gathered to one place and can be easily compared and studied in detail either in-world (in SL) or so that the teacher projects the visit to SL to the entire class and leads the lesson in real life. The reasons for going to a virtual artgallery in stead of a real one might vary from logistics to funding of such trips in real world, or it might just be more convenient to view all the paintings in one place saving the time to compile a power point with all the paintings separately. Another example comes one again from the North Sami beginner course, where the teacher was in SL, shared the screen with the students trough Adobe Connect and let the students to guide the teacher in the virtual environment (the learning goal of the class was to learn to give and understand instructions in North Sami and to engage oneself in discussions about space and location marked in language).


There are numerous ways to employ virtual environments in teaching and there is no right or wrong way to do it. Short visits and partial employment of virtual learning environments in educational programs take less time to plan and execute, but there are also many good examples of courses that have been running solely in virtual environment with great success and appreciating students such as the Business Talking course at Linnaeus University in Sweden that you can read more about at Case Study: Business Talking LnU (Partner 10).


One of the most frequent and urgent questions in the field of virtual teaching is the need for hands-on teacher training for those who want to or will be using virtual learning evironments in their teaching. Euroversity project has unfortunately no funds for giving teacher training for newbies although some project internal teacher training has taken place. AVALON learning (find the link in the sources below) which was one of the predeseccors of Euroversity project did offer such teacher training courses, and those courses have been very influential and many of the teachers that participated on the courses are today teaching in virtual worlds accross Europe and on other continents. We hope that Euroversity project can inform and add value to any future teacher training programs that offer hands-on training for teachers in virtual learning environments. It is also important that the teacher trainers will be able to guide and instruct their students in the students' language or in the language in which the teacher is going to teach in the future.


Here are some of the comments gathered from our partners who were new to virtual worlds prior to the project:

1. There are people familiar with e.g. games, but there is need for knowledge about virtual worlds as pedagogical arenas for everyone

2. Person to person guidance is valuable

3. Good if things are explained in your own language and can also be explained by someone who knows the terms and their content

4. There is a need for a virtual welcoming area for teachers in virtual worlds that offer quidance and makes some of the basic resources for teaching available to all teachers directly as they enter (e.g. presentors, poles, textures, chairs and signs and other basic objects, things having to do with appareance) - this would also be good help for those that come in and need quick help

5. Teachers' welcome are should also offer help in finding groups and interesting places and locations

6. It would be very helpful to observe lessons in virtual world, to visit courses and lessons that already exist

7. For those that are already teaching it would be helpful to bring in a helper or an expert to the lesson and let him/her observe for giving improving comments or function as support


Some onlilne sources, ideas and support for teachers:

North Sami course in Second Life (ideas and information) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rfNSy8Y26tw

Guided tour to open Sim application for language learning https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yIvyJosLWAY

Languagelab in Second Life https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8hJZ2bre_FI

Second Life language learning video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mdkz59vfn3g

Action Based Learning in Second Life (playlist from Lancelotschool) http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL5E66A2CC10DE3A6D

Tools for teaching in Second Life (low volume) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yDRupT0ates

Teaching in SL - Second Life Teaching Tools playlist by rowenali99 https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLCF3E16D3342B171E

Tutorial: Create a Power Point Presentation for Second Life https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kZvRk1Fi0Lk

Second Life for the university UONP podcast https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dXpNMUadpms

Teaching decision making using Second Life parts 1 and 2 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IPDV5XBw_kA  and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MVa5BHTixCk

Virtual Pharmacy Tabletting lab https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ErjFOifZVs

Communication Training in Virtual Pharmacy (Umeå university) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cXLE7zh6jjY

AVALON Learning ning (community and news) http://avalon-project.ning.com/

AVALON Learning official website (EU project) http://avalonlearning.eu/

NIFLAR project http://niflar.eu/

UWN School of Health and Social Sciences - An introduction on learning in Second Life https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z8je9YZs-ew

University of Delaware's useful link collection http://sites.udel.edu/udsled/resources/useful-web-links/

Université de Strasbourg guide to OpenSim (in French) http://cogito.no-ip.info/cogito/EVER/co/decrouvrir.html




If you are new to e.g. Second Life, you can look for suggestions to do and places to visit at the Second Life webpage at http://www.secondlife.com . Second Life has also its own channel for videos on Youtube and you can be inspired by many of the videos. Check for example https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2mVUXnAeibE .You can also check out our own destination guide for some more ideas of what to do and where to go in out Destination guide. In case that you are planning on starting up a course in SL you can contact the network partners to hear if any of the partners has suitable locations to rent to you, or if you could set up some trial lessons on their land. In case that you are not planning on building an entire teaching center in SL, there are many so called "sandboxes" where you can set up a short time class room without having to pay for the land. 



