Tag Archives: learning

Serious Games by Lucas Pope

Screen Shot 2014-07-07 at 10.14.26 AM (2)

Welcome to The Republia Times.  You are the new editor-in-chief.

The war with Antegria is over and the rebellion uprising has been crushed. Order is slowly returning to Republia.

The public is not loyal to the government.

It is your job to increase their loyalty by editing The Republia Times carefully. Pick only stories that highlight the good things about Republia and its government.

You have 3 days to raise the public’s loyalty to 20.

As a precaution against influence, we are keeping your wife and child in a safe location.

So begins this simple, engaging, Flash-based game by Lucas Pope called The Republia Times. The first time I played it, I was charmed by the simple graphics, which reminded me of games I used to play on my Apple IIe. When I learned that the game was created in a 48-hour game-making competition, I was impressed that there were any graphics at all.

As described in the initial instructions, above, the player begins as the editor of The Republia Times, which is pretty clearly the voice of the government’s Ministry of Media. Your task is simple enough; choose from the stories that roll through the news feed and choose how much prominence to give them in the newspaper layout at right. (See the screenshot, above.) You quickly learn from playing the game that your decisions affect the number of readers and their loyalty to the government, both of which are important to your faceless supervisors and, therefore, the well-being of you and your family.

This task is simple enough, but a more complex story of Republia soon bleeds through the game and your decisions quickly become more complicated. I won’t give away the details of the plot — the game is quick and easy (and free!) to play so try it yourself to get the full story — but just when you think you have learned to play the game, it hits you with another twist, which is a nice metaphor for life when you think about it.

The advantage that interactive media like games and simulations have over traditional media like newspapers, magazines, and television is the variety of possible user experiences. Everyone who plays The Republia Times will have a different experience. Some will quickly deduce the effect their editorial choices have whereas others won’t make the connection as easily. Different players will choose different sides and follow their own path to the end. And because the game is replayable, players can try different strategies and make different choices each time they play to test different strategies and hypotheses to explore the entirety of the game. All of this can add another layer of interest to classroom discussions.

I haven’t yet used this game with students in a classroom, but I would like to. Although government manipulation of the press could be a sensitive topic for some international students, this game is based in a clearly fictional country, which can make the topic abstract enough to make conversations more comfortable than, say, news articles about specific countries that students may have personal ties to. Additionally, the game and story are ripe for discussions like What is the author of the game is trying to communicate? Where does he stand on the issues described in the game? and What can you learn from this game, if anything?

The Republia Times is a good, quick, and free introduction to serious or art games. For a deeper dive into the genre, consider some of Lucas Pope’s other games: 6 Degrees of Sabotage (free), a game that explores the concept of six degrees of separation; The Sea Has No Claim (free), like Minesweeper but with more varied and limited resources; and Papers, Please ($9.99), a dystopian document thriller (watch the trailer here). Just because these games are serious, doesn’t mean they aren’t fun ways to begin some challenging conversations.

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The List of Lists

dictionaries

I’ve been tinkering with AntConc, Laurence Anthony’s free concordancer, which has led me down a bit of a rabbit hole of lists generated by corpus linguists over the past 60 years.  I’ve listed a few that I’ve used, sometimes within AntConc, to analyze students’ writing.  If you’ve taught students to investigate their linguistic hunches via the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA), you might also consider teaching them to put their own writing into a tool like AntConc to analyze their own writing as well.  By including the lists below a blacklist (do not show) or a whitelist (show only these), students can hone in on a more specific part of their vocabulary.  Most of these lists are available for download, which means you can be up and running with your own analysis very quickly.

The lists (in chronological order):

General Service List (GSL) – developed by Michael West in 1953; based on a 2.5 million word corpus.  (Can you imagine doing corpus linguistics in 1953?  Much of it must have been by hand, which is mind boggling.)  Despite criticism that it is out of date (words such as plastic and television are not included, for example), this pioneering list still provides about 80% coverage of English.

Academic Word List (AWL) – developed by Averil Coxhead in 2000; 570 words (word families) selected from a purpose-built academic corpus with the 2000 most frequent GSL words removed; organized into 9 lists of 60 and one of 30, sorted by frequency.  Scores of textbooks have been written based on these lists, and for good reason.  In fact, we have found that students are so familiar with these materials, they test disproportionately highly on these words versus other advanced vocabulary.

