Tag Archives: ed

Augmented Reality Games

augmented reality on iphone

Virtually like the real world.

I’ve been thinking about digital games for language learning quite a bit lately and a number of questions have come up, the biggest of which is:  Why are so many educational games so lame?  I love the idea of learning through play, but many educational games fail to move past drill-and-kill exercises.  When you compare this to commercially available immersive games like World of Warcraft or Grand Theft Auto, there is a remarkable gap.

For a while, I thought Second Life held some potential because that virtual environment could be designed and built specifically for a given topic.  But building in Second Life (at least to me) proved to be extremely time-intensive and I didn’t feel like the results were worth the energy I had to invest.

The notion of augmented reality has also been floating around in my subconscious for a while, but it never really stuck; it’s really cool, but how could I work with it?  All of these things coalesced for me today after sitting through a couple of presentations at CALICO.

Julie Sykes, who developed an immersive gaming environment focused on Spanish pragmatics called Croquelandia, has been working on a mobile place-based murder / mystery game for learning Spanish in an historic  neighborhood near the University of New Mexico campus.  The iPod / iPhone-based game, called Mentira, is built on the ARIS platform, which makes it very easy to cut and paste text and other media files into a branching story line to create the game.  To progress through the story, students have to input clues from the real environment (the street address of the old church, for example) to unlock parts of the story.  (An alternative would be to use GPS to unlock the story when students actually visited the location, but this would require iPhones and exclude iPod Touches.)

I was most amazed by the forehead-slappingly simple concept that we don’t need to create a virtual world for students to interact with because there is a pretty robust world right outside the classroom for them to interact with.  And finding a target language-rich environment is even easier if the target language is English (at least for me).

It’s soon to be a cliche (if it isn’t already) but being able to take a computer into the real world so easily is going to be a game changer.  Think of botany students looking up plants on their smartphones.  It’s been said that there are no more arguments about baseball statistics in sportsbars because it’s too easy to get the answers to that information.  Information is literally at our finger tips.  But I digress.

The user experience within a place-based game like Mentira, if well designed, can compete with big commercial games because it can be specifically tailored right down to the details of a given neighborhood.  Instead of taking time to create dazzling multi-media experiences, educators can really focus on the content.  And, being text-based, lowers the barrier even further.  Julie reported that her students were eager to contribute to the story and some had plans to use ARIS to create their own games.  Enabling students to become game-producers, not just players — in their target language — is astounding to me.

I’m not sure that a game that sends students into the real world will be able to lower their affective filters or allow them to have multiple repeat experiences if they want to practice in the same way as a relatively low-risk virtual environment might.  But a game could be designed to be played several times with different outcomes.  There is also a potential risk in sending students out into the world, depending on where they are sent (clearly this is not the time to recreate Grand Theft Auto) but the risk could certainly be minimized.  It’s also important to respect the real residents of the real world into which students are sent.  Having them congregate on someone’s front lawn to solve a mystery likely would not be appreciated.  Julie reported that some residents were eager to talk about their neighborhood with her students and even seemed flattered that their neighborhood was chosen.  This is the ideal to strive for.

Unfortunately, ARIS just updated it’s app and as of today there are only four ARIS games available.  Several others, including Mentira were built on a previous version which means it will take some work to get the game moved onto the new platform.  I will update this post if / when it becomes available.  In the meantime, we have to make due with this trailer which can be downloaded from the ARIS Games website.  The trailer serves as the introduction to the game and does a nice job setting the tone for the game.  Unfortunately, it just makes me want to play the game even more.

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Assessment Blues

Baby Blues Panel #1 11/20/09 - Teacher asks if everyone understands the chapter: "Yes!"

Is this assessment? Click the panel to see the rest of the panel.

I came across this Baby Blues comic one Sunday morning last fall and it made me think about how we assess our students.  The first panel, above, shows a teacher asking her class a pretty typical question: Does everyone understand this chapter?  And the class gives an emphatic YES! in response.  This is great, right?  Click the link or on the panel to read the whole thing.  Go ahead.  I can wait.

Did you read it?  It didn’t turn out the way we expect when we ask this question as teachers.  I think this comic struck a nerve with me because I have looked out at classroom-fulls of students and seen blank facial expressions that can be difficult to interpret.  Is a student totally lost, unsure of how to connect new information to old?  Or are we moving too slowly causing the student to become bored and tune out?  The same blank stare can hide either reaction to my teaching.  And, as this comic points out, our first reaction, asking if everyone understands, may not clarify the situation.

