This one definitely gets filed under "blatant self-promotion."
I recently started freelancing for Forbes.com, and the first article I've written for them is called "How to Spark Remote Learning." The piece covers the (surprisingly sizable) movement to use Second Life's immersive environment to teach residents foreign languages. Specifically, I talked to Kip Boahn--head of a German ESL school by day, and founder of a new island named Second Life English--who's dedicated himself to providing free resources for the game's estimated 5,000 language learners and 1,000 instructors. What's particularly interested is the way Second Life English and other programs make the most of the world itself. From the article:
"Boahn takes a hands-on approach to teaching in a virtual classroom. During workshops, he uses a team of teachers to present students with different linguistic tasks, which could include anything from asking for directions to bargaining to buy a knickknack. To do those tasks, Boahn and his colleagues use "holodecks," rooms that can flip through as many as 40 different scenes at the mere click of a mouse. Want to practice ordering American fast food? Just switch the holodeck to Dara's Diner and line up at the counter.
Another popular way to teach English in "Second Life," says Boahn, involves role-playing and quests. "I once dressed up as a pirate, had a ship and everything. I was kind of rough on the students," he admits. "I put some of them in cages, and had them confront language in a shock-and-awe kind of way. They seemed to like it, and they learned all sorts of new words, like 'loot' and 'booty.'"
Boahn's approach may appear nontraditional, but he feels a new medium calls for a new way of teaching language. Even using the game's English interface gives students a chance to practice what they've learned. "We like to encourage teachers to see 'Second Life' itself as a classroom," he says."
Has anyone out there tried learning a foreign language through Second Life, or any other virtual world? Boahn says his results have been excellent, but as an ESL teacher myself I can't help but wonder what element of communication gets lost when you can't work with students face-to-face. Then again, none of *my* students know what "pirate's booty" is...