081108 Language Lab Metanomics Transcript

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Metanomics is a weekly Web-based show on the serious uses of virtual worlds. This transcript is from a past show. …

Metanomics is a weekly Web-based show on the serious uses of virtual worlds. This transcript is from a past show.

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  • 1. METANOMICS: LANGUAGE LAB AUGUST 11, 2008 ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Good afternoon, and welcome to Metanomics. Today we’ll be taking a close look at Language Lab, a business that uses Second Life to teach foreign language, for a profit, and that clearly has a discerning eye as Language Lab is one of our sponsors. Along with supporting sponsor Language Lab, Metanomics is brought to you by Simuality, our primary sponsor, maker of SlippCat. We also have three other supporting sponsors: Kelly Services, InterSection Unlimited and the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University, my own institution. As usual, our live venue in Second Life is the Muse Isle Arena, and we welcome everyone who is at our event partners across the grid: Colonia Nova Amphitheater, Meta Partners Conference Area, the Outreach Amphitheater of the New Media Consortium Educational Community Sims and Rockliffe University. As usual also, we ask you to join our Metanomics Group in Second Life so you can get information on our show. For example, this week you would have seen an announcement that we’re having a special show tomorrow at 2:00 P.M. Second Life Time, in which Dusan Writer will announce the winner of his L800,000 content, to improve the experience of new Second Life residents by proposing an improved viewer interface. I’m also encouraging you today to join the Metanomics Group for a different reason. Over the next few weeks, with the help of KGSM’s Idea City and Metaversality, we will be surveying our group members to find out how we can improve our show. I’ll talk more about this at the end
  • 2. of today’s show in my Connecting The Dots segment. But, please, do join our group so we can get your opinion. One of the signature advantages of live events in Virtual Worlds is the rich and varied discussions that you can have in text chat at the same time that we’re having a more focused conversation in voice. We use InterSection Unlimited’s ChatBridge system to transmit local chat to our website and website chat in to our event partners. So backchat can bring you in touch with people around Second Life and on the web, wherever you are. You’ll also notice that Bjorlyn Loon and other Metanomics staff members will be pasting in relevant links and other quotes throughout the session. Also, you can type “QUESTION” in caps and then ask a question of our guests. Ultimately, the backchat becomes part of our archives, along with the video, audio and the text transcript of the show itself. So chime in and improve the conversation, which makes the show better right now and makes our website a better resource for the people who are looking for insight into business and policy issues in Virtual Worlds. Before we get to Language Lab, we’re going to put Metanomics education correspondent, Fleep Tuque, On The Spot, to tell us about the education track of the Second Life Community Convention. Fleep, welcome back to Metanomics. FLEEP TUQUE: Hi, Beyers. Thanks for having me. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah, well, it’s always a delight. Now my first question for you, Fleep, is that the Second Life Community Convention is SLCC, while the education track
  • 3. has its own acronym: SLEDcc, and it even has its own website. Can you give us a bit of background on that? FLEEP TUQUE: Sure. Well, the Second Life Education Community Conference is part of the official Second Life Community Convention. The SLED community, as it’s known, Second Life Educators, that’s the name of the blog where most of us first got to know each other. And, in the past, the education track has been a really small part of the overall convention. But last year we had so many educators come to the conference that we literally outgrew the room we were in so we wanted to sort of expand the program a bit and accommodate all the things that educators were interested in learning about. And last year some educators also had kind of a hard time justifying to their schools why they needed to come to a community convention about a Virtual World. So this year, we’ve done some separate branding with a pullout program just for the education part so that it’s a little easier for folks to get funding and support to come. And considering how many schools are using Second Life, we have a really terrific program scheduled for both Tampa and in-world. And we hope folks will join us, even if they don’t consider themselves an educator since we think there’s a lot to be learned from what the educational community is doing, even if you’re in business or doing something else. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: You mentioned expanded content, and there are six distinct strands of the convention. Can you walk us through those real quickly? FLEEP TUQUE: Sure. The strands came out of all of the different ways that we are seeing Second Life used in education, and, if you go to conferences very often, you’ll usually see
  • 4. different tracks so that people can focus on what they’re most interested in. So we’ve identified six sort of categories of use of Second Life right now, and we just want the rainbow color schemes to make it easier for people to navigate. So the red strand is games and simulation. If you’re using any kind of game or simulated activity, then those sessions will be under the red strand. Orange is mixed reality learning, and that involves both activities that are in Second Life but use some component in the Real World as well. So when you pipe out live Real Life conference into Second Life and have activities, that would be mixed reality learning. Yellow is theory, research and practice. So when educators want to talk about good pedagogy and good learning theory and how that would be applicable in a Virtual World like Second Life, that will be under the yellow strand. Then we have green which is differentiated learning, international, diverse and special populations. I know many folks here are aware that Second Life, and Virtual Worlds in general, can be a really great place to reach populations who otherwise might not be able to come to a traditional educational institution. So those sessions will focus on how to reach out to those different populations. The blue strand is projects and events. I mean that’s kind of a general topic, but sometimes folks are working on a very specific project, and we wanted to be able to highlight some of those. And then the purple strand is tools and products. Some of the great things in Second Life that users--and lots of times those are created by the business community. But, when we find tools that make the in-world experience much better, we want to be able to highlight those and discuss those at the conference as well. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Great! Well, that sounds like a lot is going on. But the convention
