Critical review of teaching practice
The teaching session I carried out was an introduction to Second Life as part of the Facilitating Online course I am currently facilitating. The session was held on Thursday 14th at 8pm. Five students attended. The session was planned for one hour but we were together for an hour and 40 minutes.
We started off in Elluminate where I outlined the aim of the session; provided reference materials that the students could use after the session; outlined a back-up plan if the SL technology didn't work; briefly described what Second Life was and how it could be used to develop an online community. I also provided a link to an online survey that allowed students to give me feedback about the session.
What happened when we got to Second Life
Three students managed to find their way to Second Life and meet me. One student took about 30 minutes to reach us and I lost the last student completely (I did eventually catch up with the student and offered to do some one-to-one work with her at a later stage). I attempted to show students how to use IM and voice, move backwards and forward, sit down, add friends, teleport, make landmarks and find them in the inventory. We got through these things but it took a lot of time because of various technical problems. In the end, we only had time to visit Koru and the SLENZ - we didn't make it to JoKaydia. This was disappointing because it is there that I think students would have got a sense of community in SL. The other element of the lesson plan we did not achieve was learning how to change one's appearance but that isn't as important as learning to communicate.
My facilitation approach
I believe the best way for students to learn skills in Second Life is to be with them, to guide and demonstrate, be on hand to answer questions but also give them time to practice by themselves (Learning for Life, 2005). I attempted to do that but as we ran out of time I rushed the students through the last couple of activities. However, the students do have a resource that described all the skills we went through so they can go back into SL and practice as and when they like. I have also made it quite clear I am happy to meet students again in SL if they need further help.
Students and technology
Working in complex technical environments such as SL is a challenge, to say the least (Carr, Oliver & Burn, 2008). The main considerations for teachers is the level of students' technical abilities and their access to the technology.
I was mindful that there was different level of technical ability amongst the students so had to cater for students at the lowest level. But I was also concerned about how to deal with the students who were very capable and likely to get bored as I focused on students who needed help. I didn't really have an answer to that one.
Usually when I am working with a group of people in SL I prefer to have someone helping me...someone who can deal with individual issues as I work with the whole class. The two people I had lined up to do that were unable to attend so I was stuck trying to meet everyone's needs. I don't feel that went as well because I tried to achieve too much. At the same time, I think I am being hard on myself...we achieved quite a lot considering at least one student had technical issues. And it is difficult to separate out SL skills because one skill often depends on several others so you have to teach them all together.
What I did well:
- prepared for the session doing things like making sure I had added everyone into my contact list beforehand;
- developed a supporting resource that students can continue to work with;
- presented the session with humor and patience, and was approachable.
- reduce the content of the session - reduce the time I spent with my introduction in Elluminate - or make it into a two hour session;
- arrange to meet other people in SL so students would see the social/community aspect of SL as opposed to just focusing on skills.
Here is the feedback I received from the evaluation survey. And here is the feedback I received by email.
- learning by doing is important: so you showed how to cope when things went bit haywire ... taking a light hearted approach is good
- really SL is much about escapism as serious stuff - finding out about communication in SL was really important, including adding friends, etc... very important foundation to make sense of space, and we covered this well - the introduction was in Elluminate was a tad too long
- I'm not sure if everyone would have finished with a sense of accomplishment (Mertle seemed to be struggling with movement)
- I reckon it would be useful to have a checklist of what we were going to cover - including why this is important (ie building blocks) - then at the end show what we've actually covered. This could also form a checklist of what to cover next if the list was not completed in an initial meeting, or practice.
- it would have been useful to address ways you can 'protect' yourself if you're intimidated by any strangers (without this I'm not sure if others would feel okay about going back independently or perhaps it's a non issue)
- as a teacher or facilitator in this environment, a lot of it is obviously about familiarising people with how to do things. You covered this well, but I don't a sense of what online community actually looks like... probably a second session.
Response to feedback
The feedback has reflected my feelings about this session - too much attempted in too short a time, and not enough focus on the social/community aspects of SL.
- The checklist was developed in the resource I told students about at the beginning of the session. I needed to remind the students about it at the end of the session and conclude the session more effectively. But because we ran so late, we all disappeared off without a proper conclusion and summary of what we had achieved.
- Teaching students how to deal with unpleasant behavior in SL is a very important. Next time I can make sure that information is included in the resource I give students, especially if I do not have time to talk to them about it.
I am left with a feeling that we need another session in SL to bring all the skills together in a learning activity or experience in which students can make sense of what they learned on Thursday (Gagnon & Collay, no date). Responding to student needs is a vital part of providing learner centered learning. A flexible approach to content delivery including online technologies allows me to offer another session in SL in the next couple of weeks to consolidate what students learned and deal with ongoing issues.
Australian Flexible Learning Framework. (2008). Designing elearning. Retrieved 17 October, 2009, from http://designing.flexiblelearning.net.au
Carr, D., Oliver, M., & Burn, A. (2008). Learning to teach in Second Life. http://learningfromsocialworlds.wordpress.com/learning-to-teach-in-second-life
Gagnon, G., & Collay, M. (no date). Constructivist Learning Design. Retrieved 17 October, 2009, from http://www.prainbow.com/cld/cldp.html
Learning for Life. (2005). How to teach a skill. Retrieved 17 October, 2009, from http://www.learningforlife.org/exploring/resources/99-720/y13.pdf