Teaching in Second Life™ has many of the same patterns and habits as teaching in real life. The chances are that an experienced teacher will find they teach quite comfortably in Second Life quite quickly. This section is going to look at a set of lesson styles that I have observed working well in Second Life.

Although I will cover it in more detail in the “What works differently?” section, it is worth mentioning that you might want to practise teaching in Second Life before, to coin a phrase, contact with the enemy. Practise to other teachers, colleagues etc. The SL-Educators list is a good place to advertise - simply send them an email saying you're a new teacher in Second Life and want to practise, and give a time and date for your class. The chances are good that several people will show up and give you some useful feedback. It should be noted that the SL-Educators mailing list is quite high in volume. There are also in-world groups, e.g. Real Life Education in Second Life, NMC Guests etc. that may be fertile grounds for obtaining such support.

My current list of good lesson tactics in Second Life is:

Although I've not seen this specific technique in use, it contains a lot of elements that could work well in Second Life:

In addition classes and class spaces that focus on achieving immersion and interaction are well worth investigating and developing.


Build…

I am taking build to cover all kinds of student activities where building is at the root of it. You might consider titles such as Show…, Demonstrate… etc. describe this better. Build classes involve the learners in researching knowledge and displaying it in Second Life for the benefit of others. Of course as a teacher you are doubtless aware of how much more you learn about a subject when you have to teach it, so this has the hidden agenda of making your students learn how to structure their knowledge so they can communicate it to others.

These classes do have some risk however. You can teach a student to rez a prim, apply a texture etc. in a few seconds, and provide them with the scripts to let them open URLs, give notecards etc. so there is little building skill required by the student. This, however, may make for rather dull displays. How far beyond this do you go? How much support in terms of your time and building skills will you give them? Does 3D modelling appear in your lesson plan and is it assessed? For some classes it will be, and spending time teaching them to build in Second Life is well worth it in that case, and some building may well be worth it beyond that bare minimum even if it is not assessed. If you are going to teach more than the basic building skills, developing ideas about immersion and interactivity and how to build to achieve them should be part of your plans (see Explore…)

Discuss…

Discuss classes often work well, particularly if you hold the discussion in text chat. Why is this? I find there are several answers, although some require some courage on the part of the teacher!

Why courage? Well, it can be hard to notice who has started typing an answer and so you often find the conversation rapidly becomes multi-threaded as ideas are spoken over each other. Tactical use of the history/local chat bar so you can read it all is strongly advised.

However, the lack of cues and the multi-threading of the answers hides some strong benefits too. You doubtless often find in classes small enough to have discussions that the same few voices dominate. Even if they are smart as well as quick to speak, you often want to encourage the others to speak too. Text chat allows people to chat over each other and sort it out later so often you find that the quiet ones will speak out in Second Life in a way they won't or can't in a real classroom. It maybe just me, but I also find that the ones who leap in with a foolish answer just to give an answer soon stop and start considering their answers, which is surely desirable in any class?

Managing discussions can be daunting, although with practise it is perfectly doable. You might find that what you decide to do is not manage them, but to sit back and monitor very loosely - when the conversation veers too far off-topic or seems to be slowing down, throw out another question or two. It can work really well, and with surprisingly good outcomes.

Experiment…

Obviously this isn't necessarily experiment as in “Measure the speed of light in a vacuum” but you can use Second Life to explore various things that are not possible or easy in real life. Social science experiments such as surveys are relatively easy to conduct in Second Life and you can quickly get a very international pool of respondents. Learners can experiment with building, modes of presentation etc. If you have students who are expected to be able to programme, the lsl programming language offers a rich set of features to explore coding within Second Life - although it doesn't necessarily have commercial or academic application outside of Second Life. (You can argue that learning any scripting language helps with learning others as it adds to the ability to problem solve and logically structure thoughts.) The benefit of Second Life is that whatever you build is more or less free, except for texture upload costs and time. Giving rather open-ended plans and allowing the students to experiment with the best way to solve it can have good results and has almost no Health and Safety or other dangers. It is also worth noting that Second Life doesn't have to be to scale. Although these have both been done, you could build a solar system in Second Life, or a giant cell to allow others to explore. Persuading your students to work on ways to display things that are not normally accessible due to scale or danger (there is a build of Chernobyl as well for example) as a means to experiment in presentation methods can work well.

It is possible to recreate many if not all classic but dangerous, expensive or time consuming experiments in Second Life as well. For example Max Chatnoir has gardens of sweet peas that allow you to reproduce Mendel's famous experiments in an hour or two rather than over the several years it took him.

Explore…

People have been building in Second Life for some time. Many things are already extant - for example the solar system, giant cells, as well as a tour around the testis, a trip to Dante's Inferno, builds that demonstrate Tsunami activity and the like. Learners in the business sector may relish the chance to establish a novel business within Second Life, advertise it and see how their business acumen tests in a highly competitive environment whilst still not risking significant amounts of real money, nor the risk of real job losses if they fail.

Q&A…

Question and answer sessions can be rewarding in Second Life. They probably take more organising than discussions, because the people answering the questions need time and space to organise their answers. However, if you use text chat, everyone gets to keep a clear written answer to the questions. To move away from that benefit a little, if you are a good builder and discussing things with a visual element it is possible to quickly and easily develop a rough 3D model so you can use that to illustrate your answer as you talk. You can also merge Q&A sessions into a wider discussion, farming answering duties out to the students in tutorial mode if you like. This can be instructive as the ability to quickly rez a model to illustrate the point can be a strong indicator of those who have done the work on their tutorial rather than those that are lucky in their ability to answer reasonably accurately.

Jigsaw

The jigsaw technique is described for use in schools to help reduce discriminatory behaviour. However, the principle behind it would work well in Second Life. Groups are assigned parallel tasks, and individuals within the group are assigned specific tasks - they become the expert in a particular sub-topic. Groups are required (in the school setting for testing) to learn about the other elements from presentations from their team mates. In order to help the students do better, the experts can meet and share research, practise presentation skills etc.

This might work directly for your class. It strikes me, however, that this gives a framework for many classes in which you incorporate many of the types of lesson that work well in Second Life. You can have groups exploring the grid, building demonstrations, Q&A sessions, there will be group discussions both of the teams and the expert groups and so forth. It is good because it engages the students heavily in what they are doing, and it engages them in co-operative learning in smaller units - something that we might consider desirable but often struggle to achieve at the university level in many subjects. It also, of course, contains elements of that learning by teaching subset.


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