  • 5. is not just people talking about what they’re doing elsewhere. You actually have some working groups that you want to put to task to get some things done. Can you tell us about those? FLEEP TUQUE: Sure. Well, the goal was to take advantage. I mean it’s not often that you get all of these Second Life educators in one space, and we thought it would be a great idea to take advantage of that and create some resources that would be useful not just for people who are already in Second Life in education, but also all the new colleges and universities and schools that are coming onboard. So we’ve organized these four working groups. I’m assuming they’re going to be in Tampa sort of roundtable, but there will be in-world working groups as well. And we’re going to be focusing on four different topics. So the first one is creating some template language that teachers can use in their course syllabus or notices to parents. What would the education community recommend that a new teacher tell parents who are going to have their kid in Teen Second Life for the first time? And we give them expert Peggy Sheehy, who I know you’ve had on your show. We’ll be helping facilitate that session. The next one is developing an institutional use policy and student code of conduct for use in Virtual Worlds. So we’ve all faced that question: What might be a bad thing on a Real Life campus, like a student showing up naked or something? Would probably get you in big trouble on a real campus, but, in a virtual campus, it might be treated differently. So how do we work out some good institutional use policies that are realistic? The third one is how to organize a directory of institutions and courses that are using Second Life. We are asked all the time how many institutions are here and what kinds of courses are being offered, and,
  • 6. unfortunately, the answer is nobody really knows right now. So we’re hoping that at SLEDcc we’ll be able to get everyone together and figure out a way to create a directory that will be a good resource even for Second Life residents who want to take a class, that they’ll be able to go to and say, “Okay, this is what’s available.” And then the last one may be getting the most attention right now. We are organizing formal feedback to Linden Lab from the educator community, and we’ve focused on a one- to three-year time frame, and we’re hoping that anyone involved in the education community will participate and help us give Linden Lab good structured feedback, “These are the things that we think might help us as educators moving forward.” So I’m really looking forward to that aspect of the convention this year. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Now have you already been in touch with Linden Lab on that so that you know there’s a mechanism on their end to receive that feedback? FLEEP TUQUE: Yes. They’ve been really terrific. Actually Claudia and Pathfinder are going to open the SLEDcc proceedings with the first session. And they basically asked us for feedback, and so they’re very open to it and want to hear what education needs from Linden Lab, so we’re really looking forward to having a good dialogue with them as well. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Great! Now for people who can’t make it to Tampa, can they get involved in those working groups and the sessions as well? FLEEP TUQUE: Sure. If you go to the website, it’s sledcc.wikispaces.com. On the left-hand
  • 7. side, you’ll see there are two registration links, one for the folks going to Tampa and one for the folks who want to come in-world. And I should note the in-world program is completely free. We just need to get an idea of how many people are planning to come. And below that are links to the Tampa and in-world schedule. I don’t know if the in-world locations are all listed there yet because we’re still sort of nailing down the venues. But we’re going to have lots of things going on in-world. If you can’t come to Tampa, you can still fully participate in SLEDcc. We’ll be streaming in the Tampa sessions to in-world as well. So if you just go to that website, all the information is there, and it will be updated regularly. I think we’re going to have a really great program so I’m really looking forward to it. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Thanks. Well, I am looking forward to the part that I’m going to be involved with. I guess I’m giving a keynote on Sunday morning and was actually just talking with Bjorlyn Loon about what I’m going to speak on, and I realize it’s probably good it’s a plenary session because I’m not sure it quite fits into any of the six tracks. My topic is going to be the business of Virtual World education. So the idea will be to look at the cost side, especially for nonprofit institutions and the profit side for for-profit institutions as well. And so that’s going to be interesting. It’ll sort of hopefully blend the education and business tracks also a little bit. And, in fact, I guess this is also a nice time to announce that Metanomics is going to be one of the lead sponsors of SLEDcc, along with ISTE, the International Society for Technology in Education. And I have to say it was a tough call, whether to sponsor the business track or the education track, but I’ll say you educators are such an incredibly active and organized group, it was just hard to pass that up. So I look forward, Fleep, to seeing you in Tampa, and I’m sure we’ll be having a lot of in-world activities as well through Metanomics. So thanks a lot for coming On The Spot, Fleep Tuque.
