A Second look at Second Life


I’ve been looking at the affordances of Second Life in preparation for an assignment. I thought it might be useful to share my observations.

1. Appeals to shyer learners as there is increases anonymity which helps reduce their sense of anxiety. The use of an alias, or with SL an avatar, helps them interact as their inhibitions are overcome , they feel more confident and contribute more than they would in a F2F course (Sutton, 2001:.234).

2. The avatar helps reduce anxieties about appearance .

3. In language learning it bring students from different language and cultural backgrounds together where they have communicate via the target language. The communication is authentic and meaningful and therefore is motivating.

4. Communication is synchronous.

5. 3D environment can be exploited in the same way you would a normal environment.

6. SL is a familiar environment to learners that are used to gaming, and so the context is less strange than other VLEs.

7. Interactions are kinesthetic: learners act out particular steps rather than just watch and discuss

8. Promotes a sociocultural approach to learning


1. You can encounter unpleasant and malicious people – danger of net-abuse.

2. Visual queues such as body language and eye contact are missing which has turn-taking implications.

3. Technological overload for beginners – too many features to take on-board

4. The avatar’s appearance might be over-elaborate and be distracting or offensive to some cultures.

5. People get lost.

6. Technical issues – processor speed, graphics card, and insufficient memory size  to run SL. Bandwidth and internet availability issues.

7. SL is commercial – people are out to make money.




  • How might we use technologies that we have seen so far in this course (wikis, blogs twitter) as a PLE?

A PLE, for me, is all about creating connections with people. Wikis, blogs, Facebook and Twitter are tools that allow us to build learning communities with like-minded professionals, fellow learners and our students. We can share information, ideas and resources freely and easily over the web. These tools, to quote Selwyn (2008), are “…‘interactive’ rather than ‘broadcast’ forms of exchange, in which information is shared ‘many-to-many’ rather than being transmitted from one to many. Web 2.0 applications are built around the appropriation and sharing of content amongst communities of users, resulting in various forms of user-driven communication, collaboration and content creation and recreation.” Through “following” people on twitter, making “friends” on Facebook, joining wikis and having RSS feeds from blogs we can build our own learning environments and personalise it by deciding what information we want to “pull” to us. We can also “push” out content, information, thoughts and reflections via our own blog posts, wiki edits, “tweets” etc and enter into a conversation with anyone with web access.

  • What has been your experience of this distributed learning space so far? (Honestly!)

I like the concept of the wiki. It is democratic. We can all add content and contribute resources – we all can contribute to development of each other’s knowledge. The wiki itself is not a closed space, anyone can read it (though not everyone can edit it) and therefore our reflections, discussions and debates, as well as the content, are open to a much wider audience. I find with the wiki and the blog I am using my own voice whereas on Blackboard my register is more formal and in keeping with the “academic” register of a university learning environment. Being myself helps me in my learning.

  • Do you think that a VLE/MLE would form a good basis for a ‘Personalised Learning Environment’? (With reasons!!)

I think it can form part of a PLE (see the diagram of a PLE above) and my reason for this that a VLE, such as Blackboard, is a closed environment; there is no direct contact with the wider world. Of course, there is the opportunity for critical thinking and reflection within a VLE but audience is limited to those that are doing the same course as you.

Another criticism of a VLE is that there is an element of “top down” learning. The course tutor decides on the content of the course, there is less opportunity for learners themselves to add content and contribute to the knowledge base.

There is little possibility in a VLE to personalise your learning space both in terms of being able to choose the tools you prefer to use and also the look and feel of those tools (the choice of skins on Twitter or “themes” in blogs).

