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ReLIVE08 Conference: Report of Day 2's chaired debate, Latin workshop, and paper sessions

The chaired debate was the first thing on the agenda this morning. Roo, Ted, Bill, and Claudia were all on the panel, all of whom I had met the previous day. Delegates to the conference had been asked to submit questions to the panel in advance, and my question was one of ten selected to be asked. You can watch me ask the question and hear the answer via the recorded video webcast here: http://stadium.open.ac.uk/stadia/preview.php?whichevent=1248&s=...
My part starts just after the fourth minute.

The debate focused on the current and future states of eLearning and virtual environments, and the panel of experts was there to give answers and advice. Here are the ten questions and answers:

1) Is our real, personal identity under threat from virtual reality? Answer: Nope.
2) MY QUESTION! “Many public schools in the United States with students aged 11-18 forbid in-school access of blogs, wikis, social networks, virtual worlds, and MMORPGs with little or no exceptions. How can we convince parents, teachers, school administrators, and state and federal lawmakers that these tools are not only practical for contemporary education, but are also indispensible in making our children technologically literate? What strategies can be used to leverage a sea change, and are there lobbying efforts currently underway in the US and in other parts of the world? Have these efforts in other countries been successful?” Answer: In order to convince those in power (IT staffs and school administrators and govt. officials), we have to point to current, practical, and successful examples of real learning taking place in the virtual world. Send an appeal to http://stopblocking.org to unblock Web 2.0 sites and virtual worlds in schools. Work with curriculum-development agencies to include new technology into mandatory lesson plans. If things are mandatory, schools and districts have to allow access. As younger teachers go through teacher training, they will begin to demand access to the new tools they have come to love. Have administrators play with what you want to use – a lot of times, this opens up these areas for teacher and student use. “These are the tools of NOW, not of the future,” Claudia said. “To not integrate these tools is like burying your head in the sand.”
3) Teaching styles. Answer: Teacher training MUST actively start using virtual worlds where the teachers-to-be can play in order to understand how to use them. Include IT training for teachers as part of their regular prep. We have to prove to our administrators that this tools can be used practically in the classroom.
4) What’s the biggest risk to stopping the fun? Answer: Keep reality (like taxes) out of online games. Fun should be valued in the schools. If kids are having fun, they are engaged in learning. Encourage fun. Keep regulatory agencies out of games, too. People need to understand that Second Life and other worlds are NOT in the early-adoption phase anymore after being around for five years. Several school systems are talking directly with Linden Labs to work with Teen Second Life in day-to-day curriculum.
5) New interfaces? Answer: We can do a lot more than just QWERTY and a mouse. Mobile technology (cell phones) is the future of kinetic technology and eLearning. Everybody uses the devices, so they are socially acceptable. They give another sensory form of engagement with material to be learned.
6) Economics? Answer: Gaming enrollment and play goes up when the real-world economy is down.
7) Are their social divides in Second Life? Answer: Yes. Noobies vs. experienced users. Also there are divides based on language (English, German, Japanese, etc.). “Those who adopt virtual worlds first make the rules). The serious real-world issue here is that K-12 institutions frequently have less powerful computers than universities which affects adoption of new technologies online.
8) When will the media report events instead of the vehicle hosting the events? Answer: Check out the “Serious Games Initiative” (http://www.seriousgames.org/) used by the military and business and educators. In a few years, virtual worlds will be completely mainstream, and the meaning will be reported instead of just the media.
9) Where are we missing the boat? Answer: We’re not engaging ourselves deeply enough in these worlds to fully realize their potential. We need to work more towards self-directed learning in-world.
10) What should we highlight as we write about this conference: “Play” an the fact that virtual worlds are now “mature communities of practice”.

Reinhard Workshop: Conversational Latin in Second Life

After the chaired debate, I hustled over to my meeting room to assemble the laptop, hooking it up to the in-room speakers and four flat-panel displays and projection screen. For the first time that I can remember, I was nervous prior to the presentation. What we were about to do was going to be a world’s first for Latin, and I had been wrangling participants for the past six weeks, trying to get a core group of conversational Latinists together within Second Life while at the same time engaging real-life workshop-goers in a kind of feet-in-both-worlds stunt to demonstrate a proof-of-concept utilizing Voice in Second Life, role-play, and Latin pedagogy in support of Latin for the New Millennium.

In the end, we had five people show up in-world. A couple of speakers had to bail out at the last minute, and one speaker got the time wrong. The impressive bit about the organization of the workshop was that we had a few speakers from the US commit to waking up and speaking Latin at 2:45 and 5:45 in the morning respectively. Anna Andresian was in-world at 2:45, opting to stay awake until then. Chris Ann Mateo arrived at 5:45 her time from Virginia. Our UK liaison and Classicist, Anna Foka, signed on from the University of Liverpool at 10:45 her time. The only non-Bolchazy person to sign on was Idhrun Alatius, a Swedish university student connecting remotely from Scandinavia. And then there was me signing in from Milton Keynes. I had invited graduate students from Rick LaFleur and Ronnie Ancona’s Latin teacher programs, but the one taker I had got the time wrong. I also invited Terry Tunberg and his students from Kentucky to log in, but none of them came. In the UK, Anna sent out an email to her colleagues, but the few who committed did not appear in time. Most of us were using headsets and laptops on university networks, while a couple of the participants were wireless using cable modems.

