Authentic Games & PBL: June 2010 Archives

iPad - Bigger is Better

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I was finally able to obtain an iPad this week, and already I am in love with it. I'll try not to overlap too much with comments from my colleagues Jeff Swain, Cole Camplese and other satisfied users.

My main comment is that the bigger screen makes a huge difference in how you function with it in comparison to the iPhone/iTouch. I have been very happy with the iTouch but never felt I could take it it to a meeting instead of a laptop. The iPad is a whole different story.

The larger screen allows me to view a larger list of e-mail, read larger paragraphs, zoom in on tiny logins and type more quickly. Today I was able to look at a Google Doc, then book an appointment on my calendar. I could have done it on my iTouch, but it would have involved a lot more squinting. Yesterday, I was able to quickly check e-mail from my couch and even forward a video link to a friend - much more relaxing than the iTouch squint or the laptop shuffle. And I can look up a table of codes and scan it much more efficiently. Very handy.

A bigger screen also means better photo viewing and video watching. If you have a Flickr set for a class, the students will see much more detail on an iPad than an iTouch. The bigger screen also means that working on a spreadsheet or long text is plausible - assuming you can get the synch to work (coming soon).

And then there are the apps and games. They generally benefit greatly from a larger screen also. With the iTouch, I favored casual games with simpler interfaces, but with iPad I was able to dabble in games with more complex RPGs and shoot-em-ups like Plants vs. Zombies.

The great news is that you don't need to have an iPad version of the game or app to get the benefit of the bigger screen - there's a handy 2x button on the lower right that will let you zoom in on any app. There's some slight pixellation, but I'm not going to complain. A graphing calculator is even better with bigger buttons and larger display screen. So is solitaire.

The iPad isn't going to replace my laptop or even my iTouch. I still need the iTouch for the gym, and I still need the latop for my power apps (Photoshop, Dreamweaver,...) with a physical keyboard for power typing, especially if includes a lot of exotic characters. But it's nice to not have to move the laptop except when I really need the power app. Disconnecting and reconnecting is fairly complex, particularly if a 2nd monitor is involved. Plus, the iPad is much lighter. I can literally stick it into my Vera Bradley bag and take it to a meeting where all I have to do is take notes and look up a Web site. This is the killer app that may finally replace my notepad!

Some Interesting Foreign Language Games

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I'm at the CALICO conference on using technology with foreign language instruction, and this year, games and virtual worlds are a big theme. There's lots of experimentation with Second Life, custom virtual worlds and role-playing games for foreign language practice.


An example of a custom virtual world is Xenos Island (for English as a Second Language). We got a quick tour of this, and although the graphics are not Halo quality, they are still appealing. The island has multiple zones which feature a variety of word games, some single player, but many requiring multiple players. I haven't had a chance to play yet, but it looks like there's a lot there to keep students interested.

Islet (in Development)

Another presentation focused on a product still in development by the military. They are working on some realistic "action games" featuring combat scenarios in Iraqi Arabic and Senegalese French (Africa). Like commercial games, the 3D graphics were spectacular and the music was jamming - but you have to conduct the entire operation (including surveillance of the locals) in Arabic or French.

This is the concept many educational gamers have been dreaming of, but it did raise some interesting quesitons. The goal is to encourage military personnel to practice foreign language skills on their own time, but will it appeal to non-gamers? The speakers noted that they would be developing non-military scenarios (e.g. medical simulations), so they were aware of the issue.

My other question is if the game is making light of a sensitive situation. It's true that we are on combat missions in some of these areas and language skills are critical for success. But the music was just like every other "mindless" combat game. What's the balance between appealing to gamers and being sensitive?

For the record, there are "politically incorrect" foreign language scenarios. It is true that some people in Sri Lanka may have problems distinguishing Americans from Britons (at least that's what my Sinhala text book, written by a Sinhala native speaker claimed). I can also attest that the term "Red Indian" (the kind that live in North America) is alive and well for some Welsh speakers (ByFf/WTF!). Sometimes we need to acknowledge this reality, but there is a fine line.

BTW - One of my favorite foreign language modules were the Austin Police files to train English-only Texans how to deal with the Spanish-speaking population. I admired it for having simulations like pulling someone over for a traffic ticket. With the passing of the Arizona immigration law, tensions are higher than ever, but it is still a situation that will happen for legitimate reasons. At times like this, I can only hope there's a counterpart training scenario for how to deal with deal with drunken English speakers on vacation in Canún...just saying

And then there's Façade

Speaking of uncomfortable situations, none is more painful than the ones presented in this simulation of a young couple you are visiting for drinks. If you ever wanted to simulate being in Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe? this is the game for you.

In this game, you are invited to visit a college buddy Trip who is married to Grace. As you approach their apartment, you overhear them arguing (the script varies). Fortunately, they welcome you in, but after a few minutes, the situation begins to derail (again with some variations). It's up to you to keep the party going, and you can choose to smooth the waters or add heat to the fire. See some examples below.

There are obvious applications for both counseling and language use (not to mention learning to script randomized scenarios), but the truth is that most are playing this for the entertainment value (kind of like Grand Theft Auto). This is also a reality we need to acknowledge.