The Viva Project
the Virtual Interactive Village in the Ardèche
 
The Viva village is a dynamic online writing project created by a team of educators including Christine Nucci, Benjamin Friess et Jérémy Royannez from the CDDP de l'Ardèche and Philip Benz, English teacher at the Lycée Astier in Aubenas.
After several years of experimenting with message board projects, we have tried to bring together a whole palette of tools that will allow both teacher-guided written expression activities and student-centered free-form writing in the target language. It's a space where students can not only work on themes developed in class, but also express themselves openly and autonomously on subjects of their own choosing.

A dynamic environment

The Viva project is designed like a small village. The idea was to give students a familiar and friendly representation of a group of work spaces where they have the impression that they are not merely writing for their homework, or for their teacher. Here they get the feeling that they are really "somewhere" and they are writing in a context that reaches beyond the all too often artificial limits of the classroom. We originally created five different writing spaces, each with a different purpose:

- The Café, for introductions and discussions about current events,
- The Library, to speak about literature or other things students have read,
- The Cinema, to speak about films and videos of interest to students,
- The Town Hall, to present the village rules and to suggest the creation of new spaces.

From the outset, we wanted a mechanism that would allow the village to grow over time, and very quickly our students seized this opportunity. For example, after reading a text about social problems in London suburbs, my students proposed the creation of a "squatt" or homeless refuge where they could discuss the problems of homeless people and write stories with homeless people as characters. The presence of foreign partners in the project added great depth and interest to the project, both in the creation of new spaces for exchange but also in providing real partners, authentic readers for students' writing. Responses were not systematically organized, rather left to the students' own initiative. But whenever my students saw that some Brazilian, American, Caribbean, Danish, Canadian or Italian students had added their grain of salt to the discussion, it had a profound effect on their level of motivation. Even though each one did not have her "own" penpal, they realized that they were no longer writing only for the critical eyes of their teacher. This gave some measure of authenticity to students' writing, something that we are not always able to find in a traditional classroom setting.

Call for participation

The first year of this project turned out to be quite a satisfactory experiment, with partipants at a dozen different sites and considerable growth in the scope and nature of the spaces represented in the village. But a new school year is upon us, and if I have come to speak about this project here today, it is not without ulterior motives. Our project continues, and needs new participants. It is an open project that you can join at any time during the year, either for a one-shot visit in conjunction with a specific unit of study, or by participating regularly as my students and their overseas partners have done. You can join in on the stories, discussions and themes you find already running in the various spaces in the village, or you can start up your own topics, or even propose the creation of new spaces or new neighborhoods on different themes altogether, if this corresponds to the way you imagine using the tools we have provided. There are many possibilities open to you in the Viva project, and I am convinced there are many that we haven't even begun to imagine yet. It is in the process of experimentation and collaborative work that we will pursue its development.

If this project interests you, you can contact David Bourgeois at david.bourgeois@ac-grenoble.fr