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

Text vs. voice-based communication in Second Life

In our previous experiments in Second Life (SL), we stick to text-based communication only. Not only because it’s easy and less demanding on the computer, but also because of other advantages it offers, especially in an educational context. Here are some reflections on what have been perceived by tutors and students as pros and cons of text and voice-based communication in SL.

A primary benefit of text-based communication in SL is that students and tutors can have a transcript of what they have discussed during the session, so they revisit later on. It is also useful for those students who were unable to participate in the SL session to have an idea of what happened.

There are other pros using text-based communication:
• Text-based communication offers an opportunity that everybody’s ideas could be equally heard and fairly judged. It encourages people to focus on what was actually being said instead of who said it and how it was said.
• Communication through text might encourage shy people to speak out and help them to bring out their ideas. It might help people to say what they really want to say without worrying being intimidated by others.
• Text-based communication might be preferred by international students whose first language isn’t English.
• Sometimes, it can be easier talking to people you don’t know well through text. It can be easier to start a conversation with a stranger through text too.
• People put their ideas in a more concise way through text. They try to get to the point when they type. Their ideas become clearer and more precise via text, whereas real life spoken conversations are more casual and less thought through.

There are disadvantages of using text-based communication. First of all, talking is a lot easier than typing. It takes more time in putting what one wants to say in text than just saying them. Sometimes, people get fed up or give up easily if the discussion is through text, whereas they would have discussed and negotiated more in a real life conversation.

There are other cons, such as:
• Need certain skills such as typing skills and skills on how to communicate fast and efficiently in a text-based environment.
• Communication could be more formal through text than through voice. People make more jokes in a real life conversation.
• Text-based chat in SL can be unstructured and more difficult to follow up a thread if the answer comes out several statements later. It could also be difficult to make comment to different points through text.
• It could be difficult for people to negotiate and reach an agreement on something through text, if they come around and wouldn’t agree on something easily.
• It is much easier to use text-based tools on a one-to-one basis than in a group setting. On a one-to-one basis, both parties have equal opportunities to speak, whereas in a group setting, participants sometimes have to compete for a chance to speak.
• Voice-based offers advantages over text-based if the nature of the communication is for providing feedback or talking things through, etc.
• Learners with Dyslexia may struggle to follow high paced conversation and may not be confident enough to add a contribution.

However, it can be equally difficult to manage a large group in SL through either text or voice when participants try to speak at the same time.

Ming 19 March 2009

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