Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Gruffalo Spotting

The recent public holidays gave me a chance to do some Gruffalo spotting. Yes that’s right, searching for the Gruffalo in the Chiltern Hills. To be exact in Wendover Woods, one of 26forests in which, with the right app, you can go searching for the purpled prickled monster.  After a two kilometre leisurely walk, the knobbly kneed beast was duly found.

The forestry commission, as a way of encouraging it families to visit its forests, has added augmented reality to some of its forests. In a specially laid out trail, the commission has found a lovely balance of traditional, paper and augmented activities to help the trail follower become part of the story and meet the creatures of the book. 

As you wander round the trail, signs reveal parts of the next creature to be found and when you find it there is an augmented reality trigger that brings the creature to ‘life’ within the wood.  Using your phone on the trigger starts an animated clip in which the found creature then appears.

Cleverly the trigger is large enough to allow you to appear in any photos you might want to take.

For me the set up shows how seamlessly augmented reality can add value to something. The fact that it mixes traditional signs and puzzles with the augmented reward of the creature shows how AR can be used effortlessly and not at the expense of other media and the real world. Judging by the number of families on the trail it is a winning mix.

There is so much that can be done with this from an educational point of view.  Ok you need to be based in the UK to do the trails and of course the Gruffalo appeals to the more younger age group but the trail would make an excellent field trip for EAL classes, Summer schools classes or even MFL students.  Aside from the language around the trail itself (for a small price you can buy fact sheets about the animals) there is plenty of scope for follow up language work.  From students creating their own fact sheets, using their photos to create their own story books (or books recounting the trip) through to creating their own AR trails.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Notes on Blindess

Since I spend a fair bit of my free time playing games and dabbling with VR I thought I’d resurrect my blog as a way of noting down things I find interesting. People understand VR to mean virtual reality but in a neat technology fit voice recognition also bears the same initials so I’ll be writing about both and in keeping with my blog name, probably anything else that pops into my head.

For the record my go to VR devices are google cardboard, Daydream and Alexia. I like playing with all these things out of my own tech curiosity but since I spend my days talking about tech and language teaching, I naturally always look at something with my teacher head on.

One of the common uses of VR, the virtual kind, is to watch 360 films, allowing you to be immersed in the world of such things as whales and sharks. So, for my first post, I want to look at one of those, but one with a difference.

Notes on Blindness’ doesn’t so much open a new world but rather immerse you in the dark, gloomy world of a person whose sight is failing. Based on the real audio diaries of John Hull, who kept audio diaries as his sight deteriorated, the app recreates elements of his world. Like many 360 videos, it can be watched on a device screen, but it is within the VR headset that you truly get a feel of what it is like to lose your sight. The darkened world with pin pricks of light and your brain trying to work what it is you're looking at. As the audio diaries play the pinpricks take on different forms from children playing to cars on the motorway. Here you can see as the experience begins, trees loom out of the dark and a person walks across the view.

As a VR experience it is one I find myself going back to, the sound of John’s voice over the spectral images is compelling if slightly disquieting.

From a teaching point of view, the app can be used to promote language in a number of ways. On one level, there is the discussion to be had at discovering what it is like to be losing one’s sight.  Listening to John and deciphering the images and trying to locate what he is talking about is authentic listening. His pace of voice makes it not too hard for students to follow, though for some the language used might be a bit ungraded. 

It would also work well in a traditional activity of viewing without sound. In this way the learners can try and work out what they are seeing, work together to construct a rough outline of what they saw then listen again with sound to confirm and find out what they missed. Since, for obvious reasons, there is lack of detail in images (unlike the sounds John hears), a logical next step is to work on the language of description with students adding adjective etc to their basic outline of what they saw.

Notes on Blindness is available for both IOS and android and chapter one is also available in the Within storytelling VR app.