The project aimed to:
- create and test out exemplar language learning tasks and activities designed to promote communication amongst learners. These materials build on the prior work of partners in the project and consist of both 2D and 3D materials;
- create and pilot a training course for teachers who would like to extend their teaching skills to include working in virtual worlds. This course ran for the first time during the project as a pilot and is to be offered as a separate, validated and internationally recognised qualification;
- store all the 2D and 3D materials produced during the project for the use by any organisation wishing to use these materials;
- create technological solutions to enable teachers and students to more easily access the materials created in the project.
This project then had a number of objectives most important of which was to develop a description of good practice in the teaching and learning of languages in 21st century multi-user virtual environments (MUVEs), e.g. Second Life or Open Sim. It also aimed to enable as many teachers and learners as possible with the access and guidance to achieve this objective, but realised the challenges that this implies.
For clarification, a MUVE is a computer-generated space, which has the appearance of being three-dimensional, and people enter this world represented as avatars (a computer representation of the person operating the computer.) People can choose for their avatar to look like themselves, i.e. same sex, ‘dressing’ as they do in real life with bodily and facial characteristics that also resemble real life, or they can enter the space differently gendered, or as a non-human (often an animal). The three-dimensional space simulation in Second Life consists of a series of ‘islands’ on which are built various objects to suit the intended uses of the space. On the AVALON Learning island (which the partners are continuing to fund for use by language teachers), we have a series of structures including a small village, a performance area, a business barn, a small hotel, student accommodation and a meeting space, amongst others. These spaces can be modified to suit the needs of new courses and there is expertise in the team to help with this process.
The core technological tools that remain in place at the end of our project are the island in Second Life, with its developed architecture and objects, along with other community building tools like the Ning; the wiki (which was used in the project for management and is now a 2D storage area), a website (for the general user) and further storage space for objects created in both 2 and 3D.
We have produced a set of recommendations and guidance in various formats, which will enable teachers and learners to gain the best possible experience of language learning in a MUVE. These tools include both advice and direction on developing good practice as well as technological solutions to enable better access for a wide community of teachers and learners.
There is also a specification for a teacher training course with accompanying materials that have been piloted and modified based on the experiences of running the course and the feedback. There are some additional tools to make life easier for teachers, e.g. a holdodeck—which allows the teachers to quickly and easily produce a space in the virtual world and then change it to suit different classes and a method that allows students to access a virtual world without having to use a computer a very high specification computer.
Following the two years of the projects we have built the basis of an established community of practitioners interested in taking further the ideas developed through this project. We will also have begun to understand how best to maintain a community of learners who want to teach in 3D worlds.
The specific objectives for the project were as follows:
1) To provide a selection of scenarios and materials designed and developed to encourage real world communication, this linked to a reward model for getting learners to engage in more informal learning processes and return to the 3D world in their own time; plus guidelines for educators and a good practice model for exploitation of the materials.
2) To provide a training course for educators and spaces where the course can be taken. The course is designed to run in linked 2D (Moodle) and 3D (Second Life) environments and the products created have been made available for any training institution to use as is, or to adapt and develop and return to the community in modified formats. There is an internationally recognised certificate attached to the course and the initial pilot cohort, once they gain more experience, will be able to act as trainers on future courses.
3) In the technical arena we have provided a linked 2D—3D platform, which is able to host a community of participants who can either learn languages or engage in teacher education. A system for enabling people to join in activities even if they do not have local institutions available, or when the institutions are not able to meet their specific physical, psychological or social needs, has been trialled.
4) A series of publicly available reports, conference presentations, a blog and web pages and a developed and lively community of 3D world language educators connected to the broader 3D educator community around the world.
This project has been funded with support from the European Commission (Project number: 143643-LLP-1-2008). The information on this website reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.