In the video above, a dad asks his son to draw something on a new iPad, the ubiquitous Apple tablet. The 2-year-old clearly has some facility with the device as he casually switches between apps and between tools within the drawing app. Interestingly, (though not surprisingly for anyone with a 2-year-old,) the boy also wants to use his favorite apps including playing some pre-reading games and watching videos. He very naturally fast-forwards through the video to his favorite part. He also knows to change the orientation of the device to properly orient the app to a wider landscape format.
Although I like gadgets, I’m not a true early adopter. I do carry a PDA — an iPod touch — which my 2- and 4-year-olds enjoy playing with. It’s amazing how quickly they understand gestural interfaces, pinching, pulling and tapping their way from app to app.
While I don’t think that I need to rush right out and get my kids iPads so they don’t get left behind, (the whole point is that they’re easy to use anyway,) I do wonder about some of the interesting opportunities for learning on these devices: drawing, reading, and linking information. Of course, they also do a lot of these things on paper which places far fewer limits on their creativity — instead of choosing from 16 colors in a paint program, they can choose from 128 crayon colors or create their own by mixing their paints.
In the end, this new technology is flashy and fun, but I’m not convinced that iPads and other tablets are essential tools that will give our kids and our students a clear learning advantage. I sure would like one, though.
It’s not uncommon for friends to post messages on Facebook in their native language and then read them using Google Translate. A message thread from a diverse group of people could yield a handful of different messages all on the same topic. By cutting and pasting text into the Google Translate box, the language is recognized and translated. It’s not perfect, but in a couple of seconds, it does a pretty good job considering the price (free!).
Now, in addition to translating, Google also offers phonetic translations and, in some cases, a “listen” option, which “reads” the passage aloud. Again, not perfect, but impressive. Watch the video below to see extra spicy Indian food ordered in Hindi.
Also impressive are mobile apps which recognize writing and translate it on the fly. One example is Word Lens, below. A colleague recently showed me this app on his iPhone and it works as depicted. Again, not perfect, but the overall effect is almost magical.
So, will these new tools make ESL teachers and other language teachers obsolete? Not exactly. But as they get better (and they are getting better — what do you think Google is doing with all of that data it’s sitting on?) it may cause some of our future students to ask themselves, Why should I learn a language when there’s an app for that? Is holding up a smartphone to a sign or person speaking a foreign language the same as interacting directly in that language? Does it compare to the cognitive benefits of being truly multilingual? Of course not. But as it becomes easier, cheaper, faster, more convenient, and more socially acceptable to communicate with these tools, it’s going to be harder and harder to find reasons to spend the time, effort, and money to learn another language.
Have you ever taken a picture of the board at the front of your ESL classroom? It’s actually a pretty good way to capture lots of notes in a hurry, but you won’t be able to edit those notes once the picture is snapped.
Some document scanners have built in text recognition, but it can take a while for the scanner bar to drag across the document. Sure, it’s only a matter of seconds, but if you have a big stack of documents to put through the scanner one page at a time, it can be a real inconvenience. In fact, this scanner bar technology (a one-dimensional sensor being dragged across a two-dimensional surface) seems just a bit out of date, doesn’t it?
Enter a new line of scanners described in Popular Science that incorporate digital camera sensors to capture an entire document at one time — no more waiting for the sensor to drag.
But wouldn’t it be nice to snap a picture instead of scanning a document? Well, it turns out there is an app for that. Scanner Pro (reviewed by cnet) turns your iPhone into a .pdf-producing document scanner. Forget trying to find a fax machine when you need to sign a document and send it to someone. Sign a document, then scan it and email it, all from your phone. There are other apps available for iPhones and iPods beginning at $0.99 and likely similar options for other flavors of smartphone as well. The future is here today!
Thanks to the OSU Yammer community for ideas and links used in this post.
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 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.
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.
Okay, I didn’t create my first app (yet) but I did come up with a way to repurpose an existing app for learning, a much more edupunk approach.
I came across an app called Music Quiz, which recreates a game that came standard on older iPods. Music Quiz plays part of a randomly selected song on your iPod and then asks you to identify the song title, album title or artist. You can set the difficulty (more difficult means more possibilities to choose from) and even choose a subset of songs to form the game (just songs from one album or artist, for example). While it’s fun to sit on the bus and see if I can identify the name of every Sloan song ever released, I also started thinking if this same game could be applied to learning English.
So I recorded some idioms as mp3 files using Audacity, a free audio recorder. The actual sound file is me reading the definition twice in twelve seconds (because Music Quiz can be set to play 12 seconds of each song). Within Audacity, I saved the idiom as the song title. The files are below, if you want to try it out:
A student can add these files to an iPod or iPhone and set Music Quiz to quiz them on these audio files. (From the menu, set Custom Quiz to on to choose specific files for the quiz.) As the recording plays, the student has to choose which idiom matches the definition she hears. I’ve chosen 20 heart-themed idioms, so I’ve used heart as the album title. Three levels of metadata are available within Music Quiz (artist > album > song title) though testing students in higher order information (i.e. whether a given idiom was a heart, food, or animal idiom) may not be worthwhile.
Alternatively, album could be defined as chapters in a vocabulary textbook. I’m not sure it would be much more helpful for students to quiz themselves on which chapter a given idiom was in, but it could be a good way to organize the audio files and make it easy to choose specific chapters for a quiz. Of course, if Music Quiz were used to review other structures (verb tenses, vocabulary, etc.) there might be better ways to take advantage of other levels of metadata.
Clearly an iPod is not going to replace traditional language instruction anytime soon. But, if students are always listening to their iDevices anyway, they might as well use them to practice English. A well-designed activity could really engage them in this kind of helpful practice. If you have ideas for other ways to use Music Quiz or other apps for English practice, leave a comment.
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.