  • 8. FLEEP TUQUE: Thanks, Beyers. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Now let’s turn to our main event. David Kaskel is managing director and CEO of Language Lab. A graduate of Yale University, David is currently doing doctoral research into language acquisition models in virtual environments, the Center for Computing in the Humanities at Kings College. After over two years of research and development and many thousands of hours of student testing, Language Lab opened to its first paying students this summer, and they’ve got a lot of things in store for us as well over the coming academic year. David, welcome to Metanomics. DAVID KASKEL: Thank you, Beyers. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, we’re really glad to have you on, and I’d like to start by asking you: I understand you came up with the idea of Language Lab from one experience in the Virtual World game Dark Age of Camelot and another experience in a taxicab in Napoli. Can you tell us about that? DAVID KASKEL: Yeah, sure. I would say neither of those experiences, in themselves, led to the actual founding of Language Lab, but they were both instrumental in the way I thought about how Virtual Worlds could be used. So the first was Dark Age of Camelot, which I was playing in I think maybe the year 2000, actually 2001, all of 2001. And it was actually just shortly after 9/11, and I was living down in Lower Manhattan, and it was a difficult time. I guess to get my mind off of things and to have fun, I started playing a fair amount of Dark Age of Camelot. One of the people that went on around the same time, started at the same
  • 9. time, was German and initially spoke almost no English. Of course, we were just typing then. He was on actually even more than I was so he must have been on about 16 hours a day. And, within a month, his English was indistinguishable from anyone else. Now given it was in a very specific context, but that stayed with me that someone who completely immersed themselves and needed to use English in a Virtual World can learn it very, very fast. Then about three years ago, I was studying Italian at Berlitz and went to Napoli for vacation and got stuck in a taxi. Heading back from one of the museums was stuck in the taxi, and the driver spoke very, very little English. So I started using the Italian that I knew, and we must have had about an hour together. And I realized, because I needed to tell him where I was going, and he wanted to tell me about his cousin who was living in Texas, that the one hour together where we had to speak English, where I was in, again, a very highly immersive situation, I felt like my Italian got better at a rate that was very, very different from my Berlitz experience. So I guess those two things, and then combined with the research I did a little bit later at Kings College, led me to found Language Lab. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So if necessity is the mother of invention, then necessity along with immersion is the mother of language acquisition. Is that right? DAVID KASKEL: I guess so. Necessity. Also the social context: being with someone and having a reason to talk to them. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And that really seems to underlie what, to me, is one of the most
  • 10. fascinating aspects of the Language Lab instruction model, which is, you have formal instruction, and we’ll get to that eventually, but the part I want to set right out in front here is that you actually have an entire city here in Second Life so you can have all your students get stuck in a taxicab and have to explain where someone is going to go. Now I hope I’m joking on that, and that’s not actually one of the lessons. But can you give people a sense of how many Sims you have and what type of content you have there? DAVID KASKEL: Yeah. We have actually about 12 Sims, some of which are void Sims, I think, or are void Sims which actually are being upgraded. The main part of our city is four Sims now, but it is actually shorted to be expanded to a full eight Sims. In those Sims, we have everything from retail to office to hotels, cultural facilities, museums, theatres, cafes, restaurants, cinemas, homes, shops, pretty much anything. Municipal buildings. Pretty much any building that you would find in a real city is duplicated in what we call English City. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: One of the sad stories in Second Life is that so many people build the types of things you just describe, but then they become ghost towns. No one is there, and so there’s no one to interact with. But you actually have people, right, who are paid to interact with your students. DAVID KASKEL: Yes. We have characters that live in the city and work in the city, that run the shops, cafes. And these are paid actors who perform roles. Currently at any given time, there’s anywhere between three and five, up to maybe seven, but that’s an area that we’re expanding. We try to keep coverage to about eight to ten hours a day so when students go in there, there’s someone to talk to.
  • 11. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I’ll jump right in to a question here in the audience from Azwaldo Villota: Will Language Lab be developing content for instruction in other languages such as Chinese? DAVID KASKEL: We are Beta testing and will, hopefully, be open to the public instruction in Spanish in October. Chinese and Arabic are two that we’re looking at very carefully because there’s a lot of interest in them. And we will keep looking at other languages. But our current student base, except for the Beta test, is all in English. By the middle of next year, we’ll at least have Spanish and, hopefully the other languages as well. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: We actually have another question here from Crap Mariner: Are the actors one on one with the avatars, with the students, or do you run multiple sessions to expand coverage of their roles? DAVID KASKEL: They can be one on one, but it’s really if you picture going into a café, you happen to be the only person there, then you’re one on one with Millie Ames. She owns the café. But as many as, I would say, 12 students might be in and out of a space where an actor is, and there might be multiple actors there at the same time, so it really depends on what’s going on. If there’s a particular activity that’s going on or if it’s more just a functional visit, going into a shop to buy something so you’re practicing language with shopping. It could be one person right after another so you do have some individual time. Or, again, it could be three or four people going up to the shopkeeper at once.
