Many virtual environments are socially oriented. Communication in virtual environments allows for a safe environment to share ideas and cheap access to people worldwide. Virtual environments also allow foreign language learners to make native speaker friends from their homes. They can meet native speakers worldwide in a free space designed to promote discussion of a specific topic or simply socialization.
By the same token, educators are excited by the possibilities that this new technology offers. They have a new way of encouraging students to write, and they can connect classes worldwide. Virtual Environments offer a new way of examining language and writing.
Communication tools to enchance EFL learners' writing ability in virtual environments
- Bulletin boards
- Real time on-line text and voice chats and whispering chat
Other features in virtual environments
- Choosing and creating an Avatar
- Expressing emotions and actions
- Creating one's own rooms
- Buying and selling virtual properties
For EFL Learners
- Worlds Chat: "Through the creation of 3D Internet sites, Worlds Chat creates communities of users who form the basis for multi-user chat, e-commerce and advertising forums in a broad range of categories. Worlds 3D internet technology provides a contextual environment to online users, moving the current HTML print paradigm of the Internet, i.e., paging up and down, to a new level of spatial environments more akin to the real world. Within Worlds' immersive environments, online users can speak to each other through voice to voice telephony, standard web pages can be launched from within these 3D environments, supporting archived audio and video streams as well as live feeds. All these features offer a new value added layer to the current 2D internet experience" (quoted from www.worlds.com). Furthermore, this virtual community offers some on-line classes about how to create rooms, and each room has a host to help new users. However, Worlds Chat has a weakness: poor quality audio chat.
- Active Worlds: "Active Worlds, the web's most powerful virtual reality experience, lets learners visit and chat in incredible 3D worlds that are built by other users. Learners can also create fascinating 3D worlds that others can visit and chat in minutes. The Active Worlds Universe is a community of hundreds of thousands of users that chat and build 3D virtual reality environments in millions of square kilometers of virtual territory" (quoted from www.activeworlds.com).
- The Palace: The Palace is a vast online community of graphical interactive sites for Mac and Window users. "With the Palace User Software, learners can visit a diverse range of communities such as business, training, and learning resources; entertainment and gaming centers; gathering points for special interest groups; and also personal sites where you simply can go to chat and socialize with friends and family. In addition, if learners download the Palace Server, they can even build and customize their own personal Palace site to host other people" (quoted from www.thepalace.com). The weak points of this virtual community are 1) few avatars 2) environments just like pictures 3) no specific guidelines or guiders for new users 4) usually for children, so chat contains slang difficult for EFL learners.
- schMOOze University: schMOOze University is a small, friendly college. Learners studying English as a second or foreign language could practice English while sharing ideas and experiences with other learners and practicers of English. Students have opportunities for one-on-one and group conversations as well as access to language games such as Scrabble and Boggle, an on-line dictionary, a virtual library and a grammar maze.
- enCore : enCore is "an online virtual learning environment system built on LambdaMOO. It comes with a built in server-side client called Xpress. enCore was primarily designed for educational use, but can also be used for other purposes" (quoted from lingua.utdallas.edu/encore). It is perfect for digital community building, online writing projects, online conferencing, distance education programs, or just about any educational endeavor that aims to incorporate a rich and versatile online presence.
- LambdaMOO: LambdaMOO is a network-accessible, multi-user, programmable, interactive system well-suited to the construction of text-based adventure games, conferencing systems, and other collaborative software (quoted from ftp.lambda.moo.mud.org/pub/MOO/ProgrammersManual_toc.html).
- Diversity University: "Diversity University MOO campuses are Internet locations for serious experimentation in network-based, interactive teaching, learning and social services" (quoted from moo.du.org:8000/).
- Planet Oit: Planet Oit is a geology educational MOO created by the Geology Explorer Project at North Dakota State University.
- Zora: "Zora is a 3D graphical multi-user environment to explore identity and values through storytelling and programming. Learners are graphically represented as an avatar and can navigate around the city. In Zora, learners can create their own spaces and can populate the city by creating objects and symbols as well as characters with stories and cherished values. They can program them with storytelling behaviors to engage in conversations with the visitors. At the same time, learners can communicate with each other in real-time" (quoted from xenia.media.mit.edu/~marinau/Zora/).
- WebChat Broadcasting System: "WBS has hundreds of online communities where its two million members gather to exchange ideas, get advice, and just chat" (quoted from www.wbs.net/forums/). Learners can post individual community announcements; set up a free homepage; or participate in online events. The weakness of this communities is empty chat rooms despite active forums.
For Virtual-environment-using Teachers and Colleagues
- Tapped in: Tapped in is an on-line community mainly for teachers, development staff, university faculty, and researchers. It has various classes, clubs, and discussions via synchrouse chat, bulletin boards, and e-mail. Even though this community doesn't have any graphic functions, it has many strengths. First, because many members of this community are educators, chats are very valuable for deep conversation and starndard language. Second, the chat log emails the users automatically. Finally, a receptionist in the entrance helps new users.
- TeacherBridge : TeacherBridge is an innovative set of collaborative resources for educators. The system allows for very simple access and advanced interactive tools for teachers. Supported activities are "1) Field work: several classes take part in monitoring local wildlife and water quality. Data can be collectively updated in TeacherBridge charts and table: 2) Online Discussion: set up chat workgroups for students to discuss any number of topics. Integrate chat windows with a text or problem to be discussed. These chat sessions can be secured and monitored by teachers: 3) Class management: easily publish assignments, activity guides, due dates, and the like: 4) Curriculum: share lesson plan ideas and collaborate on what works/what doesn't within various contexts: 5) Go Virtual: science fairs, gardens, journals, field trips, quizes/tests... 6) Online Portfolios: class projects, groups, or individual portfolios can be created and edited within TeacherBridge. 7) WebQuests-Classes/students can organize internet research with comments within TeacherBridge" (quoted from teacherbridge.cs.vt.edu/public/).