In case some of you didn’t know it, Second Life (SL) is a relatively new country where the rules of Real Life (RL) often don’t apply. For instance, you can fly and teleport from one place to another in the blink of an eye. It’s an interesting place to work as a teacher, although jobs are hard to come by.
I consider myself one of the fortunate ones, having been able to earn a living working in Second Life since 2006. I’m busier than ever there and am writing this to share with you a typical week in the life of an avatar teacher.
The week for Baldric usually gets off to a gentle start. As Virtual Teaching Centre Manager of the British Council islands in Second Life I need to make sure that all is well, so a quick fly around is usually a good idea. First stop is the Teen Grid, where we have three islands . I’ll stop and say ‘hi’ to any of the teens that are there, and might also drop in on Milena’s classroom in the student suburbs. Milena is a teacher from Poland who holds classes with her students on our island. She is one of the few teachers who I can meet here because in order to be a teacher on the Teen Grid you have to go through a special background check and be sponsored by a project. Milena is also currently writing her Master’s dissertation on her teaching experience in Second Life.
This Monday I was trying to arrange a meeting with our designers because we are transferring some of the content on the Teen Grid to our new Main Grid islands. The two new islands are now ready, but I need to move the existing island (note to all you Lost fans, that might sound familiar) so it is right next to the new ones. Monday usually finishes with another meeting, this time with my colleague Frank Spearmann (Kyle Mawer), responsible for many of the learning quests on our island, and who will be starting to teach a First Certificate Speaking Skills course in Second Life next week. On the agenda will also be future events that we’d like to run for teachers and learners on the British Council Isles.
The Business English course is loosely based on the TV programme Dragon’s Den, and takes students through an imaginary process of setting up their own company and developing a business idea. This is basically an excuse to practice lots of business English skills such as interviewing, negotiating, presenting, etc. I’ll be team-teaching this course with my colleague Creed Juran (Joe Pereira) and we will be making quite a few changes to the course.
Although the course has now been planned, Joe and I will meet to discuss any last minute details and send reminders to the students. This time round we have students registered from Italy, Austria, Sweden, Spain and Portugal among other countries. For some of these students the course will be the first time they have ever used Second Life, so we need to be particularly careful to gently integrate Second Life skills into the planning of each session to help the newbies. The classes are usually filmed / recorded so we can learn from what we do well (and not so well!) and it’s likely that after the class we’ll talk about how it went and make notes about it to help us when we come to write the report. This information (including course and lesson plans) will be made public through the Avalon project to help other teachers who would like to do something similar. It is hoped that in this way we will be able to share best practice for any other language (not just English) teacher who wants to run a similar course in SL.
As today sees the start of another course (the FCE Speaking Skills course), I’ll be meeting Frank to discuss what we need to do with any students who may have sound problems. As there’ll be learners without much experience of SL, we expect there’ll be those who’ll need help setting up their voice controls so they can fully take part in the course. This is one of the striking differences between being a teacher in SL and in RL. In order to be able to be comfortable with teaching online you need to have a certain degree of confidence and technical know-how. Fortunately, the SL platform is now far more stable than it used to be, and the new interface means it is also easier to teach people how to use it.
The other exciting development since the last courses we ran in SL is the ability to show any website in-world. This means as teachers we can now use text and images in a much more dynamic and flexible way than before.
First thing on Thursday morning we have an Avalon project meeting. With so many partners and so much activity going on, these meetings are vital in order for us to be able to co-ordinate activity and make sure everything is on track.
Friday is a great day for catching up with things and for meeting people. There are also lots of social events going on in Second Life. I haven’t had time to go in a long time now, but Friday night is when the SLExperiments group meets. They are a great bunch of (mainly) language teachers who meet every week to share ideas about teaching in Second Life. It’s a great place for new teachers to start finding out what can be done. Maybe see some of you at one of the get-togethers sometime?
Baldric Commons usually calls himself Graham Stanley outside of Second Life, and when he’s not working there he is a social media consultant for the British Council and also works as a teacher of young learners at the British Council in Barcelona, Spain.
He has been teaching English since 1995 and even before studying for the M.Ed in ELT & Educational technology (University of Manchester), he had developed an interest in emerging technologies for language learning and teaching. He has recently become coordinator of the IATEFL Learning Technologies Special Interest Group and frequently speaks about this field at conferences both nationally and internationally.
As he’s not a big fan of TV (especially now that Lost has finished) and doesn’t like football, he can be frequently found on Twitter, and blogs at http://blog-efl.blogspot.com and http://www.digitalplay.info/blog.