Posted in Education, EFL, English Teaching, TEFL, Virtual worlds

Virtual Worlds Revisited

A year on Zoom

Since last March, my English teaching and CELTA training sessions have taken place on Zoom. Despite all the things you might hear on the news, there are actually quite a few advantages over face-to-face (F2F) teaching/training. For example, It’s given me the chance to further explore Web 2.0 tools, such as Google Docs, Forms, Jamboards, Blogs, Padlet, Quizlet, Mindomo, Ayoa, Popplet, and PBWorks. But, I still feel like there is more to be done in order to transform second language learning (SLL) online.

Something more transformative

Back in 2015, I attended a handful of tutorials, and parties, in a virtual world (VW). No, it wasn’t Second Life, it was Small Worlds. You can find out my experience here. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I immediately tried to incorporate it into my teaching, but found students unwilling to meet up for live events online between F2F lessons. Now though, after a year of Web 2.0 tools and Zoom, I’ve been left wondering whether the time is ripe for VWs. Let’s start with some questions…

Why do I want to use VWs?

Apart from the affordances of Web 2.0 tools for SLL, such as opportunities for collaboration, creativity, co-construction of knowledge, and all the other obvious stuff, the first thing that comes to mind in these apocalyptic times is the desire for exploration, and need for social interaction with other people. VW can provide feelings of embodiment, presence and identity which can help students build relationships, take on roles and give more meaning to actions. Unlike the classroom, which is somewhat removed from reality, language practice can be set in the context of the VW. Students can also explore a second language (L2) identity, encouraging more risk taking without losing face with their ‘real self’. See that hyperlink above to understand where all the quotation marks are coming from.

What kind of VW am I looking for?

Well, a 2D or 3D virtual environment in which a student can move around, either in first or third person. Ideally, they should share this space with other students and be able to see and interact with them. Students should also be able to interact with the environment. The VW needs to be customisable for specific activities with options to embed media content and/or hyper links. Last but not least, teachers need the option to set up private spaces within the VW (See below for the reasons for this Last point).

Who do I want to use VWs with?

I would like to use VWs with all ages and language levels, but with young learners (YLs) the VW will need to be approved. At the moment, I have classes of adults and YLs around B2 level (CEFR).

What are the barriers to their use?

One issue for adults might be the expectations and perception of what SLL is. These perceptions might not be an issue for YLs, who likely have high expectations of VWs used in educational contexts. On the other hand, there is a risk these expectations lead to disappointment due to badly designed edutainment. With this in mind, the approach schools sometimes impose on teachers and students could stifle any transformative affordances of VWs. Another issue could be the time it takes to plan for activities in these VWs, and/or the experience of teachers with this technology. Then we have the importance of student and teacher access to adequate devices and WIFI connections. Finally, there is the openness of some VWs, meaning your lesson might get high jacked by random nutters with butterfly wings, as happened to me once.

Which VWs?

So, here is a tentative list of VWs that could be exploited for SLL.

  1. Artsteps

You can set up and save browser-based spaces and add your own content. However, there are no avatars and one the gallery has been made you cannot change it as a visitor.

2. Hubs

Highly interactive browser-based environments with avatars. Create your space and invite others with a link. Not sure if you can save spaces with the free version though.

3. Minecraft for Education

This one is a bit of a mystery, as you can only access it if you have a school, I think…

4. Minecraft Classic

A very primitive form of the game with clumsy controls. That said, it is browser-based and allows for a total of 10 participants.

If you know of others, please give me a hand in the comments below.

Thanks for reading!


Chalk, J. 18/2/2021 Photo of cardboard VR glasses.

SoroniatiE, Artsteps video retrieved 18/2/2021 from

Hubs video retrieved 18/2/2021 from

OMGcraft – How to play Minecraft classic/Minecraft Tips & Tutorials! Minecraft for Education retrieved 18/2/2021 from