Tag Archives: digital

Open and Kinect

open kinect

A few days ago, I wrote about how the new Microsoft Kinect has been hacked so that you don’t need an Xbox to use it.  There are now lots of tinkerers and hackers working with this hardware to see what else might be possible.  Although it’s not as easy to see the immediate applications for Kinect in the language classroom as it was for the Wii-based interactive whiteboard, there are obvious parallels.  And this new gaming hardware is more advanced than the Wiimote, which may offer more possibilities.  I’ve posted some examples of some interesting Kinect-based projects below.

How does it work?

Infrared beams, and lots of them.  Here’s how it looks with an infrared / nightvision camera.

Multitouch IWB

Because Kinect can “see” surfaces in 3D, it can be used to create a multitouch interactive whiteboard on multiple surfaces.

Control your browser

Forget your mouse.  Kinect can see the gestures you make in three-dimensional space.  Use gestures to control your browser and more.

Teach it

Teach it to recognize objects.  Obviously, there is a lot more software in use here, but Kinect provides the interface.

Digital puppets

Who wouldn’t want one of these?

Visual camouflage

In 1987, the movie Predator cost $18M.  A significant portion of what was left over after paying Arnold Schwarzenegger was likely spent on the cool alien light-bending camouflage effects.  Just over 20 years later, you can make the same effects on your computer using the $250 Kinect hardware.

3D video

At first glance, this looks like really poor quality video, but stick with it.  Notice the Kinect camera does not move, but with the flick of a mouse, the point of view can be changed as Kinect extrapolates where everything is in the space based on what it can see from where it is.  The black shadows are where Kinect can’t see.

Using 2 Kinects, most of the shadows are filled in.  The effect is like a translation of the real world into a low resolution Second Life-like environment.

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Walking Through Caves

cave

Games present an interesting environment in which students can learn and practice a language.  The Cave is an interesting game that was created for a Sony Pictures movie back in 2005.  I came across it on a recent timely post on Digital Play — just in time for Halloween and just after 33 miners were rescued from a mining collapse in Chile.  (Obviously, a teacher will need to determine whether this is an appropriate game for younger students.)

Digital Play is a great resource for online games for students because each one is couched in a simple lesson plan with suggestions for whether the game is appropriate for a classroom, computer lab, or independent use. Interestingly, Digital Play includes a walkthrough — a solution to the game — in the form of a diary account of the only survivor, which they player can become upon completion of the game.

Many games have walkthroughs available online.  Most are created by users or fans and some are created collaboratively as the game is solved.  Walkthroughs are very popular with the latest cutting edge games that can take tens of hours to complete, but solutions are available for almost every game.  Just Google the name of the game along with terms like walkthrough, solution, or help.

The way the walkthrough used in the case of The Cave is a very creative solution.  It can serve as additional reading for students to support their understanding as well as assisting students in completing the game.  Walkthroughs can also be good resources for teachers who want to support students that get stuck on one part of a game.  In a language classroom, getting stuck actually presents an opportunity for students to interact with each other by making requests and helping each other, so a teacher jumping in with the solution should not be the first resort.  In fact, it has been argued that walkthroughs ruin the experience of a good game because it can be too easy to look for the answer instead of working to solve the problem for oneself.  But, for teachers who are nervous about using games in the classroom, it’s good to know that solutions are available.

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Quality Matters in Online Learning

a computer screen is reflected in a child's eye

The first course I taught online was in a TEFL Certificate program in 2003 or 2004.  The learning curve for me was steep.  But, the more I taught online, the more I learned: discussions have to be required or they just won’t happen, scheduling needs to be clear because interaction might occur asynchronously and literally 24 hours per day, students might (incorrectly) expect their instructor to be available around the clock, and technical problems have the potential to be extremely disruptive.

Now, years later, as online and distance education classes have become so much more common and as management systems (CMSs) and personal learning environments (PLEs) have become integrated into most college classes that meet face-to-face, I have been searching for a collection of best practices for online and hybrid classes.

I started by asking folks at the Digital Union at Ohio State for some guidance.  Rob and Joni suggested I look into Quality Matters (QM), an organization dedicated to promoting and improving the quality of online education.  (In fact, Joni discusses QM in much more detail in a post on the Digital Union blog.)

One of the most beneficial things that Quality Matters has done is to develop a rubric for evaluating online courses.  Our ESL program does not have any classes that are completely online, however as we offer more and more content online, the rubric can serve as a good guide for implementing our CMS components effectively.

I should also add that, in addition to the publishing the rubric and references to the research it is based on, Quality Matters also uses the rubric as the basis for a peer-review process for online courses as well as professional development and training in effective online course design.  To pass a QM review, an online course must include all of the essential 3-point standards and achieve an overall score of 72 points or more.  In fact, the rubric contains several points that I would argue are important in traditional classroom based courses as well (i.e. 1.5 – Students are asked to introduce themselves to the class.)

I’m not sure what other guidelines are out there (if you do, please leave a comment) but Quality Matters seems to be a good foundation for evaluating online courses and course components.

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Phone Your Blog

phone

Who ya gonna call?

I’ve had this WordPress blog for about two years and have had blogs with Blogger in the past.  Both are good services, but I like the WordPress interface a bit better as well as the ability to have several static pages (inspiration, projects, and resources, for example).  Recently, WordPress announced a feature that Blogger had years ago but cancelled: the ability to phone your blog.

Once you’ve signed up for a WordPress blog, you can configure a special number that you can call and record a message that will appear on your blog.  I don’t plan to use this feature on this blog, but there are several reasons that this feature is mentioning.

First, this is a way to create digital recordings without any special equipment: no microphone, digital audio recorder, computer, mp3 player — just a phone.  The recordings can be downloaded, shared, and edited in the same way as any other digital recording.

Second, a student in an ESL class can make a recording and then others in the class can comment on it. This could be feedback on an impromptu speech topic, a dialog between two or more students, or any other oral interaction.  Comments could be based on language used, content, or both.  Many options are possible when it is this easy to share a digital audio recording.

All of this is possible with some content management systems (there are plugins available for Moodle, for example) but otherwise pulling all of the technology together to make this happen can be a bit of work, all of which is streamlined by simply calling your blog.

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Top 5 Technologies You Should Already Be Using

apple cassette tape

You don't miss these, do you?

I realize that in the world of technology there are early and late adopters.  I’m not the earliest of bleeding-edge early adopters, but I do like to try out new technology and incorporate it into my teaching.  This list is a handful of tried and true technologies that are established enough to not be too buggy and problematic, user-friendly enough that just about anyone can start using them quickly, and useful enough that you’ll soon wonder how you got along without them.  In short, this is a list of tech that just about everyone can (and maybe even should) be using in 2010.

1. Social Bookmarking – Don’t let the “social” part fool you.  Delicious, Diigo and others offer a way to move your bookmarks to the cloud, meaning they are no longer saved only on one computer.  You can also: tag bookmarks with keywords to make them more searchable, get a URL to all the bookmarks tagged with the same term (for example, all of the sites I bookmarked for my presentation at the recent DMSW conference: http://delicious.com/eslchill/dmsw10), and search other people’s bookmarks to find out what people think is worth bookmarking on a given topic  (for example search for “ESL” on Delicious and you can see how many people have bookmarked each ESL site).  But wait, there’s more!  Diigo allows you to highlight and comment on webpages and then share them.  For example, take a look at my About Me page with some highlighting and sticky notes.  This can be a great tool for collaborating and compiling research.

2. Social media – Ok, here’s where the social part kicks in because Facebook and Twitter are just for fun, right?  Well, I’ve found a lot of great resources via Twitter (try a search for #iwb if you want to find resources people are posting for use with Interactive Whiteboards, for example.) And more and more people are joining Facebook making it a great resource for networking with colleagues.  Don’t want to expose your students to Facebook?  You can build your own social network using Ning!

