Research proposal

May 7, 2008

Statement

3D virtual environments such as Second Life or Hipipi are nowadays considered not only as fun tools, but as tools by which it is possible to develop social skills. Education is also considering integrating such tools in e-learning projects. Education has been constantly integrating technologies especially since Web 1.0 developed into Web2.0. Next revolution would probably be Web 3D. As for education it is important to consider the development of technologies as it is important to analyse the benefits, if any, that technologies can bring. Technologies, especially 3D virtual environments, don’t have to be integrated just because “it’s cool”. Content and the quality of it are the most important values in education and technologies must reflect those values.

Research question

Could language learning and teaching process develop through modern technologies and media without integrating 3D virtual environments such as Second life or Hipipi?

Promo video for http://secondlife4education
Why is this study important?

The use of new technologies must be considered important in our everyday life as in education. The way of teaching has to face the possibilities offered new from tools such as virtual learning environments. Virtual learning environments can be considered in education especially if we talk about online learning, even if online-blended learning. Virtual learning enviroments such as Second Life could help educators facilitate interaction between students no matter where they are located. It is important to consider how a tool such as Second Life could be used in education, for example in the field of language learning.

What are the two or three most important “foundational” sources that everyone should read?

Nowadays there are so many sources about this subject because intergrate virtual learning environments in education is such a new way of using new technologies. Many sources are of course posted on the Internet. You can find articles, opinions on blogs, experiments taken from Universities, Colleges or other institutions. It is also important to know which aspect of this case studies you could be most interested in in order to choose the best written literature about it.

What are the one or two big issues that set the terms of “conversation” about this topic in the literature?

Virtual learning environments could be considered as virtual places to create social interaction and as tools helping the edcucational process itself. As for Second Life in language teaching we can consider inttegrating it in a class to let students interact with each other, to allow them to speak with natives in a community within Second Life, to collect language material useful offline to improve students language skills and abilities. There is no just one way to use Second Life and to analyse it. The main point that worries educators in general is the possibility of getting lost through technical problems by using such a powerful tool. If students have problems in connecting to the Net, in using Second Life, they could feel lost and considering the use of new technologies just as a waste of time. Another point that worries educators is the possibility if losing contact with reality. That is why researchers are already trying to integrate online platforms with virtual learning environments. Sloodle is a good example of that integration between the platform Moodle and Second Life.

Literature:

http://secondlife.com/

http://llt.msu.edu/vol8num3/lam/default.html

http://secondlifegrid.net/

http://www.slanguages.net/it/index.php

http://www.avatarlanguages.com/it/

http://danros.moodlefarm.socialminds.jp/

http://h20325.www2.hp.com/blogs/kintz/archive/2007/04/02/2964.html

http://www.sloodle.org/

http://llt.msu.edu/vol8num2/pdf/news.pdf

Pilot Study

April 1, 2008

 My pilot study was at the beginning difficult to conceive. I was wondering whether I should have interviewed collegues or students in order to understand what are their ideas about virtual worlds, to see how they would react to a teaching and learning method that would intergrate SL in traditional class, but I quickly realized that time isn’t enough and that the results of interviewing could be useless.

At a certain point I started worrying I wouldn’t be able to think about a useful pilot study for my research. That’s how I spent hours surfing the net to end up finding by chance an interesting project called Avatar Languages. They offer you the chance of learning English in a virtual world. How?

http://www.avatarlanguages.com

Methodologies.
Participation: 

Through the website above you can buy a series of lessons, better say you can buy a certain amount of minutes which will correspond to a certain amount of lessons: you, as student, decides how long the lesson should be. But you are also offered the chance of booking a free trial lesson, a 15 minutes’ lesson. That’s what I did. I decided to participate as a student.

Before booking the lesson I could take a free online test to evaluate my English language skills and level - listening, reading, grammar, vocabulary. I got a score for each skill. After that I chose a slot to take the free lesson. I received an email resuming my request and my test scores.

In the email it was also explained which tools I would need for the lesson: SL and an avatar, Skype, WhiteBoardMeeting and a Google account in order to access Google docs. It just wasn’t clear whether I should have to met my avatar teacher in SL or Skype. It all became clear when the time of the lesson came and I received a Skype call from Howard Vickers, one of the English mother-tongue teacher working for AvatarEnglish.

That’s how my lesson started. The first question he asked me was what were my interests and why I was interested in studying English online. I told him I absolutely need to improve my English level, but also that what made me chose their online option was that I’m researching virtual worlds sensibilities in order to see if it would be possible to integrate them in an online course or not and how. I told him I’m actually designing an online course for Italian students of elementary Chinese mandarin.

My 15 minutes lesson become an hour one and it also turned out to be interviewing and practicing my English skills. Howard is a really nice and helpful person.

About the lesson: we were talking using Skype. I had to read a text that was in Google docs. While I was reading he highlighted some words I didn’t pronounce correctly. Then he asked me to find some spelling mistakes on the text. Google docs is an interactive tool. Then we moved to Whiteboard: you can write, you can drag and drop texts, images. You can save your project and work on it at anytime. WhiteBoardMeeting is an interactive tool too: is Skype Extra, which means people having access to Skype can meet and work in it at the same time.  He also made me tipe some words on Skype, sort of a dictation.

