Monthly Archives: December 2015

Learning Through Gaming

The idea of using games to teach is not a new concept, but it is one that’s constantly being reinvented and reinvigorated. Since the invention of singing the ABCs, learning through play has been a valued teaching method. Although there have been many opponents to the idea of using video games as educational tools, there’s no doubting their ability to pique a child’s interest in learning.

Over the years, the video gaming industry has been making their own contributions to education. While teachers have been increasingly utilizing technology and the internet in classrooms, it is no surprise that games are increasingly being used as a teaching tool.

To be considered an effective teaching tool, video games must fit into certain criteria such as playability, scholastic capacity, and inventiveness. Using these criteria, educators are able to determine which type of games will work best to engage and educate students and on which platforms they can be utilized.

A well-designed game should be challenging without being confusing or frustrating for the player. Games created specifically for mobile devices or for certain educational websites are often categorized by age or grade level and should be easy for those ages to navigate.

Scholastic Capacity
To be considered educational, a game must actually teach students a lesson or skill that fits into the grade curriculum. Whether it be word games, math puzzles, or just learning advanced motor functions, a game is only as useful as the information that can be retained by the player.

The more versatile and interesting a game is, the more likely a child will keep playing it. Games that are accessible through multiple platforms and that use multiple methods of play have been found to be more beneficial in helping students retain new information and are successful in creating repeat players.

The rise in popularity of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) programs in schools creates an overwhelming number of options to choose from. Many schools are utilizing educational sites like Starfall or are creating their own websites and apps for their students, parents, and teachers to stay connected and learn through play together.

YouTube Kids App Launched in the United Kingdom

People enjoy watching YouTube videos. Many use the service to relax or focus on light, amusing topics after a difficult day at work or school. However, some parents are concerned that YouTube isn’t child-friendly enough. Even sitting down to watch an old-school Sesame Street episode with your child can be off-putting, since many of the comments come from nostalgic adults who complain about new television shows or formats while watching their old favorites. Their comments contain everything from heavy cursing to sexual innuendo.

Is there anything safer for children to watch on the computer? For parents in the United Kingdom and all of Ireland, the answer recently became “yes.” The UK launched the child-friendly YouTube Kids channel after its success in the United States. More than 10 million American parents have downloaded the app, and parents in the UK are soon to follow.

YouTube Kids removes the commenting and uploading features. This keeps your kids from reading or responding to inappropriate comments or inadvertently seeing something inappropriate while watching videos with their parents. It also keeps kids safer online, because they can’t upload video of themselves, accidentally give out private information, or leave their computers vulnerable to viruses.

For parents concerned about too much screen time, YouTube Kids has a built-in timer that parents can set before children use the app. Additionally, the app blocks search terms such as “sex,” decreasing the likelihood of accidental exposure to pornography and other inappropriate content.

The UK version of YouTube Kids features family-friendly programming such as The Magic Roundabout, Morph, and Wallace and Grommit.

Parents are also concerned about the number of ads that run between the shows and what those ads may contain. YouTube representatives reassure parents that all ads are clearly labeled and contain intros. They are allowed on the channel only after a rigorous review process.

IBM and CMU Develop Navigation App for Blind Persons

Living with a physical disability presents many challenges, not the least of which is navigating one’s environment. Getting around can be particularly difficult for blind people, since layouts and obstacles often change suddenly, with and without their knowledge. With this in mind, IBM and Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) have developed an assistive technology application for navigation.

The app, called NavCog, draws on existing skills blind people use to navigate. It uses existing sensors in the environment to create vibrations a blind person can follow through his or her smartphone. These sensors are often built into the smartphones; others are Bluetooth beacons located on walkways and in other high-traffic areas. Signals from these beacons are converted into vibrations that are “whispered” into the user’s ear through earbuds, warning him or her of obstacles.

NavCog is available through IBM’s cloud-based Bluemix application. In addition to its vibration technology, NavCog contains a map editing tool and localization algorithms. These algorithms help blind people determine where they are in real time and in which direction they are facing. This increases the person’s independence and decreases the likelihood of getting lost or injured, especially in large areas such as college campuses.

