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!

References

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

SoroniatiE, Artsteps video retrieved 18/2/2021 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Llv1arsWVTg

Hubs video retrieved 18/2/2021 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5QnOsyyebEQ

OMGcraft – How to play Minecraft classic/Minecraft Tips & Tutorials! Minecraft for Education retrieved 18/2/2021 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cv6f-2Wlsxg

Posted in Alternate Reality Games, Education, EFL, Research

Gamefully Designed Language Learning

Image from the game

Please find a link below to my dissertation for the MA in Digital Technologies for Language Teaching at the University of Nottingham. It brings together various themes covered on the MA and in this blog, such as game-based learning, creative writing, and course design. It may be of interest to anyone exploring the following: potential shifts in language learning pedagogy; research methods; and motivation in relation to games, narrative, and make-believe.

Gamefully Designed Language Learning

An alternate reality for EFL blended learning environments

Screen Shot 2018-05-06 at 18.31.04.png

Posted in EFL, English Teaching, languages, TEFL

Input Sessions: Classroom management

Introduction

I’ve never been too keen on the input output metaphor of learning, I prefer the more socio-cultural view that knowledge is actively co-constructed through interaction with peers and the environment. However, in the CELTA, this is just the terminology used (input) to identify sessions that raise awareness of specific language teaching areas. It does not necessarily mean that sessions take on a spoon fed lecture format. In fact, quite the opposite in my experience, my own EFL training has been very hands-on with a strong emphasis on learning through practical experience. Last Friday, I observed two ‘input’ sessions, below is a quick description and reflection.

Classroom Management

This session mainly focussed on the following areas:

  • Teacher roles
  • Seating arrangements
  • Monitoring
  • Giving Feedback

Teacher roles and seating arrangements

First, trainees reflected on the previous sessions on warmers in groups. Each group had a slightly different set of questions and after the discussion group members were paired with students from another group. This was achieved by numbering the students from 1 to 5 and then bringing all the 1s and 2s etc… together. This was an example of learning through experience or ‘implicit instruction’ rather than telling the trainees how to do something ‘explicit instruction’.

In the questions the following teacher roles were introduced: Facilitator; Observer; Coach; Time keeper; Conductor; Resource; and Quality controller. Also, trainees reflected on the seating arrangements for a range of classroom situations: Exams; Class discussion; Group discussion; presenting new language; Pair work; Team games; and creating posters.

Monitoring and feedback

In the second half of the session trainees were given a selection of mini dialogues between teachers and students and asked to comment on them in pairs. After this, they were given headings to match to the dialogues. The issues raised were:

  1. Echoing Students (SS) correct utterances
  2. Finishing SS sentences
  3. Not responding to SS as people
  4. Flying with the fastest SS (assuming all SS have understood)
  5. Over-helping SS
  6. Lack of teacher (T) assertiveness

After trainees had completed the task, the tutor elicited potential issues that could arise from the teacher behaviours above. These included: (1) increased teacher talking time (TTT); appearing condescending; (2/3) damaging SS/T rapport; demotivation; and (6) confusing SS.

Finally, trainees discussed how the tutors had monitored in the sessions so far and then given some questions to reflect on.

Ways to monitor learners

  • Circulate
  • Read their faces
  • Sit away from SS
  • Don’t interrupt

What are you listening for?

  • Are they on task?
  • Are they using the target language?
  • What types of mistakes are they making with the target language?

Ways of giving feedback

  • Oral
  • SS ask other SS across the class
  • Prepare answers on Interactive whiteboard (IWB)
  • Write up on the board/IWB
  • Give answers on a handout
  • Get SS to write answers on the board/IWB
  • Give feedback on language and the way SS completed the task

Featured image

Retrieved 11/12/17 from https://www.pexels.com/search/teaching/

Posted in EFL, EFL, English Teaching

An Edmodo school?

I have been asked to set up an Edmodo account for the teachers at my school. The idea is to have all the classes connected to a central administrative hub from which announcements can be broadcast from time to time. We also need to allow for co-teaching and perhaps connect students across classes. After a quick Google search I found two ways to do this.

