Can Learning Innovations be Embedded and Sustained?

On 28 April, 2010, Gabi Witthaus and Terese Bird attended a CAMEL meeting sponsored by JISC and which took place at Middlesex University, the theme of which was to examine whether the developments of the DUCKLING project can be embedded and sustained. Once the project is over, can teaching teams continue to use the technologies, findings and deliverables?

In this meeting, Gabi and Terese looked at the sustainability of each of the three technologies implented in the DUCKLING project — ebook readers, podcasting, and Second Life — as well as the pedagogy underpinning the use of each. Since the project is a joint effort amongst the Schools of Psychology and Education, and Beyond Distance, it was helpful to consider how each of the Schools implemented each innovation.

Psychology used Second Life as a forum for role-playing and simulation, to give students a taste of the experience of living and working on an oil rig with its dangers and isolation, as preparation for their assignment to write a health and safety training manual for oil rig workers. Beyond Distance techies supported this work. However, the actual role playing and leading of the sessions was done by Psychology academics and could continue that way, with some tech support. To watch a YouTube video capturing some of the action of the students’ experience on the oil rig, click here.

Education sent their students into existing language class forums in Second Life, where students observed and could participate in the classes. This was a very flexible way of making use of Second Life — students simply went in and signed up for classes already taking place pretty much 24/7. Observing language classes in Second Life has now been embedded into themodule as an optional activity. As long as there are such forums in Second Life, this activity is sustainable.

Podcasts have been fully embedded into the Psychology curriculum for the masters programme in DUCKLING — especially as part of the dissertation-writing process. These podcasts been rolled out to all cohorts on that module. Psychology academics have been making and distributing (via the University VLE, Blackboard) podcasts without any help from Beyond Distance for months now. Education has especially recently begun to record podcasts for its Masters TESOL students, and again the work of recording and posting onto the VLE is straightforward enough to continue without difficulty after DUCKLING’s conclusion.

With the ebook readers, we learned from interviews with students that using the ebook reader is changing their study habits. To quote one student: “I now study more in my workdays using the e-reader. I’ve been putting it in my bag every day and taking it to work and after lunch reading a few pages. I’ve found that way it keeps the content fresh in my mind. Before with the paper version, I’d allocate my weekends for study.”  Another student commented, “I think that the e-book reader changed my way of keeping notes and makes my study more effective. Before, I used my laptop to write a lot of notes because I felt that I would forget the whole thing if I didn’t take them down. But taking notes is time-consuming and not that effective because I never really use the notes. With the e-book reader, it’s not very inconvenient to go back to the material on the e-reader and I can remember where the material was and go back to the module on the e-reader and look through it. As a result of that, I didn’t take a lot of notes and I don’t think it (not taking notes) makes a difference to my study.”

A further aspect of the continuing use of ebook readers can be viewed from the point of view of finance. One department saw savings over printing and shipping stacks of handouts to students, by instead shipping to the students fully-loaded ebook readers. In some cases the students themselves experienced the savings, realising that they did not have to purchase hard copies of notes and choosing instead to simply read these on their ebook readers. Converting module handouts from Word format into format suitable for ebook readers (epub format in the case of the Sony ebook readers we are using) is not a very difficult process — click here for our instructions to do this. The fact that the iPad supports epub documents, public libraries are beginning to offer ebooks for download in epub format, and students are looking for reading material compatible with smartphones, presses the point that the use of this technology will only increase in future. We predict it will be sustained by popular demand.

Terese Bird, Learning Technologist and Assistant ZooKeeper

Delivering training in Second Life using audio and voice

In my recent blog, I talked about a training session to our DUCKLING TESOL (Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages) students in Second Life (SL). We provided another SL training session to TESOL students on Monday 09 November 2009. The trainer leading this session was my colleague Terese Bird (SL username: Aallyah Kruyschek).  Two distance students from Canada and Japan joined the training in-world.

This time, Aallyah decided to use audio and voice to deliver the training, whereas in the first session, we had mainly used text. We had guided students to set up the audio and voice preferences on their computers, but we hadn’t had the chance to communicate with them through audio and voice in that session.

One of the students had already got the audio and voice system set up properly on his computer, so he didn’t have any problems to hear us and speak to us at all. Another student could hear us but could not talk back on audio, so she typed to interact with Aallyah at the beginning.  Aallyah gave her some tips on how to set up audio and voice preference on her computer, and a few minutes later, she managed to get it to work!

When compared with text-based communication, I think voice worked really well for this session because:

  • Participants could exchange information faster and more easily
  • Participants  could make  timely and seamless conversations
  •  The trainer could obtain immediate responses or feedback from students, and be assured that they were on track. For example, I could hear students constantly saying, ‘Hmm, that’s interesting’ or  ‘Ok’ and  ‘Yeah, I found it’

There are challenges or restrictions of using voice in SL and some of these are:

  • The audio settings are calibrated differently from one participant’s computer to another, so some may communicate loud and clear, while others would appear really quiet or muted.
  • In SL, the voice can get across within a certain distance between avatars , so when avatars are at a distance from each other, you might not hear him or her clearly
  • Trying to have a conversation while flying is difficult unless you can keep close together , or hover more or less at the same height
  • Voice worked out really well for small groups of participants, but with a larger group (say 5-6 upwards) , you might easily lose control when all the avatars try and speak at the same time.

