Thanks to the popular press myths abound about the 3D virtual world Second Life (

Thanks to the popular press myths abound about the 3D virtual world Second Life ( “Second Life had had it's day.” “There's nobody there.” “It's full of people trying to sell you stuff. “ “Isn't it dangerous for students?”Debunking MythsFortunately, teachers are generally of an open mind and willing to value the opinion of another teacher who has direct experience over the misinformation of sensationalist journalism. In reality, although popular usage of Second Life has now fallen since the media hype of 2007, interest by educators has never ceased to rise, and new organisations are using this virtual world more and more to offer students a graphically rich and engaging social presence which is difficult (if not impossible) to obtain in the distance learning experience. This is one of the obstacles I have to overcome when introducing teachers to the British Council Isle in Second Life. This island, in the adult (called Main Grid) of Second Life has been mainly set up so we can showcase our work in the teenage area (Teen Grid). Getting access to the Teen Grid isn't easy for teachers. You have to be affiliated to an educational project and go through a special background check, which takes time and is quite expensive. This is why the British Council decided to set up an island in the Main Grid and to replicate the content on one of the three islands we have in the Teen Grid.Touring the British Council IsleIt's working well so far, and I have given more than two dozen tours of the island to teachers interested in introducing their learners to our project or in the use being made of Virtual Worlds in language learning and teaching. The tour starts at our Arrivals Area, the space where our teenage learners would arrive. Here there is information about our project and about the British Council in general. I meet them there and while waiting for the others to show up, we chat about the project and their experience of Second Life so far. Although it seems like we're passing the time, what the teachers tell me here is important and determines what shape the tour will take. What I'm interested in here is knowing whether there are any teachers with very little experience of Second Life on the tour.Teaching Second Life Skills on the tourIf there are beginners (and this is often the case), then I will teach them the most important skills as we tour the island. With those teachers who have only just created their account, just getting them to follow me and walk through the door to the Information Centre is the first challenge! Of course, if the teachers have had any experience playing 3D games, then they usually get the hang of it straight away. Although you can fly and instantly teleport to any destination in Second Life (how I wish that were true in Real Life!), I like walking around the British Council Isle. That way you can appreciate the changing landscapes and soundscapes, and the way the space has been designed to reveal hidden areas to the visitor as they spend more time there. This is the main attraction of the island – we have designed it so it is an attractive place for teenagers to spend time with other teenagers from around the world, speaking English together. So, that's why we normally cross the bridge on foot and head into the village next on the tour. In the village, which has been designed to resemble PortMerion in Wales, we look at the map of the island and practise moving in different ways (jumping, flying) as well as looking at how you can search for and find objects in your inventory.Language Learning QuestsAfter the next stop - taking a ride around the island with the Loch Ness Monster (Nessie) – we fly to the start of the Merlin Quest and the real fun begins. The Language Learning Quests we have developed on our island in Second Life are examples of how Digital Game Based Learning (DGBL) can be used in this environment. Joe Pereira , one of the British Council teachers involved in the project, has recently finished his Master's dissertation on this, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the details of what we are doing to read this. At the beginning of the Merlin Quest, we look at how learners can listen to audio clues and I will help teachers go through the steps of turning on streaming media in Second Life if this is necessary. We also examine how text is delivered to learners on the quests. This is done through the use of comics, which has turned out to be a popular and engaging way of getting the teens to read. In order to read the comics and to look for the clues, however, the teachers will have to learn how to use the camera controls. This way, they can zoom into the comics to read them better, and we practice this here, as well as spinning the camera round so that the teachers can take a photo of themselves. And so it continues. Now at the start of the quest, I ask the teachers to continue in pairs to see how far they can get, reading and listening to clues and following the instructions.Getting Students InvolvedThe tour usually ends shortly after this, with a discussion about what to do next. I explain that if they send me their students details (names, dates of birth and emails) then I can register them to the project. Some of the teachers ask how best to present Second Life to their students, so I direct them to our Youtube channel and classroom resources for teachers. And how successful has it been so far? The project itself continues to grow, with over 1800 learners from 16 different countries registered now. The tours have proven to be popular and positive comments from teachers at the end have shown me that many teachers who were skeptical beforehand change their opinion of Second Life by the end of the tour. And sometimes on the tours we're joined by adult students looking for places to speak English and meet other English learners too. This was the case on two recent tours I gave to teachers from Brazil and from Russia. The students turned up and started asking lots of questions about meeting other people and what they could do to help practise their English on the island.More About Second Life Teacher EducationOf course, the tour I have described has been designed as a taster for teachers. To get them interested in the possibilities of Second Life for their learners. The aim is to engage them using the environment so they can see for themselves what their own students would get from the experience. That and to show them how their learners can practise English and how this can be both fun and useful to them. There are also more extensive introductory courses available for EFL/ESL teachers interested in learning more without spending a lot of time. One of these starts in January 2010, lasts six weeks, and is free. It is organised through TESOL's Electronic Village Online and the call for participation can be found here. A more formal course will soon be organised by AVALON, a European Union funded project looking into best practices for teaching languages in Second Life. The British Council is one of the ten partners involved, and one of the project's outcomes is a teacher education course, which will be piloted early next year. Here I have just scraped the surface of what's going on with English language teaching and learning in Second Life – please get in touch if you'd like to find out more about any of the projects I have mentioned above, or if you'd like to go on one of the tours of the British Council Isle – I look forward to meeting you in Second Life!

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