I’ve been interested in 3D virtual worlds for teaching since I first worked in Second Life designing courses back in 2007. I’ve always believed that they could add a really valuable dimension to online learning and help students to overcome the sense of isolation that often leads students to lose motivation and drop out of online courses.
I was delighted when I first saw Edorble because I felt it offered the opportunity for any teacher to set up their own 3D virtual classroom and start teaching online for free.
How do you create a 3D virtual classroom?
The process of claiming your Edorble Online classroom is quite simple.
Go to: http://edorble.com/ and click on Claim World. This will take you to a sign up page. There you can register with your email address or one of your social media accounts.
You will then need to download the Edorble application. Also make a note of your code. This is the unique number that helps you and your students to enter your room.
Once you have downloaded the app you simply open it (you might have to check for updates) then you should see the entrance to your private 3D world.
Before entering you can click on the cog in the lower left corner to open the admin panel. This allows you to see the instructions for how you move around the world, put up your hand, sit down extra.
You can also change some of the settings that effect the performance of the world. You can set the video screen to fast if you are running an older computer on a slower internet connection. This will make the world less detailed and beautiful, but it will save on processor power and bandwidth.
Once you click the arrow to enter the world you’ll be able to do some minimal customisation on your avatar and add your name. once that’s done you are ready to go, so just click the arrow and tick.
Once you are in the world you can just click on the place you want your avatar to move to, so no need to use arrow keys. You can then start to explore the various parts of your world.
There is a great auditorium with a whiteboard screen. You can upload documents from Dropbox, Google Docs or watch videos from YouTube here and share them with your students and read through or watch together. If you have accounts on Zaption or Blendspace you can access any video based materials you have created there. You can also access websites and search the internet.
There are a number of breakout areas around the Edorble world that students can go to to do group or pair work and they also have access to various screens to work on. These screens can also be used to access simple online whiteboards so you can get students to draw and write on them.
Of course all of this is great, but the best part of Edorble is that students can stroll around and communicate freely much as they would in a physical space. Edorble is a great addition to any online course and can be used to add a social element or for instruction or group or project work. Your virtual classroom is always open so you don’t have to be there for students to access the world, they can meet there autonomously.
Things to be aware of
Make sure that the first time students use the world they will need to download and install it and it may take a bit longer to update and load.
Reinforce with your students that they must wear headphones and if possible use and external microphone, not the one built into their laptop. This will help everyone get the best sound quality. People who use onboard microphones and speakers will cause a lot of feedback and background noise for other users.
Things I like about Edorble
One of the great things about Edorble is that audio is proximity sensitive so it can be set up so that students don’t hear each other unless they reasonably close together.
Edorble was designed and is being developed specifically for education.
You get your own private world so students should be safe there and you don’t have any of the problems associated with Second Life.
You can switch back the detail and enable Edorble to run on more limited connectivity.
You can have groups of up to 100 students in the world at the same time.
How does Edorble stay free?
We all know that any company, even educational ones need to make money and generate income from somewhere. Edorble generates income from creating white-label worlds so that schools can have their own branded classrooms and from building bespoke worlds that can be anything you can imagine. So do get in touch with Edorble if you’d like a custom-built online world for your students.
I’ve long been interested in the potential of 3D virtual worlds for online education so I was delighted when I first found Edorble. I had my own 3D virtual classroom set up within about 5 minutes and was ready to start inviting students and trainee teachers. I think Edorble has huge potential for education, so I was really delighted when Gabe Baker – CEO of Edorble agreed to be interviewed.
What’s your elevator pitch?
We want to make online classes and meetings more personal, playful, and powerful. We do this with Edorble, a private 3D world that is purpose-built for online education and collaboration. Online, it can be difficult to have a sense of togetherness and to do simple things like break into small groups, raise hands, or watch videos and content together. We make all of that, and more, easy in Edorble.
Who is your ideal customer?
