Teaching a Class in Second Life

This tutorial is in two parts: [1] how to prepare and deliver a lecture to be given solely within Second Life, and [2] how to prepare and deliver a lecture simultaneously in Second Life and in the real classroom (for mixed-mode delivery).

1. How to prepare and deliver a lecture in Second Life–a guide for teachers

NOTE. Before you read on–indeed, before you even begin contemplating running classes in Second Life–carefully consider the following questions:

  • have you personally spent enough time in Second Life to feel confident that you’ll know what you are doing? if you do not feel confident in and comfortable with your own basic skills in using Second Life, or doubt your ability to respond swiftly and informatively to student queries, it’s probably not wise to think about running classes in Second Life at the present time.  If, in all, you have spent less that 40 hours in Second Life, you should accept that you are probably still a ‘noob’.  Please ask me about the Second Life Pilot’s Licence programme I run if you would like an intensive training course to bring you up to speed.
  • why are you using Second Life to deliver this class? if you’d otherwise see your class face-to-face, why bother with Second Life?  List three reasons, critique them, try to demolish them; if you’re still convinced that there are good reasons for teaching in Second Life, read on …
  • how are you presenting yourself in-world to students? will you command the authority you expect to command in the real-world classroom? have you instituted a Code of Conduct for students in Second Life? how will you manage disruptive or inappropriate behaviour?  Turn back now if you have any doubts! otherwise, read on …

Successful teaching in Second Life requires at least as much thought and preparation as in the real life lecture theatre or classroom.  What follows are my own recommendations, based on personal successes, on how to prepare and deliver a live lecture in Second Life (the notes below will also generally be applicable to small-group classes and tutorials).  Other teachers may have different preferred methods of delivery, equally effective, so the following should be understood to reflect only my personal views and preferences.

The notes below cover class preparation (slides, lecture notes), class management (seating, adjusting viewing area, student register), actual lecture delivery (voice, web, Q-and-A breaks), and follow-up (recording and archiving, feedback).  The illustrative graphics and references to the browser in what follows presume you are using either the official SL Viewer 2 or the popular Phoenix Viewer.

Before you begin

  • Planning you class.  Concentration span in a virtual environment is arguably lower than in face-to-face teaching.  You should ensure, therefore, that your class is well prepared beforehand: ensure that you have a clear lesson plan, that you have already uploaded and tested all slides you intend to use, and that you have given students a structured outline of the topics to be covered in the session.  If the class is scheduled to run for over an hour, build in regular short breaks of five to ten minutes after every 45 to 50 minutes of teaching.
  • Measuring learning outcomes.  No matter how well you believe you are delivering your lecture, what really matters is how successful a learning experience this has been for your students.  I’d therefore recommend that you follow up your in-world lecture with a brief quiz.  This might be done either in-world (there are, for example, inexpensive gadgets for quizzes and surveys that you could place in the lecture area) or via a follow-on web-based quiz.  I’d further suggest that you conduct a post-lecture poll; see the ‘Feedback’ bullet-point at the bottom of this page.
  • Visibility.  It is likely to be difficult to manage a teaching session effectively until and unless [a] students are seated, [b] students can clearly see your slide presentation, and [c] students understand what they should expect from you and what they be expected to do during the session.  At the beginning of the session, therefore, whether by voice or by public chat, you should ensure in the first place that students know how to take a seat in the auditorium (ask them to right-click on a seat and select “Sit Here” from the pie menu); secondly, you should explain to them how, once seated, to adjust their view of the slideshow using alt+mouseclick so that the presentation panel is centred on their screens. Tip: the ‘Day Cycle’ in Second Life is by default very short (currently 4 hours) and consequently you might find yourself faced with a class in the darkness of a midnight in Second Life even though in real life it may be a bright and sunny mid-morning. For many reasons it it easier to conduct a class in daylight; and therefore you might suggest to students that they adjust their local time: from the World menu select ‘Environment Settings’ and then ‘Midday’ (alternatively, Command-Shift-Y).  More advanced users  can get finer control over the lighting by accessing the ‘Day Cycle Editor’: from the World menu select ‘Environment Settings’ and then ‘Environment Editor’, within which you will select the ‘Advanced Sky’ button to open the ‘Advanced Sky Editor’ and from there the ‘Day Cycle Editor’ (see image above, or click for full size screenshot) where you can, for example, set your preferences to ‘Use Estate Time’.
  • Blocking instant messages.  You’ll not wish to be disturbed, while lecturing, by instant messages (IMs) either from those in the class or from people on your Contacts list; and so I therefore recommend that you go into ‘Busy’ mode for the duration of the lecture.  First, go to your Preferences and, in the Communication tab, find ‘Busy Mode Response’.  Enter text to indicate your status, then click Apply and OK.  Finally, from the World menu, select ‘Set Busy’.
  • Finally, you should explain to students how the session will proceed; and, where this involves taking notecards or using the built-in web browser, you should explain the procedures beforehand so as to avoid unnecessary confusion and disruption during the course of the lecture.

