Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Second Life Conference on Learning Foreign Languages

On 23 June 2007, I took part in a virtual conference, SLanguages, on learning foreign languages in Second Life:
The venue was the Glass Pyramid on Second Life's EduNation Island and there were around 50 participants from all over the world. The conference made use of audioconferencing facilities, using the Ventrilo audioconferencing software, so we could hear the speakers and talk to them. The SLanguages conference went very well, with only a few minor hiccups. I've added a couple of screenshots to the ICT4LT site:
Section 14.2, Module 1.5, headed Chat rooms, MUDs, MOOs and MUVEs


The main thing that made the conference so engaging for me was being able to listen to and communicate with speakers from all over the world - all in our various avatar guises. It worked. We could use the standard Second Life text chat at any time and when we wanted to ask a question or make a comment we lit up a bulb on top of our heads in order to attract the chair’s attention and then we spoke when invited. Coffee breaks and a lunch break were built in, and we were able to continue chatting at the disco after the formal day’s proceedings had finished.

The advantages of Second Life compared to videoconferencing were immediately obvious to me. I have taken part in several videoconferences and, even as an adult, I have always felt a bit uncomfortable seeing myself on screen. Lip-synchronisation in all the videoconferencing systems that I have used was not very good - although it may have improved a lot by now. Head and arm movements came across as rather jerky too. In the SLanguages conference I was able to sit my avatar down and then do what I liked. He was always quiet and attentive even if I sneaked off to make a cup of coffee, and I could hear the audio very clearly, either through speakers or headphones. I could speak to the other participants by pressing a single key to activate my microphone - or I could ask questions and make comments in text chat. The speakers were able to show slides on a large screen - which you can see in the screenshots at the ICT4LT site.

Don't be misled by the negative reports about Second Life that you may have read in the press. I was very sceptical when I first had a look at Second Life. It appeared to be peopled by sad geeks who probably only have a half-decent First Life. but as a colleague of mine, Chris Jones, stated in the title of an article he wrote way back in 1986: "It's not so much the program: more what you do with it: the importance of methodology in CALL".

At first sight Second Life appears to be quite daunting. There’s a lot to learn, but I picked up the basics in a couple of hours and I’m content to ignore the bits that I don’t need. There's a lot of garbage there - shopping malls selling virtual designer gear, casinos, etc. All this can be ignored. In any case most of us only use a fraction of the facilities of the software installed on our computers - and there's nothing wrong with that.

The SLanguages conference proceedings will be archived at:
EduNation 178, 40, 22