Our ideal customers are teachers and team leaders who want to have a class or meeting online in which participants have a sense of togetherness and a sense of shared space. Teachers with classes that rarely or never meet in person would particularly benefit from Edorble, since it fosters a sense of community that can be crucial for educational success.
How are teachers using Edorble now?
Teachers currently use Edorble to have synchronous online learning sessions with their students. These sessions are often discussion-based, but sometimes teachers use Edorble to give more traditional lectures or presentations followed by Q and A. Language teachers use Edorble with their students as a more casual way to hold conversations or do role-playing activities. Video chat can put people on the spot in a way that isn’t particularly conducive to experimentation and playfulness. Edorble tends to put people at ease with it’s game-like, playful environment. We’ve found strong usage from teachers that do global, cross-class collaborations in Edorble. Teachers using Edorble range from middle school to university level. Some teachers are using Edorble to conduct research into online learning, and others are using it with handicapped students who are unable to physically meet in person but who still want to come together online for learning interactions.
Is Edorble only for users with very high speed internet and powerful computers?
Definitely not, and we pride ourselves on this fact. Edorble is far less bandwidth intensive than video chat, and users can customize their graphics settings within Edorble so that older machines can run Edorble smoothly. Edorble can comfortably handle 100 users at a time, something that is impossible with most video conferencing technology. Although we don’t work on all old operating systems, we’ve done a lot of work to ensure broad compatibility with Windows and Mac. That being said, Edorble is generally more reliable with more modern machines and OSs, but we’re always improving our backwards compatibility. Users who use our upcoming build for Oculus Rift will indeed need a high-powered PC, but we’ll also be building for more lightweight VR hardware that doesn’t have these requirements.
What do you see as the advantages of learning in a 3D world?
3D worlds provide a number of unique advantages and affordances. For one, it’s easier to bring a large number of people online in a 3D world while still maintaining a sense of presence and togetherness. Video chat is unwieldy with larger groups, and tools like Blackboard Collaborate or Adobe Connect don’t do a great job at making people actually feel together. In 3D worlds it’s also easier and more natural to do things that typically use a sense of physical space, like breaking into small groups or using gestures (e.g. raise hand, sit down). Immersive 3D environments are more playful than other online learning environments. Using an avatar is fun and effective, and looking at content together in a 3D world is really easy.
How is Edorble different from platforms like Second Life? Edorble is different from Second Life in a few fundamental ways. For starters, Edorble is not a public ‘metaverse’; by default it’s private, so users claim their own private world and then invite others to it. Also, we make it easy for users to browse the web and display content during their sessions by including some nice screens scattered throughout the world. We have also figured out how to keep our costs significantly lower than Second Life, so when we leave beta people will be pleased to see that we can offer this service at such a low cost. In some ways, Second Life still has some more sophisticated features than Edorble, many of which are in development for us. We’ve heard from plenty of Second Life users, though, that Edorble is simply the easiest way to come together with students or colleagues in a virtual world. We also pride ourselves on keeping a clean, easy to use user interface. Research shows that Second Life’s complicated and crowded user interface is a barrier for teachers, who don’t want to have to spend time learning how to use a tool – they just want to use it. It’s still early days for Edorble, though, and we have some things cooking that Second Life hasn’t touched yet – and most of them are geared specifically towards education and collaboration, a focus that Second Life doesn’t have.
Back in 2007 a report from Gartner said that 80 Percent of active internet users would have some form of 3D presence in a virtual world by the End of 2011. Why do you think this didn’t happen and is likely to happen now?
This didn’t happen because the dominant 3D world platform, Second Life, is not particularly easy to use and it also quickly developed a reputation (not entirely deserved, in my opinion) for sleazy, inappropriate behavior. 3D technologies are also not always accessible on low-powered machines, and they are not always easy to use. Beyond this, though, I think in a lot of ways tools like Facebook provide the social, online presence that lots of people want, and they don’t actually need or want more than that. Facebook, though, is making some interesting moves in this space, and it’s clear that they see 3D/VR as part of their strategy moving forward. It will be interesting to see if Facebook goes for a ‘Facebook 3D’ that tries to succeed where Second Life failed. We don’t think large-scale adoption of 3D world technology will happen until virtual reality hardware become more mainstream and the experience is easier to access, more immersive, and safer. Until then, 3D worlds will still be used by those who understand that they provide an extraordinarily effective and powerful way to come together online. It’s no surprise that many teachers are keeping a close eye on the space.
