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You’re strolling through a colorful, town square in central Mexico, chatting with the locals. Well … sort of. You and your avatar amigos are conversing in Spanish, but you’re meeting in a virtual environment called Second Life®. And your excursion is part of a language class at Columbus State.
Instructor Melissa Logue uses Second Life as a way to engage Spanish 103 students and offer them unlimited practice opportunities. “This is a hybrid class which meets just once a week on campus,” explains Logue. “Much coursework is completed outside of class and online; Second Life allows students to travel as far with the language as they want to.”
“Students can teleport their avatars to any number of virtual historical, social and recreational sites,” reports Logue. “Once ‘inworld,’ they are immersed in the local culture and can text chat or communicate with Spanish-speaking avatars using a mike. Students are polishing their language skills with minimal stress and maximum enjoyment,” says Logue.
“I hold office hours in SL, too, so students can ask questions and we can converse in real time, rather than by e-mail,” Logue adds. “Columbus State purchased an island in Second Life, with its own SLurl, which makes connecting with students super easy and super convenient.”
Students couldn’t agree more.
Elizabeth Do says creating her avatar and learning to navigate in Second Life was a quick process, almost like playing a video game. “Anyone can master the basics in an hour or two,” she says. “My avatar traveled virtually anywhere I wanted, and, as this alter ego, I took more risks with the language than in class,” says Elizabeth. She also appreciated being able to review for a test one-on-one with Logue via SL office hours, reporting “awesome immediate feedback!”
Another student, Shadd Watson, teleported into Second Life almost daily. “I found myself fast-friending folks all over Spain and Latin America,” he says. Shadd’s Second Life contacts actually redesigned his avatar, making him “way cooler.” The individuals Shadd met were flattered he was studying their language and have stayed in contact in Spanish via Second Life. The future physician claims that “even though it’s a virtual world, Second Life made Spanish come to life and made learning it so much more fun.”
Chrystal Hall, who lived briefly in Mexico, had heard of Second Life but never tried it. Her avatar found her way to a language institute in Mexico where Chrystal received six free lessons from actual instructors there. “It was funky going to class in a ‘foreign country’ while sitting at home in my pajamas,” notes Chrystal. “The graphics are so vibrant and the locations so real that I really felt like I was salsa dancing in Colombia, riding a train on the beaches of Jalisco, Mexico, and swaying in a hammock in a colorful courtyard in Oaxaca.”