  • 12. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, so people are just jumping in with these sort of nitty-gritty questions, which I admit I’m pretty interested in too. DAVID KASKEL: That’s fine. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Here’s one from--this’ll get me to practice my Scandinavian. I’m going to Denmark in September, and, hopefully, I can pronounce this name. I’m going to say Hjoerdis Stenvaag. And the question is: How do you decide what hours are to be covered given that we’re 24/7 here in Second Life? DAVID KASKEL: That’s a very good question. It was something actually that we deal with on a regular basis. So we have a welcome area that is open 24 hours. And we essentially are looking at where we’re getting students from. We have nine of our students right now from the Middle East, where we look to make sure that we’re covering their needs. But it pretty much is dictated by the student population as they come in. So classes are-- ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So you track that information and then try to keep up. DAVID KASKEL: We track that information, then we--yes. But we do have some students that do go to classes at 4:00 in the morning their time. Which doesn’t work for everyone. Over time, as we get larger, hopefully, we’ll be 24 hours. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Great. Now we’ve talked a fair bit about the informal aspects of this. And actually, let me just before I move on: First, Hjoerdis Stenvaag says,
  • 13. “Close enough on that pronunciation.” Oh, and I guess it’s--oh, I can’t. I’m not sure the explanation is actually helping me much. But we had another Q&A just in the backchat itself, but I’d like to just say it out loud here. Sean Cinquetti asked about tours of Language Lab. And one of your staffing, Champion, mentioned that you can send an instant message to her, Ami Champion, or email her at marybeth@languagelab.com, and you can arrange a tour, even if you speak English. So if you want to learn more, there are ways to do that. I’d like to move on a little bit if I could, to the formal instruction that you do have through Language Lab, and we actually have a graphic. Wiz, if you’ll put that one up. It’s actually like a teacher standing at a blackboard, conjugating verbs or something frightening like that. Makes me feel like I’m back in when I learned French in seventh grade. I had a teacher who would drill into our heads that we needed to say “faire visite à,” in exactly that accent as well. So I blame her for my French accent and, fortunately for her, I no longer remember her name. Now I understand this is really just a promo shot, but so tell us a little bit about just the formal instruction. Is it a lot like sitting in a classroom and having someone walk you through conjugations? DAVID KASKEL: Not exactly. For certain aspects, there is the more formal, and we do go back and discuss grammar issues. But, in general, we really look at task-based functions, uses of language. There was a study done about 20 years ago in Europe, that looked at what are the best ways to teach language, and they developed what is called the CEF, Common European Framework for Languages, and we use that to develop our syllabus. So basically, we teach people at various levels based on the needs and the abilities at that level. So at the elementary level you might be learning more simple introductions. At the
  • 14. advanced level, it might be more complicated negotiations. They’re thematic and contextual the way we teach. In terms of what happens in Language Lab itself, part of the time you are in the World, in the city, doing functional things, and part of the time there’s a more reflective aspect. So there’s discussions around what happened, either giving initial input before or discussing the issues that occurred afterwards. And grammar does come up when there are particularly difficult issues sometimes or to lay out a framework of what’s going on. So in some ways, there’s some aspects that are similar to communicative language courses today and some aspects that are pretty different. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, I am glad to hear that even formal language instruction has made some advances since I was in seventh grade. To follow up on this, as I mentioned when I gave your introduction, you are actually studying language acquisition models at the Center for Computing in the Humanities at Kings College. To what extent did your doctoral-level research inform what you’re doing with Language Lab? DAVID KASKEL: I would say the bulk of the research actually started before Language Lab, and it wasn’t initially on looking at languages. I was actually really studying how people relate to their avatars through a theatrical paradigm. So it’s a little different, but I kept thinking what is the value of immersion. And I had, as I mentioned, the Naples trip and the German experience in mind. About a year ago, I switched to really focusing just on language acquisition itself, in part because it was an area I wasn’t as strong in; in part because I was doing so much work in it anyway. So I would say now, for the past six months, that work has led me to understand much more how do you evaluate how well
  • 15. someone is learning and to develop feedback mechanisms within our pedagogy, to look at that and also to switch some of our pedagogy so that it’s more learner centered, that people can determine how long they want to spend in various aspects to provide more flexibility. I will have to mention, by the way, we have an incredibly talented director of education, Paul Sweeney, and he really does actually do most of the pedagogy work, but I throw in my two cents here and there. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Can you talk a little bit about your instructional staff? Are these people who you just find, who are willing to help out? Are they certified? DAVID KASKEL: No. All of the teachers have various levels of certification. They’ve taught ESL or EFL professionally for at least two years. In the UK, there’s CELTA and DELTA certification. In other places, we find equivalence levels. So they’re very, very top level teachers. They're the kind of teachers that most people throughout the world wouldn’t be able to find. You’d have to come pretty much to a major metro city. We’re top of the language school. And then working alongside with these teachers, we have content producers, people who are professional textbook writers actually. We’ve now converted it to writing our material. And as I mentioned, we have people like Paul Sweeney, who will actually come out of the e-learning area also, but with an ESL background. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And you’re saying so many schools wouldn’t be able to attract these instructors, and you can because wherever they live, as long as the time zone isn’t an issue for them, they can work for you. Is that the big advantage you have? DAVID KASKEL: Absolutely. Yes. We have very, very talented people, some that are living
