Tag Archives: iwb

Computer Games in ESL

burning pac man

Computer games are a medium that has become as popular as Hollywood movies.  It’s not uncommon for teachers to show movies in class, but how can games be incorporated?  This post will discuss these questions and will serve as the handout to my session at the Ohio TESOL Technology Fair 2010.

Games as a source of English

MMORPGs and other complex, multiplayer games can provide a rich source of English (or many other languages) in which students can choose to immerse themselves.  Also, because these games are almost impossible to solve without teamwork, there are typically

World of Warcraft (WoW) – The granddaddy of all MMORPGs and by far the biggest.  Players create avatars that go on quests and have adventures.   In addition to finding potentially complex communication tasks with other players during the game, the WoW wiki is the second largest wiki on the internet after Wikipedia.  This is also potentially a good source of target language input.

Second Life – Though not exactly a game, per se, Second Life is an online 3D virtual world through which players’ avatars can navigate.  There has been much educational interest in Second Life which means there are several “islands” dedicated to language practice for users to explore.

Analysis of Simulations

Distinguishing between games, serious games and simulations is not as important as how we can use them.  Playing a simulation may not be entirely satisfying because a totally accurate simulation of any complex system is extremely difficult to create.  But this creates an opportunity for students to try them and then critique them.  There are lots of examples listed on Historical Simulations.org.  Some of my favorites are below.

Budget Hero – Where would you increase and / or decrease the federal budget and what ramifications would each decision have on the future?  Lots of information in a very accessible format.

Energyville – See if you can meet the energy needs of a city of almost 6 million people.  Do you think cutting all fossil fuels immediately is the answer?  Not in this simulation.  Does knowing that it was created by Chevron make you question anything about this simulation?  Lots to discuss here.

McDonald’s Video Game – What decisions would you make (have to make?) to keep your franchise humming.  Would you cut corners?  What effects would this have?  And, as with Energyville, above, is this an unbiased view or is there an underlying message in this game?

Group Problem Solving

Even the simplest games can generate complex discussion when played in pairs or as a group.  Two students working at one computer need to negotiate everything starting from who gets to use the mouse.  If you have access to an interactive whiteboard, a larger group can work together to play the game or solve the puzzle much more comfortably.

Samorost 2 – This is a visually compelling game that, at first, does not seem to have a point.  During a brief cartoon introduction, a dog is kidnapped from a tiny planet by space aliens and the protagonist begins his pursuit.  Now what?  By clicking on various items on the screen they can be manipulated.  Puzzles can be solved by finding the appropriate series of manipulations.  I’ve had a half-dozen students working on these puzzles on an interactive whiteboard.  I was worried because when working alone on my desktop, I found the puzzles to be quite challenging and I almost gave up on more than one occasion.  But the power of the group was amazing to see as the students moved quickly through several levels, working together and suggesting new ideas to each other as they went.

Grow Cube – I’ve been intrigued by this game since the first time I discovered it.  It is a puzzle in which the player ten turns to select from ten actions that can be performed on a cube.  Each one has a cute animation that interacts with the others.  Most importantly, some actions require several turns to fully develop.  Others must be performed sequentially to work properly (spoiler alert: place the pot on the cube before lighting the fire or the fire will grow too hot and crack the pot.)  The puzzle typically requires one or two attempts to get a feel for the game before players can really begin to notice the effects that each action has on the others.  Even if the puzzle can not be solved, there is a complete walkthrough available for help.  But do yourself a favor and don’t peek until you’ve given it a few tries.

Other Tips & Suggestions

Some of the most complex games available will also be the most expensive.  Even if that hurdle is overcome (possibly by purchasing older versions, for example), there may be a variety of reasons that prohibit the installation of World of Warcraft in the local computer lab (“You want to play games?!?”).  Fortunately there are a number of online games which are freely available and only require an internet connection to play.  Of course, if you routinely battle a firewall for internet access, you may want to test whether you can access them on the computers you intend to use before you plan to use them.

Ask what your students are playing and see if those games might provide a jumping off point.  Are they addicted to Farmville on Facebook?  Bejeweled?  Can they analyze the game critically?  Can they teach someone else the strategy involved?

Most games have wikis which describe all of the parts of the game as well as strategies that can be used to win.  Is there an undocumented way to win?  Have students contribute their ideas to the wiki.

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Mischievous Mouses

mouse locked by chain

Unlock your mouse!

