eReaders in Foreign Languages

I’ve been keeping an eye on eReaders for quite some time.  It would seem to me that the digital format has enormous potential to make reading much easier and enjoyable for students of a foreign language.  Glosses have been around for a decade on html texts that show definitions of words from a foreign language dictionary.  It seems logical that an eReader would come with a built in dictionary, and if the eReader or book was from Germany, that the dictionary would be built-in.

I was so confident of this assumption, that I bought an eReader years ago for just such a purpose.  It’s still sitting on my desk, the eBookMan EBM 900.  It wasn’t a successful experiment.

eReaders have gone main stream now, though, and they’re backed by huge international corporations such as Apple, Amazon, Sony, and Barnes & Noble.  Unfortunately after some testing, I still haven’t been able to find one that has my very basic foreign language dictionary.

I started with Amazon. The Kindle has a built in English dictionary.  Unfortunately, that’s not the language I need.  It also isn’t possible to buy ebooks from European Amazon sites, so it was a quick dead end.

The Nook also has a built in English dictionary, and I was able to find famous older texts on their site, but I couldn’t find any of the top German best sellers.  It looks like the books they have are just famous works from the public domain that they’ve formatted especially for the Nook.

The Sony Reader can be set up for a specific locale.  By choosing Germany, the device automatically connected to a German bookstore site when I wanted to add books.  Finally I could at least access current novel in German, but I still couldn’t find a dictionary in German that integrate with the text.

The iPad could conceivably work, but I gave up after a day.  I had found the Ultralingua site which advertises dictionary for Windows, Mac, and other Apple devices.  It worked fine on Windows, so I thought I’d give it a try on the department iPad.  First problem was there’s no free trial for the iPad, so I have to buy it sight unseen.  I was mildly annoyed.  I then tried to add it to iPad via iTunes, but since another person in my department had used it first on her computer I was stuck again.  Once she returned, we tried from her office.  Unfortunately, she had apparently done it from her laptop at home.  I was beyond annoyed at this point, and clearly this was going to be a much bigger pain if I had planned on giving them to students as loaners for all or portions of a semester.  Besides, who wants to read an entire novel from a computer screen?  Granted, it’s easier to hold, but this isn’t a big step from just reading from a laptop.

Update: After Tweeting about this problem, I received a reply from Sony Electronics that the Sony Reader dictionary supports German, French and Spanish.  Fingers crossed.

Update #2: It works very well with German at least. It let me choose the dictionary when I first started. I chose a German to English dictionary. If you tap a word twice, it looks it up. Works with ePub and txt format, though not with pdfs. The note functions also work better than I though. Perfectly fine for underlining, though it’s hard for me at least to write legibly.

Latest Map of Social Networks

One of my favorite example’s of using Web 2.0 for language instruction has been the use by our Japanese department of the social networking site Mixi along with our Skype exchanges on the Mixxer to intergrate interaction with native speakers throughout their first three years of Japanese.  For a while, I had hoped to imitate this interaction in other languages by combining their language exchanges via Skype with written exchanges on other country specific social networks as well.  Unfortunately, it seems Facebook is well on its way to ruling the western hemisphere at least.  China, Japan, and Russia may keep their local networks for a while, but it’s going to hard to stop Facebook’s momentum.

Peacemaker Game – updated syllabus and assignment

Professor Staub sent me his updated syllabus and assignment for the use of the game Peacemaker in his conflict resolution.  It was one of the first and probably still the best use of a game we’ve had at the college.  The quick summary is that students are asked to apply theories of conflict resolution that they’ve learned in class to the game.  They then write a paper reflecting on their experience.  One of the important factors that led to its success is that Professor Staub’s assignment doesn’t require that the game reflect the conflict with 100% accuracy, only that it provides a scenario thats both realistic and meaningful enough to provide a venue for the analysis.




Time #1:

Play Peacemaker, an electronic simulation “game” which is available on a couple of computers in the computer lab on the 2nd floor of Bosler. Those computers are marked with a Peacemaker logo on the table next to the computer screen.

