Monthly Archives: November 2010

Hacking Kinect

I never really thought much about Microsoft’s Kinect until I saw what hackers were doing with it.  A story in the New York Times outlines how a designer and senior editor at Make magazine posted a $3000 bounty for the first person to post an open-source hack of the Kinect interface.  Huzzah!  In fact, I’m still not that impressed with it — 3D drawings are cool, but will they help me teach English? — but I’m thrilled that hackers big and small are poking around under the hood.

Interestingly, Johnny Chung Lee, who became famous for his TED talk where he described hacking a Wiimote to act like an interactive whiteboard, is involved in the development of Kinect.  Microsoft were so impressed with his skills on the Wii-based IWB and other projects they hired him.  He is reportedly very happy to see hackers taking on Kinect in the way he took on Wii a couple of years ago.  If a hacker can squeeze an interactive whiteboard out of a $40 Wiimote, what will come out of the $150 Kinect system?

Will this technology help us teach ESL and EFL?  It’s not easy to see how, at least not immediately.  But prepare for a giant step forward in how we interface with computers in the next few years.  Interactive whiteboards are just the beginning.  You can always show your students this video and ask them to predict the future (in English).

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mLearning in ESL

ipod

Smartphones and iPods are ubiquitous among college students, but can students use them to help practice English? In this post, I will share how I adapted an existing application (“app”) for vocabulary practice as well as other apps that students may find interesting and helpful.  This post also serves as the handout for my poster session at Ohio TESOL 2010.

Music Quiz

Music Quiz is a fee app that I’ve written about before.  The app asks the user to guess a song’s title after listening to a 12-second clip of the song.  By recording audio files of definitions of vocabulary items as “songs,” Music Quiz can be used as a vocabulary quiz.

How to make a vocabulary quiz using music quiz:

1. Record the definitions of the vocabulary items.  Try to repeat the definition 2-3 times and keep files to 12 seconds – the limit of Music Quiz.  Save each recording as an .mp3 file with the vocabulary word or term as the song title, the category (Heart Idioms, Vocabulary book chapter 3, etc.) as the album title, and yourself or your school as the artist so that the files are easy to add.  A free audio recording application such as Audacity makes this easy.  Feel free to take a look at and use my 20 heart idioms as examples.

2. Upload the .mp3 files to an iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad with Music Quiz installed.

3. Open the Music Quiz app and use the Menu to configure the quiz with the following settings.

  • Choose From: Song Titles (title = vocabulary item)
  • Play At Beginning: ON (play from the beginning of the definition)
  • Custom Quiz: ON (allows user to select the “songs” to be quizzed on)

4. You can now use Music Quiz to quiz yourself on these vocabulary items.

Other Vocabulary Apps

There are many vocabulary apps available.  Just do a quick search using the word vocabulary.  Some are better than others, but most have a lite version that is a free demonstration with limited features or word lists.  The full version, which you can usually purchase for $0.99 to $9.99, will often include thousands of words.

Vocab Lab Lite – SAT-level flashcards and quiz

Wordlist Lite – 10 vocabulary lists with definitions; words categorizable by difficulty

My Prep Pal: SAT Reading – video lessons, flash cards and quiz

Make Your Own Apps

Web-based – The easiest way to get content on mobile devices.  Post content on a website, then view it using your mobile device.

Platform Specific –  Apple and Google (makers of Droid smartphones) and other companies make it easy to make your own apps.  Of course, easy is a relative term.

Tool based – Platforms exist to assist with the creation of apps and games.  ARIS is one platform for creating mobile games that I’ve written about before.  ARIS was used to create the game Mentira, which is described below.

The Cutting Edge

Apps are being developed that require the use of a mobile device to play.  Mentira is an example of a location-aware mystery that students solve on location in the target language.  In this case, students in a Spanish class take on new identities and to solve a crime that occured in a New Mexico neighborhood in the 1920s.  Students must move through the neighborhood to unlock clues while playing the entire game in the target language.