Our training of TESOL students is now complete. A total of 6 students participated in our in-world training sessions. Our next step is for these students to visit and observe language teaching classes there. When they have completed their observations, they will tell us about what they have observed and learnt.

Ming Nie              11 November 2009

TESOL and Second Life

In my recent blog, I talked about an e-tivity designed for DUCKLING TESOL students to visit language teaching classes in Second Life (SL), with 4 stages: Preparation, Training, Visiting and observing language teaching classes in SL, Discussion and reflection.

The e-tivity was launched on Monday 12 October 2009 on Blackboard and the training stage happened on Monday 26th October.

Phase 1 is now completed. In Phase 1, 12 TESOL students were actively involved in the Blackboard discussion. They introduced themselves and shared resources and links on SL in the first week (12-18 October). In the second week (19-25 Oct), they learned to create a SL account and avatar, and practised basic skills individually by using a SL training guide that we provided. They shared their first experiences in SL, introduced their avatars and bought out technical issues by participating in the discussion on the VLE.

We’re now in Phase 2: Training in SL.  We provided the 1st SL training session to a group of TESOL students on Monday 26 October. The trainer of this training session was my colleague Paul Rudman (PD Alchemy in SL) and Terese Bird (Aallyah Kruyschek in SL) was the helper. Five distance students located in Canada, South Korea and Singapore joined the training in-world.

Building on our training experience from the MOOSE project, we addressed key skills that are important to TESOL students and for this e-tivity and enables participiants to learn, practise and enhance the skills.

The training session was scheduled for 90 minutes, and the following key skills were covered:

  1. Adding people to your friend’s list
  2. Using ‘Contacts’ and ‘Local chat’
  3. Walking and flying
  4. Teleporting
  5. Creating landmarks and using inventory
  6. Sitting down and standing up
  7. Changing environmental settings
  8. Using cameral control and changing views
  9. Testing audio and voice

The training went really well. One of the participants posted her experience on Blackboard after the training session, ‘I enjoyed the experience and I think we had a great group working together’. Another participant said on Blackboard VLE, ‘it was fun learning how to move and fly’.

We reflected on problems, difficulties and issues that happened in the 1st training session. One of these is how to help students sort out basic technical settings on their computers, e.g. setting up audio and voice preferences, before coming to the training. Another is how to manage a group of participants with different technical backgrounds particularly avatars getting ‘stuck’ or ‘lost’. We recommend having a trainer focusing on the technical aspect and a helper ‘rescuing’ the participants and looking after emotional is a good model!

Students need more practice in SL to be able to enjoy the whole learning process, and we propose training in two stages:

  • Stage 1: Tutor and trainer-centred, focusing on practising key technical skills
  • Stage 2: Student-centred, focusing on building confidence, developing identity and a sense of immersion

Stage 2 training can also consist of some asynchronous and synchronous activities, such as asking students either individually or working in a group to find something , e.g. a Media Zoo T-shirt and report the result back to the group.

Our TESOL training activities will continue for another 2-3 weeks. I’ll keep updating the progress in my following blogs.


 Ming Nie              28 Oct 2009

Visiting language teaching classes in Second Life – an e-tivity for MA TESOL students

An e-tivity designed for DUCKLING MA TESOL students was officially launched on Monday 12 October 2009 on Blackboard.

The e-tivity was designed by my colleague Gabi based on Salmon’s 5-stage model. Although the e-tivity is designed for students to participate in and contribute to mainly on the Blackboard discussion board, activities in SL including in-world training, visiting language teaching classes, reporting, discussing and sharing SL experiences are key elements of this e-tivity. An outline of this e-tivity was reported in Gabi’s blog.

There are four phases in this e-tivity, and each phase contains one or two mini-e-tivities.

Phase 1: Preparation

  • Mini-e-tivity 1: Introduce yourself on the Blackboard discussion board (Where are you located? What do you do? Why are you interested in Second Life?)
  • Mini-e-tivity 2: Sharing links and useful resources on Second Life on the Blackboard discussion board.
  • Mini-e-tivity 3: Getting started in Second Life (learning how to use SL individually, using a SL training guide).

Phase 2: Training in Second Life

  • Mini-e-tivity 4: In-world training for groups of participants, led by a BDRA learning technologist.

Phase 3: Visiting and observing language teaching classes in Second Life

  • Mini-e-tivity 5: Participants visit language teaching classes in Second Life and each reports back on the Blackboard discussion board to the group what class he/she visited and what he/she observed.

Phase 4: Discussion/reflection

  • Mini-e-tivity 6: Participants share thoughts and feelings on the use of Second Life for EFL teaching, reflecting on the implications for their own teaching contexts, and discussing what’s next.

The TESOL students responded enthusiastically to this e-tivity. So far, 13 participants including one tutor on the distance learning programme have registered their interest. The participants have already started sharing comments and useful resources on the Blackboard discussion board.

The evidence will be collected in several ways including a personal interview with each participant at the end of this e-tivity, students’ comments and feedback on the Blackboard discussion board, transcripts of student discussion in Second Life, and observations in Second Life. I will update my research findings in my later blogs.


Ming Nie

14 October 2009

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