At the moment Edorble is free. What’s the business model for the future?
In the future, we will switch to a ‘freemium’ subscription model whereby limited usage of Edorble will be free, but those that want worlds for more time and with more users can pay to upgrade their plan accordingly. Costs will be significantly lower than other 3D world solutions available. Beyond this, we also do custom development and design work for institutions or companies that want bespoke 3D worlds. We white-label these 3D worlds so that they look like our client’s product from end-to-end. There are other possibilities for revenue generation that we’re exploring, including advertising and a few other things that we’d like to keep a secret for now.
What do you view as Edorble’s greatest milestone so far? Edorblehas hit a few notable milestones lately, and it’s hard to choose amongst them. I’ll briefly list a few. On Wednesday, May 18 users spent 3,100 minutes in Edorble, a record day for us. Also on that day, one of the gatherings in Edorble brought together students and teachers from Kazakhstan, Pakistan, North Carolina, California, and Italy. I had the pleasure of participating in this event and it was an incredibly powerful experience to see Edorble being used to give a global voice and audience to these brilliant students. We’re also thrilled to be presenting at EdTechXGlobal in London on June 16.
What mistakes have you made and what have you learned from them?
Not a week goes by where we don’t make at least a few mistakes, so there’s many to choose from. One mistake that sticks out to me is our rush to decide on base clothing for our avatars. We are currently working on avatar customization options, but until then users are stuck with our initial clothing choices. We’ve discovered that Edorble can’t be used in certain parts of the world because the clothing is considered inappropriate for student use. The lesson we’ve learned from this is: We have to think global, and we have to be more considerate of a broader range of cultures, preferences, and human experience. Edorble is often used as a tool to connect students from one country with students from another, and it has always been our intention to be ‘global ed-tech’. We’ve learned from this clothing mistake that we need to be doing more in order to actualize this vision.
How do you intend to develop Edorble for the future?
We’re going to build Edorble for virtual reality headsets, and we’ll be building text chat and other web-based integrations that help teachers do things like integrate with their LMS, cloud storage solutions, and other ed-tech tools. We’re also going to create some class/meeting management tools that let the teacher or host exert more control over the world. Currently we’re working on a great system that will let teachers bookmark persistent links on the screens in Edorble, so that they can create galleries and presentations that stay in their worlds all the time. We’re also about to do a big overhaul of our avatars and avatar customization options. The future will see a lot of exciting exchange between the web and the 3D world, the details of which I’ll have to leave as a secret for now. We’re also going to be building other 3D environments that users can choose from. The next ‘map’ will be a bit more of a formal space that might have more appeal for higher education teachers and corporate meeting hosts. We can’t wait to show you what we’re cooking up.
Gabe is a Latin teacher by training, but after a few years teaching he went to graduate school and earned his master’s degree in education from UCSB, where he focused on online learning environments. After this, he moved to the Bay Area to work in the ed-tech industry and to plant the seeds for Edorble. A year later, he’s re-located Edorble back to Santa Barbara and is working on it full time. In his spare time, he writes instrumental music, reads Latin literature, and enjoys beautiful California.
Wizer is a fantastic free tool for creating simple digital worksheets that enable learners and teachers to do some pretty complex things. When I first discovered the tool a few months back I was really impressed by how easy it was to create really engaging blended learning content for class or homework, so it’s great to be able to publish this Q & A with Nira Mayorchik Sheleg the Co-founder & CEO.
When and why did you start Wizer?
