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Virtual Worlds for Language Learning

From Theory to Practice


Randall Sadler

This book focuses on one area in the field of Computer-Mediated Communication that has recently exploded in popularity – Virtual Worlds. Virtual Worlds are online multiplayer three-dimensional environments where avatars represent their real world counterparts. In particular, this text explores the potential for these environments to be used for language learning and telecollaboration. After providing an introduction and history of the area, this volume examines learning theories – both old and new – that apply to the use of Virtual Worlds and language learning. The book also examines some of the most popular Virtual Worlds currently available, including a discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of each. The Virtual World of Second Life is explored in depth, including research examining how users of this world are using language there, and how they are using it to enhance their second language skills.


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Chapter 1: Introduction 11


11 Chapter 1: Introduction The matrix has its roots in primitive arcade games […] Cyberspace. A consen- sual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts […]. A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding into the dis- tance […]. (Gibson, Neuromancer, 1984) What are Virtual Worlds? When William Gibson coined the term cyberspace in his novel Neu- romancer (1984), the Internet as we now know it did not yet exist. While some of the concepts discussed in that novel are still in the realm of fantasy, others, such as the “consensual hallucination” of Virtual Worlds, are now among the most popular activities available online. Some might argue that a new technology hits the mainstream when Hollywood decides to make a movie about it. In the case of Virtual Worlds (VWs) the past few years have seen several blockbus- ters. In 2010, the movie Avatar became the best-selling movie of all time, telling the story of a man who used another body—his avatar— to exist in a new world. In 2009, Surrogates, starring Bruce Willis, told the story of a future world where the humans stayed home, and their idealized robot bodies (their surrogates, or avatars) went out into the world. Earlier, The Matrix (1999) told the story in reverse, with the humans existing as...

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