Tag Archives: education

CALICO 2013

In May, I attended the 2013 CALICO Conference.  CALICO stands for the Computer-Assisted Language Instruction Consortium.  According to the CALICO website, the organization “includes language educators, programmers, technicians, web page designers, CALL developers, CALL practitioners, and second language acquisition researchers–anyone interested in exploring the use of technology for language teaching and learning.”  The diversity of the conference attendees leads to a wide range of interesting sessions.  Here are a few of the highlights:

First, was a pre-conference workshop called “Place-Based Mobile Game Design for L2 Learning and Teaching” presented by J. Scott Payne and Julie Sykes.  Scott and Julie have been working in a mobile game design platform called ARIS, which can be downloaded for free to iOS devices.  Julie has developed a place-based augmented reality game called Mentira which requires students in Spanish classes at the University of New Mexico to venture into local Spanish-speaking neighborhoods to solve a fictional murder mystery.

Scott has worked on modifying the ARIS platform so that it can function offline and can work with historical maps for projects like Immigrant City.  It’s amazing to see the little blue circle that represents you on your phone’s map move around a hundred-year-old map while you walk through the real city.  Some roads and structures on the map are still there, while others are not.  Workshop participants signed up for free accounts and used the ARIS editor to begin building place-based games.  Although the editor is simple and easy to use, very complex games can be built with it.  (If you would like to build your own mobile game, visit http://arisgames.org/make/)

“Eye Tracking for Dummies: A Practical Overview of Options, Affordances, and Challenges in Conducting Eye Tracking CALL Research” was a panel that described several options for conducting eye-tracking research.  In language learning, eye-tracking can reveal how readers’ eyes move over words, where they pause, and where, when, and how long they go back over words they have read.  Although this kind of research typically requires sensitive equipment which costs thousands of dollars, one of the panelists, Jeff Kuhn, built his own eye-tracker for about $150.  (For more on Jeff’s DIY eye-tracker, see my earlier post.)

Another interesting session was “Semiotic Remediation and Language Learning through Place-based Plurilingual Gaming” with Steve Thorne and the 503 Design Collective.  Steve described a mobile game his group created called ChronoOps in which players must survive the future past by becoming agents sent back from 2070 to document the dawn and dusk of environmentally friendly technology.  This game, which was also developed on the ARIS platform, requires players to document green technology with pictures, text, and audio which are geotagged and saved within the game.  When other players play the game near the same locations, they can see what in-game artifacts other players have created and recorded within the game.  By playing the game, players are collaborating to collaboratively augment their reality.

A complete list of conference sessions can be found on the CALICO website.  But it’s not just the sessions that make for a good conference; it’s also the people you meet and the conversations you have outside of the scheduled sessions.  One of the conversations I had was with Mat Schulze, a German professor at the University of Waterloo.  We sat and talked for over an hour about building an English learner language corpus.  In linguistics, a corpus refers to a large body of or collection of language.  A wide range of applications have been developed to analyze these collections of language that can find almost any trend or pattern you would like to examine.

For example, if we examine every placement composition that English as a Second Language (ESL) students write, we could potentially investigate anything from differences between speakers of different first languages (Chinese vs. Arabic speakers, for example) or at what point in students’ learning specific grammatical errors no longer appear indicating that they have learned how to produce a specific structure.  Building and analyzing our own corpus could lead us to a big data-informed curriculum as well as to research opportunities for other language educators and linguists.  Attending this conference helped to connect me to people who can help us build this corpus.

I was able to attend the 2013 CALICO Conference through the generous support of ESL Programs and the Department of Teaching and Learning in the College of Education and Human Ecology at The Ohio State University.  I also received matching funds from an OSU eLearning Professional Development grant.  For move information on this grant, visit http://ocio.osu.edu/blog/grants/apply/pd-grant-application/.

This post was originally published on OSU’s Digital Union blog.

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Open Music: Old Shanghai

In December 2012, Beck Hansen released an album called Song Reader in an extremely traditional way: on sheet music.  Best known for genre-bending songs such as Loser and Where It’s At, Beck is going blazing another new trail by reaching back to a format that predates recorded audio.  But, why?

Well, in an age of Instructables, MakerBots, and GarageBand, making things has never seemed less intimidating.  And with YouTube, you’ve got a way to share your creations whether you’ve played a song on your piano or mashed up a couple of hit songs into something new.