  • 16. in Greece, Turkey, in the UK and the U.S., Australia. But that is the major advantage. Well, I think some people like to be involved in more innovative learning methods. We’re attracting people who are drawn to that in the first place. But secondly, if you think of every place around the world if we want to get a teacher to teach outside of Seoul, for instance. It might be one thing to get English teachers in a major city in South Korea, but it’s harder to get them in a lot of the cities. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Now one of the problems that so many educators face, especially here I’m thinking kindergarten through twelfth grade education in the United States. There’s so much emphasis on assessing learning outcomes. I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about whether you have formal assessment models in place, to see how well your novel strategies are working, and if you can tell us a little bit about what those assessment models are. DAVID KASKEL: Yeah. Well, actually right now I would say they’re more informal, and they’re really based on student feedback and observation. So it’s the teachers watching, tracking where students are going, and then it’s talking to students about their experiences. In some ways, that ends up being one of the best indicators of where students are and the effectiveness of a program. We’ve had some students report back to us on tests that they’ve taken within their universities. One of our students from Saudi Arabia recently came back and said his English level went up by 40 percent in six months, which is a very, very huge jump. I don’t know how that was measured, but that was measured at his university. We are looking at a more formalized regular forms of evaluation, both self-evaluation and observed evaluation. But to date, it has been through surveys, through interviews and things like that.
  • 17. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. And, let’s see, we’ve got a few questions coming in. Now they’re moving a little more quickly than I can track them. So let’s see. Okay. I can see how this would work for grammar and building confidence in conversation, but how do you deal with the grunt work of learning vocabulary? DAVID KASKEL: A few different ways. I mean vocabulary is learned through usage so you introduce words in context, and people tend to remember it a little bit better. To take a simple example: If you’re learning the word for different foods, like banana, you drop a giant banana on someone’s head and repeat it three times. It’ll stick with someone a little bit more than you’re just taught in a classroom, say the word “banana.” So we’re able to add in contextual and visual stimulus to help reinforce vocabulary. We also have the ability, as you know and pointed out already, to both talk and type at the same time, which some people find easier. They want to see what the word is. So vocabulary is actually one of the easier things I think to build. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And we have a question from Bluewave Ogee on the number of students that you’ll typically have at one of your Sims at one time, and also are they using in-world voice to communicate? DAVID KASKEL: Everything is with voice, and it really depends what’s going on in their particular Sim. So a class can be anywhere from six to 12 usually, I would say. We have more at social events. Again, we have a lot of Sims. We’re open a long time, so I don’t think, in general, it’s rare to find more than 12 people in a Sim, often find four to six if they’re just students walking around with each other. So I would say that’s not really an issue right now
  • 18. in terms of lag or things being overcrowded. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. I’d like to move on a little bit to just flushing out your business model since, after all, this is a for-profit educational enterprise. And I’d like to start with your target audience. Preparing for the show, your staff sent a bunch of your promotional materials, and one of the slogans was something along the lines of learning English “Talking Business.” So are you primarily targeting a business audience, a corporate audience? DAVID KASKEL: I wouldn’t say we’re primarily. I mean we have two different strands so we’re looking, yes, at the business side of things, but also at the general consumer. Depending on the businesses themselves, they are looking at both the need for general English and for business English. But business English is a very, very large market, so it does draw in people. Also, for us, in some ways, it’s a contrast because there are people who feel Virtual Worlds aren’t that serious. So putting out the idea of business English lets them know up front that this is a serious place, that this can really help you with your career, for instance. It’s not quote “a game,” which I’m sure you realize can be an issue for some people. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yes, that actually is a topic that comes up just about every session of Metanomics. DAVID KASKEL: Okay. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So we’re very familiar with that issue. You haven’t had a full
