Sunday, 28 February 2010

Using Viewer 2 in Second Life: new opportunities for teachers and students

I've been experimenting with Second Life's new Viewer 2. It's a big advance on the previous viewer. The interface is easier to understand, having more in common with a Web browser, which should shorten the learning curve for newcomers to Second Life. But, most importantly, Viewer 2 opens up a host of new opportunities for teachers and students. It is now possible to set up a live Web page on any surface in Second Life - a flat screen, a cube or even a sphere. The user can interact with the Web page in the normal way, i.e. as one would using a standard Web browser. This means that Second Life can now incorporate a range of Web 2.0 tools, such as collaborative writing tools (e.g. Etherpad), Flickr, online PowerPoint presentations, etc. Video can be streamed in from almost any source, including YouTube and Teachers TV. This was not easy to do using the previous viewer - and I could not stream Teachers TV videos into Second Life, except by using a very cumbersome roundabout route. Now both teacher and student can embed Web pages or videos into Second Life without hassle.

Have a look at this blog thread in the EUROCALL/CALICO Virtual Worlds SIG Ning, which contains links to the Viewer 2 tutorials on YouTube and to Nergiz Kern's wiki, where she describes and demonstrates some of Viewer 2's capabilities:

Second Life launches its new Viewer 2

Keep an eye on Section 14.2.1 of Module 1.5 at the ICT4LT website. It's all about Second Life and continually updated.


Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Practice: the missing link?

Many changes have taken place since I first got involved in using ICT for language learning and teaching. In the early days of the microcomputer boom in the 1980s there was not great deal of choice in the range of software available. The first programs that appeared were rather dry text-only multiple-choice and gap-filling exercises, which were nevertheless very popular. Audio and video were not available and many schools could afford to buy only one single computer, which was moved around different classrooms, connected to a large TV screen and used for whole-class teaching. And the Web was just a twinkle in the eye of its inventor, Tim Berners-Lee, finally reaching the public at large in 1993.

Now we have some excellent Presentation tools - interactive whiteboards and associated software - and a range of so-called Web 2.0 tools have appeared that are useful for the Production of language by our students, e.g. blogs, wikis, podcasts, animations, etc: see ICT4LT Module 1.5, Section 2.2, headed What is Web 2.0?

This may be misconception on my part, but am I right in thinking that there is a missing link, namely Practice? What has happened to the programs and authoring tools that teachers used to generate practice activities for their students? During the late 1980s and 1990s the range of published programs and authoring tools for generating practice activities - vocab, grammar, all the mundane but essential stuff - got better and better, incorporating audio and video, discrete error analysis and intrinsic feedback: see ICT4LT Module 1.1 Section 7.1 on Interactivity and Section 7.2 on Feedback.

I may be wrong but, judging from most of the blogs, wikis and forums aimed at language teachers, it now seems to be a case of either “Where can I find a PowerPoint presentation on XYZ?” or “Where can I find a Web 2.0 tool that enables my students to write a blog / record a podcast / create a cartoon strip?” Is Practice the missing link?


Monday, 8 February 2010

MYLO, the Open School for Languages

Setting up an Open School for Languages (OSfL) was one of the major recommendations of the Dearing Languages Review (2007). Dearing proposed that the OSfL should offer an innovative and exciting online learning environment to motivate pupils to learn languages and to help reverse the alarming fall in the number of young people choosing to study languages beyond the age of 14 (i.e. after Year 9) in UK schools.

In March 2009, the OSfL contract, worth £5.4 million, was awarded by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) to Lightbox Education, part of the RM group (Research Machines), Oxfordshire. The other key players are the University of Cambridge’s Language Centre, CILT (The National Centre for Languages), the Association for Language Learning (ALL), the University of Salford and the University of Southampton.

The working name of the Open School for Languages is now MYLO (My Languages Online). A MYLO Website and MYLO Blog have been set up.

Initial priority is to be given to those learners who might give up languages at the end of Year 9 and who therefore require more stimulation to maintain levels of interest and engagement. Year 10 and Year 11 are to be targeted in later stages of the project. In the initial phase the materials will focus on French, Spanish, German and Mandarin Chinese, with the capability of later expansion according to identified needs and allowing for the fact that different languages have different requirements. Materials will be provided for ab initio learners of particular languages as well as for learners with pre-existing knowledge. This may include the provision of intensive courses.

Activities proposed by Lightbox include producing a TV advert, working in a French fashion house, and designing a football kit. MYLO will also include a social networking element that allows learners to join a MYLO community. Students will be able create their online profile, comment on the work of their peers, get feedback from their teachers and even compete against other schools. Teachers will be able to create playlists of activities for their students to tie in with their own study requirements and personal interests.

This is a major project, with big money at stake and with high expectations. MYLO is also expected to provide:

1. Learner-focused practice materials and resources such as online dictionaries, information on grammar, functions and notions.

2. Information about and links to existing websites, services and other online learning resources.

3. A blended learning experience that reflects individual learners’ preferences and varying capabilities, including personalised evaluation routes.

4. Clear learning routes, i.e. the “core”, combined with a series of flexible modules to enrich, develop and personalise the core.

5. Maximum accessibility to all and appropriate use of interactivity, including learners at home using standard equipment,

6. Support for teachers to help them advise learners how to use the resources.

7. Support for teachers on how best they can use the materials in face-to-face classroom-based learning.

8. Support for learners directly as well as for teachers, including the provision of essential study skills materials on learning how to learn a foreign language.

9. Materials to support “languages in use”, for example how materials could be used to support languages in the new diplomas, or languages used in the context of sport or the arts.

10. Technology that clearly serves the pedagogical objectives. Access to the website, while delivering a personalised experience, will also take into account the fact that the target audience will utilise a variety of access points, for example, the young person’s home, his or her school, a local library, etc.

Consideration is also expected to be given to new developments in learning technology over the duration of the project. One idea that comes to mind is Second Life for Teens, a 3D world for learners of English as a Foreign Language, managed by The British Council.

MYLO was presented publicly for the first time at the BETT Show on 15 January 2010 and again to a group of practising language teachers at CILT, The National Centre for Languages, on 8 February 2010. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend either of these presentations.

Post your impressions here if you were one of the lucky ones who got a preview of MYLO.