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Case study: Language quests with secondary schools

Page history last edited by Chris 5 years, 7 months ago

Underlying this case study are some language activities that were undertaken in 2011/2012 with 2 Austrian and 2 Norwegian classes of 13-year old secondary school students as part of the NEXT-TELL project. The students formed mixed teams and met in the virtual space of Chatterdale for solving quests.


As these activities cover a wide range of possibilities and challanges of virtual worlds in teaching, we decided to use them as "test case" for the Good Practice Framework (GPF): Were all the various aspects covered? To which extent? Where would more detailled description of good practices be useful? etc.









Decision making process

Following the questions of the GPF:

  • As already mentioned, we had 4 classes of 13-year old Austrian and Norwegian students - a total of about 100 students.
  • The students didn't hope to achieve anything - but their teachers clear objective was that they would practice their English.
  • The general aims of the course where to provide engaging scenarios that would make the students use their English as a most natural way of communication: with their fellows from Norway as well as via interacting with the environment (including the actors)
  • There were no specific expectations from the school; at least the Austrian school, as member of the Austrian eLearning-network, was very interested in doing and reporting innovative projects
  • As the participants were from 2 different countries face-2-face was no option.
  • We did some research on similar projects, namely the usage of virtual worlds with schools, but didn't find anything meaningful.


  • There was no face-2-face between the participants, but there was face-2-face between the tutors in the classrooms and their students.
  • We were the first to try out this kind of setting.
  • We developed all course materials on our own; we disseminated it to make it available to other collegues
  • Technical staff was available.
  • Access to VW was given.
  • We needed actors, but no explicit moderators.
  • Pre-training was part of the course.



Notes to the GPF:

  • comprehensive list of relevant questions


Difficult to understand:

For example  the realization of a number of teaching functions (e.g briefing, help  and feedback provision, etc) needs rethinking for less structured and/or  more curriculum rather than specific course-related learning events  such as self-access and/or p2p, in-world activities.


Additional aspects:

  • When working with classes of different schools, coordination of timetables is a big issues; this must be planned in advance (at the beginning of the school year)
  • Working with schools brings a range of additional problems with it: Especially teacher-training is an issue: teachers have very little time and many other obligations. In this projects, teachers only supported logistically - the activities were run by staff of the NEXT-TELL project.




In our case, technology had no influence on the aims and objectives of the course


Notes to the GPF:

This section is a bit difficult to understand.

It basically says, that technical expertise of participants as well as tutors must be taken into account.

Maybe we should add some examples here?




All the necessary resources were made available by either the schools (computer labs) or the NEXT-TELL project (staff, in-world actors). For the usage of the VW, we set up an agreement with the owners of Chatterdale.


Notes to the GPF:

  • good list of many relevant questions that could be easily overseen when setting up a course
  • references of 2D resources could be added: Do you have access to LMS? (if you want to use it)
  • the section "funding" could also include some ideas about how to get many back at the end of the course, e.g. sell objects that were created during or for the course on the SL-marketplace



Environment and the participants

Our environemnt was the virtual English village of Chatterdale, hosted on an OpenSim grid. Chatterdale offers a huge variety of places (church, pub, hotel, railwaystation, football field, campground, lighthouse, secret cave, ...). We booked timeslots to make sure that no other users would be there when we use it. We predefined avatars and used one session to introduce the students into the environment: They got a very short introduction how to use it (where is the "speak"-button? How can I fly?) and a list of "can-do"-statements which they should explore. They worked in pairs and the tutor was in the room to help. At this stage we did not yet team up with the students from the other country.


Notes to the GPF:

  • good hints.
  • we could add the idea to team up newbie-users with experienced users for doing the first steps
  • the title "environment and the participants" does not clearly express what the section is about; it doesn't tell, that it is about problems when using pre-existing environments; maybe we should split it up a bit more and add a advanteages/disadvantages-section ?


Logistics and timetabling

As already mentioned, timetabling is an important issue at schools - however, as we were able to arrange that our classes were in the computer lab at the same time, no other timetabling issues arose. We set up the groups in advance: about 4 students in each group, always 2 Austrian and 2 Norwegian students.


Notes to the GPF:

  • good hints
  • but again: the title could be more expressive: What does "logistics" mean? Maybe a title like "how to coordinate your students" would be easier to understand?



