Is the 140 character ‘micro interaction’ enough?
Saturday 5 March 2011
by Nik Peachey
A few years back educationalists were getting extremely excited about the possibilities that computer games and virtual worlds had to offer within education. Even the mainstream press seemed to develop a fascination for Second Life, which was hardly out of the news and even inspired an episode of the TV crime series CSI.
Marc Prensky published his book ‘Digital Games Based Learning’ and we were all trying to come to terms with being digital immigrant teachers in a world of digitally native students. Gartner ( The internationally respected IT research analysts )were predicting that “By the end of 2011, 80 percent of active Internet users (and Fortune 500 enterprises) will have a “second life”, but not necessarily in Second Life”.
Then came Twitter. Twitter could not possibly be further away from the concept of a computer game or a three dimensional visually rich virtual world. Suddenly instead of learning to fly and exchanging our money for Linden bucks (the currency of Linden Labs’ Second Life) we were exchanging grammatically correct sentences for status updates of less than 140 characters! Who could have seen it coming? Perhaps Gartner, who also predicted that “90 Per Cent of Corporate Virtual World Projects Fail Within 18 Months”.
So, now that Twitter and Facebook are the media darlings and we are getting used to expressing everything we want to say within ‘micro interactions’ of 140 characters, does that mean that all that other stuff about gaming and virtual worlds was all wrong and a big waste of time?
Well I certainly don’t think so. Whereas I am a great fan of Twitter and have built quite a large professional network there, which I’ve learned from immeasurably, in terms of being effective as a teaching tool, I’ve yet to see any really impressive teaching / language learning going on there. Certainly, I think it’s a new genre of communication that our students need to be literate in and I don’t see the ‘micro interaction’ going away, but I still think there is an educational future in 3 D virtual worlds and computer games.
For one thing, the number of Twitter users under 18 years old is estimated to be around 1%, with more than 50% at 35 years old +. That hardly makes it the preferred platform of the digital natives. Has anyone had to ask their teen to stop tweeting and come have dinner? I certainly haven’t.
So perhaps we should be widening our focus a little more and looking again at the potential of computer games and virtual worlds, after all while we weren’t looking it seems like they have learned to talk to and understand us. Just look at Milo from Project Natal isn’t he more engaging for our students than 140 characters of text?
And it also seems that with the media focus away from virtual worlds like Second Life and with the specs of mainstream computers catching up with its demands, the truly committed educationalists have bedded down and started to make some real progress. In a recent trip back to Second Life after many months away for me I was really impressed by how much simpler and easier the interface was to use and how much the sound had improved. It just worked, without me having to do anything! And I have to say, it was really nice to sit around with people again and just talk, even though most of them were in different countries and continents.
So what do you think?
- Do you think virtual worlds and computer games within education are past or still for the future?
- Does Twitter really work for you as a language teaching tool?
- Is there something better than either of these two around the corner?
- Hey what about augmented reality??
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