Tag Archives: tesol

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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Image Size and Resolution

over stretched image

Think this image looks good? Click on it to see it actual size. Yikes!

I made a presentation at Ohio TESOL last week about how to make better PowerPoint presentations.  I’m going to add the audio to my slides by the end of this week (currently, you can only view the original slides sans audio).

Overall, the presentation was very well received.  In fact, I even inspired some people to overcome their fear and give PowerPoint a try.  One such brave soul emailed me the following question about blurry images, which I think is worth sharing here.  It’s a problem that many beginners face when adding images to PowerPoint presentations as well as print documents.  You won’t be an expert until you can fix it.  My response follows.

I loved your presentation last week on PowerPoint.  Being technically challenged, pp has never been at the top of my list to try.  But, after listening to you last Friday, I have put together a small presentation for a listening and speaking one class.  My question is…After I paste and stretch photos from Flicker, they are blurry.  I realize it is probably a simple click, but I cannot find it.  Please help!

I’m glad you enjoyed my presentation and I’m glad you’re diving in  and trying things out in PowerPoint.  I think this is a really good way to learn this technology.

image stretched 900%

Stretching an image to 900% of its original size will result in a blurry or pixelated image.

The issue you’re dealing with is a common one.  It has to do with the size and resolution of the original image you’re trying to add to your presentation.  When you are in PowerPoint, double-click on the image you’re working with to pull up the “Format Picture” menu.  Choose the “Size” tab at the top to see if you’ve stretched your image past it’s original size.  If the height or width under “Scale” is more than 100%, you will probably experience some blurriness or you will start to see all of the pixels that make up the image.  (To really see this, try using a really small image from a website and stretching it to fill your entire slide.  It will get really, really blurry and pixely.)

flickr picture

Click on "all sizes" to find larger versions of images in Flickr.

So, that’s the problem, but what’s the solution?  Well, you need to start with larger original images.  Once you find an image in Flickr, you will see an “ALL SIZES” button right under the title of the picture.  This will take you to the original picture and often give you several different size options.  By choosing the original, you can usually find a version large enough that you will be able to stretch it to fill your slide.  I suggest you double-check after you stretch it though (double-click again to pull up the Format Picture menu) because if it’s more than about 110% of the original size, your picture may look stretched when projected onto a screen even if you don’t notice any problems on your computer.

Something else to consider is the file size of the picture you use.  If you just need a small picture, try to avoid using the largest size.  Using larger pictures increases the size of the file for your final presentation.  While finding room on a hard drive usually isn’t a problem for new computers, on some machines PowerPoint can get bogged down and run slowly if many large photos have to be loaded for every slide.  So, if you only need a little picture in the corner, try using a smaller size image.

I hope that’s pretty clear.  Give it a try and let me know if you’re still having trouble.  Incidentally, I hope to upload an updated version of my presentation complete with audio in the next couple of days.  Watch for it here: http://www.slideshare.net/eslchill

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Interactive Whiteboard FAQ (Wii)

Ivan just got back from TESOL, where the Wiimote-based $50 Interactive Whiteboard was very well received.  We started talking about some of the questions that were asked which lead to this post: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about the $50 Interactive Whiteboard.

How much does it cost? / Is it really only $50?
The controller for the Nintento Wii is for sale throughout the United States for $40.  You can build an infrared pen for $5-6.  The software is free to download.  The cost of the computer, projector, and Bluetooth adapter (if your computer does not have built-in Bluetooth) are not included in the $50.

I can’t make my own infrared pen.  Can I buy one?
Absolutely.  Do a Google search and you will find several options starting as low as $6.

Do I have to modify the Wiimote? / Can I still use it with my Wii?
No / Yes.  The Wiimote connects to the computer via Bluetooth, the same way it connects to the Wii.  You don’t have to open the Wiimote, break it, or reprogram it.  So, if you (or your kids) have a Wii, you can use the equipment you already have for both purposes.

Can I take a Wiimote and infrared pen in my carry-on luggage?
You mean if you’re flying to a conference to make a presentation?  It turns out you can.  Both Ivan and I have recently carried these devices onto flights and had no problems at all.

How do I know if my infrared pen is working?
Check it with the camera on a cell phone.

How do I get started?
Download the free software (Mac version or PC version), build an infrared pen (see my demo) or buy one online, connect to the Wiimote via Bluetooth (open your Bluetooth devices, push the 1 and 2 buttons on the Wiimote, add the device), run the software, calibrate it (push the “calibrate button,” click on the targets), and you are done.

How do I set it up?
Place the Wiimote so that it is at least as high as the midpoint of the screen and aimed at the center of the screen.  It should be at a 45 degree angle from the surface of the screen on either the left or right side, depending on how you write — you don’t want to block the Wiimote’s view of the pen with your hand.  The Wiimote should be placed far enough away (usually about 10 feet) to be able to “see” the whole screen.  You’re ready to calibrate (see above).

What should I do?  My writing is choppy. / My Wiimote can’t see my pen. / There are too many infrared dots!
If your writing is choppy or your pen seems to stutter, try adjusting the “smoothness” on the PC version.  Mac users have fewer options.  Quit as many other applications as you can and / or try moving the Wiimote closer to the screen and recalibrating.
If your Wiimote can’t see your pen, check that the Wiimote is connected to your computer and that your pen is working.  Assuming everything is working properly, you probably need to reposition your Wiimote so that it can see the entire screen.  The Mac version allows you to track infrared dots that the Wiimote sees, which is helpful, but both versions tell you how many dots are visible.  Try the pen at all four corners to make sure it is visible.  If not, move the Wiimote and try again.
If you are seeing too many infrared dots, you may be picking up interference.  I’ve gotten infrared interference from overhead incandescent lighting.  Try moving the Wiimote around to see if you can identify the source of the interference and then eliminate it (in my case, I turned off those lights).

Hope this helps.  If you have a question that does not appear on this list, leave it as a comment and I’ll answer it and / or add it to the list.

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More Interactive Whiteboards, Please

Ohio TESOL 2009 was 10/31-11/1 in Columbus, Ohio.

Ohio TESOL 2009 was 10/31-11/1 in Columbus, Ohio.

Ivan and I presented the $50 Interactive Whiteboard to a standing-room-only audience of other teachers of English to speakers of other languages at Ohio TESOL this weekend.  Not only have I now distributed all five from my original Ohio TESOL grant, but I’ve also got over a dozen people signed up for test drives.  Looks like I need to write another grant.

If you’re reading this and you’re a member of Ohio TESOL, let me know if you’re interested in test-driving this technology.  We might be able to put one in your hands soon!

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How do I know my IR LED works?

An Infrared LED as seen through the camera on a cell phone.

An Infrared LED as seen through the camera on a cell phone.

Look at it through your cell phone’s camera.  What a great tip!  8 more can be found at Wiimote Project.com.  I’m a little bit behind the curve on some of this stuff, but they’ve got great info on building IR pens for Wiimote interactive whiteboards and building them right.

Next week, Ivan and I present our progress at Ohio TESOL.  From there, one or both of us will be headed to TESOL and, if accepted, CALICO.  If you see us, come say, “Hi!”

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