Tag Archives: technology

Gestural Interfaces and 2-Year-Olds

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.

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Web Browsing in 3D

3D glasses

Everything else is available in 3D (movies, televisions, the real world), so why not 3D browsing?  I recently came across this demo video of a 3D browsing experience created using WebGL, HTML5, Javascript and the Mozilla Audio API.  Is this the future of Web browsing?

I’m not extremely fluent in all of these technologies (for more info, see Flight of the Navigator), but as a demo, this is pretty impressive.  To me, it looks a little like Second Life with tons of screens out to the internet.  In other words, slick and different, but I’m not sure how useful, or even how truly integrated this experience would be.  Would you rather navigate to different places on the Web by moving through a 3D space or by Ctrl-Tabbing to the next open tab in your browser?  Maybe I’m old-school, but the latter seems far easier to me.

Of course, there are lots of other demos posted online and it will be interesting to see where this goes.  Checking your favorite Twitter feeds in-game would certainly blur the line between the gaming experience and the real world, but is this necessary?  Probably not, but maybe that’s not the question to be asking with whiz-bang technology like this.  It certainly opens up interesting avenues for the greater integration of a wide range of technologies.  Where that takes us will be interesting to see.

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Google Labs

beaker

If you haven’t visited Google Labs, you should check it out.  This is the experimental, work-in-progress part of Google where users can see what’s next, or at least what the engineers at Google are tinkering with

Some projects that started in Google Labs have graduated to become fully-fledged parts of the Google experience.  These include Google Scholar, Google Docs, Google Maps, and many others.

Other projects have stayed in the Lab, sometimes continuing to develop, other times seeming to arrive at a conclusion that may or may not be further integrated Google-wide.  Some of these are may be interesting for language learners and teachers, though how to use them is not always immediately obvious.  A few of my favorites are below.

set of fruit imagesGoogle Sets

This was the first experiment I ever encountered in Google Labs and I always come back to it.  Enter a list of items in a set, and Google with guess other items in the set.

It’s easy to imagine how this was envisioned as a way to improve the search experience — sometimes searching for synonyms can be more productive than the original search terms — but it almost has the feel of a Scattergories-like party game.  (Can you find a set that Google can’t guess?)

In a way, Google Sets is kind of like thesaurus, but its kind of not.  At the same time, if students can get hooked by it’s game-like nature, it could be a good way to discover new vocabulary.

books arranged by color on shelvesGoogle Ngrams

In its endless pursuit to make it possible to search everything, everywhere, across all time, Google has scanned millions of books and made them searchable.  This is not without some controversy as authors and publishers are concerned that their books are being given away for free online.  Currently, Google only makes passages of copyrighted books available in its search, as opposed to the entire work.

In the meantime, Google has made the entire corpus available and easy to search.  Though not as robust as the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA), Google’s simpler interface may be easier for non-linguists to use and understand.

Students of English can not only compare the frequency of several words and / or phrases, but can also see how the relationships between the search terms have changed over time.  For example, see how ain’t has precipitously fallen out of favor since peaking in the 1940s.  Or, see the how the use of subject pronouns has changed, in part as a result of he no longer being considered the generic.

motorcycle gogglesGoogle Goggles

This one isn’t as language-oriented as the previous two examples, but it is a remarkable glimpse into the future.  Google Goggles are a way of performing a Google search, but instead of typing in search terms, upload a picture from your smartphone.  This can include anything from a book cover to a landmark.

Given the rise in popularity of smartphones, just think of how much language is available to ESL students through these devices.  Walking down the street, a student can snap a picture of something unfamiliar and find links to all kinds of related information.

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Kinect Development

microsoft kinect hardware

Microsoft recently announced plans to release a software development kit (SDK) for the Kinect.  This should allow academics and enthusiasts to find new ways to connect the motion-sensing Xbox hardware to other platforms, such as desktop and laptop computers, much more easily.  In short, there should be many more Kinect hacks to come.