You should play at least 1/2 hour, more if possible. You can play in either the role of the Palestinian President or the Israeli Prime Minister.

Write your 2nd journal entry reflecting on your experience with Peacemaker. Some sample questions to prompt your thinking:

  • What happened?
  • Why?
  • Thinking back, did you have any kind of strategy? If so, describe your strategy.
  • What would you do differently next time you play?
  • What have you learned about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from this experience?
  • What have you learned about conflict and conflict resolution more generally from this experience?

Time #2 for Mid-Semester Essay:

Write a 6-8 page essay, based on your second experience playing Peacemaker. Your essay should address the following:

  • Describe your strategy, including the sources for your strategy by referencing specific conflict studies literature that you’ve read in the course to date.
  • Analyze the intent of your strategy. Why did you choose this strategy? What did you think would happen?
  • Describe what actually happened in the game. What was different when you played as the Israeli Prime Minister or the Palestinian President?
  • Analyze the game as it unfolded. In what ways did your strategy work? Or in what ways did your strategy fail to reach the desired peacemaking outcome? Why did this happen?
  • Conclude with an analytical discussion of conflict patterns and conflict resolution strategies and principles, linking back to the conflict studies literature in relation to what you have learned by trying to put the research literature into practice in this gaming environment.
  • Citations are required. You may use in-text citations (Author, page #).
  • Attach your game log (see below) as an appendix.

Tips for the successful completion of this assignment:

  • Play Peacemaker at least twice so that you can experience the game as both the Israeli Prime Minister and the Palestinian President. To do this assignment well, you should expect to spend at least 60 minutes with Peacemaker, more if desired.
  • Before you play, review your notes on readings and class lectures/discussions. In reviewing the range of what you have learned about conflict and conflict resolution, identify concepts, principles and strategies that would enable you to develop a strategy for your peacemaking efforts.
  • You should also review your first journal entry on playing Peacemaker. What went wrong (or right) that first time, and what do you want to do differently this time. If something worked well the first time, think about the principle/strategy embedded in that action, and test if you can replicate the effect this time.
  • Develop an explicit strategy.
  • Play Peacemaker in a manner that implements your strategy. By playing as both leaders, you can also pay attention if your strategy needs to change in relation to the two “sides.”
  • Keep a log of your moves and their consequences in the game.You will have to turn in your game log with your essay. Recommendation: You may consider logging on to two computers in Bosler 209, or bring a laptop if you have one. Play Peacemaker on one computer and use the 2nd computer to log your actions/consequences (in order to avoid a hand-written log and the extra step of typing it for submission). Your log must document your actions and their consequences by monitoring the various polls and game “thermometers,” and new conditions generated by the game. Use Word’s numbering format to record your action with its associated consequence and new conflict condition.

By keeping this log, you will be able to actually analyze the relationship between actions and consequences, rather than refer to generalities about overall strategies. Your paper will be much richer if you are able to move beyond description to analysis.

My Review Criteria:

  • I will be looking for a thoughtful and intentional game strategy that is based on the conflict studies literature that you have read to date.
  • I will also be looking for your ability to draw from a broad range of readings and class discussions in your analysis of your game experience.
  • I will be looking for thorough game logs.
  • Overall, I am looking for your ability to demonstrate mastery of the course material we have covered so far in your game strategy and analysis.

Note: You do not have to “win” (achieve peace) to this assignment well. Remember to pay attention to Ross’s distinction between “relative success” and “absolute success.”

Even if you happen to get “lucky” and achieve a peaceful settlement without having a strategy based in the conflict studies literature or being able to analyze how you got there, you will get a poor grade!

Final tip: This is a short paper, so you will need to stay focused. Don’t wastr valuable space trying to provide a history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Good luck… Let the peacemaking begin!

Kill Screen Magazine (back to school issue)

I was interviewed for an article in Kill Screen Magazine, and my free copy arrived last week.   Calling it a magazine isn’t really fair, though that’s how they refer to it themselves.  It’s really much more substantial, more of a journal in terms of quality and amount content.  Unfortunately, there’s no online version, so I can’t add any links.

