Sunday, April 30, 2006

Second Life Progress Report

I've been spending more time than I'd like to admit exploring Second Life (SL) recently.

I've started joining groups, and even tried to take a class on particle building on Saturday at the Second Life Academy(SLA). IT's not that I am particularly interested in particle building in this virtual world (but, hey! I'll give it a go), but I am interested in observing people teaching within the environment, and this seemed like a good opportunity to do so.

All members of the SLA were sent an IM to tell us the time for the class was approaching. A meeting point was established, and as people arrived, introductions took place. This involved not only chit chat, but also checking out other people's profiles, which is one of the best ways to get to know what's going on in SL - especially as people share their 'SL Picks', the places they recommend.

It started getting funny when a real newbie arrived and started crashing into us all - I realised that I've come a long way in a week. Then, a teleport location was established for the group. This was becuase the class was really a field trip, and the culmination of a week-long particle building course. I asked if I should wait until the start of a new course (it starts on Monday), but was told that they didn't mind if I tagged along, and I would see the effects of particle building first, which may be a good thing. I agreed, and hit the teleport button. I don't know what I did worng, or if I went before everyone else, but I ended up in a brown trench, alone, and wondering what to do next. I waited a while and someone else turned up, landing on my head, and then shortly afterwards disappeared.

I decided to fly upwards to see if the others were near, and then explored the area a bit more. I couldn't find anyone so I teleported back to the meeting point. There wasn't anybody there either, so I tried to find my way back to the location of the class. No success.

If I ever get to the point of holding a class in SL, I'll have to take this into consideration.

But, now I'm intrigued, and I think I just may have to check out that course that's starting on Monday.

Friday, April 28, 2006

One blog a second...blogs are more important than sex

I can't remember who told me this first, or where I read this, but it's true. I've just checked it. A search on Google for 'blog' yields 1.590.000.000 entries. If you search on 'sex', you'll get 699.000.000.

From eflgeek comes links to the Economist and two recent articles on blogging: 'It's the links, stupid' and 'Among the audience'.

The first article mentions that "the “blogosphere” is doubling in size every five months" and that one blog is made every second.

It was interesting to see the comment too that "many adolescents consider e-mail passé, and instead are using either instant messaging (IM) or blogging for their communications". That is what I've seen with my students. I recently conducted a survey, and the younger ones (12-16) never use e-mail. Just about all of them use IM, and quite a lot of them have their own blog or photoblog. Perhaps it's that e-mail is associated with the adult world, or the world of work? What is true is that it's just not cool.

In the second article, the Economist identifies that what many people have described as Web 2.0, is leading to a new 'Age of participation'. What is interesting to me about all this is the change in where we get our news from. In my twenties, I relied on newspapers to tell me what was new. Very rarely would I not hear about something first(a new trend, etc) from a newspaper. Then it would usually be picked up by TV if it was considered more mainstream.

Now, it has totally changed. I was blogging and podcasting before I saw either of them mentioned in a newspaper or magazine (the exception is probably Wired), and I was even approached here by a Spanish journalist to talk about blogs in education for an article.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Second Life: Better Life

There are lots of promos and films that people have made from within SL - this is one of the better ones that I've come across.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Videogames for Academics

A recent comment from Elia von Oeyen Tupou led me to the blog, Videogames for Academics, which is full of fascinating insights from Elia's dissertation thesis.

It seems that Elia has spent a lot of time playing WoW (World of Warcraft, and in particular it was very interesting to read the post 'To my WoW friends' about the effect that stopping gaming had upon online friends, etc. It was interesting to note just how much importance some players place on interactions in the game. I'm sure that this is something that will be difficult for non-gamers to understand. I related to it as I used to be serious table gamer, playing a variety of RPGs with friends, when I was a teenager.

During several years, I used to get together to play with friends every Wednesday afternoon (from 15.00-23.00), on Fridays from 18.00-23.00, and every Saturday from 13.00-23.00. Thinking back to this now, that is an awful lot of time spent in imaginary worlds! It strengthened friendship between me and my fellow gamers, and our little group became inseparable. We also gained a reputation at school, and people started talking about "the strange experiments we were doing" together. Eyebrows would also be raised if people overheard our conversations, as we talked about our characters and what they were doing or had done as if they were real. And, of course, my parents and their friends would wonder and worry about the unhealthy amount of time that their son was spending at a table with his friends, rolling dice and consulting rulebooks. Didn't he want to go to discos like other teenagers?

I stopped playing when I went to university, but I can still understand how absorbing RPGs can be.

Elia also links to another interesting article 'Living a Virtual Life' in Game Studies,the international journal of computer game research.

Among other things, this article mentions a survey undertaken about the type of person who becomes involved in this type of game:

"Usually, players had experience with computer games before they came to Ultima Online. More than three-quarters of the participants of our survey had previously played computer role playing games (85 percent) or computer adventure games (67 percent) and more than one-third (39 percent) had played other MMORPGs. Though many players had previous experience with MMORPGs, the number of users playing more than one game at the same time was negligible. Users rarely indulged at the same time in more than one MMORPG. This is understandable given the necessary investment in terms of time."