3. URL Shorteners – These may not be necessary, but they are very handy.  Copy your long URL (the Google Map directions to your house, for example) and paste it into Tiny URL, Tr.im or a handful of others.  They give you a much shorter link that is easier to Tweet.  Not on Twitter?  They can still be useful.  Consider the website for the Unconference I’m planning for this May.  Is it easier to share tr.im/eltu2 or https://carmenwiki.osu.edu/display/eltu/?  Both take you to the same place, but I can memorized the first one.  This technology is so handy, it’s even built in to other sites, like the link provided by Diigo to my annotated About Me page that I shared in #1: http://www.diigo.com/09je0.

4. Wikipedia – Although it has become popular (but not necessary) to question it’s accuracy, Wikipedia has become the defacto knowledge bank on the internet.  Once we are clear on what it is (a secondary source: a compilation of all referenced knowledge) many of its criticisms fall down.  Access to all of this information means a reorganization of learning.  Memorizing becomes virtually unnecessary while the ability to find and retrieve relevant information becomes essential.  More importantly, at least with factual questions, we no longer have to sit and wonder anymore.  What are the lyrics to Carmen Ohio? Just get on the internet and find out!

5. Google – No, I don’t just mean search, but all the other stuff: maps, docs, calendar, etc.  It’s never been so easy to collaborate with other people.  I created a Google Maps / YouTube mashup (student created videos from around Ohio State mapped to where they were recorded) a couple of years ago, back when it involved coding every individual coordinate for every pin placed on the map as well as the contents of every bubble that popped up.  But now, just create your account and you can drag and drop most of the information where you need it — even invite people to work on the same map.  Plus, you can get a sneak peak at what the next big thing might be by checking out Google Labs.  Who wouldn’t like a pair of Google Goggles?

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Locative Media And Other Mashups

These are the slides from a presentation I made this morning at the Digital Media in a Social World Conference.  More examples, including some that were generated during the presentation, can be found in the links I tagged using Diigo and Delicious.

I’ve tried to gather as many examples of digital mashups (see Wikipedia definition #2) that, in many cases, use maps or other visual means to represent different sets of data.  Do you have a favorite example that I didn’t include?  Leave it in a comment.  I’d love to see more!

To learn more about the conference, check out the #DMSW hashtag on Twitter.

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Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, and Digital Fluency

I was weaned on an Apple IIe.

Think I'm not native? I was weaned on an Apple IIe.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Marc Prensky’s Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants analogy.  Perhaps this is because I teach English, my native language, as a Second Language.  I help students to become more fluent in English every day, so I tend to see technological savy in terms of fluency.  And this analogy is a pretty good attempt to describe how different people react to new technology.

Prensky’s analogy is by no means complete.  It has been criticized as being ageist and xenophobic, which is fair, given the way he has described both groups.  (See a fuller rebuttal.)  But, in terms of fluency, perhaps technology has a critical period of acquisition as well.  After the critical period in language learning, it is extremely uncommon for a person to learn a second language to native-like fluency.  Is the same true for technology as well?

In some ways, technology, or at least tech-savvy, can similarly be viewed as a language or, perhaps, culture.  When someone is immersed in information technology from birth, that person has a different relationship with it than if he had become more familiar with it later in life.  For example, a student who works in my office recently found a credit card.  Her first reaction was to look for the owner on Facebook.  Although I use Facebook, I’m on Facebook, and I communicate via Facebook, my first reaction to finding a credit card would have been to either call the bank that issued the card or to turn it over to the campus Lost and Found Office.  Despite my familiarity with Facebook, I still use Facebook; I don’t Facebook.

Perhaps Digital Fluency, then, is a more subtle and satisfying analogy to describe a person’s incorporation of technology.  In my opinion, technological and linguistic fluency have nativeness in common; someone not born immersed in it will never use it in quite the same way as someone who was.  Of course, with both technology and language, there are exceptional cases and counter examples, but differences and accents remain.

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