At the end of January I briefly talked about the MachinEVO workshop 2013 that was going to take place in Second Life over a period of five weeks. Its trailer looked very promising:

which is why I decided to participate even though my schedule was already pretty tight. Now that the workshop is over I want to give those of my readers who are interested in the great potential of Second Life for language learning a quick overview of a workshop I wouldn’t have wanted to miss. I can assure you that Second Life is worth a visit, in fact many visits, and that everything is a lot easier than it appears at first glance.

Each week was accompanied by several moderated in-world meetings which took place at different times. One of these meetings on early Sunday mornings (German time) was a time slot particularly aimed at the Asian time zone. The MachinEVO website provided an overview over the topics to be talked about, along with guided activities and pieces of valuable advice. If you couldn’t participate in any of the sessions it also helped to catch up for the following week’s meeting and the moderators also provided links to the AdobeConnect recordings of every session.

The first week was about watching several machinimas and discussing their value for language learners. You can have a look at these videos here.

The topic of the second week was role playing and storyboarding and there was plenty of time to join one of the eight groups that were going to produce a machinima together with the help of an experienced moderator.

In terms of role playing, the participants learned how to emote and to use gestures and animations (for instance laughing, jumping, waving, killing) and how to find an appropriate filming location for their machinimas.

Role playing class with Doris Molero (Pionia Destiny)

Script writing, story boarding and site selection issues with Barbara McQueen (Barbara Novelli)

How to use SL Holodecks with Dr. Randall Sadler (Randall Renoir)

PowerPoint for the second week

There was also a special event: a meeting with Draxtor Despres and Flufee. Draxtor is a well-known machinimatographer who has created a series of machinimas starring Flufee with his “partner in crime“ Pooky Amsterdam.

Draxtor & Flufee visit MachinEVO 2013

The third week was dedicated to learning how to film in-world and how to edit the films. This was again a hands-on workshop where participants were encouraged to get started with their first machinimas by using photos of different scenes and turning them into a story, including narration.

Instructions on how to make a machinima from still photos by Barbara McQueen (Barbara Novelli)

Instructions on how to make a machinima from live footage by Barbara McQueen (Barbara Novelli)

Basic filming and editing with Jens Kjaer Olsen (Jens Nerido)

Basic filming and editing with Barbara McQueen & Jens Kjaer Olsen (Barbara Novelli & Jens Nerido)

Power Point for the third week

This is the Machinima Christel Schneider (Letty Pienaar) made after the session

Again, there was a special event, this time an in-world screening of the documentary “My Avatar and Me” by Bente Milton.

The trailer

The filmmakers Rob Gould, Mikkel Stolt & Kean Kelly discuss their collaboration with Bente Milton

This week of basic filming and editing techniques was followed by advanced filming and editing skills in the fourth week, which included filming scenes in-world and editing them afterwards.

Advanced filming and editing with Barbara McQueen (Barbara Novelli)

The PowerPoint for the fourth week

Interview with JayJay Jegathesan (JayJay Zifanwe, University of Western Australia), the , the UWA machinima contest creator

Finally, we learned how to finish the film and how to upload it to video platforms such as Youtube in the fifth week.

The special event of the week was a meeting with Natascha Randt and Karima Hoisan, who finished second in the machinima contest of the University of Western Australia in 2012.

Their prize-winning machinima “Seek Wisdom”

At the end of this fifth week there was a film screening at which all the machinimas produced in the past five weeks were screened in-world and discussed. After the screening event there was a closing party with lots of dancing.

The final event of the workshop was the MachinEVO Film Festival 2013 that was held on the same day as the Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles. A jury of 12 experts had previously determined which of the machinimas deserved awards in different categories.

Among the prize-winning machinimas were (please find a complete list here):

“Why Second Life?” by Christel Schneider (Letty Pienaar)

“Dog Idioms” by Carol Rainbow

“Pat und Otti” by Heike Philp (Gwen Gwasi) und Micha Hajtos

“Te Toca” by Lira, Xarliez, & Aurie

This machinima is my own documentation of the event:

And this one gives an impression of the aftershow event with dancing and live music from Berlin.

At the end of the ceremony, to which some of the attendees even arrived in a limo at the red carpet, Christel Schneider (Letty Pienaar) revealed her machinima with the title “MachinEVO Moderator Award” as a surprise for the moderators. It showed very well just how much she had learned in the workshop.

Although I couldn’t participate in all of the live sessions, this workshop was a tremendous enrichment for me. Not only have I learned many new things but I was also given many great tools that I can use to get started as an amateur machinimatographer. However, most importantly, I have met a great number of amazing people from all over the world, and to work with an extraordinary team of moderators: Heike Philp (Gwen Gwasi, Germany/Belgium), who I had met in-world several times before at other language learning venues and who I have learned to appreciate even more for her knowledge and her contagious laughter, Dr. Randall Sadler (USA), Carol Rainbow (UK), Dennis Newson (Osna Nesterhov, UK), Dr. Doris Molero (Pionia Destiny, Venezuela), Marisa Constantinidis (Greece), Barbara McQueen (Barbara Novelli, USA), Shelwyn Corrigan (Wynshel Heir, USA) und Jens Kjaer Olsen (Jens Nerido, Denmark). Personally, I found the informal help sessions during which experienced Second Life users tried to help us newbies  with any questions we might have the most valuable.

On the whole, this workshop has allowed me to get to know my avatar “Coco LeBlanc” better. She is now able to show emotions, to use gestures and facial expressions and she got quite a lot of new clothes ;) I have also made my first, very basic machinima which, much to my surprise, was given an “Honorable Mentions Award” in the ceremony. Finally, for the first time, I dared giving Coco a voice.

“Un autre monde” by me (Coco LeBlanc) & Chrisophe Jaeglin (Kriss Redenblack)

Apart from the first little machinimas I made, I preferred using text chat to communicate with the other participants and with the moderators because my equipment doesn’t quite meet my needs yet in terms of voice communication.

The machinima in which Coco LeBlanc introduces a Franco-German project I am currently working on with my French colleague Christophe Jaeglin will certainly be the first of many yet to come. We plan to use these short videos to give our students instructions and to present them with an authentic setting for our “global simulation” project. Coco LeBlanc will give the instructions in French when the students are supposed to work in French and Chris’ avatar “Kriss Redenblack” will give his instructions in German when the students are supposed to communicate in German. We might also use machinimas to present our students with example dialogues so they know what we expect from them. Of course it would be terribly nice to have our students act out their dialogues in Second Life, too, but neither of our schools are well-equipped enough to do that. However, I am also already planning on making other machinimas for teaching grammar and would love to be trained as an in-world educator. Finally, I am hoping to develop my still very limited skills and to learn, for example, how to build objects to use in order to one day be able to move and act as smoothly in the virtual world as I am in the real world most of the time.

I think that there is a great potential in working with virtual worlds in foreign language teaching and I would really appreciate my colleagues to understand this and to have a closer look at virtual worlds before judging the people who have already understood it, calling them “freaks”, or, even worse, saying that they are wasting time or are a bad role model for their students because they encourage their students to (responsibly) use computer games.

Lynne Hand has already conducted quite a number of interviews about the positive aspects of virtual worlds in language teaching.

“Open Learning” by Lynne Hand

I am already looking forward to MachinEVO 2014 and meeting once more the fabulous people I have met and with who I hope to be working on projects in the future … and who knows if we won’t meet some day in RL, too?

You might also want to have a look at the Facebook Group of MachinEVO where you can find more interesting posts.