The PIs are aiming to investigate how virtual world 3D technology can be used to address the limited opportunities adult immigrants and refugees have for exploring and practicing their English in authentic settings without the risk of seeming inarticulate. In partnership with WonderBuilders, Inc., Springfield Technical Community College is creating the 3D virtual environment to integrated into ELS (English as a Second Language) classes at the College. Using Open Wonderland, the PIs are creating a complete virtual campus in which students learning English can interact in virtual campus settings without being embarassed about their language capabilities. College students and personnel are also participating in the on-line community along with the English-language learners. Research is investigating development of confidence and improved competencies and experiences of engagement when the opportunity is given to practice and apply newly-learned grammar and vocabulary in real-world contexts. In addition to hypotheses about language learning, the PIs hypothesize that if engagement is in the context of campus activities, these students, who often hold full-time jobs and have families to take care of, will have more opportunities to engage in the life of the college community, therefore feeling and being more connected, and therefore being more apt to continue with their language learning and then to successfully matriculate and graduate.

This project addresses two educational challenges. First, helping adult immigrants and refugees learn English, prepare for, and matriculate in higher education is a national challenge. This project is creating a model for such learning and advancement. Second, there is much hype about the use of games and 3D virtual environments for promoting learning but not much research on the real possibilities of doing this and how to use such software effectively for education. This project is contributing to understanding of how to use 3D virtual technology effectively to promote learning.

Project Report

Springfield Technical Community College partnered with Wonderbuilders,Inc. to explore 3D virtual worlds to enhance second language acquisition. The metric for success was initially defined by student learning gains. The project's greater impact revealed probative data on requisite faculty strengths and departmental structure that are critical to integrating technology. FACULTY SKILLS: Perseverance Resourcefulness High Tolerance for Failure Improvisation Flexibility Resilience DEPARTMENTAL AND INSTITUTIONAL REQUIREMENTS: Teaching Innovation Must be Encouraged and Regarded as a Vital SKill Effort Celebrated, not just Results Innovation Inculcated as Cultural Ethos for Department and Institution The incorporation of new technology allows faculty to highlight previously unexpressed strengths. Skills in 3D modeling, artistic design and new curriculum design were previously unexpressed talents the project fostered resulting in revitalized professional commitment and engagement. Understanding faculty receptivity and roots of resistance to new technology (lack of background knowledge, confidence, control, confusion, threatened status) is critical. Provide evidence of student success to persuade adoption. Devise strategic supports and continually discuss frustrations as a regular faculty discipline. Integrating new technology can disrupt curricular focus and undermine confidence. Educational leaders need to understand faculty comfort from deeply resistant to bold visionaries. Supported integration that maintains teacher professionalism is key. A culture of applauding attempts to pioneer new technology should be fostered. A mindset of scaffolded mistakes as learning opportunities is necessary. The extent the department holds a shared commitment to technology as a valued tool for imparting curriculum is significant. Early adopters of the technology cultivated a receptive mindset to innovation and change when departmental reorganization occurred. Realistically assessing faculty capacity to engage in risk taking in the classroom is critical. There is an inherent risk of technology failure that should be explicitly discussed. Innovating in front of a classroom with no guarantee of success can be threatening. If the teacher views her/himself as the educational leader, s/he risks status, leadership and authority. Engaging in honest self assessment in a supportive faculty setting regarding capacity and willingness to integrate, fail and learn from mistakes without judgment is an essential precursor. Support by way of grant funded dedicated IT support personnel in the classroom can ameliorate reticence. THE IMPACT OF TECHNOLOGY INTEGRATION 1. Students Students reported reduced shyness and increased confidence. Students were observed to engage more enthusiastically with curriculum and speaking activities through use of technology. Also, collaborative learning was more easily facilitated and eagerly performed by the students, as opposed to partner work in the classroom. 2. Resources The technology created a new resource for learning that will be funded by the college beyond the grant. The virtual world will play a pivotal role in new curriculum. Other departments have acknowledged the learning potential of the medium. The Health and Patient Simulation Dean created a virtual patient examining room to practice patient interview skills. Academic Support Services expressed interest to better connect with students. C. Curriculum The process of collaborative curriculum creation developed by the grant is finding new utility. Skills honed observing student learning styles, fostered discussion about areas of curricular improvement and skills developed researching educational trends and local employment needs have all contributed to the restructuring process. D. Faculty a. The grant structure brought a renewed focus on evidence based decision making. The iterative process of piloting, refining, using data and focused inquiry to examine what we do well, identifying our strengths in skills and content and matching those with student and curricular needs fostered a new ethos of data driven decision making based. This laid groundwork for faculty receptivity for holding two departmental workshops and increased willingness to use technology. E. Departmental Organization Informing the process of departmental reorganization and couse sequencing is the development procedure utilized in the grant trial:Research, Pilot, Refine. This creative visioning process required a flexible, creative mindset that the grant experience fostered. Prior experience risk taking and experimenting has become a valued ethos. The visionary skills the grant required for curriculum development are being used as new ways to accelerate learning are at a premium. In sum,developing software along with piloting was challenging for faculty and student users. An institution seeking to pioneer technology innovation must first understand the faculty ‘s strengths and areas of needed growth. Incorporating technology in a classroom demands a set of teacher skills that are uniquely bold. The cultural milieu of the department and institution play a significant role in cultivating an educational innovator. This grant has significantly impacted how teachers teach in a classroom and the development of a pioneer mindset. The collaborative nature of working as a department both with eachother and intra/inter departmentally, and how we assess student needs and view technology ultimately prepared faculty and strengthened their capacity to engage in self reflection, assess strengths and align student learning needs with newly developed curriculum to more creatively meet our students’ needs .

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Information and Intelligent Systems (IIS)
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Janet L. Kolodner
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Springfield Technical Community College
United States
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