I founded Wizer two and a half years ago. I have dual passions: education and technology, but I noticed teachers were not being well served by the technology industry. Most of the edtech solutions are clunky, rigid and uninspiring. I wanted to build something that would delight and inspire, something that would make teachers’ job easier and more effective. So I went back to my academic research on teacher cognition and found that all learning content can be broken down into a set of core elements. We set out to build a tool that would let teachers build their own digital learning content in a familiar and intuitive way.
What’s your elevator pitch?
Wizer is every teacher’s bridge to edtech; an easy way to update teaching materials and strategies to maximize the use of technology in teaching. The open platform lets teachers create and share their own original digital teaching resources.
Who is your ideal customer?
Any teacher, school, district or organization that wants to embrace technology in teaching.
You have a great collection of interactions that teachers can embed into their worksheets including fill the gaps, matching exercises, open questions and even audio recording, so what are you planning for the future?
In the near future we will be releasing: matching questions, partial points for questions and feedback for each individual question. We release updates and new features on an ongoing basis.
As a former language teacher, the audio recording activity sound really interesting to me. Could you explain how that works and how teachers can use it?
We originally designed the feature for students requiring text be read out loud to accommodate their learning needs. We wanted teachers to be able to easily record themselves reading a text out loud and have it available on-demand for any student. Then we discovered language, music and teachers of very young learners were also using the feature in interesting ways, for example:
Listening comprehension: Recite audio text, then ask students to answer questions.
Improving reading: Add audio file so students can listen to text as they read.
Vocabulary and pronunciation: Pronounce new vocabulary words and recite examples of how they are used in sentences
Spelling: Recite words and ask students to spell them in the answer box. Great way to prepare for spelling assessments.
Accommodating auditory learners: Recite written texts, questions, answer choices.
Music instruction and practice: Teacher can record notes, scales or phrases of music to help teach and assess, For example, record a chord and ask student to write the name of the chord.
Keyboarding: Add audio recordings of spoken passages and ask students to keyboard the text.You can make a series of Wizer that gradually present longer, more difficult passages and increasing speeds.
What LMS features does Wizer have?
Wizer currently tracks time spent on worksheet, score and date of completion.
Are there any tutorials that can help teachers get started using Wizer?
We can also schedule virtual training for groups of teachers if they get in touch with us through Twitter, Facebook or our website.
Do you attempt to control the quality of the materials which are shared communally through Wizer?
We believe in teachers and want Wizer to be a platform for teacher generated content. In the future, we may add more community quality control mechanisms. Just as Wikipedia has produced quality open-source information and replaced the old published encyclopedias, an open source platform for teaching content can reach the same level. We want to be the platform that makes that happen.
With any kind of community created content there is the potential for abuse. How do you monitor for this and is there any way user can report content or behaviour they feel may be abusive?
Any Wizer teacher can notify us of inappropriate content via the website or email. So far, we haven’t had any problems. As we continue to grow, we will develop reporting and controls as needed.
What’s the most important milestone you have achieved so far as a company?
Reaching over 45K users is obviously a huge milestone. The fact that we have already grown this big, without any marketing is particularly meaningful because it means teachers and technology experts are spreading the word themselves. For us, that is a strong validation that we are providing a valuable service that teachers need.
Can you share one point at which you feel you got something wrong and learned a valuable lesson from it?
As a Montessori teacher, I wasn’t focused on grades so we envisioned Wizer only as worksheets for practice time. But, many teachers also use our platform to prepare students for tests, so we added features for easy grading.
At the moment it looks like everything on wizer.me is free. Is that right and at what point and how do you intend to start making money to support the service?
Our current builder is completely free for teachers and students. Any teacher can create, assign and share as many Wizers as they wish. In the future more advanced features will be released and offered as premium paid services to the school or district. We intend to keeping our builder free.
Nira is an education and technology entrepreneur. Before founding Wizer, she founded and directed ‘Children’s Way” a Montessori school and ‘ShellEgg’ a tech startup and discovery platform for architects and interior designers. Nira’s research in Teacher Cognition inspired her to found Wizer, the first education technology company that starts with understanding how teachers think and work, then makes intuitive tools to enhance their skills.
