Tag Archives: technology

Data Visualizations from the New York Times

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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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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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Tumblr

In the world of social media, Tumblr lies somewhere between Twitter and a full-blown blog with interactive social elements that are similar to Facebook.  This combination has lead to exponential growth.

To learn more, I created a Tumblr.  So far, I’ve been using it to post links to relevant stuff I’m looking at, but may not be ready to create a long form blog post here at ESL Technology.com.  (As an aside, remember when blog posts were considered brief? #solongago)  Some of my posts there will develop into longer posts here, but many will not.  You can follow my posts to both on Twitter: @eslchill.

So far, I’m not a full-blown, hardcore Tumblrer.  Perhaps it’s because I haven’t sought out a network there, which is a potent part of the allure for most users.  By reposting the posts of people you follow, Tumblr creates an echo chamber that allows popular media to spread exponentially.

One feature I like is the ability to queue Tumblr posts and release them a day at a time.  I can post several items at once and release them one per day — thereby always having something “in the hopper.”  In this way, I am contributing to the constant stream of consumable media and helping to build my brand, neither of which I’m sure I want to do, but Tumblr sure makes it easy.

As you would expect from a popular technology like this one, setup is free and easy, the interface is relatively straightforward, and there are lots of themes available so that you can change the look of your Tumblr.

Will Tumblr revolutionize language teaching?  Probably not.  Just about anything you’ve been doing with WordPress and Blogger, and even Twitter, can be done with Tumblr.  The difference?  If your students are keeping up with the latest online trends, they likely consider traditional blogs to be passé and already have a Tumblr.

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Flying Robots

Have you ever been amazed by a TED Talks video?  This is one of those.  Using principles from the insect world, these robots communicate with each other in ways that allow them to interact and work together.  These robots can map 3D spaces, build complex structures out of modular pieces, and even jump through hoops — literally.

This video doesn’t necessarily have a direct-to-classroom ESL application — though I’m sure it would get your students talking — but it is a pretty impressive demonstration of how far this technology has come.  With the work that is being done with Microsoft Kinect in the DIY community, I wonder how long before we are building these in our backyard.

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3D Printers

interlocking spheres printed with a 3D printer

I read this article about a 3D printer that was recently unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show and couldn’t help but get a bit excited.  Sure, as the article points out, at $1300, this “affordable” printer may not be affordable for everyone.  (It’s not for me.)  But it’s getting closer to affordable.

The notion of being able to create or download a 3D image file on my computer, send it to the printer via a USB cable, and have the real object in my hand a few minutes (or a couple of hours) later is pretty amazing — and I’m not even in a business that does any rapid prototyping, nor do I have a burning need for my own custom designed neon ABS plastic chess set, two of the most often cited uses for such a device.

The best part will be watching the prices come down on these.  They are a bit expensive now, but in five years, I could see myself forking over $500 for something like this.  Especially if the media that is “printed” comes down in price as well.

I’m sure, in addition to being a fun, novel tool with which to experiment, I could find more and more uses for it once I had one.  Kids break one part of their favorite toy?  Make another!  This gadget were exactly the same but with a built-in loop for hanging it from a hook?  No problem!  Like something I have?  I’ll scan it and email it to you and you can print one for yourself (almost) instantly!  It’s a pretty exciting future.

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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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