Category: Conferences

Rik is one of those people who always inspire me to keep on trying to explain why virtual worlds like Second Life and Gaia Online really do provide ways to make a better world.

Sorry I missed the presentation both f2f and in SL — but asynchronous viewing rules in my world these days!!!

Tower Hall at the College of St Scholastica at...

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Check out the College of St. Scholastica‘s new conference on 21st Century teaching and learning to held this coming summer!

The keynote speaker will be Marc Prensky, which alone is enough to get me up there.  While the strong version of the digital native vs. digital immigrant argument gives me hives, Mr. Prensky’s work started an important conversation about how digital media creation and consumption has strongly impacted how schooling and learning take place in America — and how we might make use of new ways of communication and creation to significantly change how we conduct learning.

I haven’t seen many details about the conference, other than it is in the fabulously beautiful city of Duluth, Minnesota (where I live) during one of the few snow-free months, so I suggest you book mark the page and start looking over your summer travel plans.  If you decide to attend, let me know!  I’m always up for a good discussion on how we can leverage technology to improve education now and in the future.

Recently, some professors asked me about using Second Life to augment second language acquisition classes.  So, I dove into old emails, landmarks, can websites to pull together a rough list of some of the opportunities that exist either formally or informally.  Forgive me if your particular institution or event is not listed – and add it in the comments, please.  While there are some lists available (wikis and blogs), many have become out of date – which is just frustrating for someone who wants to do a quick dip into the pool of possibilities.

I’m offering this short selection to get the reader started in thinking about Second Life (and other virtual worlds) as locations for instruction and practice.   For those students who are particularly good with technology, they can also be locations where students prepare and present their understanding of language and culture.


Yes, Virginia, there is a conference devoted to the topic.  SLanguages is free and held in Second Life.  This year, it is almost upon us – October 15 & 16, 2010.

Electric Village Online also has annual gatherings and work sessions.

Multiple Language Sites

Several language education groups work with multiple languages or with language acquisition pedagogy in general.  Also, Second Life has multiple sims where English is not the locally spoken language.  I provide three here to get the reader started:  the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, Avatar Languages, and BABEL Language School (Link to location in SL).

Spanish Language

Instituto Espanol is an immersive language and culture site. They have a nightclub in Second Life with information and opportunities for practice.  Spanish language and location reproductions are relatively common in Second Life, offering students locations and situations in which they will need to use their language skills to navigate the space and interact with objects and people. I am including this YouTube video for a quick overview of some of the Spanish sims.

Penn State also is using Second Life to enhance their Spanish courses at Penn State Isle, and you can find objects for free there to enhance or start your own Second Life educational effort.

German Language

The Volkshochschule runs several dozen events each week, focusing on different topics and vocabulary sets.  The Goethe Institut also has an installation in world, and there is a virtual Berlin (modern) as well as 1920s version available for Second Life residents.

Chinese (Mandarin) Language

Chinese is taught at Chinese Island under the auspices of Monash University in Melbourne, Australia.  The University of Hawai’i also has a Chinese School in Second Life.


At Bryn Mawr, a professor is experimenting with using Second Life to enhance Italian courses at the Experience Italy sim.


English as a second language is taught (or courses enhanced) at many locations in Second Life.  Places like English City, Languagelab, and Virtuoland HQ all offer opportunities to see how English is taught and practiced in this virtual world and could even be a practice ground for some of your ESL preservice teachers.

Informal Practice Opportunities

If you have read many of my blog posts,  you realize that I have a love-hate relationship with Second Life that has gone on almost as long as the platform has been available to the public.  It has many defects, but it also provides us many opportunities.

One opportunity that I relish is the fact that I can end up in an area where I do not speak the local language.  As a native English speaker in the middle of the United States, I rarely am forced out of my language comfort zone.  But in Second Life it happens fairly frequently (often enough that I keep a text-based translator in inventory for emergencies).

