Gesture Technology in Education

Chad Gillis, Journalist | 3/23/2012 | 42 comments

Chad Gillis
Years ago, I played Nintendo's Wii during a potluck lunch at a friend's house. The object of the game was to “shoot” as many flying ducks as possible in a given time frame. That was my one and only attempt at gesture-based gaming. Frankly, it seemed boring and mind-numbing. Obviously, modern systems are leaps ahead of the crude motion-sensing devices that required a hand-held controller and processed a limited range of movements.

These advances in the gaming world are having an impact on education around the world. The New Media Consortium's 2012 Horizon Report says that gesture-based systems will become more common in various educational systems within the next four to five years.

Devices like Android and Apple smartphones, Microsoft Surface, Promethean ActivPanel, Nintendo Wii, and Microsoft Kinect systems are currently at the forefront of gesture-based software design and implementation.

“Researchers and developers are gaining a sense of the cognitive and cultural dimensions of gesture-based communicating, and the full realization of the potential of gesture-based computing within higher education will require intensive interdisciplinary collaborations and innovative thinking about the very nature of teaching, learning, and communicating,” the Horizon report says.

That all sounds good, but as many of our readers have suggested before: Leaders at traditional institutions, for the most part, don't want to change or learn the technologies necessary to teach the modern, digital media literate student.

Touch-based communication systems, though, have been a welcome technology for students who can't see or manipulate a keyboard. Gesture recognition systems have, for years, given blind, dyslexic, and disabled students opportunities to interact with computers and the outside world. So there is a foundation of success to build upon.

Schools like the University of Oregon are leading the gesture-based education movement with programs like EyeMusic, which allows students to create sounds and songs using eye movement and sensors. That's a gigantic leap from the old point-and-click gaming systems at parties of days gone by.

But imagine how many mallards I could “shoot” with Oregon's program. A true look that kills. I doubt the faculty, students, researchers, and alumni would allow it, though, being that their beloved mascot is a duck.

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David Wagner   Gesture Technology in Education   3/23/2012 2:40:23 PM
Re: So what can be done with this that cannot be done as well and cheaper with the old tools?
@Zaius- I agree with you completely about technology and that sometimes the paper really is better.

However, i can visualize specific use cases for using gesture technology outside of special needs.

I can imagine the kinds of gesture technology we see on some cop shows used for collaborative learning. The gestures certain make it easier for a group to work on one thing rather someone having to hold the mouse.

There are also studies that show when you write somehting down using your hand you remember it better than when you use a computer. i wonder if gestures using the computer help in the same way that writing does.
Zaius   Gesture Technology in Education   3/23/2012 1:54:56 PM
So what can be done with this that cannot be done as well and cheaper with the old tools?
This is interesting, but exactly what can educators do with it? Is it worth the investment in time and money? Simetines I think the latest and greatest technology is not a good fit. Do you use your computer for a grocery list? Yes, I sometimes use my phone for one. But a scrap of previously used paper and a pencil is quick and easy and environmentally friendly. I can certainly see the value here for disabled, deaf and blind students, but how does this translate to the rest of education?

I am really a fan of technology, but not for its own sake.
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