Running the class

  • Voice. Lectures can be delivered, and are undoubtedly best delivered, by voice. My recommendation, however, is that in order to avoid a cacophony of voices (and the risk of feedback echoes) only the lecturer should use voice, while students should use just text via public chat (i.e., the Local Chat input bar). Before commencing the lecture it’s a good idea to check your microphone–my own procedure is to first tell the audience, via public chat, that I am going to test voice and to ask them to simply type the word “yes” if they can hear me. I then repeat this into the microphone and, once I have seen four or five confirming responses, I then begin the voice lecture.  I strongly recommend that you use a headset in order to avoid feedback. You can also check your voice before the lecture at Voice Echo Canyon:

    » http://slurl.com/secondlife/Voice%20Echo%20Canyon/126/126/24

  • Take a register.  As in real life so in Second Life, when you have large classes it’s generally hard to know who is attending a lecture and who is absent.  It may therefore be useful to maintain a register of attendees.  (It’s in any case useful to know who’s there should you subsequently want, for example, to send them follow-up emails or notes.)  There are several ways of taking a register, ranging from very basic free scripts to inexpensive dedicated student registers and sign-in gadgets. The free ‘Visitor List Maker’ script, which may be embedded in any object, automatically reads avatar names within a 10 metre radius:

    [2009/02/03 11:03]  Passport Control: pinbsjP Palmira
    [2009/02/03 11:03]  Passport Control: Mr Arriaga
    [2009/02/03 11:03]  Passport Control: Aaliyah Barom
    [2009/02/03 11:03]  Passport Control: Tomik Diabolito
    [2009/02/03 11:03]  Passport Control: ktan Deezul
    [2009/02/03 11:03]  Passport Control: batman Coleslaw
    [2009/02/03 11:03]  Passport Control: Shane Frychester
    [2009/02/03 11:03]  Passport Control: Ava22 India
    [2009/02/03 11:03]  Passport Control: Harlow Scarbridge
    [2009/02/03 11:03]  Passport Control: Mateusz Portal
    … [etc]

    A better choice is a dedicated tool such as Student Listmaker, obtainable from the Second Life Marketplace for a modest L$200, which requires attendees to sign in and sign out; and additionally offers free gifts (I’ve offered free Kingston University and Linux t-shirts, for example).

