Tag Archives: learning

Tumblr

In the world of social media, Tumblr lies somewhere between Twitter and a full-blown blog with interactive social elements that are similar to Facebook.  This combination has lead to exponential growth.

To learn more, I created a Tumblr.  So far, I’ve been using it to post links to relevant stuff I’m looking at, but may not be ready to create a long form blog post here at ESL Technology.com.  (As an aside, remember when blog posts were considered brief? #solongago)  Some of my posts there will develop into longer posts here, but many will not.  You can follow my posts to both on Twitter: @eslchill.

So far, I’m not a full-blown, hardcore Tumblrer.  Perhaps it’s because I haven’t sought out a network there, which is a potent part of the allure for most users.  By reposting the posts of people you follow, Tumblr creates an echo chamber that allows popular media to spread exponentially.

One feature I like is the ability to queue Tumblr posts and release them a day at a time.  I can post several items at once and release them one per day — thereby always having something “in the hopper.”  In this way, I am contributing to the constant stream of consumable media and helping to build my brand, neither of which I’m sure I want to do, but Tumblr sure makes it easy.

As you would expect from a popular technology like this one, setup is free and easy, the interface is relatively straightforward, and there are lots of themes available so that you can change the look of your Tumblr.

Will Tumblr revolutionize language teaching?  Probably not.  Just about anything you’ve been doing with WordPress and Blogger, and even Twitter, can be done with Tumblr.  The difference?  If your students are keeping up with the latest online trends, they likely consider traditional blogs to be passé and already have a Tumblr.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Resources

Learning to QWOP

Evolution of QWOP

Studying a language is a great way for a language teacher to experience a her students’ struggles and challenges. But, as language teachers know, this is not always the easiest thing to do. Is there a simpler way for a teacher to remind herself what it feels like to struggle as a beginner? For me, QWOP brought back all of these feelings and then some.

QWOP is a game that simulates a sprinter running down a 100 meter track. Players use the Q and W keys to control the sprinter’s thighs and O and P to control the sprinter’s calves. Although running sounds like a simple task, the game is infamously, and perhaps intentionally, difficult. In fact, as a simulation of learning to walk for the first time, QWOP is quite effective.

The first time I played QWOP, I fell on my face. Several times. In fact, I often ended up as far behind the starting line as I did beyond it. To be honest, I couldn’t figure out this game without searching Google for some strategy help. Even after reading up on the basics, I still struggled to run more than a dozen meters.

As frustrating as this process was, it was instructive. Knowing where I wanted to go but being unable to get there reminded me of learning my second language — knowing what I wanted to say but not having the vocabulary or grammar to express it. Even though the task may seem simple, whether putting one foot in front of the other or asking for directions to the restroom, it may seem an insurmountable obstacle without the necessary knowledge and preparation.

If you want to walk a meter in these shoes, I would recommend QWOP to you. You can play for free in your browser. There is also an iOS app available, with slightly different, but equally frustrating controls, if a flash-based game is not an option. Your students might also offer interesting comparisons between learning to QWOP and learning a language.

Leave a comment

Filed under Resources

flOw

screenshot of flOw

I introduced some students to the game flOw today.  As an “art game,” I knew that it would be unlike anything most of these students had ever seen before.

So, without any introduction, I told them to open the game and give it a try.  If you’ve never played this game before, I would encourage you to try the game for yourself to recreate the students’ experience before you read the rest of this post. It’s free and only requires a browser with Flash to play.

There were mixed results initially.  One student assumed the game was loading and patiently stared at the screen.  Even after I pointed out that he could begin, he had trouble figuring out what kind of control he had within the game.  Other students began exploring and deducing the rules of the game.

A couple of students began to observe each other and to ask each other questions.  One even got up to walk around the room.  I asked them to share the rules that they had learned, which helped the others.  I also asked them what flOw was and whether it was a game.  They had several different interpretations of what was being represented within the game — from space to microorganisms — and most decided it was more of a simulation than a game.

Although some students were a bit frustrated by my lack of guidance, they quickly turned to each other to share and collaborate (in English!) on making sense of what they were experiencing, which was my goal.

Overall, this was a brief, but interesting conversation starter for these students.  Although some initially reported that they didn’t like the game very much, the had a hard time leaving it alone.  But, because the game does not contain any English (and my goal was to have them practice their English) I made sure to keep the discussion and interaction going within the class.

Leave a comment

Filed under Resources

Video Games as Interactive Texts

These are my slides from my Ohio TESOL 2011 presentation titled “How to use videogames as interactive texts for language learning.”  Comments are welcome.

1 Comment

Filed under Resources

Geo Games

globe puzzle

I have friends and family who really enjoy the boardgame Risk.  We had the game as a kid and I would play with it, but not by the “rules.”  I made my own game by moving pieces around and rolling the dice from time to time.  The map both fascinated and confused me (Alberta goes all the way to the Pacific Ocean?) and the colorful little pieces inspired several different games.  A map is a natural game board.

Fast-forward to the present: computer games have become ubiquitous (Ever kill time playing a game on your computer or phone?) and we rely on Google maps and GPS devices to get us to where we want to go.

Fast-forward to the future: Computer applications that we interact with are beginning to mash up GIS and other data.  (Ever check in to a real place using Foursquare or Facebook?)  Games are no exception.

Imagine playing Risk with the borders and armies from 100 or 1000 years ago.  Or Monopoly based on real utilities and real estate values.  Or Farmville with real agricultural data.  Or Oregon Trail with weather and census data from specific dates throughout history.

Ola Ahlqvist, a professor of Geography at Ohio State, is involved in a project to build the infrastructure to make these kinds of games possible.  I’ve talked with Ola several times about his games, but his presentation below is a pretty good summary of the process.