This is the slide deck from Nik’s Keynote presentation at the 8th Virtual Round Table Web Conference 6-8 May 2016 (Fri-Sun). It covers his journey through self publishing and has tips advice and links for anyone who wants to publish their own ebook.
Click on the images in the presentation to link through to the resources mentioned.
In this interview with e-Author Phil Wade, we look at his journey into ELT materials writing and how he sees the future of e-publishing in ELT.
Phil has been in ELT for over 15 years and currently teaches at universities and in companies. He is interested in creating tailored courses for specific needs. He has the CELTA, DELTA, MA TESOL, a PGCE, certificates in Coaching and mentoring and is doing a Phd in Education.
You seem to produce a lot of work for free. Why have you decided not to charge for your books?
I get asked this a lot, mainly by course book writers. Well, I used a lot of free online materials and blogs for a long long time as a language school teacher and always wanted to give something back. I got into writing but never got to write what I wanted. My idea was to produce short titles about things I was interested in and to work with the people I wanted to. Thus, my ebooks were born and as they are quite quick to make, my contributors, Noreen Lam and Kati Alice Bilsborough kindly donate time for free and numerous other reasons, I give them away for free.
I’ve heard that you don’t want to produce paper versions of your books. Why is this?
Maybe I’m wrong but I thought ebooks were a response to too much photocopying, paper books and the growing rise of mobile tech. I don’t really see the point in making ebooks to print and copy. For me, I make them with the idea that people will use them on phones as most people use their phones for a lot longer nowadays. As a teacher, I put everything on my iPad and my students put all their docs and my materials on theirs or their phones. It saves time, is more convenient and free. My students and my department have $0 photocopy budgets.
Do you prefer blogging or books as a medium? Why?
I used to blog a fair bit but my blog kind of ran its course and I got limited by it, articles too. My writing evolved and ebooks seemed to fit what I wanted or rather HOW.
Some people are critical of those who give their work away for free and they say that it undermines our profession and makes people feel they should get everything for free. How would you respond to this?
Yes, I’ve been told this. I’d say to question who is saying it and why. Facebook seems to have quite a few people representing companies who are quick to either defend them or attack you if what you are doing seems to tread on their toes. I really don’t have to defend myself and neither do you or anyone else who is sharing a free worksheet or a lesson plan. You can make and share what you want. And also, as far as I see it, there really are not many self-pub ebook writers out there. Few publishers seem interested but the British Council does do some great free ebooks and nobody questions them.
My other response might be that if new and unpublished people can write ebooks that seem to detract or compete with professional ones, maybe the latter should be better. Healthy competition is always good though and it sometimes disappoints me that there is this kind of attitude.
What platforms and tools do you use to publish your ebooks? Why did you choose these platforms?
Just Word 2007. Nothing else. I just open Word, write then publish. Oh, I add a cover page too. Personally, I find Word very boring. It really does not inspire you to be creative. My current trick is to write on my phone or even on paper and then transfer it.
How do you market your books and make sure people find them?
I’m very boring. I don’t think about selling as I give books for free so I just post on FB and in a few groups. I soon get tired though. I’m not a fan of the hard sell to my PLN. I do a few posts and then sometimes I make fun images but soon get bored.
You recently won an award from the IATEFL Business English SIG. How important are awards and prizes for you?
Well, at the start, I won a OneStop one and a Language Point prize and then later the BESIG one. It was great to get some recognition and I tip my hat to BESIG for supporting a 100% freelance writer. In contrast, I entered the ELTons the year before but didn’t even get past the first stage. For me, it’s not about prizes or fame as they haven’t really changed anything for me. This is just a hobby. I generally finish a book and then move on. I never read them again. I hope some people read the ebooks and find them useful. A repost, a share or a review are very nice outcomes, in my opinion.
You started an ELT eBooks movement. Can you tell us what’s that about and what it aims to achieve?