Some of the highlights for those interested in games for education:

Breaking Pangea describes the attempt to create an online virtual world for teaching Chinese.  This is the article in which I appeared including my experiences with WoW in my German 101 course.  In addition to the Pangea folks, there’s also a great deal taken from an interview with Purushotma, someone I’ve been following for quite some time.  He wrote his thesis one, drafts and all.  In this article, I thought he had some very insightful comments on the difficulty of integrating language games into the more traditional and structured classroom.  His solution seems to lean more towards the independent learner.

Renaissance Man covered the historical elements and inaccuracies in Assassin’s Creed II.  I had played Assassin’s Creed on the PS3 and had some interest from an Italian professor to have her students play the game in Italian.  I had envisioned it generating a discussion about the presentation of culture/history in modern media, perhaps by comparing the game with an older movie about the mafia.  After reading this article, though, I realized there’s more story related content about the renaissance era than I realized.  It’s accurate enough that students could instead focus on where the game deviates from history.

The Shadow and the Sorrow was probably my favorite article.   It describes the game “Shadow of the Colussus” which breaks the typical hero convention of most games.  While at first it seems to follow the pattern of defeating a series of opponents before finally meeting “the boss” and receiving the awards of a hero, the ending turns the tables on the player.  The violence wasn’t justified as he is forced to realize, and his own ending is tragic.  It’s scheduled for release on the PS3, and I’m curious to try it.  It’s a good example of morality questions built into video games.

Game for Chemistry

We haven’t had many new case examples for gaming recently.  Peacemaker is still very popular for Middle Eastern Studies and Conflict Resolution.  Ed Webb’s “Empires” course still uses my Civ IV mod.  Fold-it and Global Warming Interactive are still used for a couple “dry labs” in the sciences.  But these are also all fairly old, and we’ve had some set backs as well.  Blizzard has cracked down on US players connecting to European servers, so I can’t play WoW with my students in Germany any longer.  The Civ series has also been disappointing since the original Civ IV.  Colonization was a disappointingly simplistic and stereotypical simulation of the colonial period.  While Civ V added some interesting elements with the social policy, they also greatly simplified or eliminated economic issues of expansion, the role of religion, and the factors involved in bilateral relations.

On the positive side, I was very happy to Majong Chem on Bryan Alexander’s Twitter feed.  It does pretty much what you’d expect.  Depending on the game you select, if you’re familiar with the combinations for elements and oxidation, solubility or their own charges, you can eliminate blocks by matching pairs of the element names, symbols,  or number of electrons.  The topics are all common in Chem 101 courses, so we’ve had one professor suggest it to her students for review  already.  I’d rather see a game where students had to apply their knowledge of chemistry to achieve some higher level task, but it’s a start.

Definition: Digital Literacy

I’ve been working Pat Pehlman to craft a definition for digital literacy and outline skills we believe students need to acquire before graduating from Dickinson College. Defining terms is not my favorite task to say the least. I’m always left with the feeling that I’ve left out far too much, or that I’ve made the definition so vague as to be nearly useless. That being said, it’s necessary since this definition will used to define a digital literacy program that will greatly impact our students’ education at Dickinson College.

This is what we have so far. I’d especially welcome comments on the skills section, since that will in turn effect the definition. I’m also not overly concerned with the wording of the definition itself, since I’m sure it will be changed multiple times once it leaves the hands of Pat and I.

Definition – As digital media become more important for communication, critical thinking and creativity it is imperative for our students to be digitally literate. Digital literacies imbricate with traditional literacies and require the ability to locate, assess, modify, remix and create with a variety of media forms. Students should understand the many unique rhetorics of new media types and be able to express their ideas and communicate in an increasingly open and collaborative digital world.


