Posted by Larry VenterSenior Director of Retail Solutions for Microsoft Worldwide
Just under a year ago I was fortunate enough to do a tour of Lakeside Park Primary in Vryheid, KwaZulu-Natal. During that tour the headmaster told me of the struggle that the foundation phase children have in learning English – in fact I recall something he said; “when the children stopped using English on the playground, their English results suffered”. I left the school a few hours later thinking about how we could do something to improve literacy acquisition. Over the next few months I set about researching PC educational games and the edutainment market, but it was really at the launch of the San Diego Microsoft Store that the penny dropped. At the opening, in June of last year, I saw Kinect™ for Xbox 360® being played by children and parents outside the store and I recall thinking – that’s the perfect medium for learners! It’s fun, its interactive, it’s in English and it’s highly collaborative too!
Momentum kicked in with Microsoft’s Live@Edu team funding the study, which engaged local educational technology experts, NGO SchoolNet SA, to develop the teacher training materials and conduct training, and also to review, select and purchase appropriate games, install the devices and security systems and manage an independent evaluator, Mindset. Eight teachers from Lakeside Park Primary, a small school in the remote district of Vryheid in rural KwaZulu-Natal, were trained and their classrooms equipped with the interactive Xbox and Kinect gaming platforms and security.I have learnt that in education there are two levers that can be pulled to improve the learning experience – time with teacher, and the quality of the teacher. In the early days of this program we started seeing how teachers were able to use Kinect to drive heightened engagement in the classrooms. One teacher is quoted saying that “the level of interaction I saw on day one would normally take us three to four months to get to”. In my mind that equates to more time with the teacher!
We have also seen teachers use the training we provided to start providing creative solutions – or learning opportunities – that benefit the children and improve the teachers delivery too. In the first week we saw a teacher use “avatar creation” as a way to introduce the learners to life skills – by allowing each to design their own avatar. We also saw a teacher use bowling as a numeracy exercise, and even the use of “kinectimals” as a way of constructing sentences – in my mind all that helps to develop the quality of the teachers delivery.
Studies of gaming in education show that learners really engage when teachers design their lesson activities around the topics in games, simply due to the added stimulus. With Kinect, you can play a variety of sport, edutainment and instructive games using body movements and voice. Sensors replicate your motions via an on-screen avatar – your ‘mirror image’. Change was afoot from the word ‘go’.Today we officially announced the program in South Africa and it has drawn a lot of excitement from national and local educators and politicians. My hope is that we can use the findings of this program and develop solutions that will continue to transform the teaching and learning experience across Africa.
These are the kinds of solutions we need. In this technologically advanced age we continue to teach using methods that are outdated and uninteresting for the learners. I am currently involved in a project which takes rural learners from non-viable schools and enroll them in urban boarding schools. These learners have limited English skills and exposure to technology. I would like to visit Lakeside Primary, the principal being an old friend of mine, to investigate the possibility of using this technology in the project.