I’m not sure it’s a movement and if it is maybe The Round started it but maybe I just fuelled it a bit by showing that anyone can write an ebook for $0 money. As I see it, it is part of my teacher development. I design courses, teach them and then write ebooks. It is very good for reflection.
I did make an FB group but we were never very many. Every so often I get requests to ‘share my secrets’ and tell people how to make lots of money from e-booking. For some reason, there is this myth that it is profitable. Someone actually said that I’d be retiring soon on my profits. I won’t. In fact, I don’t think I’ve even made enough to get a first cheque from the one book I sell. When you tell people this, they soon back off.
What’s the long term business aim for you? Do you want to get ‘discovered’ by one of the established publishers, or are you happy to continue producing books for free?
Not at all. I worked for several publishers and then was offered some course books but they just aren’t my thing. I then asked about writing short ebooks but none were interested. After that, I asked schools and online organisations but again, no interest. I’m very stubborn so when people say ‘no’, I like to prove them wrong. As I see it, and some others, our ebooks fill a niche or niches. I very much doubt that publishers could make enough money from an ebook to even cover costs.
I started with a list of ebooks to write and I’ve more or less done them all and then some so I might do another and stop. My next goals are to write more academic articles, set up an innovative journal and to create some kind of hybrid medium.
How do you see the future of ELT publishing and the role of ebooks within it?
I haven’t bought an ELT book in years and I haven’t used one in a long time. The last ones I saw looked a bit samey. I stay creative by making lessons and courses and also never work anywhere that has materials. This could be infuriating for some but I love the freedom. Because all my courses are very specialised, there just are no books I could use, the students wouldn’t buy them too and even just getting enough copies would be hard. I work in France and from what I know, we cannot legally make students buy books and for 10 or 20 hour adult contracts, they aren’t worth it.
I really haven’t seen much real innovation in publishing. You hear about it and the term ‘groundbreaking’ but I think it depends on the writer. For instance, I recall that a dictionary won a big prize a few years ago. I wouldn’t say that is innovative but some would. It depends on your perspective. This though highlights something else in that we are stuck in the ‘x sells so make more of x’ mentality. Same for films. People won’t get something new which they might like or even want. This is why Google is good in that they have innovative labs and groups where they just design crazy things that are not meant to sell but will lead to something else that might lead to a viable product IF it’s sold at the right time.
Do you have any tips for ‘would be’ ELT authors?
Open Word or Pages, start writing, add a cover page, click on ‘save as PDF’ then share it. I initially started with the idea of ‘fast publishing’ in mind and a form of marketing, which I’ve forgotten the name of, where you make something, release it, get feedback and then improve and improve it. This is how my first books evolved. For me, I really find the process of publishing interesting and creating models for books and then experimenting with promotions. I also love working with a cover designer and have dabbled in it myself. I must here say that Kati, the very kind designer of some of my ebook covers, is very kind in that she listens to my ideas and then has a real talent in making what I think I want.
I am not, as many will notice and hate me for, a fan of editing. I like to have a style and I want people to be able to read it. I don’t want it to be steamrollered and to produce a bland ‘course book …. quality’ product. I have worked for a couple of tough editors who either just wanted a ‘mini me’ to write like them or gave me so many templates and stock phrases that I just ended up copying and pasted instructions and text.
Ebooks, as I see it, are in between blogs and FB so very very different to books. If I had to write like in course books, I would quit. Teacher manuals and teacher development books are different but generally more formal and much longer so very different. I may sound like a spoiled kid but I love writing, creating and publishing. I like to be involved in all of it. I also track ‘data’ i.e. downloads and distribution channels and also spend time looking for key words for titles, the structure of covers, fonts and other things. I have a degree in Marketing and occasionally teach advertising so this interests me. I also specialised in literature on my first postgrad and have that a bit too, so this hobby kind of combines both I guess.
You can download two of Phil’s eboks from our Free Stuff section and check out more of his books on Smashwords.