This is a great example of learning through games and simulations.  Players can see how different factors affect the outcome of the game — develop hyphotheses, then change their strategy for playing the game to test them.  Of course, this is how learning occurs outside of games, but by making a game out of a real map, the learning becomes more compelling.

Leave a comment

Filed under Inspiration

A Unique Game

usb drive

Have you ever played Chain World?  I didn’t think so.  I haven’t either.  Only one copy exists and you can only play once.  It’s based on Minecraft, which is an open-source sandbox-style game in which players build things out of textured blocks.

The important distinction is that Chain World exists completely on a USB drive.  The rules of the game are essentially build what you want (though explicit signs are forbidden), save the game when you die, and pass it on to someone else.  After you’ve played, you are forbidden to discuss your experience or to ever play again.

These rules, if observed, would make for a very compelling gaming experience.  In most games, the stakes are relatively low because you can always restart and, in many cases, continue where you left off.  In most games, death is not final.  In Chain World, it is.  This heightens the overall experience tremendously.

The complete story of this game, as well as the discussions that the game fostered around religion, charity, following the rules, and how seriously gamers take themselves, can be found in Wired Magazine.  It’s a compelling read.

How does the story of this game relate to the ESL classroom?  Clearly, the religious debate is likely beyond the scope of most classrooms (and this blog), but the question of whether to follow the rules is an interesting one.  The Chain World experience was designed with a specific set of rules that create a very specific and unique experience.  But if a player breaks a rule, or plays the game in a way that the designer did not intend, can it still be a valuable experience?  Imagine the first person that put checkers on a chess board.  Did someone say, “That’s not what that board is for!”?

In your classroom, do your students ever break rules or react in ways that you did not plan for?  Of course they do.  While this is frustrating, it can occasionally lead to very valuable learning experiences.  I’ve had lessons go off track right from the beginning when a student asked a question that was not related to the lesson, but turned out to be something that the whole class wanted or even needed to know more about.  These unexpected and unplanned classes are some of the most interesting I have every taught and some of the most appreciated by students.

When I use games in an ESL classroom, I occasionally encourage students to find out what happens when you break the rules or even break the game.  (Not in the sense of throwing the computer across the room, but in the sense of going somewhere that is officially “out of bounds” in the game.)  This exploration is part of what makes learning through games so exciting, which can increase motivation for language learning.  This same exploration of the boundaries of a language can also be an exciting part of language learning.  (Can I use this word this way?  How about this way?)

Languages, like games, have specific rules that speakers, and players, choose to follow.  Chain World, although a relatively simple game in execution, provokes some very interesting discussion on lots of engaging topics, including how to figure out what the rules are as well as whether and when to follow them.

1 Comment

Filed under Inspiration

My 3 Favorite Podcasts

podcast icon with headphones

I enjoy listening to podcasts when I’m at the gym, on the bus, working on a home improvement project, or otherwise have my ears free.  I’ve also incorporated them into ESL classes and recommended them to students for listening practice, though most of my favorites are targeted towards native speakers and so demand a high level of language proficiency on the part of the student.  These three podcasts are the ones I have found that I can not do without.  Find information on subscribing to them by clicking on the titles below.

This American Life

This weekly, hour-long NPR show is available as a free podcast and in a streamed archive that includes almost every story broadcast over the 15+ year history of the show.  I’ve mentioned this podcast previously, but it’s at the top of the list because of the consistently engaging stories that are posted (and aired — check local listings) each week.  Some favorites include episode 238 Lost in Translation, which includes the story of Yao Ming‘s first American translator beginning at the 40 minute mark; episode 188 Kid Logic, which incorporates kids’ ideas on everything from the Tooth Fairy to why planes get smaller when they fly away; and episode 90 Telephone, which includes a story about how a teenager’s behavior changes when he hears himself on the phone, which begins at the seven minute mark.  I’m not embarrassed to admit that I’ve listened to well over half of the episodes available online and many of them have stuck with me for years.

Radio Lab

Radio Lab is another NPR show that broadcasts in some markets (again, check local listings,) though less frequently than This American Life. But the focus of Radio Lab is science in the very broadest sense and the hosts, Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, do an amazing job of making some of the most profound and bleeding-edge topics understandable (and interesting!) to almost anyone.  Fortunately, every episode and the interspersed shorts, all of which make up the podcast, are available online for listening or downloading at any time.  Some of my favorites include the Limits episode, which details a non-stop bike race across the continent of North America including what effects riding a bicycle for a hundred hours has on the human body and mind; the Famous Tumors episode, which discusses the contagious tumors that are decimating the wild populations of Tasmanian Devils; and the New Normal? episode which reframes Evolution in a really startling way.  Many of the episodes draw conclusions that rub against the grain of common sense and challenge our preconceived notions of what we think we know.  Not only is the content compelling, but the audio editing is exceptional.

The Moth

The Moth features real stories told live onstage without notes.  There is some overlap in themes with This American Life, but these stories are not edited into a one-hour radio show.  Rather each story is presented individually, regardless of its length, and with live crowd reactions.  The Moth supports story telling events around the U.S. and broadcasts its best stories via the podcast.  A very few stories are available online, but most are not.  Stories are usually told by people you have never heard of, though there have been a few “celebrity” story tellers (Blue Clues host Steve Burns and Milli Vanilli frontman Fab Morvan are two examples.)  Some episodes are marked explicit, usually for coarse language, but each story is a personal tale told by the person who lived it.  I have heard stories that run the range from shipwreck survivors to Apollo Theater dancers to New York City cops to people getting out of bad relationships or reflecting on their parenting skills.  Each story is unique and interesting.

7 Comments

Filed under Resources