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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 3: Virtual Worlds, Learning, and Theory 55


55 Chapter 3: Virtual Worlds, Learning, and Theory The correct path had the aspect of a narrow row of stones cutting through a grayish-green swamp […]. The subconscious knew what the stones represented, handled the chaining of routines from one information net to another, but it was the conscious mind of the skilled traveler that must make the decisions […]. (Vernor Vinge, True Names, 1986) Introduction Why should we use Virtual Worlds for language teaching, and more specifically for telecollaborative language learning? Because they are fun? Because they do something for our students? Because they ena- ble situations for collaborative learning? Because they will help in the language learning process? One would hope that the answer to all of these questions is yes, but it is important that we understand exactly why VWs may be useful in the language learning process. Just as in the novel Portal, we must not rely solely on what our subconscious minds tell about the potential for VWs and the path we should take in using them for language learning (that is likely only the fun part of our brain speaking). Instead, it is necessary for our conscious minds to explore the rationale for their use…or non use. This is where learning theory is key. Accordingly, this chapter will first examine a number of learning theories that apply to VWs and telecollaboration, and then look at some of the existing research into the effect of CMC and VWs on language learning in order to provide firmer...

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