Along with writing about video games and other media, I'm heavily invested in teaching. Over the years I've worked with many different teachers in many different fields and subjects. I found that, like game design, teaching is a bit of a lost art. Many think they're doing it. Many try to do it well. But most of them fall far short of greatness. In fact, I've said before that well made video games are learning systems that players voluntarily put themselves through.
My aim is to eventually design educational video games. And to that end, I want to discuss the features that would make up what I consider to be necessary in an educational machine/platform, which I've named MachinEDU. Without all of these features, it would be impossible to design educational software/systems that are versatile and flexible enough for a wide variety of learners and subjects.
In no particular order, MachinEDU must be...
- Portable: Learning and studying can happen anywhere. It's important that a student has access to their tools and/or materials wherever they go. With a portable system, the student is never locked in a class room or at their desktop computers. With a portable MachinEDU, you'll be able to learn anywhere and, perhaps more importantly, study at any time.
- Handheld: As great as laptops are as computing devices, they're not so great in the class room. Their large size creates a barrier between the student and the teacher. This not only disrupts the focus between the student and teacher, but students sitting beside or behind the laptop can easily be distracted by the lights, colors, or sounds. The large screens on the laptops are great for viewing videos and large images, but at the same time you lose a sense of privacy in a public environment.
- A handheld device not only saves on materials, which reduces the price of the final product, but the small size makes it function more like a cell phone or a small notepad as far as privacy is concerned. A small pocket sized device increases its portability, and the viability of the following feature.
- Touch Screen: The DS, the iPhone, and even PocketPCs have shown the world that touch screens make computer interactions more intuitive, direct, and flexible than digital buttons or mouse controls. The touch screen is such a versatile tool, it can be used for anything from handwriting recognition, easy menu navigation, to an art pad. Brain Age is a perfect example of how the touch screen can be used in multiple ways to make the game more intuitive and accessible to a wide range of people.
- Microphone: Learning isn't inside of text books, it's in the world all around us. For the same reasons that working with hands on examples can be far more effective than simply reading about things in a book and having a smaller screen can be more engaging than a large laptop screen, creating space between one's learning materials is a highly effective technique. Using a microphone, the student can go hands free with MachinEDU. Sure, mics are great for recording messages, and voice chat. But what may be even more effective in an interacting learning experience is how a mic can turn your voice (or anything else you can make a sound with) into a controller. The Brain Age games feature a few brain games that are controlled completely with your voice where you either say colors, Rock Paper Scissors commands, or numbers. In Person Trainer: Cooking for the DS, players can advance through steps in a recipe using voice commands.
- Camera: Learning is a very personal endeavour. It is not uncommon to develop custom phrases, rhymes, or otherwise connect material to elements from your life to help you remember them. Aside from creating mnemonics, many people write notes on material which creates an extra layer of engagement that helps aid in the learning process. Instead of simply being able to write a note to link an idea or memory to one's material, a camera can take a picture that's worth a thousand words. The camera is a feature that would work well with MachinEDU's portability. Wherever you go, you can save an image/piece of your experience to personalize your learning. If you're studying Biology, for example, the camera would be a great tool for capturing and cataloging different species of plants/bugs/etc from your home environment. In the same ways that the mic turns your voice into a controller and the system into one that can hear you, the camera turns what you see in the world around you into part of the system thus giving MachinEDU sight.
- Able to Stand/Sit Up: The ability for MachinEDU to stand up or sit up on its own is for convenience and ease of use. This feature would also enhance the various hands free options the device has.
- Internet Capable: Whether MachinEDU can connect to a 3G network or it simply has wifi capabilities, being able to connect to the vast and constantly changing information superhighway is essential. The internet gives MachinEDU different types of communication and information sharing capabilities; asynchronous, live, text, picture, video, save data. With the internet, the information in the software can be updated, corrected, and modified as necessary. It's about staying connected to everything that will help you learn.
- Internal Memory / Expandable: This feature is sort of a given when a device can connect to the internet and has a camera. Even if MachinEDU used cloud computing technology, it would still need some on board memory to get the job done. In a learning environement, not being able to save whatever you want can be costly.
- A few other features that would be nice to have are a low price Point, backlit screen, speakers, rechargeable battery, and a stylus.
If only a device like this existed...