  • 19. launch, is that right? You’re not in Beta really, but you haven’t done the big promotional campaign yet? DAVID KASKEL: Correct. We’ve done a very, very soft launch. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Mm-hmm. And so can you tell us a little bit about the students that you have now? DAVID KASKEL: Sure. I would say that they are typically ranging from about 25 to 35 years old. A high number are from the Middle East, where we’ve done our initial test markets because it was a small controlled area. Many of them have never [spoken to?] native speakers of English in their entire life, and so that’s part of what drew them in. It was the ability actually just to meet native speakers. Ami is smiling at ling, who’s one of our students who’s done incredibly well. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Hello, ling. Welcome to Muse Isle. DAVID KASKEL: And we have really a very, very strong dedicated group of students who are using Language Lab in very, very full ways, so it’s not generally just people who want to go to classes. It’s people who want to talk to native speakers, get to know other students. A fairly multicultural group. Even we have about 60 students we’ve got in the past couple of months from maybe 20 different countries already. I don’t know if that answers the question. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah, that does help give us some insight. That’s sort of the soft launch part. Can you tell us now about the major launch here. That’s mid-September? Is
  • 20. that right? DAVID KASKEL: Mid-September, late September, early October. We’re still working on some things internally, some backend systems that we’re still putting in place. And we’re getting together some of our marketing material and sales material. So obviously-- ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I guess there are two things I’m interested in. One is: Who are you targeting? Sort of like where should we expect to see Language Lab advertisements and commercials and so on? And the other is if you can talk a little bit about how you’re going to scale up and what you feel you need to have in place to handle the students you hope you’ll get from the major launch. DAVID KASKEL: Yeah. Well, there are certain administrative systems that we’re still putting in place because we essentially track everyone along their progress, you know, which classes they’ve taken, how they’ve done, who they’re going to see in terms of our city people program, what level they’re at, which teachers they like. Things like that. So there’s some work to be done there, particularly in the front end and getting to understand what expectations are and matching them very closely with the correct program. But aside from that, our system is fairly scalable. I think we could up pretty easily up to about 5,000 students right now. So some of the scalability issues come above that number. And, in terms of where you’ll see us in which areas, we’ll continue in the Middle East because we’re actually getting a fair number, a very good interest from there. And we’re getting to understand that market fairly well. We will focus more on Europe. Probably Italy is one of the countries that we’re looking at.
  • 21. We tend to look at countries where we make sure that we have the language issues handled, some of the cultural issues handled, and we can really place the correct kind of advertisement to the right kind of people. We’ve gotten a fair amount of interest initially we got from people who are gamers so we’ll probably look again at that, the gamer community. And we’ll also look at the [B to B?] side of things. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Would you be reaching out directly to, say, multinational corporations that you know have budgets for English as a second language-- DAVID KASKEL: That’s exactly, yes. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: --or would you be advertising in the Economist? DAVID KASKEL: No, no, no. No big advertising. No. It would be focused directly on corporations and universities too. And actually some ESL schools. But we can provide to a school that’s teaching English in a place where there aren’t native speakers around is the native speaker component. So we have a program specifically designed for schools that already offer the classes. We can essentially supplement that with a native speaker program. So those are some of the areas we’re looking at. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, I also hope you will work actively to get covered by the non-English press. You can offer them some free classes, and then they’ll write about you.
  • 22. DAVID KASKEL: Yeah. A very good idea. Yes. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Now it sounds like the way you’re going about this, you mentioned that you would be promoting to gamers, but that doesn’t sound like necessarily within Second Life. So it sounds like you’re going to be bringing a lot of people into Second Life, who have never been here before. That’s got to have its own challenges for you. DAVID KASKEL: Yeah, that’s true. Actually, I don’t think we’ve done a particularly good job of really focusing on Second Life community, which is slightly ironic because I’ve been around Second Life so long. And I think we need to do more to do that. But our focus, the vast majority of every student we’ve gotten, 95 percent, they’ve never been in Second Life. Most of them never even heard of it. [AUDIO GLITCH] talented great group of people that Ami actually runs that help people very quickly get onto voice, and, once people get onto voice, it’s fairly fast for people to get used to what’s going on. We have found that, if you don’t get to voice, and you’re still texting a lot, the interfaces are slightly more confusing, and it’s hard to move text and do a lot of different things. We’re talking to actually Linden right now about doing a little bit more with them of some of their non-English speaking people up front, to help them acclimate a little faster. Ami just reminded me of that. But aside from that, we have seen, for instance, someone came in last week from Saudi Arabia, with no gaming experience, and it took about 15 minutes to get him to the point where he was comfortable talking and moving around. Once you get to that point, the rest can fill in over time.
