Today was a “tour day” for our intrepid SL Educators group. We made our way to Cornwall Island to meet up with Bex Ferriday (aka Bex Mavendorf / Hebask Falconer) and Julia Dando (aka Julala Rexie), both from Cornwall College in England. Bex is a lead practitioner and subject learning coach working in the School of Education and Training. Julia is the eLearning Development Manager for the college.
Together, they’ve built most everything you see on Cornwall Island – a lovely replica of a Cornish village, a beautiful beach (complete with hangliders and jet skis), a pier, teaching areas, a farm, a woodland walk, a public sandbox, a Cornish tinmine, a shopping area, and – of course – a pub. It’s clear that these two make a formidable team. They support each other well – while one is leading a class, the other is working in the background to solve technical problems, take snapshots, or record the proceedings. And they clearly collaborate on everything. I was also struck by their humor and easy-going manner. You can tell that nothing ruffles these two!
Bex is currently leading and teaching an online course referred to as the “PTLLS” course (which stands for Preparing to Teach in the Life-Long Sector). This is an 11-week teacher training course designed for people who want to teach in higher education. It is accredited by the UK accreditation board and the graduates earn a provisional license to teach. In the past, Bex ran this course partly online (using Moodle) and the rest with real life meetings. Now she’s teaching what was the “real life” portion in the virtual world of Second Life. In addition to SL and Moodle, Bex uses Flickr, Skype, a wiki, a Posterous blog, and a Twitter group as additional tools for her students. They use the wiki for lesson plan writing – each student in the course has their own wiki page.
The SL class sessions are used for group discussion (for instance talking about examples of good and bad teaching) and teaching practice. All notes from these discussion go up on their Moodle forum and they sometimes film the session (using QT). Althought its still early days, Bex and Julia are finding that the teaching in SL works just as well as the teaching in real life (with perhaps, a bit more sizzle).
After Bex and Julia gave us a tour of their beautiful island, we settled into the pub for a chat. Our SL Educators had lots of questions for them. For instance, how many students do they have in their course now? (12) Where are they based (Italy, Spain, and Portugal mostly, a few from the UK). Who are they primarily? (late 30’s mostly, slightly more women than men). How did they manage assessment in the course? Bex described two graded assignments that she gives. The first is to write a 200-300 word theoretical essay. It could be a look at relevant legislation, group management, roles and responsibilities of the teacher, or the boundaries of teaching. She sets that up on Moodle as an electronic assignment – the students submit online and she provides feedback to them online. The second assignment is a practical one. The students each deliver a 30-minute lesson (referred to as a “microteach”) on any subject. They give the microteach to their peers and receive feedback. In the past, this was done in person, in a classroom. Now, they all do the microteach in Second Life. Students can choose to incorporate any element of SL into their teaching practical – for instance, their microteach might involve taking the “students” to another location for a relevant experience. Bex will be filming these so that the students can watch and listen to themselves later.
A particular challenge with this course is that the students come from many different disciplines. So, in a way, explained Bex, having the huge resources of Second Life is an added advantage. Whether they plan to teach science, literature, psychology, or business, there are relevant builds for them to investigate and use. Bex tries to instill in her students the idea of identifying likely resources and using them well – whether online, in a library, in the community…. or in the virtual world.