The first is to create a free school account… This requires you to register a school and I presume add classes. However, it seems to be available in only a handful of countries.

The second is to use the create co-teacher option in the members tab…

Although I haven’t tried this yet, I do have a plan…

The owner of one Edmodo account will need to create all the groups ‘classes’ needed. Then add the teacher/s of each class to the class and assign them the co-teacher role. In theory the co-teacher should then be able to add students and all the other super powers teachers possess!

Let’s see how it goes…

…update

Okay, thought I’d add the final solution…

Each teacher has their own account and classes. They then add the school administrator as a co-teacher to their classes.

Suggestions are always welcome, of course

References

Youtube Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QOnNyhx_XE8

Featured image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mcteach/4817728598

Posted in EFL, English Teaching

Learning from games

Who am I?

My name is John, I’m an English teacher, an MA student, a musician/composer, a part-time astronomer,  a philosopher that doesn’t exist, and a gamer. I have been teaching English for over ten years now, working with a wide range of students and levels. But as all teachers, I try to carve out my own identity within this context by integrating my interests and passions.

John the Gamer

I’ve always enjoyed games, especially computer games. It all started with the arcades in the early 80s, which fired my imagination. Because consoles and computers were quite expensive at the time, I used to draw out sprites and level designs on paper. I specifically remember creating a small book of ninjas with frame by frame animation in my French lessons. My French teacher often left the room crying due to our bad behaviour and disinterest in the subject. Anyway, since then I have owned most of the consoles from the Atari 2600 to the PS3. I have indulged less in PC/Mac games and online MUDs. My concern is that I’ll be sucked into a virtual world and neglect my real life. Despite this, I have signed up to the trial version of World of Warcraft and completed a few quests just to see what all the fuss is about. Anyway, I’ve recently decided that perhaps it’s time to apply my continuing gaming experience to teaching.

So, What’s in a game?

Six Features of Games

Jull, J. (2005, p.36) defines games using the following six features:

  • Rules
  • Variable, quantifiable outcomes
  • Valorisation of outcome
  • Player effort
  • Player attached to outcome
  • Negotiable consequences

Four Traits for Defining games

On the other hand, Jane McGonigal identifies only four defining traits for a definition of games. She sees these traits as ‘the defining features’ of games, with other features, such as narrative, simply enriching their qualities.

  • Goals
  • Rules
  • Feedback systems and
  • Voluntary participation

(McGonigal, J. 2012, p21).

Why should teachers be interested in the essence of games?

Over the last year or so, I’ve made various attempts to get students to engage in collaborative tasks/projects online. I set up wikis, blogging communities, edmodo/facebook groups and encouraged students to participate in creating knowledge and sharing ideas. To my dismay, I found that few students made time to engage in these activities. In contrast, it’s known that people are prepared to spend incredible amounts of time and energy engaging in complicated time-consuming video games. So, why is this? Is it points, challenge, fun? I mean, in education we have goals, feedback, voluntary participation (with adult learners), and certainly rules in the classroom. So, what’s so special about games?

Gee claims that video games are effective learning machines due to the fact that they have evolved in response to consumer demand (Gee, J. P. 2005). He believes that we can learn from their emergent design to redesign learning in education (ibid. 2005). He identifies some of the features of games that make them powerful learning machines.

Empowered Learners

  • Co-design
  • Customise
  • Identity
  • manipulation of distributed knowledge

Problem solving

  • Well-ordered problems
  • Pleasantly frustrating
  • Cycles of expertise
  • Information ‘on demand’ and ‘just in time’
  • Fish tanks
  • Sandboxes
  • Skills as strategies

Understanding

  • System thinking
  • Meaning as action image

(ibid. 2005)

Power to the learner (and the teacher, please)

Language teachers have always had to design their lessons or courses, or at least adapt the material to their learners’ needs. This is usually informed by research into SLA, which often discusses issues of motivation, personalisation, learning in context etc. After reading Gee, it is clear that there is much to learn from good game design too. Especially in the department of empowering learners; with active agency, customisation, ownership, identity investment and the manipulation of tools for learning. This is an area that is especially relevant to teenage learners who are given a sense of control in video games that’s often lacking in school and other areas of their lives. I would also add that empowerment is essential for the well-being of teachers too (or almost any profession), enslaved by prescriptive syllabi, course books and/or misguided learning management systems.

