Although online courses have become increasingly common in higher education as a means of meeting students’ demands for more flexible scheduling, many language teachers are hesitant to adopt this format. Some fear that online meetings will not permit the pair and small group interaction typically utilized in communicative language instruction. Others feel that online meetings will have an impersonal quality that impedes development of the interpersonal dynamics crucial to successful language courses.
This presentation will consider the benefits and offer advice on how to overcome the hurdles of using Second Life in the foreign language curriculum as evidenced by two hybrid language courses, an introductory Spanish class and an upper-level Italian conversation class, that utilize Second Life as a platform for communicative class meetings, interaction with native speakers, and exploration of virtual versions of culturally important locations. We will demonstrate practical aspects of the virtual classroom that allow students to engage in the same types of spoken interactions emphasized in the communicatively-focused face-to-face meetings that are believed to be the most effective way to teach foreign language. We will also discuss our integration of chats with native speaker Second Life residents and virtual field trips into our course curriculums focusing on the potential of these activities for improving linguistic competence, increasing cultural understanding, and engaging students in the language learning process.