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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.