Teaching in Second Life

Reflections of a language teacher

BrainBoard: A collaborative writing and brainstorming tool

Posted by Nergiz Kern on June 28, 2009

In one of my previous posts I tried to answer the question whether I missed any teaching tools in Second Life. Most teachers I know would like to have some kind of whiteboard that they or their students can write on. There are some tools that attempt to do that but they are too slow, too complicated or only the owner has the right to write something, they use too many prims or you have to prepare a notecard which is then displayed.

Second Life Tools - BrainBoard

Picture above: The BrainBoard

When I saw the BrainBoard (not to be confused with another great tool called Brain Board created by Gavin Dudeney, which you can buy in his educational tools shop inworld), I immediately knew it would become one of my favourite tools. It has some very neat features that make it a valuable tool in Second Life not only but especially for language teachers. In no particular order:

  1. It is collaborative. Trainers as well as students can use it.Trainer/Owner can switch between moderator mode (only trainer can write or move notes) or collaborative mode (everybody nearby can use it)
  2. Import and export text: Text (e. g. a list of phrases or other vocabulary items, topics, etc) can be prepared in advance and imported on the board. After a brainstorming or collaborative writing session, the text on the board can be exported easily to local chat, an email address or to a web database! (With a subscription to the BrainStore, users can save their board contents and load previous saved sessions with a click of a button to a hosted web database).
  3. Voting: In voting mode, students can vote on any of the notes on the board and the result is displayed immediately and are exported together with the text. Multiple votes on different notes are possible but not on the same note by the same person.
  4. Additional board: Should the main board get too crowded, a second board can be added with one click and notes can moved to this board.
  5. Notes (which can consist of single words or sentences or word lists up to 255 characters) can be moved very easily to sort them. They can even been moved between two boards. The colour of the notes and the text can be changed (e. g. to highlight groups of words or different categories)
  6. New notes can be added by anyone if set to collaborative mode and the note text can be changed.
  7. Set up in no time.

Some things to consider

1. Students do need some camera control skills. The board is quite large and it helps to know how to zoom in and out or pan up and down. I once used it with total newbies in their first session. I only used the lower half of the board so they didn’t have to use their camera controls and I added notes with words they brainstormed. In their second session, we arranged seats in such a position, that they could see all the text on the board without using camera controls. This time, the text was imported and they only had to move notes to match sentences halves.

2. Text is only readable from a near distance. This is because it is hovering text, which is intended only to be seen from a near distance. One can also zoom in if standing a bit further away. Hovering text has the advantage that unlike other types of text characters don’t add to the prim count and one can write more text.

3. The BrainBoard is not cheap and I would not buy it if I only intended to use it rarely but for language teachers and others who do a lot of writing, brainstorming or reviewing of vocabulary, etc. it is worth the investment in my opinion.

Watch the videos to see how the BrainBoard works. And here are some tutorial videos.

How can it be used in the language classroom?

  • Import vocabulary that they want to introduce in that session or review. Students can be asked to sort them into different categories or match pairs up.
  • Students can be asked to brainstorm topics, words they can think of related a certain topic, phrases, situations, etc. They can be given tasks after that.
  • Students can write stories collaboratively (idea by SLExperiments members)
  • Trainer can import jumbled up phrases/sentences or mini paragraphs of a letter or stories and students have to put them in the correct order.
  • Trainer can write language feedback of a speaking or writing activity up on the board. Students sort them in correct ones and those with mistakes in them. They might have to negotiate with their peers what is correct or contains a mistake. After they have reached consensus, they have to correct the mistakes (again negotiating and agreeing on a final version.
  • When recapping the lesson, students can be asked to write all the new words they learned in this lesson on the board. This can be extended to grammar points, cultural information, anything they learned or remember from the lesson. The teacher can then export the text and email it to the students or copy it to the class VLE. It could also be imported back to the board in the next session for a quick review.

What do other language teachers say?

I demonstrated the BrainBoard to some SLExperiments members and we tested it together. The reactions were mostly very positive and everybody was impressed by the features, especially the voting feature. Participants gave some valuable feedback and suggested some additional features which we passed on to the creator.

Can you think of other ways of using it the board in a language lesson?

Update, 13 December 2009

There is a new version of the BrainBoard available now, which has many improvements and some new features. Information about it including descriptions of the new functions, tutorials and how to buy can be found on the creator’s blog.

Jeff Lowe BrainBoard v2

You can find two more reviews of the brainboard here and here.