Academic Vocabulary List (AVL) – the 3000 most frequent words in the 120 million words in the academic portion of the 440 million word Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA). This word list includes groupings by word families, definitions, and an online interface for browsing or uploading texts to be analyzed according to the list.

New General Service List (NGSL) – developed by Charles Browne, Brent Culligan, and Joseph Phillips in 2013; based on the two-billion-word Cambridge English Corpus (CEC); 2368 words that cover 90.34% of the CEC.

New Academic Word List (NAWL) – based on three components: the CEC Academic Corpus; two oral corpora, the Michigan Corpus of Academic Spoken English (MICASE) and the British Academic Spoken English (BASE) corpus; and on a corpus of published textbooks for a total of 288 million words. The NAWL is to the NGSL what the AWL is to the GSL in that it contains the 964 most frequent words in the academic corpus after the NGSL words have been removed.

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Web 2.0 Tools

tools

Just over a year and a half ago, Betsy Lavolette and Susan Pennestri presented a session at CALICO 2012 called Where’s the Peadagogy in Web 2.0?  In this presentation (available here), Betsy and Susan defined Web 2.0, couched these technologies in a discussion of Bloom’s taxonomy, and proposed curating an evolving list of useful Web 2.0 tools.  Naturally, they did this by crowdsourcing the list via a Web 2.0 tool, the online bookmarking site Diigo.com.

The most amazing part of all of this is that the list is still going strong and now includes over 400 items.  To access the list, go to https://groups.diigo.com/group/calicotools.  Each item has a brief description has brief notes and several tags such as reading, writing, listening and speaking, each of which can also be used to search for tools within the list.  Just click on the tag to view other resources on the list with the same tag.

To participate and contribute to this list, click on the “Join this Group” button and create a free Diigo account if you don’t already have one.  Diigo is a lot like Delicious.com, but has a few more features including the ability to highlight and annotate any web document before sharing it.  Diigo is a tool worth using on it’s own, but signing up for this group makes the experience even more useful.

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Reaction GIF Resources

As I’ve written before, animated GIFs have re-emerged on the World Wide Web as a visual shorthand to express complicated emotions, ideas, and reactions.  Their popularity has received a boost from the fact that they are relatively easy to create and small in file size, meaning they load quickly on almost any device.  And, as one of my students observed, they’re kind of like the pictures in Harry Potter.

You’ll find animated GIFs throughout online discussion forums where they are often used to sum up a response to a discussion thread more quickly than a written message.  They also are often deeply embedded in popular culture, which can also be a bonus.

One of the most popular online discussion forums is Reddit.  Animated reaction GIFs are so popular on Reddit that there is a subReddit devoted to retiring GIFs that have been used so effectively that they will never again be used as a response in a more satisfying way.

ESL students can benefit from animated GIFs in many ways.  One approach is for teachers to use them as conversation starters.  Find something complicated that is expressed in a single GIF like this one and ask students what emotion is being expressed, what just happened to him, what might happen next, and to tell you about a time that they felt a similar emotion.

Animated GIFs also reference pop culture.  And because of the are much shorter than a complete movie or TV show, they can be bite-sized points of entry into different touchstones of popular culture.  For example, I recently watched Forrest Gump in an ESL classroom.  Animated GIFs can serve as a potent reminder of the key scenes.

Animated GIFs are also a phenomenon of pop culture in their own right.  Would memes like Tom Hanks as an animal have gone viral if the images were still?  Perhaps.  But animating these images doesn’t make them less interesting.  Animated GIFs are a participatory form of pop culture – anyone can contribute to the virality of a meme by sharing it, retweeting it, or even creating their own take if they have simple Photoshop skills.

So, where to find them?  Here are some good resources:

Any good search engine will turn them up.  Including the words “animated” and “GIF” in your search terms will help.

Giphy.com is a search tool for animated GIFs.

ReactionGIFs.com is a website that collects and tags animated GIFs.

Reddit has an entire forum dedicated to animated reaction GIFs.

Tumblr is full of them.

My favorites are tagged “GIF” in Diigo.com, an online bookmarking service.

A final note: As you and your students venture out in search of animated GIFs, be aware that this corner of the World Wide Web, like so many others, can occasionally contain strong language and adult themes.  If you work with younger students, you may want to preview these links before sharing them with your students.  You are likely to encounter language that you may not want to share in your classroom.

