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Automated non-player characters (NPCs) are common to many computer / video games and many digital learning environments, performing both a ‘scaffolding’ function and an interactive function. Bots are also common in VWs like Second Life, both of the prim-bot kind and the avatar-bot kind and with varying levels of functionality. Chatbots are likewise common in many 2D and 3D environments, and while providing some degree of interactivity, it is often limited, unfocussed and of a circular nature.
The Chinese Studies Program at Monash University has taken some of these existing concepts and integrated them into task-based language and culture lessons. A system of avatar-bot NPCs with a range of standard SL functions (give, rez objects, move) has been developed in combination with an AIML chatbot database tailored to the needs of the Chinese language and of the pedagogical goals of the lessons. One unique feature of this combination is actions/functions that are activated from within the AIML program itself, allowing for these actions or functions to occur as a natural part of the dialogues between learner and NPC. In addition, the NPCs are also able to interact with a number of other ‘tools’ developed within the Second Life environment especially for our lessons. Finally, a method for logging learner and NPC interaction has been developed for post-lesson review and data gathering.
These NPCs perform a number of key roles in terms of classroom management (especially with large numbers of learners inword at the same time), providing learners with focused ‘naturalistic’ linguistic and cultural interaction, providing them with opportunities for ‘meaningful’ communication, acting as gatekeepers for key stages of a particular task, providing learners with key artefacts required to complete the set task, and providing scaffolding technically and with lesson content.
The above features (technical and pedagogical), as well as the advantages and disadvantages of using such a system, will be discussed in detail during the presentation. Examples from actual lessons will be offered to illustrate how the NPC system is used in practice, with an exemplar machinima of one particular lesson to be shown.
Scott Grant [Xilin Yifu] is a graduate of Monash University with Bachelor of Economics and a Master of Translation Studies degrees. He is currently working on his PhD thesis on teaching language and culture in virtual worlds. The working title is “Getting Immersed in Chinese”.
Prior to commencing his teaching and academic career at Monash University, Scott spent 7 years living, studying and working in China.
Scott has taught Chinese language and culture at tertiary level for more than ten years. He also taught translation (Chinese<>English) for a number of years at post-graduate level and is a professionally qualified translator. He has been developing and implement language and culture lessons and a Chinese-themed learning environment in Second Life for the last two and a half years.
Scott has developed a Chinese-themed virtual leaning environment in Second Life on Chinese Island at Monash University 2. In line with constructivist / social-constructivist education principles, this environment has been purpose designed for the learning of Chinese language and culture both synchronously and asynchronously. In language acquisition terms, the environment constitutes a 'rich mediated interactive environment' that together with the purpose-designed lessons, lesson content and pedagogy
When: 5 PM SLT/PST (10 AM, Sunday, 6-17-11, AUSTRALIA)