I’m still not sure how this would directly apply to classroom teaching, although it stands to reason that these applications could someday replace physical interactive whiteboards in the same way that Kinect was originally designed to replace physical videogame controllers for the Xbox.

For more, see my previous post on Kinect Hacks and below for some new examples of how Kinect is being used in new and exciting ways.

Control Windows 7

The touchless multitouch is really nice.  Mice are so 2008.

3D Tetris with Face Tracking

As the user moves his head, the perspective on the screen changes to match so that the 3D perspective is constantly updated.

Kinect Lightsaber

A wooden stick becomes a lightsaber in real time.  This would save hours of  frame-by-frame editing.

Balloon Body

After Kinect scans your body, use your scroll wheel to expand or contract the surface.

Christmas Lights

Use Kinect attached to a bunch of dimmers to control Christmas lights for a very nice effect.

Flying Robot

The 3D capability of connect makes it perfect for a robot that navigates three-dimensional space.

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Google Translate

stop sign in chinese

If I wanted to sensationalize this blog post, I would come up with a statement along the lines of “Computerized Translators Are Replacing ESL Teachers!” but we’re not quite there.  Yet.

I recently read a blog post called Google Translate: The End of the Road for Interpreters? and was surprised at some of the advances that have been made, though perhaps I shouldn’t be.

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.

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Where it’s @

ear sculpture

The @ symbol has become so common in electronic communication that we don’t even notice it anymore.  But a few short years ago, before Twitter and before email, this was a little-used symbol stuck above the 2 on your favorite typewriter (yes, that many years ago).

Since email began spreading around the world, many countries have put their come up with many names for what is commonly called the at symbol in English.

In Bosnian, it’s the crazy a.  In Hebrew, it’s strudel (yum!).  Many people see animals, leading to names like elephant’s trunk (Danish), spider monkey (German), snail (Italian), and dog (Russian).  It is also called ear in Ukrainian.

Wikipedia has a more complete list.  This could make for an interesting icebreaker discussion in an appropriately diverse ESL class.  But be warned that more and more languages are being overtaken of the English pronunciation of at or literal translations of the word.  Pretty soon, it may just be at for all of us.

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2010 in review

automatic transmission

I got this auto-generated post direct from WordPress, which hosts ESL Technology.com, and thought some of it was worth sharing.  Every time I login to my blog, I can check on these numbers and other interesting data.  I can see how many page views I’ve had by day, week, and month as well as which pages were most popular and what sites are referring people to my blog.  More interesting than the numbers themselves are the fact that this data is so easily available that WordPress can automagically pull it together into a blog post for me.  (Incidentally, you can search “2010 in review” on WordPress to find other bloggers who have posted the autogenerated post.)

This kind of data is becoming easier and easier to work with — to mashup.  And all kinds of new software allows us to pull together lots of data in enlightening ways.  Governments that are making this kind of data available are finding citizens stepping forward to develop ways to make it more useful.  See Tim Berners-Lee’s TED Talk for a six-minute rundown of the highlights, below.

I recognize that the numbers generated for me by my blog are not as important as which roads are impassable after an earthquake in Haiti.  But, on almost every scale, this data is becoming easier to find, use, and mashup.  Some of our students may already be doing this.  Surely, many are not.  Developing the ability to work with this kind of data in very dynamic ways is sure to be an asset, if not an expectation, in the near future.

So, without further ado, my numbers.  Thanks for reading.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A helper monkey made this abstract painting, inspired by these stats.

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 13,000 times in 2010. That’s about 31 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 50 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 119 posts.

The busiest day of the year was August 4th with 95 views. The most popular post that day was OutSMARTed.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were twitter.com, esl.osu.edu, en.wordpress.com, en.bab.la, and google.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for esl technology, esl and technology, technology esl, technology for esl students, and kinesthetic learners.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

OutSMARTed August 2010
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2

Interactive Whiteboard FAQ (Wii) March 2009
16 comments

3

About Me July 2008
4 comments

4

How do I know my IR LED works? October 2008
1 comment

5

Projects August 2008
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