One of the obstacles identified by the partners in the Euroversity project for introducing new teachers to the framework and the network is the fact that English is the only language of the project at the time being. That most of the explanations, instructions, guides and the whole framework is only available in English is a recognized shortcoming of the project. For some of the European languages there is a translation service available but not to all (e.g. North Sámi). Even with the translation service being available the problem is that the framework is not searchable in other languages than in English. We do not have a solution to the language barrier problem at the present although it is a recognized problem of the project.



There is a need for ethical discussion and discussion about cultural differences prior or in the beginning of each course given in virtual environment. This is especially true about courses that operate in open spaces and locations, where people from outside the course can communicate with (and sometimes bother) the students. OpenSim solutions and land restrictions in SL can of course be used to make sure that the students do not have to worry about meeting other people than those from their actual course. At the same time it is just the openness and unexpected encounters with other people that make e.g. SL so appealing when we are looking for e.g. the authetic language learning experience.


We must not ignore cultural differences and barriers between virtual world users. There are different ways of communicating which may lead to misunderstandings. In some cases the teachers in our project have reported on synchronous meetings being problematic when people did not want to work together (for the fear of breaking some ethical or cultural code), or they perseived each other in a negative way for one reason or another. One typical (and in this case funny) example of this comes from the AVALON learning teacher training course, that the author of this page was involved in. Me, the author (Hanna Velde in SL), met the other teacher trainees in SL for the first time and got into a very uncomfortable situation right away. We had to choose a seat at a virtual table according to the instructions we got from our in-world teachers. I was so busy just finding the right buttons and choosing my seat that I missed the fact that another person had chosen the same seat and was already seated when I finally managed to find the Sit here button. So there I was, sitting in the lap of a catwoman dressed in black shiny latex suit. That first mistake and the feeling of doing a completely inappropriate thing to start with still sometimes haunts me. Of course, that catwoman became one of my dearest friends in SL, and I found out that she was very skilled shape changer, and that her other suits were much more comfortable for me to be around with than the black latex suit she was wearing the first day. There are multiple lessons to be learned from this short anecdote, but two of the most important things are that one should not ignore the "realness" of the virtual world for its users and therefore the cultural shocks that might be awaiting, second, it is always worth trying to get to know the people behind the avatars that are on the same course with you, you might find wonderful new friends that are interested in the same things as you are. And for teachers, one short comment about the clothes you wear or the shape you choose when teaching your students -- neutral is better than extravaganza (rather a person than a bot, rather a human than a furry animal, and rather a neutral dress than a catsuit) at least in the beginning of your course.


Some of the teachers in the network have suggested that there should be initial lessons in building ethical code together prior to entering virtual worlds. In the superdiverse world of today this should probably apply to the regular classroom education as well. These kind of misunderstandings may happen on all kinds of courses - even when the students come from one and the same country and speak the same language, problems arise when people do not follow the norms. This is more difficult to foresee or predict and to react to in virtual learning environment and one single person can change the dynamics of the course.  People might also have the idea that they can act differently on an online course than on a campus based course. Here we can only say that discussions are the most helpful tool in coping with cultural differences.



People are often at different levels in their understanding of the subject that they are studying.  They are also different learners when it comes to learning styles which is often forgotten. Even on an online course that is given in virtual learning environment, the teacher should think about different teaching technigues and strategies in order to support the different learners in their effort to reach the learning goals. This may be a difficult task... Accomodating different learning styles in classroom teaching is already difficult but doing it in virtual learning environment is surely very time consuming. Virtual environments do however offer many possible ways of taking into account the individual learning styles since the teacher can use visual aids and space in her/his advantage and the 3D space gives the more kinectic learners a possibility to move around and study their objects from different angles. Using different screen capture devices can also help those learners that need to document lessons for later scrutiny. Some of us more experienced teachers have met students/pupils that can't be in the virtual world themselves without getting motion sickness, but they might be able to follow the lesson trough e.g. Adobe Connect, if they just did not have to be in the 3D world themselves. This is also something for the teacher to think about when sending out the information about the course, if the 3D environment is obligatory learning environment on the course, the info could include short initiation to the chose 3D world so that the student could text in advance if they belong to the group of people that just can't cope with the movement in 3D space.


