A Second look at Second Life

12/04/2011

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.

Advantages:
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

 

Disadvantages:
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.

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A Second Life to Connect

11/03/2011

I had the opportunity to be shown around both Second Life  Adobe Connect yesterday. I think there is potential in SL, but, how complicated it comes across as! I think the potential technical issues associated with having a class learnings on SL for the first time would put them off. I like technology but, boy, did it come across as complicated. Participants need to haveaccess to a reasonably new computer. Perhaps because we were being an overview of what it potentially could too I was getting TMI. I think it is a great (and free) tool where learners in dispersed locations can meet up and chat synchronously. It offers affordances that  synchronous chat such as Skype can’t. I like the fact that you can move, do things with your hands, see who you are talking too (avatar), interact with the environment; you get a sense of immediacy (Woods & Baker, 2004) . You can also be your alter ego in the form of your avatar which might encourage shier learners to participant. I suppose you shouldn’t think of it as trying to replicate F2F communication or as an alternative to DTVC; it is something in its own right and I can see the potential for teaching, but it would take quite a bit of time to develop the skills needed to teach/learn in SL.

I was instantly impressed by Adobe Connect – by far the best DTVC tool I’ve come across. Just being able to see all the faces of my fellow students (for first time) and tutor via video really helped me feel connected to them; there was a real sense of immediacy. There were breakout rooms to facilitate group work. There are various “pods” where the teacher can poll the students, present documents, use a whiteboard and assign learners to breakout rooms with tasks for that particular group to undertake. There was very little delay between the sound and image and the quality of both was excellent. There were 6 of us altogether so it was easy to see all the participants via video. If there were 10, 12 or more students the size of the video images would be reduced so that they could all fit in the video pod. So far, the closest to a F2F classroom that I’ve come across. This would be an ideal tool to have at the beginning of an online course as it really facilitates the building of a community of learners, connectedess and social presence.


Teaching and Learning Online – Week 2

13/02/2011

Thinking back to TPCK (Mishra & Koehler, 2006)  I think I would like to add another component to a teacher’s knowledge and that is social knowledge. In online learning the ‘teacher’ has a key role in the formation of a community of learners; help the learners feel a sense of ‘connectedness’. As with all new classes we, as teachers, work hard in the first few classes of a course to create a positive group dynamic – we want the group to gel. However, with online learning environments the set of social skills required to create a group dynamic are different to those needed in a F2F classroom environment. The teacher has learn how to interact socially online and use this knowledge to help promote social interactions between herself and the learners and between the learners themselves. But, it’s just not about wanting to create a positive rapport to help learners feel part of a learning community for its own sake,  there might be some sound pedagogical reasons as well. I found this quote from Motteram (2001)  useful: “In order for our students to reflect effectively on their past teaching experiences, they have to feel comfortable with the other course participants. Being comfortable with others and with themselves helps people to become more receptive to new ideas”


Teaching and Learning Online – Week 1 Reflections

02/02/2011

Just like with teaching a F2F class it strikes me how important it is to build a good group dynamic and a sense of belonging to the group at the beginning of a course. The role of the teacher here is important but also the attitude that the learner brings with her is important. The teacher needs to encourage the learner to interact socially by setting up “getting to know you” type activities/tasks. The learner needs to bring with her a willingness to interact, share and contribute synchronously and asynchronously.

There are also issues about learners feeling uncomfortable about being seen on video and therefore prefer just to use voice. Those that are interacting with them then miss out on the non-verbal and body language aspects of communication (see DET). This may lead to misunderstandings. It’s important for teacher to be seen so that the students pick up on both verbal and non-verbal aspects of communication and interaction.

Later on today I read a blog post on mLearning saying something along the same lines: A Party With an Atmosphere

In an online LE (Wimba etc) the teacher needs to sensitive to the learners preferences in the way they wish to interact, be that via video, audio or messaging and not push a learner into using one form of communication over another. The form of communication that a learner chooses has implications for the teacher (and other learners in the online classroom) in terms of classroom management and having to communicate with some leaners via audio/video and other s via IM.

Technical issues can also cause the same issues as above as some learners might not have sufficient bandwidth to allow video or audio interactions. The sound and video might drop out so that learners van hear what the teacher or other learners are saying.

The size of group has implication. Smaller  groups would allow more interaction between learners and the teacher but would you get the volume of meaningful comment, insights and experiences. Large groups also mean lots of posts which can be daunting if you don’t log on for a few days as the number of posts can really build up.

It strikes me how important it is to get a group dynamic going in the 1st week or. The learner really needs to get on the forum and post or should I say interact with their fellow learners. I really notice those co-learners that have put in the time to post a reply to all the postings in the getting to know you discussions. Hat’s off to them!