A wide variety of well-educated young people are roaming around this virtual world, creating sites in their own language, and they do not automatically agree with the idea that English is the default language of the web.  This means that your students can go interact in a space in a rather authentic manner.  This is not always easy for them; in fact, they will run into non-formal, slang fairly often.    But if they are serious about being ready to go to another country, these informal situations may be instructive.

I ran across this wonderful exploration of the cell phone as a classroom tool rather than a annoying distraction.  It is from 2007, and it is amazing how timely this still is for teachers, especially K-12 educators.

I’m putting in a link to the K-12 Online Conference site’s archive of Liz Kolb’s presentation as a resource for K-12 teachers and pre-service teachers.  Like anything, this is not meant to be the one and only tool you use in the classroom, and – yes – you will need to tell students to put away their cell phones from time to time.  But listen with an open mind to this former K-12 social studies teacher, and you may find a use for these mini-computers in your teaching practice.

Gen Con was a great break for me.   Almost all of the activity centers around games that don’t involve movement of electrons through wire.  Beautifully designed card games, intricate miniatures, carefully laid out maps, huge tomes full of arcane D & D rules,  and elaborate costumes all harken back to the days when a good story teller and a sharp pencil ruled the gaming world.  While I don’t yearn for the days when a single battle took a hour to complete, I did enjoy going back to my college days and being tempted by all the new sets and new games.  I restrained myself, mostly because I am working on the dissertation, a task on par with creating and running a second “me” in a virtual world.  (Using “virtual world” here in the old sense, where it all exists in my imagination, the imagination of my friends, and a stats sheet.)

As an educator, I had a few “take aways” from the event.  Some were reminders, and some insights were, to me , new.

1) This is an incredible expression of creativity – on the part of the organizers, vendors, and attendees.  On Saturday, I stopped taking pictures of all the remarkable costumes.  There were too many to document, all ready for the parade and the costume contest.  And creativity is not only planned out but also can be very spontaneous.  Any game master knows you have to be good at improv.  My friend Tristan Zimmerman caught one of the most fun, premiere event at Gen Gon, the Killer Breakfast  – during which players come up on stage to role play and survive as long as possible.  It is a hilarious event, as you can hear from Tristan’s podcast for the Dragonlance Canticle.  I even got involved, explaining to TJ VanHelsing on stage why he needed to give me a Gaia Online hat.  (He did.)

2) This is a very educational event.  Seriously.  Because I had not planned well (had really not planned at all), I did not get into any organized games, so I hung out in the trade show hall a lot, watching people test play games.  I looked over the shoulders of people learning to play D & D version 4.  And I learned to play Dominion … eventually, I helped teach other people to play Dominion.

For days, I watched the same tactics used very successfully by different people.  You give a quick overview of the game and objectives and then you jump right in.  The newbie starts doing authentic tasks in context immediately, with one or more experienced players scaffolding for a while in a supportive, less competitive environment.  You use just-in-time learning methods, and warn the new player of a mistake before it is committed – or you point out a particularly good move and explain why it would be good to do right then.  Gradually, as the player becomes more confident, you help less and shift to increasingly competitive play. New players would be up and running inside of 10 or 20 minutes for most games.  They might not win, and they’d be sure to make plenty of mistakes, but they would be involved in legitimate participation fairly quickly.

If we compared this strategy to how we would teach a game in high school, I doubt anyone would ever successfully play Dungeons and Dragons.

3) It was a far more diverse group of people than I expected.  Ages ranged from young children through people well past middle-age.  I saw many more women than expected, even at the serious gaming tables.  The group still seemed predominantly white, however.  (I was not keeping a close account of the demographics … maybe that can be my next research topic?)  My take a way from this, as an educator, is that we need to be careful about our assumptions about who is involved in the gaming community.  We tend to think of this being a past-time of young people, but many adults are obviously making room for this hobby in their successful lives.

Friends are already asking me if I’ll go next year.  I do hope to be able to swing the time off in early August 2011!