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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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Open Music: Old Shanghai

In December 2012, Beck Hansen released an album called Song Reader in an extremely traditional way: on sheet music.  Best known for genre-bending songs such as Loser and Where It’s At, Beck is going blazing another new trail by reaching back to a format that predates recorded audio.  But, why?

Well, in an age of Instructables, MakerBots, and GarageBand, making things has never seemed less intimidating.  And with YouTube, you’ve got a way to share your creations whether you’ve played a song on your piano or mashed up a couple of hit songs into something new.

Beck talks about the audience involvement aspect of this album in an interview on the publisher’s website:

These songs are meant to be pulled apart and reshaped. The idea of them being played by choirs, brass bands, string ensembles, anything outside of traditional rock-band constructs—it’s interesting because it’s outside of where my songs normally exist. I thought a lot about making these songs playable and approachable, but still musically interesting. I think some of the best covers will reimagine the chord structure, take liberties with the melodies, the phrasing, even the lyrics themselves. There are no rules in interpretation.

In education, we talk about Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Beck has released an album that is completely open to interpretation and assembly by the user. By trusting and empowering his listeners to participate in his music, Beck has created something much larger than just twenty songs.  He has created a community.

Anyone can post their version of one of these songs to Song Reader.net via YouTube or Soundcloud.  As more songs are performed and uploaded, each work will form a kind of dialog and interaction with each one influencing the next.

Why mention this on ESL Technology.com?  There are some parallels between this open approach to making an album and the open education movement.  Trusting your students and empowering them to make decisions can be very scary — for both teachers and students. Letting students choose their own projects and then working with them to make sure the projects fit the curriculum is more difficult and time consuming, but it’s a process that can really infuse students with a sense of ownership over their work. Being responsible for their own learning is an important lesson for all students.

Opening your classroom to the real world (by making student videos and blog posts public, for example) can also be a scary, but rewarding, opportunity. Teaching in an open environment also means preparing students for the challenges in that real world — teaching strategies for dealing with griefers and phishing attacks, for example — which is probably some of the most useful learning they can carry forward from your classroom.  They all have to join the real world eventually.

Is Song Reader a model that can guide your teaching? Not directly. But the novel way that this album has been conceptualized relates to some interesting ideas that relate to how many are re-thinking traditional approaches to teaching.

For more on Beck’s album, visit Song Reader.net.  Some of my favorite interpretations of “Old Shanghai”, the single that was released before the rest of the album was available, are below.  If you’ve played “Old Shanghai” or anything else from Song Reader, please post a link to your work in the comments.

Piano only, with a beautiful video:

Ukulele only:

The staff of the New Yorker:

A more fully-produced trio, Contramano:

Two guys named Dave and Ted:

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Communication Goes Visual

happy guy with pug

You know that feeling that you can’t put into words?  Like when your mind reels with an overwhelming realization.  Or when you’re too tired to do anything except stare blankly.  These sentiments, and thousands of others, are being expressed across various social media a GIF.

What was once just a snappy way to let visitors know your newfangled website was still under construction, the GIF has been embraced for its ability to compress not just a single image into a manageable file size, but also several frames of animation.  Though these images are not high quality, they look fine online and load relatively quickly due to their small size.

These simple animations can be created using desktop software such as Photoshop or in any number of newer online services.  (Google it.)  So now, when you’re looking for the perfect way to express something like the feeling you get when you do something clever but no one is around to notice, you can do it with one perfectly succinct animated image.

How do these GIFs relate to ESL learners and ESL teaching?  Well, if your students are venturing out into the wilderness that is the Internet, they are likely already encountering this form of communication.  Do they understand it?  Many of these animated images express universal sentiments such as surprise / exasperation, not wanting to hear what someone has to say, or that awkward moment when no one has anything more to say.  But, as you can see from this list alone, some of the meaning is somewhat complex and layered.  Also, many of the images are taken from popular culture which some students may not be attuned to as well as a native speaker.

But, perhaps we’re not giving our ESL learners enough credit.  They could very well be communicating with GIFs regularly because they appreciate the ease with which they can communicate complex ideas which they may not have words for in English.  Ask them.  Or ask students to describe these emotions as a classroom exercise.  You might be pleasantly surprised by what they say.

For lots more animated GIFs, visit reddit.com/r/reactiongifs.

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