I occasionally get emails from people looking for a little exposure for a new product or service.  Excluding the copious spam, I do appreciate the interest in my blog, though most of these messages miss the mark.  I won’t write about something unless I actually see it as useful.  Fortunately, I recently received something useful in my inbox.  From Microsoft.  It’s called Mouse Mischief.

After watching the video on the homepage, I’m intrigued.  Mouse Mischief allows a teacher to connect up to 15 mice to one computer.  If each student has a wireless mouse they can all interact on the screen at the same time.  Each mouse can have a different cursor, so a teacher can ask a question and have students mouse-over the answer.  Students can also perform other mouse functions like drawing and clicking from their seats.  Teachers can even track which students answer correctly as well as how often and how quickly.

I like this idea because it’s a bit like clickers, which give each student the ability to answer a question by pushing a button, and a bit like an interactive whiteboard, which allow students to interact collaboratively with the screen.

Of course, moving a mouse on top of a desk is not the same experience as actually touching a touchscreen.  And wireless mice aren’t free, though Microsoft conveniently links to some which start at about $20 —  plan on about $300 to be fully outfitted, assuming you already have a computer and a projector in your classroom.  Plus the software, which is free to download, only works with certain versions of some of their products (PowerPoint 2007 and 2010, for example).

Microsoft seems to be taking the right path by encouraging teachers to upload their best lesson plans so that teachers can collaborate on the best uses of this technology.  Will it be the next “big thing”?  I’m not sure it will, but it’s an innovative use of an old technology.  And if using one mouse is good, I’d like to see what can be done with 10 or 12 of them.

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OutSMARTed

computer with a dunce cap

I just got a letter (dated June 14) from the folks at SMART, makers of SMARTboards, etc.  I’ve included the full text of the letter below, in case the link doesn’t work.  It wasn’t sent to me personally, but rather sent out to licensed users of their products.

As I have mentioned before, I really like SMART hardware, but SMARTboards are expensive and not very portable.  I’ve also documented a $50 DIY alternative, based on the Nintendo Wii controller, which has fewer features but can fit in a large pocket.  The SMART software is also very good, but there are several alternatives and workarounds that can accomplish many of the same things.

This puts SMART in a difficult position.  They have been selling their hardware and giving away their software for “free”.  (It’s free the way a drink is free at Taco Bell if you buy a taco.)  Unfortunately for SMART, edupunks who have access to an LCD projector can build the equivalent hardware for $50.  I’ve been told from other people who have built their own interactive whiteboards that the best possible combination is the “free” SMART software on the more portable DIY hardware, which works with any LCD projector.  So, now SMART is trying to clarify that their software is only “free” if you buy or use their hardware.

This seems like a losing battle for SMART.  The RIAA’s approach to penalize consumers who copied music did not make sense but offering reasonably priced songs on sites like iTunes did.  Hollywood was heading the same direction by threatening uploaders of copyrighted material until a compromise was reached that gives the copyright holder a share of revenue generated by ads next to their videos.  Now that is smart.

What is the solution for SMART?  Well, they could start by being clearer about the price of software — it isn’t free.  They could also be clearer about how to purchase SMART software to use on other hardware (so called “Restricted Products,” below).  They seem to be doing this in this letter, but is that it?  I understand SMART’s desire to protect the products they have developed, but treating customers and users of SMART products as scofflaws does not engender much good will.

Our college just got a SMARTboard and two other interactive whiteboards made by SMART’s competitors and put them in the same room so that they can be evaluated head-to-head-to-head.  I’ve suggested setting up a $50 Wii-based version as well.  May the best interactive whiteboard win.

June 14, 2010

To all SMART customers:

SMART Technologies has been investing in SMART Notebook™ collaborative learning software for 15 years. We update and improve our software regularly based on feedback from our users, and we are currently developing version 11. Soon we will release a service pack for version 10 that will be accompanied by a revised licensing agreement, which addresses in more detail the permitted use of SMART Notebook software.

It has come to our attention that misleading or incorrect information about the use of SMART Notebook software is being provided. In advance of the software update, we are writing to confirm the permitted use of SMART Notebook software to help you make informed choices.

When you purchase any of the following eligible “Licensed Product,”
· SMART Board™ interactive whiteboard
· SMART Board interactive display
· SMART Response™ interactive response system
· SMART Podium™ interactive pen display
· SMART Document Camera

a SMART Notebook license is included with the product and you are permitted to use the software on any computer connected to these Licensed Products. SMART Notebook software may also be used on a reasonable number of computers associated with your district or school that are not connected to a pen or touch-enabled devices. This permits teachers to use the software at home to create lessons for use on their Licensed Products in the classroom.

