Building a New Language

throne

I’ve somehow managed to avoid the pop cultural phenomenon that is Game of Thrones. I’m aware that it exists, and that it’s adapted from a series of fantasy novels, but I’ve never seen an episode.  An awareness of the show is hard to avoid.  For example, one of my favorite podcasts, Nerdist, hosted by Chris Hardwick, references it all the time.  I bring this up because one of the recent guests on the podcast was David J. Peterson, a linguist who created Dothraki, the language that is used by characters in Game of Thrones.  (Actually, as Peterson explains, George R. R. Martin, the author of the novels, invented the language and then Peterson had to flesh it out further, develop the phonology, etc.)

So, if you’re interested in linguistics and Game of Thrones (or either of these things) you will probably enjoy Nerdist episode #502, in which Peterson goes into depth on creating Dothraki and several other topics.  Please note, as often happens on the Nerdist, the hosts and guests occasionally drop an F-bomb or two out enthusiasm, which means that the entire episode may not be appropriate for younger audiences.  Enjoy your burrito!

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Paper-based Games for ESL Students

dice

At the inaugural Playful Learning Summit at Ohio University, I shared a couple of games that I developed for use with ESL students at Ohio State. These are both paper-based games, which stood out in a room full of computer games and an Oculus Rift connected to a Kinect. This last project — an immersive, gesture-controlled, virtual reality interface — was really cool, but isn’t something I know how to develop (yet).  But, fortunately, everyone gets paper.  I hope these two games serve as an inspiration for anyone who doesn’t think she can design a game for her students.

Football Simulation – I’ve posted about this one before, but it still stands as an easy-to-prepare, easy-to-play simulation that can help international students to understand the game of American football.  The focus, when I use the game in the classroom, is to understand what down and distance are as well as the importance of basic offensive and defensive strategies.  All that is required is one six-sided die and a printout of the document with the offense and defense  cards cut out.

Orientation to Campus Game – This is a board game I developed based on the Madeline board game.  Players travel around the campus map / board uncovering tokens when they land next to them.  If the player uncovers one of the 5 buckeye symbols, she keeps it.  If the player uncovers the name of a building, she must move to that space immediately.  The best things about this game are that it is very easy to play and that students really focus and pay attention to the most important buildings on the map.  There are no dice and you can use almost anything for player tokens.  I also really like the mechanic of moving to the place listed on the token because this changes every time the game is played.  On the down side, it is a kids game, so it doesn’t hold adults’ attention for very long.  And if the students have been on campus for even a couple of weeks, they are already familiar with most of the buildings in the game.  Still, this game could be useful for students to play while waiting for our orientation program to start because it might help them to discover buildings that they do not yet know.

So, don’t be afraid of developing games on paper if, like me, you don’t have a wide array of programming skills.  Any game that is prototyped and play-tested on paper could later be converted to a computer version.  But, by working out the kinks on paper, you can develop your game to its final version without even picking up your keyboard.

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Data Visualizations from the New York Times

Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 12.43.17 PM (2)

Everyone loves a good data visualization.  And everyone loves a good data visualization even more if the visualization is interactive.  Unfortunately, I can’t embed an interactive visualization above, but click on it to link to the interactive version.  The circles represent the volume of traffic at airports around the U.S.  Clicking on a circle reveals all of the connecting flights to that airport.  I’m sure you could get this information out of some kind of heinous Excel spreadsheet, but this format is way more engaging.

This is why I was attracted to this year’s Wherry Lecture, which is hosted by the Departments of Statistics and Psychology at Ohio State.  The speaker was Amanda Cox from the New York Times‘ graphics department who spoke about the Times‘ use of data visualizations.  Amanda shared many examples that illustrated the importance of context, how a good visualization sometimes limits the amount of data in order to highlight patterns, and the importance of how the text and the visuals work together.  These are a few of my favorites.

The Jobless Rate for People Like YouNot all groups have felt the recession equally.  This visualization allows you to view trends in different demographics.  The differences can be startling.

One Report, Diverging Perspectives – Employment numbers with “Democrat” and “Republican” buttons that allow you to view the same data through different lenses.

Over the Decades, How States Have Shifted – A look at how each state has voted – Democratic or Republican – with connections to every election since 1952.

Counties Blue and Red, Moving Right and Left – Imagine a map of the wind blowing across the U.S.  Now instead of that wind representing, well, wind, imagine it representing the changes vote margin between Democratic and Republican presidential candidates.

Mapping America: Every City, Every Block – Based on U.S. Census data from 2005 to 2009, you can choose to represent ethnicity, income, housing, education, and other information on a map and then zoom out to view the entire nation or zoom in to view your neighborhood.

All of these examples provide different paths to understanding the data that is represented.  To see some of the other examples in this lecture, check out my Twitter stream (@eslchill) or follow the New York Times Graphics Department (@NYTgraphics).