One does not need to be legally blind to benefit from NavCog. A person with low vision or perceptual issues could use NavCog’s 3-D modeling tool, which uses the person’s smartphone to convert the surrounding environment into 3-D images. These images let the person see everything around him or her at once so the safest routes through indoor or outdoor areas can be planned.

Combining multiple assistive technologies into one app like NavCog is known as “cognitive assistance,” which augments missing or weakened abilities. Currently, cognitive assistance focuses on helping the blind but could expand to include other disabilities.

Science and technology experts are working on additions to cognitive assistance, such as ultrasound technology that would depict locations more accurately and facial recognition. The goal is to “open the new real-world accessibility era for the blind in the near future,” said Martial Hebert, director of Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute.

The Dangers of Facilitated Communication

Disabilities come in all shapes and sizes. Some prevent those living with them from speaking, making communication difficult, although assistive technology has made great strides in helping nonverbal people communicate. For example, text-to-voice programs, including handheld speaking devices, are available. However, a harmful form of assistive technology still exists – facilitated communication.

Slate writer David Auerbach calls facilitated communication, or FC, “a cult that won’t die.” He says FC produces a “Ouija board effect” on the people with disabilities it claims to help. These words may seem harsh, but various cases have shown FC can be harmful, even fatal.

Facilitated communication does not allow the person with a disability to communicate directly. Instead, an aide, caregiver, or other person guides the disabled person’s hand on a keyboard, so that the person can indirectly type out desired messages.

Aides and caregivers have been accused of using FC to make disabled people behave in ways that are advantageous to them. For example, Professor Anna Stubblefield was accused of sexually assaulting D.J., a 33-year-old man with cerebral palsy, after D.J. allegedly asked for relations while she guided his hand on a keyboard. Stubblefield was convicted and faces 10 to 40 years in prison.

Some caregivers claiming to teach communication through FC have been convicted of other crimes. In 2014, pharmaceutical executive Gigi Jordan was convicted of first-degree manslaughter. Jordan said that her 8-year-old son, who had autism and was nonverbal, typed, “I need a lot of drugs to die peacefully … I wish u do it soon” through FC.

Many people believe facilitated communication was completely debunked in the 1990s, and members of the medical community have repeatedly rejected it as a communication tool. Yet, family members and caregivers continue to use it, out of hope that their loved ones will communicate in some way.

Schools, service boards, and communication task forces are stacked with FC supporters, and countless victims of FC continue to be ignored or under-represented. Caregivers, family members, and teachers are urged to find alternatives that truly give disabled persons a voice.

ISIS Has a New Favorite App

After the devastating attacks on Paris that left at least 129 innocent people dead, terror group ISIS is more in the spotlight than ever. People are anxious to know what the group is planning next. A new secret message application may hold a key clue.

The application, called Telegram, has been moved to the so-called Dark Web (visible websites that hide their Internet Protocol addresses). ISIS uses Telegram to make text messages invisible to government agencies. The group’s leaders encourage their followers to download and use the app. An unknown number of jihadists are using Telegram, as are drug dealers and other gangsters. However, what makes ISIS’ use of Telegram so insidious is that respectable, everyday citizens access and use it as well. In fact, Telegram users send over a billion messages per day.

After ISIS used Telegram to claim responsibility for the Paris attacks, CIA Director John Brennan issued a statement regarding the danger of this technology in terrorists’ hands. Without mentioning any apps by name, he said new technology is making it “exceptionally difficult, technically as well as legally” for intelligence organizations to uncover terrorist activities. Twentieth-century laws “cannot effectively deal with [the profusion of 21st-century technology],” he added.

Meanwhile, FBI Director James Comey and his supporters continue to push for more regulations regarding apps, email, and access to users’ private information. “Significant increase” in technological security has been reported, but Comey, Brennan, and other officials still worry that there are significant security gaps.

ISIS may not be tracking ordinary citizens through Telegram, but computer users are urged to stay vigilant online. Privacy settings on social networks and other apps should be set to the highest security level at all times. If you must use a credit or debit card online, especially on a social network, delete the information after use if possible. Always read and understand security terms and report cyber threats immediately.