Beck talks about the audience involvement aspect of this album in an interview on the publisher’s website:

These songs are meant to be pulled apart and reshaped. The idea of them being played by choirs, brass bands, string ensembles, anything outside of traditional rock-band constructs—it’s interesting because it’s outside of where my songs normally exist. I thought a lot about making these songs playable and approachable, but still musically interesting. I think some of the best covers will reimagine the chord structure, take liberties with the melodies, the phrasing, even the lyrics themselves. There are no rules in interpretation.

In education, we talk about Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Beck has released an album that is completely open to interpretation and assembly by the user. By trusting and empowering his listeners to participate in his music, Beck has created something much larger than just twenty songs.  He has created a community.

Anyone can post their version of one of these songs to Song Reader.net via YouTube or Soundcloud.  As more songs are performed and uploaded, each work will form a kind of dialog and interaction with each one influencing the next.

Why mention this on ESL Technology.com?  There are some parallels between this open approach to making an album and the open education movement.  Trusting your students and empowering them to make decisions can be very scary — for both teachers and students. Letting students choose their own projects and then working with them to make sure the projects fit the curriculum is more difficult and time consuming, but it’s a process that can really infuse students with a sense of ownership over their work. Being responsible for their own learning is an important lesson for all students.

Opening your classroom to the real world (by making student videos and blog posts public, for example) can also be a scary, but rewarding, opportunity. Teaching in an open environment also means preparing students for the challenges in that real world — teaching strategies for dealing with griefers and phishing attacks, for example — which is probably some of the most useful learning they can carry forward from your classroom.  They all have to join the real world eventually.

Is Song Reader a model that can guide your teaching? Not directly. But the novel way that this album has been conceptualized relates to some interesting ideas that relate to how many are re-thinking traditional approaches to teaching.

For more on Beck’s album, visit Song Reader.net.  Some of my favorite interpretations of “Old Shanghai”, the single that was released before the rest of the album was available, are below.  If you’ve played “Old Shanghai” or anything else from Song Reader, please post a link to your work in the comments.

Piano only, with a beautiful video:

Ukulele only:

The staff of the New Yorker:

A more fully-produced trio, Contramano:

Two guys named Dave and Ted:

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flOw

screenshot of flOw

I introduced some students to the game flOw today.  As an “art game,” I knew that it would be unlike anything most of these students had ever seen before.

So, without any introduction, I told them to open the game and give it a try.  If you’ve never played this game before, I would encourage you to try the game for yourself to recreate the students’ experience before you read the rest of this post. It’s free and only requires a browser with Flash to play.

There were mixed results initially.  One student assumed the game was loading and patiently stared at the screen.  Even after I pointed out that he could begin, he had trouble figuring out what kind of control he had within the game.  Other students began exploring and deducing the rules of the game.

A couple of students began to observe each other and to ask each other questions.  One even got up to walk around the room.  I asked them to share the rules that they had learned, which helped the others.  I also asked them what flOw was and whether it was a game.  They had several different interpretations of what was being represented within the game — from space to microorganisms — and most decided it was more of a simulation than a game.

Although some students were a bit frustrated by my lack of guidance, they quickly turned to each other to share and collaborate (in English!) on making sense of what they were experiencing, which was my goal.

Overall, this was a brief, but interesting conversation starter for these students.  Although some initially reported that they didn’t like the game very much, the had a hard time leaving it alone.  But, because the game does not contain any English (and my goal was to have them practice their English) I made sure to keep the discussion and interaction going within the class.

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Bulletin Board 2.0

pushpins

An article in our student newspaper on Pinterest.com caught my eye this morning.  It is described as an online pinboard for sharing photos, recipes, and other content.  Content is shared when users pin content from someone else’s pinboard onto their own.

In this way, Pinterest is a bit like Tumblr or even Twitter in that content can echo around and be amplified as more users repost it.  Interestingly, most (if not all) of the content is image-based.  In some ways, this is limiting because a recipe is actually a picture of food that you can click on to get to the site that originally posted the recipe.  In effect, Pinterest actually feels more like a different interface for photosharing websites like Flickr.  There are lots of interesting boards that are pictures organized by color or by different topics.

From a quick glance, it seems like Pinterest is a very good internet meme incubator.  I’ve already been sucked into looking at pictures (and the blog posts they link to) that include hilariously ugly knitted shorts and a portrait of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made from over 4000 Rubik’s cubes.  There are also plenty of funny and inspirational signs and slogans as well as the requisite cute and funny pictures of kittens and puppies.