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Computer Games in ESL

burning pac man

Computer games are a medium that has become as popular as Hollywood movies.  It’s not uncommon for teachers to show movies in class, but how can games be incorporated?  This post will discuss these questions and will serve as the handout to my session at the Ohio TESOL Technology Fair 2010.

Games as a source of English

MMORPGs and other complex, multiplayer games can provide a rich source of English (or many other languages) in which students can choose to immerse themselves.  Also, because these games are almost impossible to solve without teamwork, there are typically

World of Warcraft (WoW) – The granddaddy of all MMORPGs and by far the biggest.  Players create avatars that go on quests and have adventures.   In addition to finding potentially complex communication tasks with other players during the game, the WoW wiki is the second largest wiki on the internet after Wikipedia.  This is also potentially a good source of target language input.

Second Life – Though not exactly a game, per se, Second Life is an online 3D virtual world through which players’ avatars can navigate.  There has been much educational interest in Second Life which means there are several “islands” dedicated to language practice for users to explore.

Analysis of Simulations

Distinguishing between games, serious games and simulations is not as important as how we can use them.  Playing a simulation may not be entirely satisfying because a totally accurate simulation of any complex system is extremely difficult to create.  But this creates an opportunity for students to try them and then critique them.  There are lots of examples listed on Historical Simulations.org.  Some of my favorites are below.

Budget Hero – Where would you increase and / or decrease the federal budget and what ramifications would each decision have on the future?  Lots of information in a very accessible format.

Energyville – See if you can meet the energy needs of a city of almost 6 million people.  Do you think cutting all fossil fuels immediately is the answer?  Not in this simulation.  Does knowing that it was created by Chevron make you question anything about this simulation?  Lots to discuss here.

McDonald’s Video Game – What decisions would you make (have to make?) to keep your franchise humming.  Would you cut corners?  What effects would this have?  And, as with Energyville, above, is this an unbiased view or is there an underlying message in this game?

Group Problem Solving

Even the simplest games can generate complex discussion when played in pairs or as a group.  Two students working at one computer need to negotiate everything starting from who gets to use the mouse.  If you have access to an interactive whiteboard, a larger group can work together to play the game or solve the puzzle much more comfortably.

Samorost 2 – This is a visually compelling game that, at first, does not seem to have a point.  During a brief cartoon introduction, a dog is kidnapped from a tiny planet by space aliens and the protagonist begins his pursuit.  Now what?  By clicking on various items on the screen they can be manipulated.  Puzzles can be solved by finding the appropriate series of manipulations.  I’ve had a half-dozen students working on these puzzles on an interactive whiteboard.  I was worried because when working alone on my desktop, I found the puzzles to be quite challenging and I almost gave up on more than one occasion.  But the power of the group was amazing to see as the students moved quickly through several levels, working together and suggesting new ideas to each other as they went.

Grow Cube – I’ve been intrigued by this game since the first time I discovered it.  It is a puzzle in which the player ten turns to select from ten actions that can be performed on a cube.  Each one has a cute animation that interacts with the others.  Most importantly, some actions require several turns to fully develop.  Others must be performed sequentially to work properly (spoiler alert: place the pot on the cube before lighting the fire or the fire will grow too hot and crack the pot.)  The puzzle typically requires one or two attempts to get a feel for the game before players can really begin to notice the effects that each action has on the others.  Even if the puzzle can not be solved, there is a complete walkthrough available for help.  But do yourself a favor and don’t peek until you’ve given it a few tries.

Other Tips & Suggestions

Some of the most complex games available will also be the most expensive.  Even if that hurdle is overcome (possibly by purchasing older versions, for example), there may be a variety of reasons that prohibit the installation of World of Warcraft in the local computer lab (“You want to play games?!?”).  Fortunately there are a number of online games which are freely available and only require an internet connection to play.  Of course, if you routinely battle a firewall for internet access, you may want to test whether you can access them on the computers you intend to use before you plan to use them.