Social Media and me


I started noticing references being made to twitter about 18 months ago on various TESOL / learning technology blogs I read and decided to find out what it was all about, so I set up a Twitter account (my ID is @jamesbaggesen). I started off by following the same people whose blogs I was reading and some of the people they were following as they shared similar professional interests to me. I must admit to being overwhelmed at first by the quantity of tweets that some individuals, I had followed, posted – I felt was being inundated with tens of emails and it was if my email inbox was being clogged up by unsolicited emails. I hadn’t got my head around what Twitter was all about and was treating it, conceptually, like an email forum and decided to “unfollow” this individual to stop their tens of daily tweets cluttering up my “inbox”. I re-followed this individual once I had made that conceptual leap and now value their dedicated and insightful tweets! Here’s some useful advice on managing Twitter

Conceptual leap made – why do I find Twitter so useful? In a sentence, it is the best learning tool I think I have ever come across. I follow people with similar professional interests to me and they share web-based information and resources with each other. I have created my own Personal Learning Network (PLN), which, if I need help I ask e.g. I recently wanted to know if anyone could recommend an on-line concept mapping tool and several hours later I had been recommended 5 or 6 sites. When I come across a useful resource or an interesting piece of information I tweet it.

I set up another Twitter account (@BCMadridAdults) to push out web-based resources for learners of English primarily to students where I work at the British Council in Madrid. However, I soon discovered that it was being followed by people beyond this context.

I am one of those few people who doesn’t use Facebook but I know that most of our students do. So I set up a Facebook page, at the same time as the Twitter account, to push out resources that learners of English might find useful. I don’t use facebook for sharing personal information and therefore, according to Chris Hughes (a co-founder of Facebook), I don’t have “an online identity”.

I also use Youtube as a learning resource. Here’s a conference presentation on using Twitter in language teaching

In the future I want to use Edmodo.

Edmodo vs Ning


A colleague (Chris Fry, Barcelona) posted this on a British Council teachers’ forum yesterday about the pros and cons of Edmodo and Ning, which I thought might be of interest. After exploring Edmodo myself and then reading this endorsement I will certainly be trying it out when I next teach a class.

“I have tried both. Three years ago I used three Nings for my three levels and was very happy with the way it worked, but towards the end of the year I heard about Edmodo, which was then very new. I experimented with it over the summer and was sure I wanted to switch horses and try Edmodo.

Last year I used it and I was won over 100% and am using it again this year. I would be very pleased to accept requests for a connection from any teachers who are using Edmodo. This is a great way of sharing materials and expertise.

Why is Edmodo better than a Ning, in my opinion?

  1. Edmodo is an educational tool modelled on social networking sites – it looks like Facebook, but was designed for K12 (schools)
  2. It is a unified interface for all your groups – with the three Nings I had to log in three times on different tabs.
  3. It has gradebooks and assignments
  4. It is a protected environment. No communication with the outside world, although selected posts can be made public, but no response is possible.
  5. There are no advertisements and it is completely free.
  6. There is the possibility of using it for a whole school and even school district (for us the world!)
  7. The support is exemplary – within hours
  8. The fact that there is no customisation of the look – always time-consuming and of doubtful value
  9. The whole possibility of working with other people – teachers can have connections with other teachers wherever they are
  10. Teachers can join Edmodo groups for teachers to backchannel in conferences and share ideas.

I’m sure there are more, but of course some aspects of Nings are better. Here are some:

    • Nings can be made more or less private discouraging or encouraging others to join each group although pairing classes in Edmodo IS also possible
    • Some people will like all the customisation. The Ning can be customised and each students can customise their own page, but ….
    • It is possible to design a page layout with fixed items that are always visible. Whereas, in Edmodo, this is not possible. Edmodo makes it possible to find things posted a while back by using filters and search.
    • RSS feeds into Nings are more reliable and more visible, but as far as I recall there was no RSS feed out. Edmodo has RSS feeds in and out and the out one is selectable by the teacher for each post
    • It is easy to brand it (I don’t know about Edmodo)”