The license agreement does not, however, normally permit the use of SMART Notebook software when a computer is connected to a restricted pen- or touch-enabled device (“Restricted Product”). Restricted Products include, but are not limited to, any touch-enabled or pen-enabled devices that are not on the Licensed Products list above, including the following:
· Interactive whiteboards
· Interactive projector systems
· Display screens
· Screen digitizing devices or slates

To provide options for our customers and enable access to .notebook files by anyone, anywhere, on any device, including Restricted Products, we offer the SMART Notebook Express™ web application, found at express.smarttech.com.

If you have any questions regarding or wish to inquire about use of SMART Notebook software with Restricted Products, please contact SMART at 1.866.518.6791 and follow the voice prompt to press 7 for SMART Notebook license. You can also send us an e-mail at info@smarttech.com with “SMART Notebook license” in the subject line.

Yours truly,
Patric Nagel
Vice President, Sales – Americas

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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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Smartboard Trials and Tribulations

Last quarter I received a Smartboard to use for the quarter on a trial basis via the TELR Smart SEED program at Ohio State. I’ve been really impressed with how smoothly the Smartboard works as an interface.  Compared to the $50 Wii-based version, the Smartboard requires much less calibration and feels more natural without the LED pen.  In short, it’s a really slick product.  However, the sheer size of the portable version has been a big barrier to me.

Unfortunately, as you can see / hear in the above video, the model I was given was a bit awkward to move and we were not able to find a good place to store it aside from leaving it in the classroom, which was not secure.  I did manage to find a couple of rooms that had permanently mounted Smartboards, which were fantastic, but I wasn’t actually able to regularly use the one I was given.

It would be great to have a Smartboard in every room, but this is a huge initial investment.  Before making this committment, we need to decide that this is a worthwhile investment.  To make this decision, we should give teachers experience with them.  I think this catch-22 can be solved by distributing the $50 Wiimote-based version to decide if it’s worth making the larger committment.

There are lots of articles out there that talk about how interactive whiteboards are transformative, but when you read through the examples of how the technology is used, many of the examples do not fully exploit the technology (i.e. writing can be done on a traditional whiteboard, movies can be projected on a traditional screen).

So, I’m going back to encouraging teachers to build and use $50 interactive whiteboard, but I’m also going to encourage them to use Smartboards, if they are available.  (Another alternative would be to combine the Smartboard software with the Wii-mote-based hardware, but the Smarttech requires a separate license to do this.)

I’m compiling uses for interactive whiteboards by tagging them with me Delicious account (see them at http://delicious.com/eslchill/iwb).  If you have ideas for innovative uses, please share them.  The technology can be transformational, but I’m not sure we’ve found the “killer app” yet.

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169 Interesting Ways to Use Technology

A wordle of this blog post.

A wordle of this blog post.

Recently, I’ve come across two excellent presentations for using both of these technologies. Both were created by Tom Barrett, a teacher in Nottingham, England, that I follow on Twitter, another technology I recently blogged about. (You can follow Tom on Twitter, too, if you have a free Twitter account.)

I’ve blogged for a while about Interactive Whiteboards now, especially the $50 build-it-yourself version which is based on the Nintendo Wiimote.  I’ve also highlighted Wordle as an interesting way to visualize language.  I’m going to focus on the presentations on these two topics, but Tom also has presentations on Google Earth, Google Docs, Pocket Videos, and Twitter if you’re interested.

Thirty-Eight Interesting Ways to use your Interactive Whiteboard focuses on Smartboards, but includes lots of great ideas for most IWBs from basic shortcut functions to advanced techniques such as having students write on the board and then, instead of erasing, creating a presentation on Slideshare.net or a Google Presentation that can then be uploaded to the class blog for students to review.  Great idea!

Thirty Interesting Ways to use Wordle in the Classroom covers a wide range of ideas appropriate for many different subjects.  Some suggestions are pretty obvious, such as doing a simple lexical analysis of different texts: student created, children’s stories, literary works, etc.  Others are quite innovative, such as photocopying a wordle with white words on a black background onto a transparency and having students come to the overhead projector and color nouns one color, verbs another, and so on.  This presentation is sure to spark some great ideas.

All of these presentations are Google docs, so you’ll need to sign up for a free Google account to view them, if you don’t have one.  Tom has compiled these tips and ideas from the suggestions of several teachers and even offers information on contributing your tips at the end of each presentation.  His contact information is at the end of the presentations.  Get in touch with him  if you have something to contribute.

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