Could Pinterest be useful to ESL students?  Perhaps.  It could provide a way for them to store and organize web content that can be shared within the classroom community.  It’s very smooth and clean and the opportunity to interact with the site-wide community could be interesting.  And the site terms and conditions prohibit nudity and hateful content, which can be reassuring for teachers.  If a course is not using a web-based course management system, Pinterest could be a quick and interesting way to build a community that could generate some interesting discussion.  But is it the next Big Thing?  Probably not.

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Interactive Fiction

The text-based game Zork being played via teletype machine

If you’re like me, one of your first computer game experiences was with an interactive fiction text-based game.  Zork was probably the most popular, but I discovered the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy game first (before I knew it was a book.)  In fact, I had never played Zork until quite recently when I encountered a version of it on Frotz, which I discovered as an iPhone application.  Within Frotz, one can play a wide variety of text-based adventure games.

If you’ve never played one of these games, there really isn’t much to learn.  Players are typically presented with a description of their character’s surroundings followed by a prompt.  Players can type simple directions at the prompt, such as “go north” or “pickup phone.” This process repeats with the game presenting the results of the previous command or a description of the new scene if the player has moved.  From there, the player enters further directions, and the game continues.

Obviously, the focus of the game is the writing as there are typically no graphics involved.  These games also have a rich tradition of Easter Eggs and snarky responses, particularly when commands are malformed or not recognized.  As the player proceeds through the game, objects can be collected (such as a key) that can later be used to solve a problem or make progress through the game (such as unlocking a door.)

These games are now rediscoverable thanks to new technologies.  Not only that, but it has also become very easy to create a game with virtually zero programming involved.  Two examples of tools that can be used to create interactive fiction are Twine and Inform7.

Twine is the simpler of the two.  Resulting stories are interactive in the way that Choose Your Own Adventure stories are interactive, but they use linked texts to allow the reader to progress in a non-linear way.  Examples of stories written using Twine can be played on gimcrackd.com.

Inform7 is much more complex, but the results are actual interactive text-based adventure games.  Elements can be dragged and dropped to create the relationships that form the basis of the story.  Examples of some of the best interactive text adventures can be found in this article on makeuseof.com.

I haven’t used either of these tools yet, but I’m curious about what ESL students might make of them (and make with them).  The process of writing can be a challenge in itself and, if they are not familiar with interactive fiction, explaining it would be an additional difficulty.  But by collaborating in small groups, there might be some interesting possibilities for collaborating and giving peer feedback.  At the very least, interactive text adventure games can provide ESL students with a rich source of input.  And because the syntax for interacting with the game is so simplified, even intermediate level learners can play them.

I plan to give Inform7 a try to see how easy it is to use.  If you’ve used it, or know of other similar tools, leave a comment.

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Video Games as Interactive Texts

These are my slides from my Ohio TESOL 2011 presentation titled “How to use videogames as interactive texts for language learning.”  Comments are welcome.

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Wear Your IWB to Work

cyborgs

A wearable computer won’t make you a cyborg, but it will get you one step closer.  A new project out of Carnegie Melon University allows you to turn any surface into a touchscreen, including your body.  Read the article or watch the video below.

Essentially, the system combines a Microsoft Kinect and a pocket-sized projector for a relatively smooth multi-touch, multi-surface user experience.  The downside?  This is what you have to wear:

wearable computer

Is it worth it?  Probably not.  Yet.  Good luck wearing one of these through an airport without attracting attention.  It probably wouldn’t even be easy to have a natural interaction with another human being without them being slightly distracted.

For those attracted to having your playlist projected on your forearm (instead of on the screen you’re holding in the hand at the end of said forearm) I’d advise you to wait a few years for Moore’s Law to shrink this down to something that will fit into the brim of a baseball cap, which, come to think of it, might be even creepier.

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Geo Games

globe puzzle

I have friends and family who really enjoy the boardgame Risk.  We had the game as a kid and I would play with it, but not by the “rules.”  I made my own game by moving pieces around and rolling the dice from time to time.  The map both fascinated and confused me (Alberta goes all the way to the Pacific Ocean?) and the colorful little pieces inspired several different games.  A map is a natural game board.

Fast-forward to the present: computer games have become ubiquitous (Ever kill time playing a game on your computer or phone?) and we rely on Google maps and GPS devices to get us to where we want to go.

Fast-forward to the future: Computer applications that we interact with are beginning to mash up GIS and other data.  (Ever check in to a real place using Foursquare or Facebook?)  Games are no exception.