Another area where there will be challenges but where virtual teaching solutions also have enormous potential are the teaching of different marginalized learner groups such as physically or socially enchallenged or impaired persons, elderly learners and heritage learners with indigenous backgrounds. We hope to be able to offer more information on this field in the future as some of the partners are working on these research areas.



3D technology has enermous potential and many applications in the field of education and learning, but sometimes people tend to forget that with technology some technical problems will inevitably follow. Computers and programs can crash, voice and chats might not work as expected, graphic cards don't have the right prestanda and several other obstacles might occur on the course of programs that have chosen virtual learning environments as part of the main educational arena. Experienced users of virtual worlds have often good advice for a novice, of which we highlight two ways of thinking about the technology.


1. Already when you plan your lessons (and later when you write your course instructions) it is good to have a plan B in case that there are unexpected short time disturbancies on the course. Having a plan B and making your students aware of it before the course starts is important, so that everyone knows what to do if they can't e.g. access the 3D environment, if they experience problems with voice or their own equipment, if your own teacher computer decides to crash in the middle of an important lesson, if you can't join your students for one reason or another but still want them to finish certain task online, and so on. It is also important to inform the students already when they apply to the course that advanced technology is required or that access to such technology is required in order to meat the learning goals on the course. This can be stated already in the course information that the students read when registering to the course. If the virtual lessons are NOT obligatory part of the course you can't require that the students have access to certain technology, but you can still make them aware of the benefits of joining the virtual sessions, and you can seek ways to record lessons that have important content for the students who for some reason have not been able to join the class. If you teach in a country where Internet access is not available to everyone, is very expensive or the connections are generally slow, then you might consider using virtual environments as support on the course, to demonstrate something or to make guided visits to a certain environment without requiring that the students be in that environment at the same time. You could also use the 3D world to create your own teaching materials, e.g. machinima to demonstrate cases in e.g. health care and social studies.


2. When you are faced with technical problems then you might start wondering why plan A was chosen in the first place and not plan B that seems to be the safe card. Here it is important to go back to the initial discussion on why we choose certain technological tools on our courses and what are the pros and cons of each tools? And we must think carefully of the technology as our servant, not the other way around. 3D virtual learning spaces have advantages that most real life class rooms don' have, and if those advantages give the learners an opportunity to get something extra out of their education, then the avantages of the virtual space should be the reason why we employ such environments in the first place. The same goes the other way around, if the teacher and the students experience too many disturbancies and technical problems that actually worsen the quality of the education, then another learning environment should be considered. But do not let little problems come in your way. Start in small scale before you start a bigger project, make visits to virtual worlds before you set up a whole course in that environment, get acquainted with the space before you take your students there for the first time, take time to read e.g. Euroversity Good Practice Framework and examples of course activities that you can then accomodate on your own course.


If you need more help on issues having to do with e.g. voice chat in Second Life, or you need help with student initiation, then take a look at the links under the third question in this document. I, Hanna Outakoski, who have written this page in the framework, feel that the best way to learn about the virtual world was to dive into it myself first, try different things and to at the same time read about the more advanced options that were available. I started out having no skills at all in virtual teaching and I have experienced most of the technical problems that can be experienced. Today I see that virtual learning spaces can be very valuable in e.g. teaching of indigenous minority languages and I am very glad that I had the courage to take the step into a very different world of teaching. Having Euroversity GPF as support and being able to contact a network of professional and novice users of virtual learning environments is something I would have found very useful when I first started my virtual teaching career. We hope that this document together with the rest of the framework guides and aids you in your ambitions to employ virtual 2D and 3D learning environments in your own teaching.


Creator of this document

Hanna Velde alias Hanna Outakoski at Umeå University, Department of Language studies




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