Ask what your students are playing and see if those games might provide a jumping off point.  Are they addicted to Farmville on Facebook?  Bejeweled?  Can they analyze the game critically?  Can they teach someone else the strategy involved?

Most games have wikis which describe all of the parts of the game as well as strategies that can be used to win.  Is there an undocumented way to win?  Have students contribute their ideas to the wiki.

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Jane McGonigal @ OSU

dice

I got to meet Dr. Jane McGonigal yesterday and hear her speak on her work on making games for good.  I’m still processing a lot of the ideas she talked about, but wanted to share some of my notes.  It’s a bit of a brain dump, but I’m sure more of what was covered will come up in future posts.  These are not only things she said, but also my reflections and interpretations of them.

Narrowly defined games are not fun.  This could be why many educational games are not very good.  That and the fact that so much less money goes into making them than other games that are designed to entertain.

Off-the-shelf games can be a good option for educators and the classroom.  Ask students what they are playing, go from there.  Older versions of popular games can be cheap and online games are often free.

Augmented reality brings games into real world.  But beware of gamification — adding game-like elements (points, badges) to something that is not a game. For example, see Foursquare.

Almost every game that exists has a wiki (the World of Warcraft wiki is the world’s largest after Wikipedia).  This may be an opportunity for ESL students to interact with language by reading or even writing about a game they like.  Gamers often use the scientific method to approach finding solutions in games.  Teachers can ask students, “Is there an undocumented way to win?” which requires reading the wiki and then critical thinking.

Gamers have very few nightmares and a high rate of lucid dreams — dreams in which they take control — perhaps because they practice doing this in games.

Among the top ten emotions gamers want to feel when playing a game is love.  Specifically the kind of love one feels when one teaches another how to play a game and be successful.  Parents feel this kind of love for their children all the time.  But children feel this love when they teach a parent to play a favorite game.

Edit (11/11/10): The rise of gaming coincides with the overscheduling of the millennial generation and changes to education such as No Child Left Behind.  When kids are spoon-fed in school and by their parents, one of the only outlets they have to express self-motivated mastery is through games.

I hope to provide some examples of these games in future posts.  To learn more, visit Avant Game.com, Gameful.org, or @avantgame on Twitter.

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Gaming with Jane McGonigal

I’m looking forward to seeing Dr. Jane McGonigal’s lecture tomorrow.  She has developed some really interesting games which attempt to harness the power of crowds to solve some of the world’s most challenging problems.  Many of these are covered on her website Avant Game.com.  She explains her approach in her TED Talk, below.

Anyone interested in attending her lecture (Tuesday, November 9 at 7:30pm) can pick up tickets in 120 Enarson Hall at Ohio State.

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Plagiarism To Go

blackberry

We had an interesting case of plagiarism come up recently.  A teacher gave students a writing assignment based on what they had learned from a movie they had watched in class.  After collecting the papers, the teacher noticed that one of them had some interesting phrases that did not sound like they would naturally come from the student who turned in the paper.  So, like many of us do, the teacher typed a couple of sentences into Google and found the web page that contained much of the writing assignment that the student had turned in.  She then followed up with the usual information about “you need to cite sources” and “this is plagiarism”.

What’s so strange about this particular case?  All of this occurred in the classroom during the twenty minutes that the students were given to write.  Clearly, the student must have accessed the internet via a cell phone, searched for some keywords, and written down parts of a passage from a website.

cellphone cheating

Cheating via text is so 2008.

I was a bit stunned that this could happen, but in retrospect I shouldn’t be.  Smart phones are literally putting the Internet into our pockets, so why should students’ habits online be any different whether they are at home or on the go?

All of this technology can obviously be a very good thing when used appropriately.  For example, many students have dictionary apps on their phones which makes a useful resource very accessible.  But occasionally “checking the dictionary” is not just checking the dictionary and it is becoming easier and easier to confuse the two.  This experience served as a good reality check for us.  We are now more keenly aware of how easily students can access these resources and how important it is to teach them how to use them appropriately.

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