Talking with Graham Stanley last month and seeing Pierre Moussy’s G2 Android smartphone in action got me thinking more seriously about mobile learning for languages. Some of the G2 phone’s features make use of augmented reality, which seems to fundamentally change (indeed improve!) the possibilities of Mobile Assisted Language Learning (MALL).
This blog post is an attempt to sketch out some initial thoughts on how Augmented Reality Language Learning (ARLL) could be used in a student centered way. Both Task-Based Learning (TBL) and Dogme approaches seem to offer guidance, as do the experiences with Virtual World Language Learning (VWLL). The focus here is very much on mobile access to geo-tagged Wikipedia (Wikitude) and location-based social networking (Google Latitude and BrightKite).
Avatar Languages has yet to develop ARLL lessons, so this blog post merely looks at what may well be possible.
What is Augmented Reality?
AR is the combination of real-world and computer-generated data so that computer generated objects are blended into real time projection of real life activities.
Wikitude – An Immersive Wikipedia
Wikitude is a program that overlays information in Wikipedia about physical places onto the camera screen of a mobile phone.
Wikitude places markers and summaries on the screen exactly where you can see the relevant building or location. These markers also link to the relevant Wikipedia article, which then opens up in the phone’s internet browser (via a 3G connection).
Latitude – Location-Based Social Networks
Google Latitude is just one of several programs that combine social networks with GPS to enable a system to see where other friends are physically located in real time on an online map on the phone. It shows the location of friends along with photos and other profile information. Privacy can be maintained by each user, who can select what to disclose and when to disclose it.
BrightKite – Geo-tagged Twitter
BrightKite offers a free service that looks very much like a geo-tagged twitter-style program. Users can microblog from their mobile devices and the service automatically tracks the microblogger’s location. Depending on each user’s privacy settings, users can see updates (microblog posts) from others who are near them. Although this is not a full service social network (along the lines of Facebook) it does open up location-specific virtual conversations.
Augmented Reality in Mobile Assisted Language Learning
ARLL focuses on contextual learning (see Kukulska-Hulme’s four approaches to MALL) and in so doing, allows the learners to move outside of the conventional classroom and to choose locations that are relevant to their lives. Perhaps this aspect of relevance can lead to greater engagement and therefore the desire to communicate, to converse, and above all, to learn.
Augmented Reality Language Learning and Virtual World Language Learning
VWLL may offer language educators some guidance and ideas for approaching ARLL, especially from a constructivist perspective. In my presentation at SLanguages about Dogme and Virtual Worlds, I mention 4 experiences that are possible with virtual worlds: immersive, social, creative and gaming. It seems likely that these experiences would be possible in ARLL.
Immersive experiences in AR (ie in real life) are certainly very immersive, however there is little flexibility because of the time, effort and money needed to change location and because of the limited opportunities to shape one’s environment in the real world (at least, compared to a virtual world). Using Wikitude we are able to have truly information-rich, immersive experiences, although these will be limited to real life locations.
Social experiences in AR will be extremely real, but limited to the people actually present in the real life location. Geo-tagged twitter would allow microblog-conversations with others will be based on locally relevant and perhaps time-specific topics. This would open the door to more casual, fleeting and yet focused communications – and this could well open up new ways to engage learners in active communication.
Creative experiences can be gained through microblogging, blogging, commenting on blogs, instant messaging, photo-sharing, immediate podcasting/vodcasting and wiki participation.
Gaming experiences in ARLL are already better documented than the other three experiences Ravi Purushotma has outlined an ARLL game activity and the Local Games Lab describes an AR game for non-language learning. Holden and Sykes are currently researching this gaming aspect of ARLL.
Methods for Augmented Reality Language Learning
Approaches to VWLL seem to focus on constructivist-based methodologies such as TBL and Dogme. The question is how these approaches can guide us with using ARLL.
- TBL seems particularly applicable to ARLL, especially with the 24/7 access to location-specific knowledge. Indeed location-based social networking offers opportunities for collaborative tasks using information gap activities.
- Dogme is at first glance less applicable to ARLL than VWLL, especially when concentrating the ARLL on Wikitude, which draws attention to the access to knowledge more than it enables conversations. However, geo-tagged twitter services such as BrightKite could well be woven into a Dogme style lesson. Microblogging is by nature a far more conversant form of blogging and would allow learners to choose to engage with others according to what is relevant to them. It is therefore potentially a very engaging way to communicate.
Activities for Augmented Reality Language Learning
Drawing on both TBL and Dogme, I offer here some possible activities or types of activities for ARLL. Some make a more passive use of the information available through Wikitude; while others involve more the pro-active creation of content.
- Role plays as tour guides, where learners access Wikitude information on the fly. This ‘speed-dating’ equivalent of role play would likely focus on fluency.
- Quests on location, where the students search for ‘treasure’ or even each other based on tasks set by the teacher.
- AR Geocaching, where the hidden containers could be virtual (augmented reality). Conventional Geocaching is a high-tech treasure hunting game using GPS to locate hidden containers (geocaches). The experiences are then shared online.
- Projects and fieldtrips, where students collect data (text, videos, audios and images) while physically exploring a location.
- Blogging, Microblogging and Wiki participation, where students interact with these web 2.0 tools to share ideas and content. This could be part of a project or fieldtrip. Geo-tagging the content could then enable it to feedback into the location-specific body of knowledge.
- Noticing and mobile diaries, where students reflect on their language learning experiences as they happen (as described by Kukulska-Hulme); these activities could be location-specific and therefore make use of location-based social networks or geo-tagged knowledge.
Future of Augmented Reality Language Learning
The thread running through all of the above considerations of ARLL is geo-tagging. Perhaps ARLL is currently just geo-tagged language learning? However, AR is developing very quickly and it will become more usual to interact with virtual objects (rather than super-imposed lays of data) within a real world context. This may well allow users the ability to edit the environment in a similar way to Second Life (see below video for an example). And so there may be opportunities for far more creative learning experiences.
In the meantime, geo-tagging is already moving beyond Wikipedia to include practical information such as ATM locations and real estate offers, as the Layar video below shows.
ARLL will clearly develop according to how AR applications are actually used in real life, and this of course remains to be seen. Technologies often involve shifts in how we communicate and how we relate to knowledge. It may well be that shifts due to AR will open up new opportunities for language education.
Thanks to Graham Stanley for telling me about AR geo-tagging and AR social networks. Thanks also to Pierre Moussy for demonstrating his HTC Magic phone in Paris.