Informed Scepticism


I’ve used Renee Hobson’s quote “informed scepticism”, which I read in Henry Jenkins’s paper on Wikipedia, as the title of this post because it resonates with me as being a good mantra for critically reflecting on all media that we read, watch and listen to. A criticism of Wikipedia by educators of its use as a scholarly source as there are issues with its veracity as it does not undergo the same lengthy peer-reviewing process as academic papers do. However, there is a learning opportunity to had from using Wikipedia as an information source by looking at the processes that are going on (I use the present because an article in Wikipedia is never “finished”) behind the article. By clicking on the edit tab on an article we can see: the whole history of the writing process from all its contributors, the debates, discussions, arguments and negotiating, and, all the references and hyperlinks to these references that the authors have used to substantiate their arguments. Learners can get to see the process behind the creation of an article in Wikipedia, they see the discussion, debate and negotiation that went/goes on between contributors and how they use references/hyperlinks to support their arguments. Exposure to this process, Henry Jenkins suggests, will help learners develop a vocabulary for thinking about the place of media in their lives and engage in meaningful relection or, in other words, critical scepticism. If a student believes there to be some misinformation in a Wikipedia article then can change the article, contribute to the debate in the edit sections and cite references to support their changes. Learners are  being exposed to and actively participating in what Jenkins calls New Media Literacies – a set of social skills and cultural competencies that make up this “participatory culture”. There has been a paradigm shift in the way people learn, work and socialise with the emphasis moving towards community involvement through collaboration and networking. Young people are going to need these skills and competencies when they move on to FE and in the modern workplace so why not expose them to collaborative ways of working from an early age – they are probably already doing it anyway within their own community of friends and peers!

I wonder if the academic establishment feel threatened by Wikipedia’s model of democracy and access to information for all, and use the lack of veracity claim to discredit informal learning that the Internet has facilitated. In many ways academic institutions, academic journals and academics are still very much the gate-keepers of knowledge; you should only be able to access knowledge by attending formal institutions, being taught by “recognised” authorities on subjects and able to access (via paid or university subscriptions) papers in journals. Why should only the fortunate few have access to information?

I would like to add (25.02.2011)  that I hadn’t really appreciated the amount of time it takes to get an academic paper published in a printed journal. Online journals reduce the delay between writing and publication while retained the attritubes of peer-review and critical discussion.

Bloggers’ power


Guardian 15.02.2011

Spanish fashion chain scraps T-shirts after bloggers complain

Bloggs @ anywhere: High fidelity online communication


In their paper Farmer & Bartlett-Bragg (2005) quote Krause (2004) and call blogs “individualistic” rather than “collaborative”. I assume here that t go on to he writing of the blog itself should be by the individual rather than being a produced by a group. Blogs are individualistic; people express themselves not only through their own writing but through customising their blogs appearance and functionality. The blog is a representation of an individual’s “digital-identity”. Also key to this is the use of an individual aggregator, which I take to mean RSS, where individuals (blog readers but not necessarily blogger themselves) decide whose blogs that want to be kept informed about new post or comments on that particular blog. Google Reader does this and I’ve been using it for about 18 months to follow blogs that interest me (see my blog roll) even though I wasn’t blogging myself.

In the paper they mention “river of news” aggregators , which I’m not sure what they are. They might be the OPML file that Cormac emailed us that gave us a list of all the .xml feeds from the blogs of everyone on the EmTech. (Can someone help me out here?). This would be the pushing of information out to us rather than us deciding what information we want to pull to us and go against the ethos of blogging, according to some.

They also state that  blogging can be backed up by the following learning theories:

  • Social Constructivism (Vygotsky and later Wells (2004)) – all learning is socially constructed through language even when F2F interaction is absent.
  • Social Learning Theory (Bandura) – through observing and modelling participants learn the codes of behaviour and acceptable communication formats. In a educational setting it could also be learning about blogs themselves.
  • Situated Learning theory (Lave & Wenger) –  facilitates personalised collaborative learning networks

I like this quote from Mortensen & Walker (2002) about the private vs  public:

“Blogs exist right on this border between what’s private and what’spublic, and often we see that they disappear deep into the private sphere and reveal far too much information about the writer. When a blog is good, it contains a tension between the two spheres, as delicate a balancing act as the conversation of any experienced guest of the French salons of the 19th century.”