There are technical innovations such as clickers that might allow students to provide honest, anonymous feedback.  (I envision students turning dials as if watching candidates making election speeches and causing a pointer to draw a line somewhere between “I get it – teach faster” and “I don’t get it – slow down”.)  While this might be valuable, and maybe even accurate, feedback, I’m not sure it’s a practical solution.  But it would be nice to know if the instincts we use to pace our teaching are accurate, at least in the students’ opinion.

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Musical Inspiration

the sun

Sing, floss, stretch. But trust me on the sunscreen.

I wrote recently about the elective class that I am developing and teaching on popular music.  I’m covering a decade per week and a song per day.  Within each song, I highlight an interesting grammar, vocabulary, or pronunciation point.

Developing this class has meant combing through many online resources including lists of Billboard number one hit songs on Wikipedia and best-of-the-decade lists such as AOL’s radio blog, which is a good place to start because you can listen to most of the songs on the list.  I’ve also found that the website sing365.com tends to have the least errors of all of the lyrics websites that are returned in Google searches.

I intend to post the list of songs I’ve used at the end of the quarter (I might even link to the Google Docs spreadsheet that I used to record all of the songs I considered for each decade) but for now I thought I would post the following music video, which I plan to use tomorrow, the last day before Thanksgiving break.

The song is actually a spoken word piece which has an interesting story.  While not a traditional pop music video, I think the message is inspirational without being cheesy.  Plus, there are lots and lots of examples of advice using the imperative.  It might not get you through the last two weeks of the quarter, but it doesn’t hurt.

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The Marshmallow Experiment

marshmallows

Want one? If you wait, you can have two.

I recently tweeted about the Marshmallow Experiment after reading about it in the Toronto Star. Yesterday, I listened to the Radio Lab podcast that discusses the same experiment.

The gist of it is that children are given the choice of taking one marshmallow or waiting a few minutes and taking two.  At around 4 years of age, many people develop the ability to delay their gratification.  Not all, but many.

More interestingly, when researchers followed up with the children who had been tested years later, those that were able to delay their gratification were more successful on a number of measures ranging from SAT scores and GPAs to whether they were overweight.  Fortunately, these skills can be developed, so even if a four-year-old swipes the marshmallow at the first opportunity, she is not predetermined to be an obese dropout.

As a teacher, I’m thinking about how this skill translates to my classes.  I suspect that I can identify a few students in my class who are instant-swipers and some who are probably still waiting to take the second marshmallow in case they will be rewarded with a third marshmallow.  Some students cram for tests, while others forgo fun in favor of studying and reviewing.

I find it encouraging to learn that these skills can be honed, but I wonder if this is true for the adult students that I work with.  How can we help this message reach them?  How can we help them to apply this information to their academic and, eventually, professional careers?

Maybe I need to bring a bag of marshmallows to class.

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Summer Inspiration: Connectivism

I came across this video a couple of months ago and haven’t stopped thinking about it or recommending it to people.  It makes a very compelling case for using Web 2.0 technologies to allow students to construct their own knowledge.  This would change the role of the teacher from keeper of knowledge to facillitator of learning.

In particular, I’ve been thinking about how these ideas could apply to my grammar classes.  I often teach advanced grammar to ESL students with a wide range of abilities (our students are placed into levels based on aggregate scores, not into each class).  In general, I present new material and then vary their homework activities based on their ability.  But what if there were a better way?

The materials I typically present in class could be put online (with my voiceover explanations, animations to illustrate key points, etc.) and students could watch the presentations at home.  The could then come to class prepared, ask whatever questions they had, and then we could do the “howework activities” in class.  Wouldn’t I, as a teacher, be more helpful to them while they were trying to use what they had learned?

My presentation could become a part of what they used to study a particular grammatical structure.  They could supplement this with other online resources they find (and are probably already using) and share them with the class via online courseware.  So, some students could learn from  stories that include highly contextualized examples of the structure while others could examine charts and tables if that was their preference.  It’s easy to see how this process would enable students to learn in ways that matched their learning styles.

Will it work?  I’ve tried elements of this approach and one of the biggest hurdles seems to be the reaction from students that the teacher isn’t “teaching.”  If we can get past this issue, we might really be able to run with it.

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