I went to the First National Chinese Language Conference in 2008 and made a presentation about heritage community, “the hidden treasurer.” To my surprise, one of the sessions, “Learning Chinese Online: Program Models, Issues, and Resources”, was talking about developing an online language learning tools in second life. Dr. Youg Zhao, an expert in education psychology, developed this online learning tool based on MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games) basically changed whole concept about language learning.
In this virtual world, a student may enter a door and into an airport at Beijing. He (or she) can walk around to do different things. He has to interactive with different situations. He will also get hungry or thirsty and if he does not eat something, his engery level will be reduced and he is shrunk. Students in this environment may experience different things in different level. The amazing thing is that learners can upload new stuff they created and enhance or change the environment. When student has reached a certain level, the learner may conduct a live chat with another learner online just like IM. Dr. Zhao’s idea does not stop here. According to his plan, when enough data is collected, he is going to regroup leaners by this virtual world and track their peogress. The site was launched today and started its beta testing. The site address is http://enterzon.com. I registered tonight but have not got any confirmation yet.
Second Life has been considered for language learning. After I discussed this idea with my wife, we came up another idea for Chinese School. One of the problems Chinese school teachers are facing is that there is very few learning activities between weekends. What if we modify the third period and set up 12 “themes” in 12 classrooms. The theam could be bank, post office, super market, restaurant, school and so forth. Students can learn the words, phrases, etc. and practice them, using blog to exchange information about these themes with other students or teachers during the week and come to school to role play it. Students may enter one theme each week and teachers will only have to prepare for one theme for the entire year. Unfortunately this idea was shut down in the faculty meeting because there are just too much preparations and it is difficult to monitor student’s learning. The other point is that we will need more space to do this and that is at premium considering we have limited space.