Interview:

The funny thing about this ‘interview’ is that we were both interested in each other’s activities. The Avatar English project is based on different technologies. Their students are mostly intermediate or upper-intermediate ones. Howard pointed out the advantages of what they offer: one-to-one lessons with a mother-tongue teacher, flexibility as the student can choose when to take a lesson, tools available for free on the Web, content of lessons based on students’ needs, especially for vocabulary. I discussed withn him whether this method could be used with beginners of a foreign language. It is possible, even though the use of them should probably be a bit different, but we didn’t come up with a solution. I’ll have to figure that out.

Their method is really interactive as far as we talk one-to-one lesson; for groups we were both not so positive. I discovered that he agrees with me that learning a foreign language completely online from the beginning is very very difficult, that e-learning, virtual learning, should be integrated in a face to face context to work. They do much of the teaching using Skype, Whiteboard and Google docs.

As for Second Life they just use it as a social tool. Sometimes they do go on tours with students to show them places where they can go and practice English, for example, in real English contests speaking with English mother-tongue people. Avatar English project created a wordl map where you can find the best community to practice the language you are interested in. At the moment the use of SL is just part of the learning process. It would be difficult to use the same tools within the SL context and have class. I do agree with him. The same tools in SL are not totally free, not everywhere anyway, but having conversations with Avatars in a almost real social contest – Spanish in Barcelona, English in London, French in Paris, Italian in Venise, Chinese in Beijing – could help.

Work for peace.  Speak for peace.  Tell stories for peace.  Make music for peace.  Write books and make movies and build websites for peace.  Do culture work that corrodes extremism and intolerance.  Manifest peace.

Brenda Laurel describes in this book the concept of popular culture as the language used by cultural workers to interact with popular culture itself. Popular culture is the language used to discuss different topics such as politics, religion, ethics, and action. Cultural workers do culture work when they act or create because they believe in what they’re doing, because they think it’s a good think to do. To applicate knowledge or truth means to believe in humanity, to believe that humanity has the power of shaping its own destiny. Cultural worker has a strong social responsibility having the power to change people’s mind (or at least trying to do it) in the sense of helping people asking themselves simple questions as: What is the meaning of this?  Who am I? What are the world and I becoming?

Culture work is action and design using different tools: storytelling, persuasion, technology, and economics. Cultural worker is actually an activist and an artist as Brenda Laurel defines helself. What really strikes about her book is that she describes her very personal professional experience in a professional way. She is a utopian entrepreneur because she believed in something and fought for it. She was sure that even a professinal failure wouldn’t have meant a social one. Purple Moon, the company she launched had a project dedicated to create video games for girls. Even if even the website they created was socially a great success, the company had to be shut down. But the passion Brenda and her group put in the project of investigation what kind of video games would little girls be interested in playing with made their work a social success any way. Their goal was to do something socially positive in the business world. It is true that an artist works in the art world whether a cultural worker worls in the popular world, but when the artist creates for a positive social purpose the line between artisi and cultular worker becomes almost invisible. Brenda Laurel is an artist, a designer, a cultural worker and an activist. I wonder whether I could be able to work and create in such a perspective, at least this is what I would like to.

I was surpised by receiving this book 2 days ago……still no sign of the other one, but it’s a start! I was amazed by the design of Utopian Entrepreneur, very innovative and appealing.

Laurel writes, ‘we construct ourselves out of two deeply intermingled kinds of materials: our life experiences and our culture context.  We are the product of both the stories, we hear and the stories of our lives.’

  1. How does your research project reflect your life experiences and your cultural context?
  2. How would you apply Laurel’s thoughts to your experiences in Second Life?
  3. As a Utopian Entrepreneur, how would do relate your finding and initial discoveries to this week’s readings?

Methodology

March 7, 2008

This week’s readings concentrate on methodology. It wouldn’t be useless to describe all different kind of methods. I’ll concentrate on the ones that might be useful to my research project.

Qualitative research would be the basis of my research as it provides human behavior and the reasons that govern human behavior. Qualitative research focuses on the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of decision making based on the analysis of documents and materials.

Case studies is an important research method, especially during the beginning of my investigation process:

  • Determine and define the research questions
  • Select the cases and determine data gathering and analysis techniques
  • Prepare to collect the data
  • Collect data in the field
  • Evaluate and analyze the data
  • Prepare the report
  • Action research might be appropriate to my research project. This method associates research and practice. Working on an immediate problematic situation requires the constant combination of theory and practice. I need to try out my theory (that the use of video and audio resources can give people a better understanding of foreign cultures) in a real situation where practitioners are University students.

    Critical ethnography is a method based on cultural relativism. Cultural relativism is the idea that any belief or action must be judged in relation to its place and in the unique structure of the culture in which it occurs and in terms of the particular value system of that culture. To fully understand a foreign culture and to study a foreign language easily we must consider the relationship between knowledge, culture, society and action.

    My Research Question

    March 6, 2008

    Internet is a powerful learning tool. How can Internet be better integrated in education, in the language learning process? Learning a foreign language means also learning a foreign culture: How can Internet video and audio resources can be used as a cross-cultural tool? How should the online learning environment be designed in order to integrate those resources in a natural way?

    Out-of-order

    February 22, 2008

    Hello everybody….

    I’m sorry to inform you that I won’t be able to be online in SL this week and that I won’t be able to post any responses. My PC is out-of-order: I hope I won’t have to change it! I have access to a pc at University but only 20 minutes a day :-( Another problem: I haven’t been able to login to New School webmail or blackboard….any time I tried between 4-11 a.m (New York time) there were connection problems with New School’s server. This is kind of frustating considering that we should be garantee a 24 for 7′ access.

    Sorry again. Enjoy this week talk.

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