TO 3D OR NOT TO 3D
Jan 31, 2009 Teaching Methodology 4061 Views
Blended EFL/ESL Learning & Second Life
It's long been discussed and debated whether Second Life, and e-learning for that matter, can act as a viable "alternative" to more traditional presence-based teaching and learning. In response to this, I would suggest that we should not see virtual worlds such as Second Life as a "replacement", but instead as an immersive 3D supplement to "first life" classroom teaching and other exisiting and emerging e-learning technologies - a kind of add-on component. In my mind, the discussion should be rendered more simple and based on a straightforward question like this:
"If given the chance to add a three-dimensional, multicultural and multilingual aspect to a language learning or teaching tool chest, would you do it?"
Keeping in mind that one can gain entry into Second Life free of charge, the answer to this question seems to be a no-brainer. To 3D or not to 3D is no longer the question!
This said, technical barriers in respect to computer know-how, hardware compatibility, internet connection speed and platform stability still exist and are more difficult to overcome. To put the less tech-savvy minds at ease, I would argue that it is not absolutely necessary to learn everything about Second Life to make use of it as a language learning/teaching medium. It's no doubt that, the more you know, the more you can do; but one can certainly avoid much of the "learning curve" confronted by Second-Lifers who want to know the world inside and out. The ability to build and/or script in-world objects is more of a plus than an absolute necessity.
A nice side-effect of Second Life is that it is typically more conducive to facilitated learning. More traditional "top-down", "spoonfeeding" approaches are less successful due to demographics and the obvious need for a nonhierarchical knowledge-sharing based approach. The "playing field" is more level due to the joyful fact that "teachers" also enter as "learners". This is also true for first-life teaching but unfortunately often overlooked as a result of institutional structures which are commonly much more hierarchical in nature.
It is often said that Second Life is a far too time-consuming undertaking for most teachers, and it is true that time constraints are an issue. However, I would suggest that in-world (Second Life) activities can be designed in such a way so as not to require the constant presence of a "teacher". The question is how best to facilitate the learning process from within and from without this virtual space. Activities such as quests and peer-to-peer interactions can be created to allow a more "empowering", not to mention fun, experience for the "learner".