The sound of inevitability

Gee admits that if we are to implement these positive features of games into our schools, significant restructuring will be needed (ibid. 2005). He also suggests that modern technology may even dictate this change, whether we like it or not. Despite this claim, Gee doesn’t go into the details of why this is. Perhaps he is speaking of the normalisation of web 2.0 technologies and the empowerment it might bring for students to choose what, how and when they study. Or the fact that learners will become ever less dependent on teachers to provide them with answers and look to games instead. Nevertheless, a video game doesn’t make itself (unless it’s procedurally generated), someone needs to make the game. Could this be a new role for teachers?  Even without teachers becoming fully-fledged game designers, Gee’s checklist for good learning is an interesting alternative view on how to design more engaging lessons and courses.

References

Gee, J. P. (2005). Learning by Design: good video games as learning machines. E-Learning, 2(1), 5. http://doi.org/10.2304/elea.2005.2.1.5

Juul, J. (2005). Half-real: video games between real rules and fictional worlds. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

McGonigal, J. (2012). Reality is broken: why games make us better and how they can change the world. London: Vintage.

Posted in EFL, English Teaching, languages, TEFL

Do we need universities or just knowledge?

Introduction

When I was reading this book I felt as if I was reading it from three different perspectives. The first was the student about to start a distance learning course who was looking for a study guide. The second was the music enthusiast who had worked in a recording studio, a record shop and regularly composed music, (Here’s a link to my latest album). And yes, I’m still attached to the idea of the album. The third was the English teacher looking for ways to enhance the world of English language teaching.

This is the first of two blogs on ‘The Digital Scholar’ by Martin Weller. The first will focus on the pedagogy of abundance. (This struck a chord with the musician in me;) The second will draw out practical advice for blogs. (Blogging is part of the first module in the MA in digital technologies for language teaching).

A lesson from the music industry

‘The Digital Scholar’ (Weller, M. Bloomsbury Plc 2011) looks at the effect digital technologies are having specifically on higher education. However, Weller suggests that there are valuable lessons to be learnt from recent upheavals in other sectors, such as the music, film and publishing industries. He argues that the failure of the music industry to adapt to change was partly due to an outdated business model based on ‘scarcity (i.e., Music and talent was only available from limited sources and difficult to copy and share). With the advent of mp3 files and peer2peer networks we were thrust into an ‘economy of abundance’, which the music industry failed to capitalise on initially, (Weller, M. 2011). Weller suggests that a similar change is now happening in education, and universities and educational providers will need to adopt a ‘pedagogy of abundance’ if they intend to remain relevant in today’s digital age.

Pedagogy of abundance

Weller outlines the underlying features that a pedagogy of abundance will need to take into consideration.

  • content is free
  • content is abundant
  • content is not only in the form of text
  • sharing content is easy
  • learning is social
  • connections between individuals are weak
  • organisation is cheap
  • generative system based on unpredictability and freedom
  • user generated content

(Weller, M. 2011).

The book looks to existing pedagogy such as resource based (RBL), problem based learning (PBL), Constructivism, Communities of practice and Connectivism which might align to this these features.

Granularity

Another concept that I found very interesting was granularity and the distinction between form and function. Again Weller uses changes in the music industry to get his point across mentioning the preference for individual tracks over albums. His suggestion is that the physical form music was sold in (i.e. the record or CD) was just a convenient and temporary package. This meant that artists were obliged to bundle ten songs together. However, we didn’t need the physical CD, just the music, and maybe only one or two tracks. Weller makes further examples with Newspapers and articles, books and ideas. Without being held back by physical form, intellectual content can be unpacked into its basic units. Weller refers to this phenomenon as ‘granularity’ where blogs and short videos are used to spread ideas rather than books and films, (Weller, M. 2011). Is the same true for education?

Do we need schools and universities or just knowledge?

And does this affect language learning to the same degree as other more content based subjects?

References

‘The Digital Scholar’ (Weller, M. Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2011)