Course syllabus

In our case, the main objective, getting the students to talk, was well covered by all the activities.


Notes to the GPF:

  • good hints, but not very specific too virtual worlds



Advertising the course

We didn't advertise the course - the students had to take it - this is an advantage of working with schools ;-)


Notes to the GPF:

  • good hints
  • we could add the hint that collecting students feedback and useing it for advertising is always a good idea!




Technical issues and support

We were very aware of technical issues:

  • We installed and tested all computers ourselves
  • We logged 15 avatars in at the same time so see how the school's internet connection would handle higher load
  • We installed TeamSpeak on all computers as backup-solution for voice issues
  • We trained the students on the OpenSim viewer as well as on TeamSpeak prior to the joint sessions
  • We always had a tutor in the labs


However, there were some issues, that we didn't expect to happen:

  • Having 50 students simultanously in Moodle slowed the system so much down, that synchronous chat was no more possible; so we had to switch to the Forum (plan B)


Furthermore, there were some issues, that do not have to do with technical initiation, but with social and organisational initiation:

  • Some students were not aware, that all other avatars were played by real people; in many computer games they play, the other actors are NOT real people!
  • We needed to talk about "online-etiquette", when we realized some students starting to use bad language
  • "Safer internet" suddenly became a topic, as we realised how little the students knew about this


Notes to the GPF:

  • good hints - great list
  • we could add a hint on load-testing
  • include a section on "organisational initiation"? make sure the students understand not only the technical, but also organisational and social context!




In-world Communication Modes

Our activities involved the following possibilities of interaction:

  • among humans / non-humans: peer2peer, peer2actors, texture-giving objects
  • interaction was written (text chat) as well as spoken (via in-world voice-support or via TeamSpeak)
  • passive reading and listening was important in terms of reading textures and hints and in terms of listening the the actors


Notes to the GPF:

  • long, comprehensive list - maybe a bit overloaded; better structuring and examples would be welcome
  • the list pretty much just lists communication possibilities without advising which one to use how and why



Interaction triggers

In our activities interaction was triggered mostly by the students themselves: They got some basic information about their task (e.g. a ficticious email that sends them to Chatterdale to investigate about the disappearance of Chatterdale's population) and then had to find hints in order to proceed. There were between 1 and 3 actors involved: They played their role, but also waited for the students to approach them.


Notes to the GPF:

  • this section seems not to be complete yet; there are points listed, but not explaination is given
  • it might need some explaination about what is meant by "interaction triggers"




Session & Group management

One mechanism for our group management was the naming of the pre-defined avatars: The avatars that belonged to one group had the same "prefix", e.g. "We3" for the third group in the Wednesday class. Beside this, we didn't use any special group management tool.


Notes to the GPF:

  • great list!
  • the mentioned tools are all SecondLife-based; maybe it would be better to describe their functionality in a general way and just mention the SL-tool as one possible implementation?



Additional means of communication

We used the school's Moodle platform as additional means of communication


Notes to the GPF:

  • very true :-)



Resources and materials

Our resources were all created on our own. We mentioned the project in various online and offline opportunities in order to disseminate the materials.


Notes to the GPF:

  • copyright issues should be mentioned
  • creation of games or tools also makes a nice topic for a project (if the course involves creating something)
  • some places where to find resources could be mentioned



Risks and ethical issues

We used a protected OpenSim environment to make sure that the students have a safe environment to work in.


Notes to the GPF:

  • copyright issues should be mentioned
  • creation of games or tools also makes a nice topic for a project (if the course involves creating something)
  • some places where to find resources could be mentioned





Our activities used a mechanism of tracking student's behaviour in the virtual world to derive knowledge about their competencies. However, this was only used for research - the students were not graded or assessed in any other way for what they did online.


Notes to the GPF:

  • many good ideas and hints about assessment
  • some practical aspect would be useful: e.g. ideas for peer assessment, virtual postboxes to hand in notecards




The activities were evaluated as part of the NEXT-TELL research: Special focus was the automatic tracking of student's activities. With the students we did some reflection as part of the final class. Their opinion was quite clear: "When will we do this again ?"


Notes to the GPF:

  • very in-depth description of evaluation and evaluation-tools 





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