How games and education technology go hand in hand
Peach Ice Cream Adventures, or PICA, is an innovative language learning tool developed to teach foreign languages to children. Pedagogical research shows they are most apt to learn them -- when they are 3 to 6 years old. The program -- which is currently on Kickstarter for crowd funding -- was developed by Vicky Wu Davis, the CEO and Founder of Froghop, Inc. and content development consultant Waipeng Lee.
In this Q&A, Vicky and Waipeng discuss their language program, as well as their views on the education technology field.
What impact do you expect your product to have on the education technology field?
Vicky: With PICA, our vision is to have a language-learning tool for young children. It is interactive, fun and game based. We are starting with Chinese and French. At Phase 2, we intend to develop Spanish, English as a Second Language and German versions. If there is a demand, we will also include other languages.
Since PICA will be built off an existing technology platform, a game created once can be offered in multiple languages. Because a tablet is easy to use, children can learn a second language in a relatively independent manner, with or without English support (or mother tongue support in the case of ESL).
Although this product is intended for home use, Boston city councilor Tito Jackson has expressed interest in seeing it used in schools. This is not only to enrich language learning experience, but also to help disadvantaged children bridge the reading gap.
What are your opinions about the current state of educational technology?
Waipeng: Education technology is making learning more interesting and fun, more flexible, and more widespread and accessible. Animations, game-based learning, simulation, DVDs, and interactive white boards are all making learning more interesting and easier. Educators can upload materials onto a particular platform, such as Blackboard, and students can access the materials whenever they want. For example, students can review a set of PowerPoints over and over again, or watch a recorded lecture multiple times. All of these features make education more flexible.
Also, educators can upload various types of materials to suit the different learning styles of students. Because it is possible to offer online courses, exclusively or as part of a primarily face-to-face curriculum, it allows more people to learn -- including working adults and people living in different geographical locations. Technology also facilitates the learning of people with disabilities. For example, software is available to convert any text into sounds so that people who are visually impaired can still "read" a textbook, since most textbooks are not in Braille and do not have an audio version.
What are the current challenges in the field? How do these challenges affect the education system and student learning?
Waipeng: The biggest three challenges in educational technology are unequal access, educator buy-in and training, and concerns over negative effects associated with a technology. Whenever there is a new technology, the cost tends to be high. The more affluent group will have access first and gain an edge. The disadvantaged group will lag behind until the cost drops. By then, usually another new invention will pop up.
And new technologies are popping up faster than ever. This means educators have to spend time keeping up. Not all will embrace a technology. Some resistance is common. The schools have to spend resources to convince teachers and train them. Technology can also potentially challenge the power relationship between educators and students.
While technology can facilitate learning, it can also be distracting -- such as when students send e-mails to friends instead of listening to the teacher. Also, technology can be abused, as we see in cases of cyberbullying.
What trends have you observed in the education technology field? How will these trends affect education as a whole?
Waipeng: Some recent trends that I have observed in education technology include gamification, the adoption of technology by younger children or parents, students bringing their own devices to class, and online and open source courses.
There is an increase of educational games out there. Schools are slow to endorse them because of lack of resources, unproven results, and the inability to incorporate them into their curriculum, but parents seem to be buying them. Children are adopting technology at a younger and younger age. Elementary school children are using e-readers, such as Kindle and Nook, and pre-schoolers are adept users of iPads and iPhones. Bringing a notebook computer or tablet to school is going to be the norm, just like bringing a pencil and paper. Online and open source courses will also increase.
These trends put pressure on the schools and colleges to train their educators to keep up with technology; find ways to bridge the access gap between techno-haves and techno-have-nots, and find a new business model. The last point pertains to tertiary institutions. As more universities are pushing out online courses, others are forced to follow or find new ways to make their face-to-face courses more attractive to students. Open source courses, if they become widespread, will force universities to rethink or justify their fee structures.
What are some important historical milestones in education technology? How did these milestones affect education and student learning?
Waipeng: There are many historical milestones in education technology, from the invention of the abacus, paper, pen, mechanical clock, printing press, typewriter, photocopy machine, and so on, to modern-day computers and the Internet.
If I had to choose the most influential of these milestones, I would choose the inventions of the printing press and the Internet. The printing press made mass education possible. Before that, books were hand copied, and very few people could afford them, which meant that knowledge, and the authority to interpret information, were concentrated on very few people. The printing press upended that relationship.
The Internet not only makes it easy to access knowledge and information, but also blurs the line between knowledge consumers and knowledge producers. Students have always been the receivers of knowledge. But now, they can actively create and share knowledge as well.
What do you think will happen in the educational technology field in the future? How will these future trends affect education as a whole?
Vicky: There will be an increase in peer-to-peer learning. Peer-to-peer learning is not new, but the Internet takes it to a different level. Children can collaborate and work on projects online, circumventing time and distance constraints.
Also, gamification will increase. Gamification makes learning multi-sensory -- by integrating audio, visual and kinesthetic all in one activity. Also, learning becomes more experiential through gamification, and algorithm and artificial intelligence can be used to personalize lessons.
I also see the roles of educators changing in the future. When knowledge is available in multiple, easily accessible platforms, educators are no longer the single most important persons imparting knowledge. They become facilitators -- helping children choose the appropriate sources and activities, guiding them toward the right directions. Most importantly, they become the sage or the mentor -- meaning the individuals who help children integrate information and connect dots, and distill wisdom and principles from massive information overload.
What are currently the most important ideologies in educational technology? Why are they important?
Vicky: I believe the most important idea in educational technology is an "eco-system" view -- that is, having multiple types of learning channels to complement each other. Technology will never replace human interaction and live learning, but live instruction can leverage on technology. Imagine you have to teach children about plant growth. You can talk about it and show them drawings. You can also take them outside to plant something, which will take time to see the result. Or you can also show them a time-lapse video.
You can also give students an interactive tablet-based game, which allows them to conduct virtual experiments and see what happens. There are pros and cons of each, but together as a whole, they become an eco-system. The eco-system view is interesting because it is not one size fits all. Instead, it addresses the different learning styles of children.