November 23, 2011
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Students discussing this week's topic: The London Riots
The last two sessions could not have been more different. In Session 2, where students discussed the Arab Spring, we encountered many technical problems and the turnout was quite low, whereas session 3, which had the theme of the London Riots, had practically no technical hitches and a good turnout. As there were more LSE students than French students we had a combination of pairs and groups of 3. The disadvantage with groups of 3 is that they cannot use their webcams (only premium skype accounts allow for group video calling), however it is good practice for language learners as it is mimics a real life situation; at their level they should be able to have a 3 way conversation comfortably.
We have noticed that students are not making the most of the Screen Share function which is very handy when having a discussion. Visual stimulation tends to aid discussion especially if they are in groups of 3 and therefore not using the webcams.
We have given the students the following tips for next week:
With Screen Share you can:
- Watch a video and talk to your partner/group at the same time
- Pause a video at an interesting point and discuss it
- Pause a video when there is a word/sentence you do not understand and ask your partner to explain it (you could use the ‘chat’ function for spelling)
- Look through an article and pick out vocabulary and phrases in French/English to clarify or discuss
- Look at photos together and describe/discuss them
Next week’s topic is Social Networking, a theme I think the students will be particularly interested in. We also plan to let one of the student groups try group video calling using the Language Centre premium account.
November 13, 2011
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Slightly less chaotic than last year’s Second Life Virtual Learning Group but only just! 12 English and 12 French students will be exchanging their languages for 5 weeks; and so begins the French-English Skype Group..
We’ve got some interesting topics lined up and this year we are including online content such as videos and podcasts as well as news articles for the students to discuss each week. The first session last week was a ‘getting to know each other’ session as well as getting to know the platform and its more advanced functions such as screen sharing. Screen sharing is a very easy function but a lot of people don’t know how to use it; it enables a user to show the person they are talking to their screen; for example they can show presentations, photos and videos and discuss them at the same time.
Tomorrow is the second session and the topic is the Arab Spring/Révolution Arabe and we have asked the students to prepare using the following resources:
Africa at LSE Blog – http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/africaatlse/about/
Arab spring: an interactive timeline of Middle East protests – http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/interactive/2011/mar/22/middle-east-protest-interactive-timeline
Video Content – Compare and comment on these two speeches:
Obama – http://www.reuters.com/video/2011/09/21/obama-on-the-arab-spring?videoId=221746316
Cameron – http://www.reuters.com/video/2011/09/22/cameron-on-the-arab-spring?videoId=221866654
April 6, 2011
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A selection of snapshots from the last session.
21st March was our last session of the Virtual Learning Group on Second Life. I think the regular participants got a lot out of the sessions. Contact with French native speakers. Confidence in speaking. Motivation to improve their French. Some students did drop out or only came occasionally; we have sent out a Feedback form and hope to find out their reasons.
We plan to run more of these sessions but not until the new academic year. We are still unsure whether to continue with Second Life or to try another platform such as Skype. A possibility is to combine the two, starting off with Skype and then going on to Second Life. It would be very interesting to be able to compare the two platforms with the same group of students.
Questions which arose from these sessions:
- Did we really use Second Life to its full potential?
- Do the benefits of such a dynamic platform outweigh the technical issues or vice versa?
- Are 5 sessions enough to gain a real insight into the potential of Second Life for language learning?
- Would another platform such as Skype serve the purpose just as well?
- Would it be useful for students if we recorded the sessions using a programme such as Camsoft?
I look forward to repeating and developing this project next year.
February 27, 2011
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Students teleported to different locations in their groups
After updating all our computers to the latest version of Second Life (2.5) we were able to solve the sound issues we had in the first session. We met on the LSE island Castor’s Retreat and sent the students off in pairs and small groups to different locations on the island via the Teleport Board (see photo above). As the students are part of the “Opening Learning Group” we can send them all notecards and notices in one click. We used this function to send them notecards with questions, vocabulary and suggestions for disscussion on the articles they had prepared in both French and English. For the first 30 minutes the discussion was in French, then half-way through the session we sent out a notice announcing the discussion should continue in English.
This session was smoother than the first because there were few technical issues and we attempted to give the session a clearer structure. The students are also now becoming more familiar with the platform. However, a few things did go wrong such as the teleport board transporting some avatars into the sea instead of the correct location and students flying off to explore the island instead of staying with their group. I look forward to Session 3 which will have a similar structure and this week’s articles will be on the theme of cultural stereotyping.
February 13, 2011
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Castor's Retreat - LSE's island on Second Life
Tomorrow we begin the French/English Virtual learning group on Second Life. Last week, there was a last minute surge in interest and we now have 10 students signed up, which nearly matches the French group of 11 students. All but one of the students has had a one hour training session on Second Life and only one of these had any previous experience of the platform. We have decided to hold the first session on Université Blaise Pascal’s site on EdunationI as the plots are sound tight. We thought it may have been confusing for the novice SL students to have mixed sound. If all goes well the following sessions will take place on LSE’s SL island Castor’s Retreat (see image above). It will be interesting to see how these SL novices fare on their first day and how much French and English will be exchanged.
January 31, 2011
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It is two weeks until the start of a new project I am involved in: The Virtual Tandem Learning French-English Group. It is a long title but the idea is simple: a group of French students from L’Université Blaise Pascal in Clermont-Ferrand, France and a group of English students from LSE will log onto Second Life for an hour every Monday and exchange their languages. Tandem Learning is a programme we have at the LSE Language Centre where we hold language exchange events. One reason we started this Virtual Tandem group is because we normally have problems finding enough native speakers for our students to practise with. The French students from L’Université Blaise Pascal are all advanced learners of English and the English students from LSE are advanced learners of French, studying the language either as part of their degree or as an extra-curricular course. It is a bit nerve wracking as we don’t yet have enough English students signed up; this could be because it is being held on Second Life and not everyone is familiar with this platform. It could also be because we are looking for native English speakers with a high level of French and the majority of our language students are not native English speakers.