We started the workshop with me introducing Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers’ Latin-speaking space, and also talked about the merits of practicing oral Latin. I spoke about Latin for the New Millennium (and sent our real-life workshop participants home with information to pass along to their Classics people) and its strong oral component, and how it tied in with the Latin space in Second Life.

The way the space is currently organized, I have welcome signage out front to explain the purpose of the house (it’s for practicing spoken Latin). On the inside, there is a sample conversation on saying hello. Moving upstairs, I have placed signage taken directly from the conversations in LNM so that people can practice pronunciation, reading Latin aloud. There is a passage from LNM by Pliny the Younger, and even the lyrics to “Ecce Caesar” (which we sang during the workshop). At the back of the house is a garden which I have hung with four pictures from Looking at Latin along with a couple of questions about each picture to start more free-form conversations. I want the garden area to play host to small, in-world Latin conventicula.

Over the course of about 75 minutes, we were able to go from poster-to-poster to read and speak Latin, sing a song, and practice free conversation. I was the weakest Latin link; the others were either teachers or a student advanced in his Latin studies. Watching the four of them made me feel great as they actually used the system for its intended purpose. We inspired everyone present to try Second Life for language practice. And Anna, Chris, other Anna, and Idhrun are all continuing to play in our Second Life space. I actually bumped into Andresian there Sunday night!

We did have some technical difficulties as Second Life’s Voice feature for in-world speech and audio kept dying on me. For the others, they seemed to have a reasonable experience. In the future, I would recommend Skype for the audio while using Second Life as the visual space.

One of the coolest things to note was that during Latin conversation, the participants were typing Latin into the chat panel. The spoken Latin was formal, but the chat was fun and relaxed, and in Latin. Foka and Matteo even coined the very first Latin online abbreviation. Instead of “irl” (“in real life”), they used “ivv” (“in veritas viva” – or something to that effect). The pair will continue to create the Latin equivalents of “lol” and other, popular abbreviations often used in chat sessions and email. We should consider publishing them as an online appendix for Conversational Latin for Oral Proficiency.

The real-life workshop participants were baffled by the Latin, but came because the workshop sounded both strange and amazing. And all participants felt at the workshop’s conclusion that what they had just achieved was both big fun and quite useful for teaching. We should continue to maintain the Second Life space, create a separate space in Teen Second Life, and investigate Active Worlds for Latin as well. Now that we have a good proof-of-concept, we can promote the spaces, and I can lead my first in-world Second Life safari for teachers after Thanksgiving.

After the Second Life portion of the workshop concluded, I spoke to the real-life group about our Latin World of Warcraft guild for LNM, and also discussed the virtual visualization of 3D Ancient Rome on Google Earth. The workshop ended, and when I went back into second life, Chris Ann and Idhrun were still inside the Latin house, speaking Latin and chatting. That made my day.

I took three in-world videos with sound, and will do my best to edit them and post them online in support of this report. We had fun, which is what learning should be, especially in virtual environments.

November 21, Continued

I went to a final paper session after missing most of lunch (I stayed and chatted with Anna Andresian in Second Life as well as our new, Swedish colleague. Diane Carr and Martin Oliver of the London Knowledge Institute (University of London) presented their paper on “Learning from Online Worlds: Teaching in Second Life”. Their study was funded by the EduServ Foundation (http://www.eduserv.org.uk/foundation) and focused on how students learned within the virtual world. Their findings are blogged about on http://learningfromsocialworlds.wordpress.com. In their study, traditional learners had less of a payoff using Second Life than distance-learners. They also learned that we cannot assume “game literacy” for all students; the presenters were surprised at how little a lot of their test subjects knew about online games. They also cautioned that we as educators cannot make Second Life compulsory as of yet because we are reliant on Second Life always being online for class (it does go down from time to time), and not everyone has the hardware that can run Second Life.

The final paper was on “How Can Massive Multi-User Virtual Environments and Virtual Role Play Enhance and Embed with Traditional Teaching Practice,” presented by Angela Addison and Liam O’Hare of the University of Teeside. They had several bits of practical advice for educators in Second Life:

§ Give people a reason to use the tool.
§ Use notecards instead of posters that are often hard to read. (I will apply this to our Latin space in Second Life).
§ Second Life seems to be best suited for distance-learners.
§ Engage your students in play and role-play within your Second Life space.
§ Online games and environments allow for learning in a safe environment (e.g. not getting embarrassed in front of the class for example, or yelled at by an impatient instructor) and allows for repetitive learning through play.
§ To complete the illusion of total immersion in a virtual world, have little things happening in the background with audio and animation. Not enough to distract, but the addition of these details improves the illusion.
§ Use in-world text instead of Voice in Second Life (I personally disagree especially when thinking of language learning).

Other cool places to visit online for eLearning and virtual worlds:

§ http://Rooreynolds.com (eLearning and social media blog)
§ http://www.dipity.com/user/xantherus/timeline/Virtual_Worlds (interactive digital timeline of the history of virtual worlds)
§ http://wordle.net (graphical word “art” to visually catch themes in papers and websites)

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