Visual literacy
Geospacial literacy
Image – creating, finding, editing
Data visualization from quantitative analysis

Writing (web 2.0, blogs, wikis, etc)
Match platform/medium with purpose
Internet audience (readers may be unknown, various formats that vary organizationally and by common length, formality, etc)

Presentation / Creation / Expression
Digital Audio (Podcasts, Audacity)
Video (Basic editing)
Digital storytelling (Mike Frat examples)
Mashups “Remixing” (Digital Literacies Chapter 8 )
Publishing information (Digital Literacies, page 20) Not just upload, but how to find and gain an audience
Presentations (includes presentions done in person with digital aids)

Internet as social/public space
Creating and managing a public / professional / scholarly identity (e-portfolio as possibility, meta-cognition as goal for process)
Social network as resource (Digital Literacies, page 20)
Digital citizenship (includes responsibilities, Gov’t 2.0, constructive social interaction)

Information Literacy
Building info hoard (Digital Literacies, page 20)
Info retrieval
Evaluating online resources (open [ ] vs closed/traditional) Evaluating “quality control” in each case.
Information sharing and organizing
Information filtering (Digital Literacies, page 20)
non-linear and dynamic material (Digital Literacies, page 20)
Copyright (challenges presented by new media, mashups, explanation of GPL and OpenCommons)

Faculty Willoughby Workshop

I’m a little late, but I wanted to mention a few of Willoughby faculty workshops we had last week.  For those not familiar with Dickinson College’s Willoughby program, basically it’s a intensive week of workshops for faculty on Web 2.0 and emerging technologies that we think could be valuable for their teaching or research.  Anyone who would like to see all the notes for all of the workshops can view them here.

We had three new sessions this year that I thought went very well and deserve a mention.  Andy Petrus and Mark Wardecker did a  presentation on visualizations using primarily Many Eyes.  The faculty took to it very quickly.  The text visualizations were especially popular.  Part of this I think was due to the fact that we had a larger number of faculty from the humanities this year, but also because there’s no need to reformat the data in Excel.

I did a presentation with Mark Wardecker on open content, with an emphasis on educational resources, open government, and crowdsourcing.  Last year, the most popular part was crowdsourcing as the faculty discussed possible projects for their students.  This year, there was a heavier focus on the resources portion.  Faculty compared the courses from MIT with large intro courses as Dickinson.  They were very similar, which meant they could save themselves a lot of time by either using the resources from the course or as just a template.

Finally, I did presentation with Ryan Burke on augmented reality.  The very cutting edge stuff is always a hard sell, but we had quite a few practical academic examples from Bryan Alexander’s slideshare.  The professors in community studies or with classes that had a local component in particular were able to discuss projects where students could add “layars” of information to places in Carlisle.

New Copyright Rules

The government has released some important exemptions to the copyright laws governing circumvention of digital controls. Main stream media is focusing on the “jail break” permission for cell phones. For those not familiar with the term, by default an IPhone will only run apps that have been approved by Apple and from their store. This creates their own very profitable ecosystem, which the pros and cons that come with any selective list of software, i.e. usability and quality versus choice and variety. Users who preferred the latter would “jail break” the phones or “crack” the device to allow it to run other apps. This is now legal, though I’m sure it still voids the warranty. Expect to see competitors to the Apple app market soon.

For educators, the more immediate benefit comes from the permission to rip DVDs for educational use provided it falls under fair use guidelines or the Teach Act. Up until now, even though it fell under fair use, the defeating of the copy protection was in and of itself illegal, which made for a rather illogical situation where the final product was legal but the only way of obtaining it was illegal. Keep in mind, this is still not carte blanche for educators and videos. Streaming entire films from a course management system is still illegal. If you’re interested in copyright permissions available to educator, the University of Texas has a fairly easy to understand description.

Student Video Projects

While putting together some notes on our introductory session for faculty in the Willoughby Program, I started making a list of recent class projects that make use of some of the technologies. These videos were created as part of the Mike Fratantuono’s class, “The Global Economy”. Students used IMovie to explain a topic of their choosing on globalization. We’ll talk about the assignment that was given to students, the training, and the rubric he used for assessment.

Google Books Adds Ancient Greek and Latin Texts

This is another example of how Google Books can dramatically impact traditional education. The effect of digitized texts goes far beyond access. By converting the text to a digital format, it opens up new possibilities for textual search and analysis. Read a the full description of the latest addition to Google Books here: