White paper on Designing Games for Foreign Language

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Ravi Purushotma, Steven L. Thorne, and Julian Wheatly had published a white paper, “10 Key Principles for Designing Video Games for Foreign Language Learning“.  Although it’s written with game design in mind, the same principles could easily apply to selecting games for education as well.  Among the key points that are particularly relevant for evaluating games:

  • Multiplayer games should allow players to have distinct roles.
  • Games should provide some form of tracking for assessment and feedback
  • Games should allow player to spend more time in areas of interest
  • New concepts should be interspersed with other content and introducted gradually
  • Learning content should be task based

Read more… 10 Key Principles for Desiging Video Games for Foreign Language Learning

Fallout III

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I’ve just had some games come in from Germany which I hope to have installed in the lab soon.  Games that I’ll try to set to playable in non-English languages include:

  • Fallout III
  • Mass Effect
  • Prince of Persia

Games that will be playable in English:

  • Europa Universalis III
  • World of Goo

On a related note, the “if:book” blog has a very interesting review of Fallout III.  The if:book is focused on the changing nature of stories and books.  They are also the creators of the software Sophie, a kind of digital book that allows for discussion and insertion of multimedia files into the narrative.


Our students are especially good at showing people how to play games.  🙂  Stop down if you’re interested.

Games in Languages

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Games can provide a great goal oriented environment for language learning.  We have a fairly wide selection of PC games for students play on their own, including many of the hit titles from the previous year.  However, since the content the games is so wide ranging, it makes their integration into a course fairly difficult.  Another problem is that with single player games, each student is in his or her own little world, which makes it difficult for the professor or other students to offer guidance.

Of course, these single player commercial games are only a subset of games as a whole.  Multiplayer games, whether online or traditional board games, can have a more common and limited vocabulary and offer an envrionment that supports social interaction between students and professors.  For example, the hit German game “Settlers” is now playable online in German and English.  It’s a game that has bargaining and town life as it’s center focus, so it would make for an ideal environment for language usage.  An obvious comparison would be role-playing activities most of us have used in class.  These games could function as an environment for a language exchange as well.  Native german speakers could be invited to play with our students.  The first game could be played in German and the second in English.

Background and review of the game – http://www.wired.com/gaming/gamingreviews/magazine/17-04/mf_settlers

The online version – http://www.cms.playcatan.com/content/view/5/34/lang,en_US/

Willoughby Fellowship Deadline Approaching

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Just a reminder that everyone has until Friday to submit a proposal.  The link is provided below.


The week of technology workshops will focus on Web 2.0.  Because of our focuses on communication and collaboration in the foreign languages, any of tools we discuss have very direct and concrete applications.  If you have any questions, feel free to stop down.

Language Portals

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One of the principal developments of Web 2.0 is the development RSS, or Real Simple Sindication.  Basically RSS is the content, stripped of most design, from sites such as blogs and other sites that have frequently updated content.  This allows people with RSS readers to view only the content they haven’t already read from a large number of sites in one location.  This becomes a serious time saver once you’ve started reading blogs and using other Web 2.0 sites such as Flickr and Delicious.

One of these RSS readers, Netvibes, is particularly good for language learners, as it provides suggestions for RSS feeds based on a location.  The user can, for example, provide their location as Bremen, Germany and specify their interests as news and technology.  A portal can then be created that includes their Gmail and Facebook along with stories from the German news, the weather in Bremen, and German technology magazines.  If the class is blogging as well, the portal can be used to keep track of the other students’ blogs in class.  For the instructor, it provides an easy way  to structure and view the content being created by students in different locations.

Those interested, feel free to stop down and I’ll show you some examples.

Digital Storytelling Article

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There’s a great essay on academic commons, Multimedia as Composition: Research, Writing and Creativity.

The part that may be most valuable for professors considering assigning such a project is the short list of recommended techniques:

  1. pitching (where ideas are presented to the professor or class for feedback)
  2. storyboarding (the visual equivalent of outlining)
  3. drafting (early projects that get feedback)
  4. peer evaluation
  5. group work (so students can supplement each others’ skills)
  6. revising (to promote the idea that the project’s quality is more important than the grade)

The essay is practical and concise.  Well worth the time to read.  If you’re just getting started reading blogs and using rss readers such as Bloglines or Google Reader, the Academic Commons is a great blog to get you started.

Digital Storytelling

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The definition of “Digital Storytelling” has expanded over the last couple years.  It used to refer almost entirely to projects from a first person point of view created in IMovie.  These could be either simple skits and dialogues done with a camera or a series of still images with a soundtrack.  IMovie has very simple functions for transitions and has an effect called the “Ken Burns effect” that adds motion to still images.  The Center for Digital Storytelling is a good place to find examples.


Although IMovie is quite easy, Web 2.0 applications have entered this space as well to offer even easier alternatives.  VoiceThread is probably the most popular.  Users can upload images and organize them into a slideshow.  It’s also possible to record an audio track for each image in the show.  Visitors to the voicethread can then leave voice comments as well.  This is a good example from an English class in Brazil who created a voicethread about 5 of their most important cities then sent their presentation to a class in California for comments.


Digital storytelling fits nicely with a learner centered language classroom as they are by their nature collaborative works that focus on the creator’s life and interests.   The technological skills required have also become very minimal.  I’d be happy to show a class at Dickinson how to use either IMovie or Voicethread.  An IMovie training would take most of a class hour depending on whether students would use still images or record with a video camera.  A Voicethread tutorial would take 20 minutes or less with questions.

Although the stories are very easy to create, it’s still important to do some planning.  Be clear about your expectations to the students.  Provide them with examples to set expectations and to generate ideas.  Let them see the grading rubric you’ll use for assessment.  Finally, break the assignment up into parts to avoid having students spend a great deal of time on the assignment but finishing with a poor project.  A common suggestion is to have students submit their project in three parts: a storyboard, a script, and finally the finished project in IMovie or on VoiceThread.


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Delicious may very well be the single most effective utility for finding and sharing resources on the web.  Stated simply, Delicious is public bookmarking service.  Once you’ve created an account on Delcious and installed a Firefox plugin, you save your bookmarks to the web instead of your browser.  This comes in very handy if you use more than one computer, which most of us do.  Although, that’s really just the tip of the iceberg to get people started.  The real power comes with tagging and networking functions.

Let’s start with the tagging.  Most of you have probably “tagged” something at some point.  It’s basically attaching a keyword to something so you can find it later.  By tagging your bookmarks, you’re organizing them according to your own metadata instead of just one long list.  You can then find bookmarks by keyword which are often displayed in a tag cloud.  You can take a look at my tag cloud to get an idea of how this works.

Where Delicious really shines is in its ability to connect people with unique interests and their web resources.  The first way is to simply add your friends and colleagues to your network.  This way you can all see each others bookmarks.  However, ou can also see the bookmarks of the people who have saved certain websites or used certain tags.  Let’s say you’re interested in Cervantes and digital presentation.  You can tag the Cervantes Project with Delicious, then click on the number of people who have the same bookmark and view their sites on Delicious.

Hopefully, I’ve convinced, but if this sounds interesting but a little confusing, take a look at this video by Common Craft on Social Bookmarking.

Language Exchanges

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As the semester gets under way, we’ve already had quite a few language exchanges via Skype.  Some of the languages have partner classes with whom the students communicate throughout the semester.  Others schedule events in the Mixxer and thereby invite native speakers of our students’ target language for an exchange via Skype during class time.  There are also usually a handful of classes each semester that assign students to find a language partner on their own in the Mixxer and conduct an interview.  Usually this interview is then combined with other research to create some sort of project or presentation.

Of course, language exchanges don’t necessarily have to be limited to Skype.  Another possibility is for the students to keep a journal using either a blog or twitter and connect with native speakers in written form.  There are sites that encourage these kinds of exchanges as well.  Lang-8 is a popular site that lets native speaker suggest corrections in the comment section.  The Mixxer gives each user their own wiki where learners can write and then request corrections from native speakers.  Another possibility is to have the students in the class form their own community and correct each other.  We could host such a community on the Dickinson Blog or students could form their own using Ning, Twitter, or Blogger.


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Dictionaries are certainly one of the most heavily used online tools.  Most simply head to old-fashioned WordReference.com or something similar.  There may, however, be better options.

  • In the Arthur Vining Davis classroom (room 209 in Bosler), Babylon is probably you’re best option.  Use the scroller on the mouse to click on any word, and the English definition along with any conjugation will pop-up.  Alternatively, you can click on the bubbly blue B in the task bar and enter a word.
  • The WordChamp web reader is a great option for students reading online.  Choose the language of the web page, enter the url in the text box, and press the read button.  The web reader will then scan the page and look up each word in a dictionary.  Touch any word with the mouse and the definition will appear.  If you create an account on their site, you can save words and test yourself later.
  • Google may be the world’s best dictionary if used properly.  First, there is the official function.  Go to the localized version of Google for the language (ex. www.google.de) and enter define:komisch.  It will return a German definition with the option to see an English translation by clicking the link “Englisch” at the bottom of the page.  The real power of Google, however, comes with its less formal use.  We can search Google pages located in Germany for a certain phrase by including the phrase in quotes followed by site:de.  This is useful for students when they’re unsure of their word choice or an idiomatic phrase.  Correct phrases will appear thousands of times in reputable sources.  Poorly translated idiomatic phrases and incorrect usage will have a very few number of hits on much less recognized sites.  For example, if we go to www.google.de and enter “so schwer wie Eisen” site:.de (as hard as iron), we’ll see we only have 5000 hits.  The examples from German sites only occur when the writer is actually comparing metals or compounds that are in fact “as hard as iron”.  On the other hand Hals über Kopf” site:.de (literally ‘throat over head’, it means ‘in a big rush’) returns 130,000 in a context you would expect.  The same method could be use to check to see if accusative or dative is used with a certain preposition, common word order, etc.