  • 23. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. And now I see SLCN just recently put up maybe one of the most novel aspects, a graphic demonstrating one of the most novel aspects of your Second Life business, which is that you actually are charging a significant fee for subscriptions. I think it’s from about $30 a month up to $79.95 for the complete package. And we actually had a fair bit of a discussion in the Metanomics chat channel a week or so ago about the difficulties that people have charging for content within Second Life. But you don’t expect that to be a problem. Can you describe the differences between the different subscription packages and which ones are suited to which types of students? DAVID KASKEL: Yeah. Let me just talk just briefly about charging versus not charging and what some of the issues are. What we’re offering at the prices we’re offering is an incredibly good value. It’s very hard to find pretty much anywhere else in the world. So we’ve looked. If you want to study English, well, in Saudi Arabia for instance, you might be spending $150 per hour for classes, if they’re small classes, by certified teachers, the level we have. So we’re incredibly price competitive to people who want to and need to learn a language. Up front it looks like a lot from a Second Life perspective, but, from the world of actually needing to learn a language, it’s not very much for the quality you’re getting. The difference in our subscriptions is really based on the amount of class time you get versus the amount of time practice you get with our native speakers, the actor program. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Let’s see. I’ve got a couple questions for sort of looking ahead and thinking about what Language Lab might look like in a year or so. My first question is that you talked about scalability. There are technical sides to this, but the other aspect is simply getting enough instructors trained in a novel way of teaching. Do you see
  • 24. that as being one of the more difficult issues? Or do you see other things that are likely to hit you first as challenges to scaling? DAVID KASKEL: Yeah. I don’t think actually the instructor issue is that difficult. We’ve run two teacher training programs, each with about 20 teachers, so we’ve put about 40 teachers through teacher training. The first time it was fairly slow and a bit difficult because we were learning so much of what we were doing as we were teaching. Next time it was faster. Now when someone comes on, we make part of what their learning process is observation, and that really does speed up the process a lot. You can watch three or four classes, reflect on it and understand what the students were learning. It isn’t that difficult. And, again, when we run ads for teachers, we get responses from all over the world, so there are a lot of very motivated teachers and people, so I don’t think that would be so much of an issue. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. A second question on where you might be in a year or so is: Do you fully expect to be in Second Life alone? And I’d like to point out that you said you’ve been in Second Life a long time. I believe you were here for day one of the Beta. Is that right? DAVID KASKEL: Yeah. I came on. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So you’ve seen--Second Life has developed tremendously since then, and obviously voice is a huge boon for a business like yours. But the other thing we have is, we have a lot of other Worlds that have come up on the horizon. We’ve got Lively, HiPiHi, Twinity, Multiverse. So do you have plans to look in these different Worlds, and would you expect to either have a presence in multiple Worlds or move?
  • 25. DAVID KASKEL: I would say probably the former, have presence in multiple Worlds. We are very aware of all the other Worlds, and we’ve talked to people at those Worlds. We’re actively exploring what they mean and what could be offered. And I do think Second Life is, by far, the most developed stable, so we’re really happy with it right now, but we keep our eyes open for what’s out there and what they can offer basically our students. We all know of some of the limitations of Second Life and some of the things that are difficult with it, so we look for other Worlds that might complement what Second Life can offer. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Let’s see. We’re just about out of time. We have a number of questions now in the chat on bringing people in-world. And so one question from Nany Kayo is: Are you using entirely your own resources, or are you sending them through Linden Lab’s Help Islands or outsourcing that routine to yet a third party? DAVID KASKEL: It’s all of our own resources. We have specially trained people that greet so when our new people come in, they’re met by someone--it’s always staffed--who really walks them through and talks them through the whole process of how to really work in Second Life. Furthermore, some of our initial part of the orientation in becoming part of a Language Lab student does deal with some of the complexities of user interface and getting to understand Second Life more. We have a very talented group of helpers who speak I don’t know how many languages, but at least a dozen, so we’re able to do very well on language support. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Wonderful! We have time for one more question, and I guess this is a somewhat more personal one, David. You haven’t yet completed your degree at Kings
  • 26. College. And so having advised many doctoral students and directed the doctoral program here at Cornell’s Johnson School for the better part of a decade, I’m wondering how you balance running a for-profit business, raising capital and all that, with being a doctoral student? DAVID KASKEL: Yeah. I guess I don’t balance it so well. I have suspended the doctorate at this point, but I’m in discussions with the department. I do a fair amount of work in the department itself at CCH because I tend to be the one who knows the most about Virtual Worlds at this point. So I lecture and help out with various grants and things like that. I’m in discussion, trying to figure out exactly what I can do. Running Language Lab is more than a full time job. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah, and we should all be cursed with such interesting and, to me, very salable business ideas. I wish you the best of luck in getting any additional funding that you need-- DAVID KASKEL: Well, thank you. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: --and the students that will help it grow, and probably help Second life, in the balance. I notice, by the way, someone says--I think it was JenzZa Misfit, who said, “Well, you came here on day one of Second Life’s Beta, and you’ll probably be here when they leave Beta, whenever that might be.” David Kaskel, Language Lab, thank you very much for coming on to Metanomics.