  • Notecard reader HUD.  A notecard reader is a HUD, worn by the lecturer, that will print canned text, line by line or paragraph by paragraph, to Local Chat.  Even if lecturing in voice, you may find it useful to preface your lecture with a few notes that provide context.  For example, a short summary of the topic of the lecture, a reminder of how students can access lecture notes (e.g. a web page or an in-world box), and a reminder of administrative procedures for the conduct of the lecture and subsequent discussions.
  • Slides. Use slides in SL as you would in real life teaching. There are many free slideshow presentation tools to be found in Second Life; the one I personally like is AngryBeth Shortbread’s free Communal Whiteboard. which you can obtain in-world from secondlife://gourdneck/188/243/64.  You will need to prepare the slides offline prior to the lecture.  Since these will be images (characteristically JPEGs or PNGs), you might create them in any good graphics package (e.g. Photoshop or GIMP).  However, for uniformity of appearance using a single template, a better idea is to produce a standard slide presentation (using MS Powerpoint of OpenOffice Impress) as you would for a real-world lecture and then to save or export as pictures.  You can them upload the pictures into Second Life, saved to your inventory, and then either drop them into the Contents tab of the in-world slide projector; and at the same time post the original slide show to the course web site.
  • Lecture notes. Plain-text lecture notes, landmarks, objects, scripts, and yet further notecards, can all be stored in notecards, saved to your inventory, and then dropped into a notecard dispenser inside the lecture theatre.  (Make sure you give each notecard a descriptive name and, in the properties window, assign it full permissions.)  For my own notecard dispenser, I created a very simple one-prim 0.75m3 box, used a standard “atoll walkway” texture for all sides other than the front face which features the text, and placed it prominently by the podium.  (You can grab my cover texture by clicking the image on the right.)  You may wish to invite students to grab copies of the notes before the start of the lecture; one advantage of doing so (and this is why it is essential that you assign full permissions to each card) is that students can then annotate their own personal copies during the course of the lecture.  Tip 1: don’t put too much text into a notecard–especially if you plan to use it during the course of teaching–as it is likely to be a distraction (and, in any case, will be unformatted plain text); rather use summary notes, and put in links to follow-up notes on the web.  Once you have finished your lecture, you can then take your box back into inventory for later re-use … you may wish to give the same lecture again some time, or you may wish to have a separate box for each new lecture.  In that case, in the General tab give your box a descriptive name before taking it into your inventory so that you will be able to find it again.  Tip 2: organise your inventory into a hierarchical structure of folders within folders, e.g. ‘Week 1 notes’, ‘Week 2 notes’, … to make it easier to find your stored notecards.
  • Using the built-in web browser.  You may sometimes, in the course of a lecture, want students to view a web page.  Using the built-in Second Life web browser rather than Firefox or Internet Explorer keeps everything neatly within the Second Life window (it can otherwise be distracting and disruptive to require students to switch between windows).  The easiest way to direct students to a web page in-world is to type the URL into the Local Chat input bar and hit the ‘enter / return’ key; once displayed, it becomes a clickable hyperlink.
  • Pause for questions.  Because, in a virtual lecture theatre, you are not able to see real students and hence are not able to pick up on subtle visual clues in faces, posture, or behaviour, you will intermittently want to assure yourself that students are engaged and understanding the content of the lecture.  For this reason I’d recommend pausing every few minutes, or every few slides, to ask students whether they have any questions.
  • Student submissions.  You will possibly have two reasons for wanting to be able to accept notecards from students: you may wish students to submit written assignments (for example, work set in a previous session), or with small tutorial groups–and potentially more interesting–you may wish students to submit work for sharing (with you and among themselves) and critiquing within the session itself.  For this you will want a ‘drop box’.  This may be created in the same way as you will have created your notecard dispenser: simply create a one-prim box and drag the ‘drop box’ script into the Contents tab.  Place the box prominently in view of the audience, and ask students to submit their notes; copy the notes for each student in turn into a notecard dispenser, so that every student then has access to the notes of every other student.
  • Record and archive sessions.  If you have screen-capture software (for example, cross-platform Jing, Istanbul on Linux, or CamTwist on Mac, all free software), you might want to record all or part of your lecture for archiving and possibly annotation.  And, of course, each student can also make a video or audio recording of the lecture for future reference.  For fuller documentation on screen-recording, please read the Making machinima page on this site.
  • Feedback.  It’s possible that in your early sessions you may make mistakes; or you may simply want to know how students felt about the session.  So invite post-class feedback from students via a poll, questionnaire, and / or comments.  Use the feedback to iteratively refine your preparation and delivery.  If using a blog to manage your course, you might insert a poll directly into your write-up for the session, and also invite students to submit blog comments; otherwise you might put in a link to a survey.  Recommended: Polldaddy (best for blog-embedded polls) and Zoomerang (best for multi-question surveys).

2. How to prepare and deliver a lecture simultaneously in Second Life and in the classroom

A common scenario is to be teaching a class in which some students may be co-present with you in the real-life computer laboratory while other students may be attending remotely.  This may happen when, for example, you have distance learning students, or when you are delivering a class to two student groups simultaneously, one your home students, the other at a partner university. I’ll call this ‘mixed-mode teaching’.

All of the recommendations in section 1 above will, for the obvious reason of having distance learners, equally apply in mixed-mode delivery.  There are a few further issues to take into consideration.


2 Responses to Teaching a Class in Second Life

  1. Donna says:

    All great suggestions and thanks for mentioning Zoomerang. Both students and educators can benefit by using online surveys for project research, course evaluation, satisfaction polls and more – all on an education budget. Be sure to visit the Zoomerang Education Survey Center http://www.zoomerang.com/Education-Surveys where you can find pre-designed survey templates for:
    Course Evaluation,
    Student Satisfaction,
    Faculty Satisfaction,
    Course Availability,
    Professor Evaluation,
    to name just a few.

  2. Dion Sanchez says:

    Is it possible to bring students into Second Life and use a sim that is not my own? For example, a tour of a Holocaust Museum? Do I have to buy land to teach?

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