ESL Instruction using Open Wonderland

April 26, 2012

Mary Beth Ogulewicz By Mary Beth Ogulewicz, J.D.

Mary Beth Ogulewicz is a lawyer as well as an ESL and Criminal Justice professor at Springfield Technical Community College (STCC). She seeks to empower her students by helping them become fluent in English and preparing them for a career in law enforcement and related fields. She is also interested in the connection between health, wellness, the strengths movement and successful living.

Springfield Technical Community College and WonderBuilders have embarked on creating a 3D virtual college campus pursuant to a 3 year National Science Foundation grant.  WonderBuilders is working with the English as a Second Language (ESL) Department to enhance opportunities for students to practice conversation.  The virtual college campus will allow students who have limited opportunity to interact with native speakers and partake in campus activities to meet in-world with conversation buddies as well fellow students. Among the goals are increased conversational competence, higher levels of engagement with the college, and increased matriculation rates.  Curriculum activities for each level of English are being planned. Additionally, to assist students, various campus offices such as Financial Aid, Registrar and the Health Office will hold office hours in-world. Below are some of the activities we have created thus far.

Simon Says

ESL students gain technological proficiency by engaging in a game of Simon Says.  This fun introductory activity builds confidence for students who may have lower technology skills. It also embeds vocabulary and prepositions for Level 2 language students.

Conversation Buddies

Due to family and work obligations, ESL students often have limited time to engage in authentic conversation with native speakers. With many students working 2nd and 3rd shift, the virtual world provides an optimal platform for students to meet native speakers to engage in conversation at times that fit their busy lives.

Academic Advisor

Students often need assistance navigating the myriad of problems that arise with paperwork, registration, academic and campus life.  A student’s relationship with her/his academic advisor is critical to success.  Acting as a mentor and advisor, professors are a tremendous resource and often the only person on campus that a student will turn to for help.  The virtual world allows those conversations to occur at times convenient to the student and most importantly fosters the success of the student.

Health Office

Among the most daunting experiences for a second language speaker is a visit to a physician’s office.  In-world students can build a relationship with a campus physician’s assistant and practice the difficult medical language necessary to successfully interact with medical personnel, thereby ensuring the health of themselves and their family.

Brainstorming

Collaborative learning is essential to development of workforce skills. Students can meet in-world and collaboratively create written work and projects, as well as practice speaking the target language.

Multicultural Fair

This project highlights the confluence of students’ skills: technology, creativity and language.  Students research their native countries and then build their individual booths to display their research.  Students visit the event in-world, practice questions and then have the opportunity to record and practice their English.

Project Status

We will continue to work on software development and curriculum integration through the summer, testing the environment as we go along with current students. We will run our first pilot class with second level ESL students in September. We invite you to follow our progress on Facebook.


The Current State & Future of Online Education

April 19, 2012

By Brooke Folliot

Brooke is an avid writer who strives to write about topics surrounding the rising emergence of online education and how it could effect the way that students of the future will learn, interact, and contribute to the world around them.  Brooke holds a graduate degree in business and is also currently considering further graduate work in the field of organizational behavior.

According to research cited in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, nearly one in three college students takes at least one online class. That figure presents an increase of 10 percent over the prior year and amounts to nearly 6 million students around the country who are enrolled in the virtual classroom. For older-aged working professionals looking to obtain an online graduate degree, the idea of a virtual classroom could appeal to them in that it carries the flexibility of online education but embodies the look-and-feel of the traditional classroom with which they are familiar.  Many researchers and students also cite the convenience of the online classroom, which allows students with non-traditional schedules to earn college credit on a more flexible schedule. Many education analysts, however, are wondering just how effective online education really is and what will happen if the virtual classroom becomes the paradigm of tomorrow’s university.

In some respects, online learning has definite advantages over the traditional classroom. A report issued by the U.S. Department of Education found that students taking online instruction performed better than their peers in the traditional classroom. When the online instruction was collaborative or instructor-directed, researchers noted a greater positive effect. Additionally, the most effective learning models involved manipulations that triggered learner activity, self-reflection and self-moderating of understanding.

The effective online classroom is influenced by the behavior of the instructor more than by any other factor.  If this factor of instructor excellence were to be combined with future virtual classroom concepts, such as those fostered by the virtual environment enabler Open Wonderland, there is no telling how effective a tool this could be. By having a medium where students can not only immerse themselves into one personable environment from anywhere in the world, but to do so with high-caliber teachers, the entire landscape of education could change drastically. In a study published in the Journal of Interactive Online Learning, John Savery of the University of Akron found that effective online instructors are highly visible through both public and private communications channels, including banner web pages, email, audio and video. Good instructors are also organized, compassionate and analytical, providing continuous assessment so that students can monitor both their progress and their understanding of course topics. Finally, the best online instructors lead by example, modeling appropriate online communication and meeting their own commitments in a timely manner.

The future university classroom will inevitably incorporate digital content. The same Department of Education study also found that students who took courses blending face-to-face and online instruction performed better than any other group. Savery suggests that online instructors set up proctored exams on campus when possible so that online students have a chance to meet their instructors face-to-face. Schools that continue to rely on traditional instruction can support in-class activities via online discussion or by posting course materials online.

When gathering in one location is not possible, social media, video conferencing, or virtual worlds help to provide the next best solution for face-to-face connection. For example, professors can use platforms like Twitter to post assignments or class updates, or students can participate in live Twitter discussions by using a designated hashtag. Instead of discussing via text only, students can also conduct video conferences with their professors or meet in a virtual world. Additionally, solutions like SavorChat can allow professors to schedule chat room discussions combining the use of both Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Online education cuts costs for universities, delivers flexibility for students and enhances the educational experience. With the proliferation of mobile devices, students can connect to their coursework anytime, anywhere. The traditional classroom may never entirely disappear; however, the virtual classroom will support, if not supplant, the face-to-face paradigm.



SIPping Wonderland

April 6, 2012

By Bernard Horan

One of the great features of Open Wonderland is its telephony support. In this blog post, I provide a few examples of standard VOIP clients that use SIP to call into an Open Wonderland server. It may seem odd to use an impoverished audio connection to a rich immersive 3d environment, but there are many occasions when users wish to participate in meetings from locations or using devices that are not able to provide the full Open Wonderland experience.

In the video below, I show some examples of how to use two of the many SIP clients to call into an Open Wonderland server. The first of these, Jitsi, is an open-source Java-based client that can be used on a regular desktop/laptop. The second client, 3CX, is available for iPhone (iOS) and Android platforms. The video provides three examples:

  1. Using Jitsi to connect, registrar-less, to an Open Wonderland server running on a local network
  2. Using Jitsi to connect, authenticated, to an Open Wonderland server running on a host on the public internet
  3. Using 3CX installed on an iPad to connect, authenticated, to the same server as in (2). (The settings for the 3CX client are provided at the end of this post.)

These examples augment the existing video that shows how to use a virtual phone to call out via a PBX. There is nothing special about the Open Wonderland installations that I’m using for the demonstrations. The only requirement before producing the examples was to insert a Virtual Phone into the virtual world using the standard ‘Insert Object…’ dialogue. In detail:

  1. The first example uses a source build (rev 4820) of Open Wonderland, with no authentication enabled, running on my home local network.
  2. The second and third examples both use a binary installation (rev 4816) of Open Wonderland, with authentication enabled. The installation is hosted on a public internet-facing server at the University of Essex that has its firewall configured according the the Open Wonderland firewall instructions.

Many thanks to Morris Ford for his guidance on using SIP.

For information about the settings I used to connect the 3CX client, see the figure below.

3cx-Settings


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