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Create a Second Screen Video Experience in the Classroom

zits comic

Popular television shows like Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead offer second screen experiences called “Story Sync” that let viewers to engage with additional content on their tablets and laptops while they watch. Free online polling software can be used to quickly and easily create a similar experience for students in the classroom. In this workshop at OSU’s Innovate Conference, participants will see an example second screen experience, learn about student reactions to this approach, and create their own, which will be shared during the workshop.

Examples you can use

You can use the following videos and screenshots in the second screen experience you create as part of this workshop, or you can use your own.  You can pause your video in the middle to ask a question, ask a question at the end, or both.

1. Forrest Gump – meeting Jenny

forrest gump screenshot

2. The King’s Speech

kings speech screenshot

3. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

planes trains screenshot

Your turn

If you are participating in this conference, and you create a second screen experience, post a link to the video to watch (i.e. the first screen experience) and your Socrative.com room number in the comments so that we can share what you’ve made.

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How Do You Spell Success?

Statue of Rocky in Philadelphia, his arms raised in triumph.

To find the prescriptive answer to this question, look in a dictionary.  To find the descriptive answer to this question, look in a corpus.

In ESL Programs at Ohio State, I have been working towards building a couple of corpora of learner language not only for our own analysis, but also for researchers around the world to access.  Our plan is to include the English placement compositions that all international students’ write when the arrive on campus in the first corpus and the Intensive ESL Program (IEP) students’ placement and end-of-term compositions in the second.  Because almost all of these compositions are now written on computers instead of paper, it is relatively easy to take the next step and format them for analysis by corpus tools.

Both corpora should be interesting.  The former could grow by more than a thousand compositions per year as international students are admitted to Ohio State in ever increasing numbers.  Because these students have met the English proficiency requirements to be admitted, their level of proficiency is relatively high.  The latter will include fewer students, but will include longitudinal data because each student will write multiple compositions as they progress through the program.

As I was scoring some of the recent end-of-semester IEP compositions, and encountering the usual and frequent errors in our lowest-level students’ writing, I began thinking about how our students’ creative spelling would affect, and possibly inhibit, searches of this corpus.  For example, how can you search for past tense verbs when so many of them are misspelled?  Then it occurred to me that these misspellings could themselves be quite interesting.  So, to answer the question posed in the title of this post, here are some of the ways our students spell success (and its cognates), listed in order of frequency:

successful, success, succeed, sucessful, successfull, succesful, secessful, succes, succed, sucssed, successfully, succeful, seccsessful, suessful, suecess, suceessful, succsful, succsess, successul, successufl, successfufl, successeful, succeshul, succefull, succeess, succees, succeeded, succeccful, secuessful, secssed, seccssful, seccessful, scuccess, sccesful.

We are currently working on securing IRB (Institutional Review Board) approval for this project, after which we will be able to share the data and results more publicly.  As part of our IRB application, we are alpha testing our procedures and this question about the spelling of success became an interesting test case.  To create this list, I took a set of student compositions and fed them through AntConc, a free concordancer written by Laurence Anthony.  In addition to the frequency of words, lots of other interesting queries are possible with this application and others.

All of the compositions will be coded with the demographic information we have for each student (age, gender, country of origin, first language, major or degree program) as well as information about each composition (score, topic, date).  By sorting for whatever factor is interesting, we’ll be able to make any comparison we like.  Want to see what the compositions above and below a certain score look like?  No problem.  Want to see how Chinese speakers compare to Arabic speakers?  Male to female?  Grad to undergrad?  We will be able to do it.

We’re looking forward to bringing this Big Data approach to our programs.  Not only will this data inform our curriculum, but it will also become a useful resource for researchers across our campus and around the world.

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Web 2.0 Tools

tools

Just over a year and a half ago, Betsy Lavolette and Susan Pennestri presented a session at CALICO 2012 called Where’s the Peadagogy in Web 2.0?  In this presentation (available here), Betsy and Susan defined Web 2.0, couched these technologies in a discussion of Bloom’s taxonomy, and proposed curating an evolving list of useful Web 2.0 tools.  Naturally, they did this by crowdsourcing the list via a Web 2.0 tool, the online bookmarking site Diigo.com.

The most amazing part of all of this is that the list is still going strong and now includes over 400 items.  To access the list, go to https://groups.diigo.com/group/calicotools.  Each item has a brief description has brief notes and several tags such as reading, writing, listening and speaking, each of which can also be used to search for tools within the list.  Just click on the tag to view other resources on the list with the same tag.

To participate and contribute to this list, click on the “Join this Group” button and create a free Diigo account if you don’t already have one.  Diigo is a lot like Delicious.com, but has a few more features including the ability to highlight and annotate any web document before sharing it.  Diigo is a tool worth using on it’s own, but signing up for this group makes the experience even more useful.

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