Okay, if the term Virtual World is new to you, this may all seem a bit complicated, but stick with us, because studies suggest that immersion is an effective way to learn English (and anything else), and whilst we would love to invite everyone over to our place, it's not possible. However, we can invite you to join us in Virtual Worlds, thanks to advertisers, patrons and sponsors. The idea is that we are able meet up with each other in Virtual Worlds and explore the learning opportunities, with a bit of help from Lynne.
What is a virtual world?
If you already know the answer, you can skip this bit. We like to think of a virtual world as a 3d social space. Don't confuse them with virtual reality, they're getting there, but it's more like entering a game. However, unlike a game, there are no hard and fast rules about what you do when you get there: there are no missions and there is no one to fight (unless you want that kind of thing). Virtual worlds are sometimes called massively multiplayer online worlds (MMOWs). They are simulated environments, created by and populated by other users. Each user can create a personal avatar, and simultaneously or independently build their own environment, or explore virtual environments that other people have built. They can participate in the activities on offer, and most importantly for us, communicate with each other.
Just like computers have different operating systems, virtual worlds have different platforms. The Network uses two of the most popular platforms, Second Life, and Open Sim. When you are building and hosting, there are a couple of subtle differences between them, but the experience for users is very similar.
What do you need?
- Here's the bad news. The technical requirements for any virtual world are pretty high. You must have a good internet connection (the faster the better) and a good quality computer with a high end sound card and graphics card.
- To hear any conversations you will need a good pair of headphones (or computer speakers).
- To speak you will nee a good quality microphone with a reasonable sound card (you can buy USB headsets with a built in sound card).
- You will also need a bit of patience. In fact Virtual Worlds are great for teaching, and they also teach patience: Things go wrong, viewers crash, voice goes choppy, people disappear in front of your eyes in the middle of a conversation. We like to say, ...technical issues are just another learning opportunity.
What do you need to do?
- For any virtual world you will need to install the free software and set up your user name and avatar (follow the instructions on their web sites). We cannot give full technical support for the installation and running of any software, but they can, and we are always willing to lend a sympathetic ear if you have any problems.
- You will need a viewer for Open Sim and Second Life. We use Firestorm (works with Open Sim and SL) and Second Life's own viewer (only works in SL).
- Once you are in-world, practise walking in a straight line, using your camera, getting your headset working, and some of the more complicated things you can do like flying, and teleporting. An hour or two spent on this "orientation", and getting your voice working, will save you a lot of frustration later.
- Of course you are free to visit any virtual world with no restrictions, apart from age. You will be amazed at the people you will meet and the things you will see. If you are sensitive we recommend you set your preferences to M and G - Mature and General. It's up to you if you want to use the A setting (Adult), but you won't find us there.
- To get the best out of any of the sessions we run on any Virtual World you should really be a member of the Learn English forum and be in Lynne's contact list on Second Life and/or Kitely. Eventually you will want to join the Virtual Worlder group on the forum.
- Try to make sure your settings are correct before you join a session, we tend to hit the ground running. You can find help with your voice settings here, these instructions are valid for both environments.
Virtual worlds really add an extra dimension to your online learning, creating a more immersive experience.
You might like to read this article, to get a better idea of why we promote virtual worlds:-
Check out Graham Davies' Virtual World Language Learning links for more information.