Language Learning and Teaching with the aid of Technology

Diary of a Second Life English Teacher … Part 3

Yesterday was the big day for my current group on the Business Talking course on Kamimo Island - their first assessed task. For me it was the day I printed up all the feedback forms, filled the coffee mug and sat down to concentrate on what they were saying - so hard that even the night security man didn't come and disturb me.

I'm running two sessions each meeting this time round, so at 3.00 pm the contingent from Beijing, Shanghai and Moscow came along (the regular 6.30 pm meeting is in the middle of the night for them). At 6.30 pm the 'locals' turned up, although most of the remote students (remote from me, anyway) are Swedes, whilst most of the 'locals' are from China and Korea (exchange students here in Kalmar) - the only local Swedes on the course live several hundred kilometres away.

Once again, I was struck by the 'naturalness' of the interaction in world - it felt as if we were in the same room - and several of the students took this up in their presentations (which is what Assessment 1 is all about). The student in Barcelona made the point that she could have been sitting there naked for all we knew! The highlights for me were the Korean karaoke site on SL (several dates to go and try it out were made) and the description of diving off the diving board on Kamimo (I love it when students look close to home too). Virtual Moscow sounds interesting too.

The students are gaining in confidence and skill in SL for every time we meet (they've been in world for just over a month now). They've all got their Voice Chat working - and the hot topic of conversation was the Freeby Shop where they can buy clothes and appearances for free! Interestingly, several of the Koreans and Chinese talked about how nice it was to be able to try out being blondes, stuck as they are in the blond Nordic wilderness! There were some really amazing 'Valkyrie' plaits on show!

Assessment 1, by the way, is a straightforward 5-minute presentation in English on a topic related to Second Life (chosen by the student herself). The range of topics was the usual: everything from philosophical discussions of the concept, through ways of using SL in their own company, to descriptions of places they'd been and things they'd done. I primed the listeners with the 'continue-stop-start' method of giving instant feedback and several of them used this, though, as you might expect, there were marked cultural differences in the desire to give feedback and a total reluctance to say "stop doing X".

After each presentation I gave the presenter some general feedback (indicating that they'd passed, rather than announcing their mark), together with some specific points about anything that might be useful to several people, such as the r/l problem for the Koreans and the need for the Chinese to practise their fricatives! There was, as usual, a lot to say about intonation too.

At the end of the evening, when they'd all gone home, I opened up my Filemaker database and transferred my comments and marks from paper to screen. Then I mailed each student individually with a .pdf version of her marks and comments. The last task was to transfer all the 'What you said … what you should have said' feedback on to a .pdf document and post it on the course web site.

We're now set up for the guided role play which makes up Assessment 2, when they'll be working in groups at a management committee meeting to decide whether a small engineering company facing increasing competition should branch out into making water purification devices for the developing-world market, or just play it safe and hope they ride out the recession. Here's a copy of the role play cards we'll be using:


(you can assume that I wouldn't be making these available if I minded people using them - I hope you find them useful).

We just got the application figures for Spring Term 2010 for the Business Talking course: 84 applications. I'm amazed there's so much interest - especially since we haven't advertised the course at all (it's way too weird for a conventional university administration!). That's up on 52 applicants to the Autumn Term 2009 round of the course, by the way. It'll probably result in about 40 students starting the course, which'll mean that we're going to need to run at least two groups.

Finally, if anyone's around at about 12.00 CET (Central European Time - the time zone that Stockholm and Paris are in) on 19th November, you're welcome to join me around the camp fire on Kamimo Island (just down the hill from the Peer Gynt Rotunda, by the waterfall). SULF (the union which represents university teachers in Sweden) is having a seminar that day in Aula Magna at Stockholm University and I've offered to turn up at lunch time for a chat with participants about running courses in Second Life. We're setting up a screen in the gallery outside Aula Magna where people can bring their buffet lunches (you know that 'smörgåsbord' is a Swedish word, don't you!) and sit by a room mike to chat with me as I eat my sandwiches in Kalmar (about 450 kms away). After lunch I get in a car and drive 100 kms to Växjö, where we're doing an SL and Adobe Connect presentation that afternoon. I'll take my afternoon coffee at about 2.15 pm somewhere on Växjö campus and link up to Aula Magna again via Växjö's wireless network to continue the conversation with anyone who wants to drop in.

The next course meeting is on 18th November at 3.00 pm and 6.30 pm CET, when they'll be doing Assessment 2, the guided role play, with me playing the roles of both Examiner and Facilitator (in RSA CoCom terms). We'll start in Peer Gynt, but transfer across to the Yggdrasil Pavilion when they get started (nice round tables to work at there). Member of this Ning are very welcome to drop by.

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