Imagine playing Risk with the borders and armies from 100 or 1000 years ago.  Or Monopoly based on real utilities and real estate values.  Or Farmville with real agricultural data.  Or Oregon Trail with weather and census data from specific dates throughout history.

Ola Ahlqvist, a professor of Geography at Ohio State, is involved in a project to build the infrastructure to make these kinds of games possible.  I’ve talked with Ola several times about his games, but his presentation below is a pretty good summary of the process.

This is a great example of learning through games and simulations.  Players can see how different factors affect the outcome of the game — develop hyphotheses, then change their strategy for playing the game to test them.  Of course, this is how learning occurs outside of games, but by making a game out of a real map, the learning becomes more compelling.

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Data Visualization: Attendance vs. GPA

Above is a plot of students’ attendance versus their grade point averages (GPAs).  See any trends?  Obviously, students with higher attendance tend to have higher GPAs.  While this is not particularly surprising, it’s nice to be able to support this notion with actual data.

(I should say that this “actual data” is not actual data, but it is based on actual data.  I’ve taken the actual “actual data” and randomly added or subtracted up to 5% so that the general trends remain, but none of the actual data points are the same, except by chance.)

In addition to the general trend that GPAs correlate positively with attendance, I can say that no student who had 100% attendance got less than a C+ (2.85 GPA) and that no student who got a 4.0 GPA (straight As) attended less than 96% (at least in the “actual” data).

Can I claim causality?  Not exactly.  I don’t know that higher attendance causes higher grades, or vice versa, but I think it could be claimed that low attendance causes low grades — if you aren’t in class, you can’t get an A.

Admittedly, this isn’t the most cutting edge visualization — it’s just a graph I made using Microsoft Excel — but I think it represents a relatively simple set of data effectively.

I plan to show this graph to all of our students at our program-wide meeting at the beginning of the academic year.  If nothing else, it should get them thinking a bit about the importance of attending class if they want to be successful.  This isn’t a big issue for most of our students but, as you can see, it is an issue for some.  And if it helps them to have me connect the dots, I gladly will (see below, click to enlarge).

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A Unique Game

usb drive

Have you ever played Chain World?  I didn’t think so.  I haven’t either.  Only one copy exists and you can only play once.  It’s based on Minecraft, which is an open-source sandbox-style game in which players build things out of textured blocks.

The important distinction is that Chain World exists completely on a USB drive.  The rules of the game are essentially build what you want (though explicit signs are forbidden), save the game when you die, and pass it on to someone else.  After you’ve played, you are forbidden to discuss your experience or to ever play again.

These rules, if observed, would make for a very compelling gaming experience.  In most games, the stakes are relatively low because you can always restart and, in many cases, continue where you left off.  In most games, death is not final.  In Chain World, it is.  This heightens the overall experience tremendously.

The complete story of this game, as well as the discussions that the game fostered around religion, charity, following the rules, and how seriously gamers take themselves, can be found in Wired Magazine.  It’s a compelling read.

How does the story of this game relate to the ESL classroom?  Clearly, the religious debate is likely beyond the scope of most classrooms (and this blog), but the question of whether to follow the rules is an interesting one.  The Chain World experience was designed with a specific set of rules that create a very specific and unique experience.  But if a player breaks a rule, or plays the game in a way that the designer did not intend, can it still be a valuable experience?  Imagine the first person that put checkers on a chess board.  Did someone say, “That’s not what that board is for!”?

In your classroom, do your students ever break rules or react in ways that you did not plan for?  Of course they do.  While this is frustrating, it can occasionally lead to very valuable learning experiences.  I’ve had lessons go off track right from the beginning when a student asked a question that was not related to the lesson, but turned out to be something that the whole class wanted or even needed to know more about.  These unexpected and unplanned classes are some of the most interesting I have every taught and some of the most appreciated by students.

When I use games in an ESL classroom, I occasionally encourage students to find out what happens when you break the rules or even break the game.  (Not in the sense of throwing the computer across the room, but in the sense of going somewhere that is officially “out of bounds” in the game.)  This exploration is part of what makes learning through games so exciting, which can increase motivation for language learning.  This same exploration of the boundaries of a language can also be an exciting part of language learning.  (Can I use this word this way?  How about this way?)

Languages, like games, have specific rules that speakers, and players, choose to follow.  Chain World, although a relatively simple game in execution, provokes some very interesting discussion on lots of engaging topics, including how to figure out what the rules are as well as whether and when to follow them.

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