Aspects of the use of social media to be investigated and discussed in the course “Is One Life Enough?”

The anno 2013 web-  and social media-user will experience an increasing usefulness of Web 2.0 in proportion to the extent of applications in use and hereby to the number and variety of characters of users connected with. Anyway it also seems essential in this landscape, to be able to navigate according to and with a certain focus on the purposes we have with our virtual involvements. The following three questions are intended to illustrate the occuring dilemmas:

How many virtual lifes are we capable to live in and to contribute to?

“All to all” networking and generating of own user content have become essential  cultural competencies with the entrance of scenes of virtual presence such as WordPress, Facebook, Youtube, Flickr, Second Life etc. Signing up for a new account immediately leads to the built-in facility of adding contacts from already used networks for the new social media for then to take advantage of a higher number of users to voice to.

With smartphones and iphones the accessibility of the joined virtual communities is extremly high and the providers of social media platforms as well as of mobile hardware units continuesly improve the option to keep our virtual existence updated 24/7.

As a language teacher in Second Life I have concentrated on encouraging my students to get pretty familiar with the Second Life metaverse, which offers all necessary options for a profitable learning process:

  • The student and the teacher can be part of an almost natural communication
  • Students may repeat content self and a self-selected number of times
  • Class content is represented visually and aurally
  • Educational activities may include speech, writing, listening, reading and field trips
  • There are objects such as a teapot, which, when activated, could play it’s own name
  • Participants from all over the world can gather for instruction, practising or events

Additionally  a .ning forum, a closed social network platform, has been offered to all students to get the opportunity to meet new friends abroad and to present own culture or to learn from other’s lifes and languages.

How can credibility and content quality in virtual communities be ensured?

Considering that the use of social media initially is without costs and fees and without to depth moderation, a question could be, how credible the user created content is for our purposes.

Some professional  content providers e.g. in the field of language instruction still reside in the before Web 2.0 “one to all” distribution, this being cause of business models, quality control criterias or the necessity of linguistic accuracy. Does that mean, that we mostly can take the use of social medie sources into account, where we want to achieve knowledge in informal ways? Is it possible to get a grade as the outcome of a virtually provided course or study? Yes, it is, but in this case we often have to encounter high prices to providers, lecturers, teachers, instructors and moderators.

Other contents providers present the educational objectives and exercises and explanations of linguistic concepts “one to all” but have established blogs and wikis for the students to contribute e.g. on topics such as “Tell us where you live?” or “What do people eat in your part of the world?”. These approaches have the sympathetic aspect to access something with roots in the real world and to increase motivation in the learning process. The corresponding teacher role turns to become a facilator and moderator more than to be instructor.

BLLC - Zahlwörter

Language learning cube with clickable panels for audio playing

At BABEL Language School the student has been met with the expectation to become the constructor of it’s own language learning process by internet searches, writing of essays, creation of smaller videos and recordings or by the creating of 3D objects with the teacher as the present “quality controller” of the achieved progress in the target language.

How do authentic meetings in virtual environments add to the learning process?

A few professional language learning providers, such as BABEL Language School, have taken the step fully and solely to establish in the virtual world of Second Life to optimize the motivation gathered from the gaming factor, which is present, when real students and teachers meet by using their avatars. The educational objectives are beforehand chosen and prepared for class topics and students and teachers join time and place in a virtual classrom with all the relevant learning material exposed. Multicultural meetings take place in real time and locations, which are user created and chosen to reflect the lifestyle in regions with the target language spoken, are visited, reflected and commented as a vital part of the learning process.

The school’s first two students back from 2007 lived in Puerto Rico and in the United States and were taught German. They had not been able to take a German course in their home area, but in cyberspace, they could. Starting from beginner level, BABEL Language School’s oldest student has kept on learning the German language during 2½ years.

Even though an extensive development of learning material and it’s adjustment for the use in a virtual environment is necessary on the teacher’s side and a well performing computer and internet connection is required on the student’s side, success stories with students as the above mentioned give energy, motivation and engagement to the teacher to carry on and the playful character as well as the personalized, constructive and interactive class meeting enables the student to overcome high demands in a positive, fun and innovative learning situation.

Sources:

The European Study “Language Learning – resources  and networks”:

http://www.elearningeuropa.info/files/LS6/language%20learning%20resources%20and%20networks%20DEF.pdf

BABEL Language School at Second Life:

http://slurl.com/secondlife/Pak/75.1802/243.052

BABEL Language Learner’s Network:

http://babellanguagetwin.ning.com/

Website for BABEL Language School:

http://www.babellanguageschool.dk/index.html

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Lessons at BABEL Language School at SL

At the time for class, the student and the teacher will have their tags turned on and worn above the heads, “BABEL Student” or “BABEL Teacher”, in connection to the class group, they are member of. The group notices and the group messaging facility have been used to deliver learning material, to adjust or remind of appointments or for help to do some of the homework between classes.

Various kinds of lessons are used depending on the students’ needs and preferences for their language learning process at BABEL Language School at Second Life. In hands-on-excursions some regions, in which the target language is used, are visited. In a walk through the schools locations the foreign language will be used to talk about what is seen and what is experienced.

Back in the classroom, the topic of the recent unit is visualized on boards and screens. Former tasks will be commented and deepened out and new exercises will be introduced to start up a new homework. Grammatical overviews are present in the classroom as well as touchable objects to play the sound of single idioms or expressions. Interviews, dialogues, passages of radio or TV programs are played from Media Boards. On video screens at BABEL Language School some shorter episodes from broadcasting stations or programs of actual or historical interest are presented and inspire the written and oral communication, e.g. when the history of the Berlin Wall is streamed to the parcel.

Writing down essential explanations on the grammatical or thematically topic in chat and making written proposals for sentences and answers provides a good method for many students, to collect the new content on their own note cards. Engaged home study is required at BABEL Language School, so the language learner can achieve proper results in the new language. Using the voice function gives the student the possibility to train the pronunciation and enables the teacher to give in specific corrections to improve the students’ oral skills. Listening to text audios takes place in class, so the authentically language speed and the specific usage of the target language can be reviewed and acquired.

As the classes at BABEL Language School normally are about 45 minutes two times a week, the content of the unit and supplemental material for home study is given to the student for additional practice. Sometimes larger parts of the unit are taken from existing real life language courses and books and the student therefore also is asked to buy the published work book in question.

Courses at BABEL Language School follow a fast progression towards the new level of language proficiency and communicative fluency according to the levels A1-C2 in the “Common European Framework of References”, CEFR. The school also guides the student to use the state-of the art testing system “Dialang” in order to improve own awareness about the real competencies in the new language.

BABEL Language School’s model for language instruction shows, that learners approach the school both from real life and second life and that they are working on getting new language skills both for their engagement in real life and in second life. The first thing is that learners are tested to define the starting level for the appropriate course. From the starting level, the instruction will cover all skills – reading, listening, writing and speech – towards the new aim and the reachable level, which is defined from the CEFR. Working through 4-5 units, all with connected classroom activities, will lead to the next level. The content in class is inspired from facts and circumstances in the real and the second world and it delivers competencies for both of them. The grade which the student leaves the school with, could be some passed test sections at www.dialang.org, which the school has guided the student to take.