This paper presents some of the overall frameworks and models for language learning that were used under Avalon (Access to Virtual and Action Learning live ONline), an EU co-funded project aimed at developing language-learning scenarios in virtual worlds. The introduction and background summarize some of the theories that constitute the starting points for the designs and are followed by a discussion of how the affordances of virtual worlds support the communicative language-learning model used in the project. The authors’ main focus then turns to pedagogic design, where the authors present the methods used during the project and some generic aspects of course designs that were developed. The article ends with a more specific look at examples of task design from the courses given under the project framework.
Current Research into Language Learning in Virtual Worlds
Language learning in virtual worlds is gradually coming of age and the body of research in the field is growing. At the outset of the project, in 2009, this research was very limited and rather anecdotal. Most of what was written involved speculation about the potential of what virtual worlds could offer language education, and there were very few concrete descriptions of case studies involving the use of such environments in real courses (Deutschmann & Panichi, 2009b:73). Since then several studies within the field have been published. These include specific case descriptions of language courses taught in virtual worlds (Peterson, 2010; Seng-Chee Ta & Yin-Mei Won, 2011; Zheng et al., 2009), more systematic descriptions of language course development in virtual worlds using frameworks such as action research and activity theory (Deutschmann et al., 2009; Deutschmann et al., 2011), models for task and environment design in virtual worlds (Blasing, 2010; Molka-Danielsen et al., 2009; Molka-Danielsen et al., 2010; Santos, 2010; Schiller, 2009), explorations of communicative aspects specific to virtual worlds (Deutschmann & Panichi, 2009a; Wigham & Chanier, 2011), teacher and student perceptions of the learning environment and technology readiness (Wang et al., 2011; Wang et al., 2009), comparative studies of language learning in virtual worlds with more traditional Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) tools (Jauregi et al., 2011), recommendations for language research in virtual worlds (Panichi & Deutschmann, 2012), as well as systematic mappings of the affordances of virtual worlds and best practice models for teaching languages in these environments (Lim, 2009; Mayrath et al., 2009; Omale et al., 2009).
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