I have decided to collect all of these links, insights, etc, as well as documenting my own investigation in Second Life , etc. using a wiki: gaming-EFL

Friday, April 21, 2006

Second Life - different views and opinions

I've started doing some digging, looking for information about Second Life, especially in educational settings. Here's what I've found so far:

  • Rockin'in Second Life
  • - from Alan Levine's Cogdogblog was the most interesting find - it seems that there's already quite a buzz and an interest from certain higher educational establishments about SL, and this post shows just how far some educators have gone already towards experimenting with the alternative world offered by this intriguing game. One to definitely keep an eye on aI think. Alan also mentions a plug in that allows for real time speech, which of course is exactly what would be needed to utilisie this game for language learning purposes. I'm going to check out the plug-in and look for more examples of educational use this weekend.
  • Second Life - Creative Commons feature: about the free cultural events that have currently taken place in SL, and how people can become involved.

  • Second Life History wiki
  • : As the title suggests, an attempt to document the history of this virtual world.
  • BBC Collective: negative comments/review from some online gamers

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Second Life - A Booming Fantasy World

Thanks to George Siemens, I came across A Virtual World's Real Dollars in Business Week Online.

Siemens calls it part of one of the most interesting trends at the moment, "the absolute blurring between online and physical spaces" and this is particularly relevant to Second Life. As the article points out, this MMORPG game has captured the attention of some 165,000 people and it continues to grow in popularity. This may seem a lot, but the most popular game, World of Warcraft has more than 6 million players!

As is pointed out, the other interesting feature of Second Life (SL), unlike a lot of other similar games is that it's "a three-dimensional digital world in which players can do just about anything" where players "use create everything from avatar clothes to buildings to games that are played inside the virtual world."

It's this totally user-generated world that makes Second Life such an appealing potential to many, and this "complete decentralization of the creative process" probably makes SL the most Web 2.0 of all of these games.

So, what about its potential for education, and in particular, language learning? For some reason, I assumed that VOIP would be integrated, but, of course, it isn't, which limits the value of SL for language teaching at the moment, although I was told that there are plans to introduce voice chat in the future.

Perhaps it is worth settling in now and earning some virtual money to be able to build a virtual language academy inside SL? The jury's still out, but I'm going to persist until I can see what potential there really is and if it's worth it. At the moment, I've graduated from SL's Initiation walk and am learning the ropes on Help Island, where I've managed to pick up some freebies, and have even made some new friends.

If you want to come and join me, please don't look for me by my real name. Instead, send an SL IM to Baldric Commons. Once I have enough snapshots, I'll upload a Bubbleshare slideshow with commentary.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

MMOG & MMRPG in Education

This article in Innovate, the journal of online education, looks at the educational possibilities of Massively Multiplayer Online Games as learning environments.

Focusing in particular on Quest Atlantis and The Sims Online, two popular MMOGs (sometimes also called Massively Multiplayer Role Playing Games), the authors "identify and define nine principles of learning that allow such games to have valuable potential as tools for educators"

The article points out one of the transformation that is taking place in the world of entertainment that is growing in importance: namely that "many of today's students spend more time playing video games than they do watching television, reading books, or watching films"

Reading the article reminded me of Marc Prensky, whose 'Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants' should be compulsory reading for all 21st century educators.

It seems that it could be the right time to take a serious look at the potential for language learning that these games hold - a couple of my younger students are keen players (both of World of Warcraft), and have often asked me odd vocabulary questions at the end of class ("What does 'soul sucker' mean?" was a recent one) that never fail to surprise me.

I also been reading recently the fascinating accounts of adventures and experiences in MMRPGs in the special supplement on this in Wired's April issue, which includes a fabulous account of a chat show host who holds his interview program from within the online world of Halo - every time he holds an interview, his guests have to be protected from potential ambushes from virtual snipers.

Although most of the MMOGs are (just like most video games) violent in nature, there are others appearing that are not, which are probably better bets for education.

Of these, Second Life seems to be the most promising of these MMRPGs for language learning (at least according to the little I have read about the game: "An online society within a 3D world where you can explore, build, socialize, and participate in its economy"), and I have decided to make this one of my next projects, having signed up for an account (free) and downloaded the client to my PC (it's also available for the Mac).

Anyone else out there tempted? Why not join me? It could be that I'm barking up the wrong tree, but at least I'll have some virtual fun finding out.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Blog-EFL Archives

I haven't been blogging for a while - I don't know why, but I just lost the blogging bug. That and I've had so many other things on my plate, that this site just got cast aside.

It's a shame, though, as there's so much great stuff going on out there - it seems that blogging in EFL/ESL has really caught on, and I'm ready to start exploring again and trying to catch up with what I've been missing out on, and also getting back into blogging with my students.

As if in preparation for this, I've been tidying up my profile and doing some housekeeping. I've decided to hide the long list of archives that appear on the front page: I'm going to stick them out of site on an entry page, and this is it.