Exploring new technological resources such as VW’s and their unique environments opens new dimensions of the formative teaching and learning process. Current space-temporal barriers are opening and disrupting up the ESL teaching field. The contexts within VW’s requires thoughts about how the role of ESL teachers in VW’s. Also, an exploration of the dynamics of ESL students entering VW’s, their learning, the interaction between peers, teachers and ‘drop-ins’ or visitors is necessary. Exploring, sharing and learning in a VW unfolds venues of student network collaborations, leading to Personal Learning Networks (PNL). ESL language acquisition cannot be understood without this social and educational perspective.
Virtual Worlds are emerging as a strong educational phenomenon because they enable participants and in-world travelers to meet and socially interact with others in a variety of online environments. Users navigate these online environments utilizing an avatar. Avatars are personalized by the user and act as their ‘alter ego’ in their chosen virtual setting. There is a multitude of virtual worlds focused on education. Here a small sample: ScienceSim, Heritage Key, Active Worlds Educational Universe, Secret Builders and WizWorld Online.
VW’s invite and require a certain degree of self-organization in the personalized trajectory of improving L2 language skills. The importance of self-organization as a learning process is stated by Wiley and Edwards:
“Jacobs argues that communities self-organize a manner similar to social insects: instead of thousands of ants crossing each other’s pheromone trails and changing their behavior accordingly, thousands of humans pass each other on the sidewalk and change their behavior accordingly.”
In her article, Wendy Drexler, University of FloridaI, “The networked student model for construction of personal learning environments: Balancing teacher control and student autonomy” states:
“Principles of networked learning, constructivism, and connectivism inform the design of a test case through which secondary students construct personal learning environments for the purpose of independent inquiry. Emerging web applications and open educational resources are integrated to support a Networked Student Model that promotes inquiry-based learning and digital literacy, empowers the learner, and offers flexibility as new technologies emerge.”
Balancing the benefits of technology and real-life experiences in the experiential realm will be a challenge for the educational system at large. The benefits of VW’s are anchored in participants’ ability to create PLN’s; enhance their imagination; to grow and learn; to create with one’s mind and fingers a world that existed only as a representation and then enter that world as active learners. One future of education is the establishment of learning communities where we come to learn with each other and from each other in a collaborative process. Collaborative processes give rise to vibrant cultures of growth and development with the result of a harvest of student achievement filled with a growth mindset, mental flexibility, curiosity, risk taking and intrinsic motivation.
VW’s strengths as learning platforms for English language teaching and training lie in their multinational, multiethnic, and multilingual set-up. They essentially are a sandbox for highly immersive experiential learning where almost any conceivable educational scenario can be simulated and carried out. In-World students often identify strongly with their alter-ego avatar. Avatars can manipulate and use objects while socially networking in a 3D environment. With an alter ego buffering the self-conscious hurdle of fluency practice participants are more likely to speak to peers and mentors, join and/or form groups to meet like-minded persons, seek out casual conversations and enjoy educative congregating such as coffee house socializing, fire-pit talks or rezzing in to meet new group members for hang-outs.
Generally, participants experience VW’s as less intimidating places which enable both native and non-native interaction with a potential for community building and Virtual World –> Real World (RW) carryover. Particularly favored features are instantaneous virtual traveling (teleporting) to RW locations in SL, the existence of support groups and forums for formal and informal learning, all of which enable L2 language acquisition through experimental experiences.
Exploring new technological resources such as Virtual Worlds and their unique environments new dimensions of the formative process break current space-temporal barriers by opening up the ESL teaching field. The contexts within the Virtual Worlds (VW) requires thoughts about how ESL participants learn, the interaction between participants, teachers and ‘drop-ins’ or visitors. One of the questions I have formed is: How do international ESL learners interact with their peers and their instructors in a VW?
New demands in fluency and real-life response time makes new complex learning approaches appear. Classroom ESL teaching has a synchronous response tied to a physical student presence, participation, and scaffolded testing. Learning, as a social process, improves to the person, interrogates it, situates it in front of the people who surrounds him and about himself, at the same time that it lets the development and the learning of people and organizations. Communication is established, thus, the central act of human life (Cortese, 2004).
VW’s unique delivery of both synchronous and asynchronous learning is the relation of a social and shared perspective. Exploring, sharing and learning in a VW opens up new venues of student network collaborations. Generally, ESL language acquisition cannot be understood without this social and perspective.The questions to be explored with further reading and going VW are: Is there a successful schemata for ESL in VW? If yes, what does it look like>? What is the experience for the students? What is the learning philosophy of the creator of the ESL VW environments?
I am embarking on a journey of discovery with critical questions in my mind: How does an ESL facilitator put virtual environments to practical use? The purpose of my paper and presentation encompasses several areas which I will explore in future blogs. An essential element will be describing and analyzing my experience as the avatar ‘Muse Terpsichore’ in virtual worlds during my online summer “Games and Simulations” course at Marlboro College for Professional and Graduate Studies in Brattleboro, VT. Another component will focus on describing and comparing the virtual worlds of Jokaydia Grid and Second Life. Immersed in these virtual environments I will investigate their suitability for ESL education with a closer look at areas such as experiential learning, fluency practice, virtual classroom meetings, grammar, and storytelling. I look forward to an in-depth exploration into content availability and suitability for independent, guided, synchronous and asynchronous student-teacher interaction and collaboration. Finally, I want to examine the difference between the student and administrator view of virtual environments. How does a virtual world look like to an administrator or student? What set-up work is necessary to stage for a successful learning experience? What skills does an administrator or student need to successfully implement and engage in a virtual learning component?
I hope you will check in often to read about my ambitious journey into the alternate universes and creative teaching possibilities within virtual worlds.