  • 27. DAVID KASKEL: Thank you for having me, Beyers. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And I look forward to seeing how you develop. DAVID KASKEL: Great. Thank you. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, now we, as usual, close our session today with Connecting The Dots, and Connecting The Dots today is about survey research. I’ve been increasingly interested in survey research lately because I am on the advisory board of Cornell’s Survey Research Institute. I’m in the process of conducting a survey on accounting standards for the Financial Accounting Standards Board. But today I actually want to talk about surveys for a different reason, with the help of KGSM’s Idea City and the folks at Metaversality. We are going to be surveying Metanomics viewers to understand who you are and what you’re hoping to get out of Metanomics so that we can make this a better show for you. We’re going to run our survey with the help of two bots that you can see one over in the corner. Hopefully SLCN can get a shot of our big red dot bot called, I believe that is Vogel Ideator, and we have another one: Roxy Ideator. Bots are avatars run by computer programs rather than people. And so here, if we have that on the screen. Vogel, welcome to Metanomics. Oh, that’s right. We communicate with bots strictly through instant messaging, not through voice. Now mechanically the survey is very straightforward. You go to either bot's profile. You load a web page, and you log in. Then you IM the bot with the word “begin,” and you start answering what are really fairly predictable questions. It won’t take you more than ten
  • 28. minutes to do the whole thing, and it’ll be a huge help to us to make this event better. So I thank you in advance. But I’m an academic. I have the floor. I always have to stick a little lesson in here somewhere so I want to talk about a couple of the issues that I have confronted as I learn more about surveys and a couple in particular. The first one is about sample selection. Traditional survey researchers typically are trying to collect representative samples through a process of random selection. The researcher selects a random sample of potential respondents and then contacts them through phone, mail, email or whatever other medium, and then the researcher makes sure that these potential respondents actually respond, through a series of reminders. This gentle nagging process is essential to the validity of the survey results. If you let people choose whether or not to respond, you end up only with those people who are motivated to make their views known, and that is usually a different group than the entire population you’re hoping to understand. Now that obviously is a lot of work for the researchers, and so an increasingly common alternative is to create a panel instead of a representative sample. The panel methodology is far more convenience. A group like Market Truths here in Second Life or Social Research Foundation, another group with a very large panel. They have created groups of thousands of people, Second Life residents, who have expressed willingness to respond to survey requests, and they collect a great deal of demographic data right up front. So if you’re wondering how many Second Life residents support Barack Obama or John McCain or what they think of the current Second Life viewer--the topic of tomorrow’s show, by the way--you
  • 29. can go to one of these companies, and you can ask them to survey their panel members. They can give you a really fast turnaround because they have a sample. Everyone’s already answered all the demographic questions, and they’re not going to be following up repeatedly to see who responds. Just so you know, our Metanomics--I tend toward the representative sample side on the research issue, usually. And, in this case in particular, it’s far more appropriate for us. We want a representative sample of people who watch Metanomics. We can’t really use a panel because the panel membership doesn’t overlap a whole lot with the existing viewership, and those are the people we really want to reach out to. And we want to avoid self-selection bias. What that means is that we’ll be sending out some reminder messages as well. The last thing in favor of a representative sample is, we’re really only going to ask a few demographic questions. Please be assured we’re going to keep all of this information entirely private. None of us will ever be able to match your avatar, much less your real name, with the other information you provide so you can feel confident in answering these questions honestly. But this raises a second issue that is coming out of my study of surveys in Second Life, and it’s a Virtual World specific issue. Who is the target of the survey? Is it the avatar, or is it the person behind the avatar? If this were World of Warcraft, I might ask, “Are we surveying the warrior or the subscribing player?” To understand the issue, it’s helpful to go back to a key distinction I made in my first
  • 30. Metanomics show back in September 2007: Metanomics 101. And the distinction is between immersionists and augmentationists. Immersionist Metanomics examines Virtual Worlds from the perspective of residents who pursue their own economic interests within the World. Augmentationist research examines how Real World enterprises are using Virtual Worlds to pursue their Real World strategic goals. Now let me say here at Metanomics we’re pretty unabashed augmentationists. Our audience is of largely people who are running real businesses, who are interested in studying them, who are interested in educating people about them and so on. So our content is directed at those of you who, in your Real Life, are trying to understand the business and policy issues of Virtual Worlds. And so it’s you, not your avatar, that we’d like to hear from. This is your chance to help us make the show more like what you want. So please, we will be putting information on our blog, announcing it on our shows, IM-ing and noticing the Metanomics Group. Please let us know what you think about Metanomics. Thank you very much for your time. That ties up Connecting The Dots. And just about ties up today’s show. Before we go I’d like to quickly announce two upcoming events. Next Monday, Zane Naboulsi, Microsoft developer-evangelist, comes to Metanomics to talk about Second Life’s new role in the Microsoft Developers Network, MSDN, and we'll also be talking about what the rise of Virtual World technology means to Microsoft and what Microsoft’s plans in the industry might mean for the rest of us. But, there’s more. Tomorrow, Tuesday, at 2:00 P.M., we’re having a special show on the Second Life viewer. In Enhancing Your View, Dusan Writer will reveal the winners of his
  • 31. L800,000 contest to design a better user interface. And then Adam Frisbee will discuss his exploration of viewer possibilities associated with OpenSim, including XBAP, one possible method for integrating a viewer with your browser. We’ll also be looking at the future of the Second Life viewer with an eye to the challenges developers face, particularly when trying to create an experience that works well for both new and skilled Virtual World residents. So thank you all very much for attending, and, see you tomorrow, 2:00 P.M. Second Life Time. Bye bye. Document: cor1028.doc Transcribed by: http://www.hiredhand.com Second Life Avatar: Transcriptionist Writer