I had the good fortune to be in Milton Keynes in time to attend the pre-conference reception for delegates of the ReLIVE08 Conference (Researching Learning in Virtual Environments). I managed to speak to a few people who all had the same reaction once I told them what I was doing with Latin and virtual environments like Second Life and World of Warcraft: "Latin? Spoken Latin? And there's a publisher just for that?" I told them a bit more about my work for Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, and everyone seemed quite enthusiastic about the direction in which we are taking pedagogy: give Latin (and one day Greek!) to the students in a form that they are familiar with, be it games or phones or iPods or computers. Let them come to the language in that way.
I chatted mostly with conference organizer Anna Peachey (wearing orange wings and a scarf stitched with skulls) who writes frequently on Second Life and eLearning at the Open University, as well as two professors, one of whom is in charge of building the entire eLearning infrastructure and strategy for the Open University, and the other professor was from Southampton and was new to Second Life, but is eager to explore its learning potential. The current thinking is that Voice-enabled Second Life areas (like Torin Golding's Roma sim) are indispensable for learning, that Second Life is essential for distance learners at least at university level, that Second Life is not going to take over the world, but is useful for class gatherings and instruction and for student expression.
Here in the UK, there is still a site-by-site struggle between educators and school administrators and IT professionals about limiting/granting access to Second Life and software like it. I am happy to report that my question on technology policy for high schools was accepted to be used in the chaired debate on Friday, 21 Nov. The teachers are winning the fight, but again, it's still very much on a case-by-case basis.
This is the first year for the ReLIVE conference, and I feel honored to be a part of it, and look forward to presenting the workshop on Latin and Second Life. I heard to student delegates talking about it during coffee at registration this morning: "There's a workshop on Latin!" "Latin?" "Yeah. My school didn't event have that and it's in Second Life?"
It made me smile. New technology for old languages. It's how we'll preserve it and promote it in my honest opinion. We certainly cannot ignore technology as how it applies to language learning, especially for languages like Latin and other, more specialized languages like Assyrian. We need to learn how to adapt the technology to our needs, explore it instead of fear it, make it our own instead of having it thrust upon us. As Latin teachers and students, we are in a unique position of being able to pick our own teaching tools, paving the way for future generations of Classicists. We need to choose wisely. But in the end, we will need to choose.
I'll blog about the sessions I attended late tonight. There is quite an air of optimism about virtual worlds and learning here, and everyone is eager to learn from everyone else. It's Web 2.0 in the flesh!
Director of eLearning
20 November 2008
Open University, Milton Keynes