Simple interfaces for language learning?

I recently visited the EUROCALL conference in Krakow, where researchers and teachers from the area of Computer Assisted Language Learning met to present findings and discuss issues around the main theme of learner autonomy. In one of the presentations there, Lesley Shield from the Open University, England and Uschi Felix from Monash University, Australia (the latter via prerecorded video) discussed the interrelation between language anxiety and computer anxiety. The question they are exploring is whether students who feel comfortable with ICT will perform better in foreign language classes online. One important point that was made here is that training in how to use the tools is often not enough, but that personal experience is the key to successful interactions online.

This is in line with the reasoning of one of the plenary speakers of the conference, Abdelmajid Bouziane, University Hassan II, Marocco, who talked about the integration of ICT in language classrooms in terms of a normalization process. He presented a framework for how to train teachers based on these assumptions, the LEAP model, where teachers trainees would go through the stages of ICT Literacy, Efficacy and Appropriation before reaching the Proficiency stage. This is a time-consuming and self-directed process, which benefits from informal discussions in communities of practice.

Deborah Turk from the University of Aizu, Japan, in her presentation talked about the importance of using simple tools to ensure that as much energy as possible could be devoted to the actual language learning task. Somewhat off the topic of this post, she also made an interesting claim in arguing that the harmony that teachers try to create in their online environments can be a disadvantage for the learning process, in that the challenges that you need in order to progress will never be presented to you. This is a perspective on things which has never previously occurred to me I have always seen it as one of the main goals, at least for synchronous gatherings, to foster a positive and friendly social climate.

The focus in these presentations on using simple, normalized interfaces has caused me to think about the tools that we use for some of our online gatherings, such as the 3D-environments that we employ. For those accustomed to playing computer games, interacting in these types of environments will have become normalized, but that is hardly the case for the others. One clearly has to evaluate whether the extra effort that is needed from the participants and that has to be put into training and practice sessions pays off in the end.

More reflections from the conference can be found in my blog, here, here and here

mp3 seminars

As some of you may have noticed, we made one or two seminars available as podcasts (mp3 format) last semester – as well as the standard realmedia video streams. Starting this semester we will make all seminars available both as realmedia streams and mp3s. This will make it easier to listen to seminars while skating, commuting or whatever. We are also considering providing both a regular mp3 version and sped-up mp3 version of each seminar (the latter variety inspired by Ravi).

The first seminar for the semester will be:

[September 15, 1:15 pm CET]
Designing Meaningful Experiences
Nathan Shedroff, Experience Strategist

The seminar will be broadcast live. I will publish more information about this and other seminars in English here later.

our next guest blogger: Geoffrey Rockwell

The fall semester started today. The campus and the whole city undergo a transformation with all the new students (and old students coming back). Life, energy and new possibilities. We have very high hopes for HUMlab this semester and I will blog about seminars etc. soon. But first I have the pleasure of introducing our next guest blogger.

Geoffrey Rockwell is a well-known and well-reputed figure in humanties computing. He is Associate Professor of Multimedia of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada (and described as patron saint of humanities computering in Canada:). Dr. Rockwell was involved in starting the undergraduate Multimedia programme at McMaster (which looks like an exciting program – geared towards creating, but with a fair amount of critical perspective etc.) He is presently the Acting Director of the Communication Studies and Multimedia Department (which hosts the program).

Geoffrey blogging will certainly bring a lot of expertise and experience to this blog. In the 2005 ACH/ALLC Conference he was on four panels and in one session. He has been involved in a number of humanities computing-like projects and organizations. For instance he is the project leader of the TAPoR project, which is developing a text tool portal for rearchers who work with electronic text (Swedish language interface recently added). He has also done work on visualization, computer games, humanities computing and philosophy (his book Defining Dialogue: From Socarates to the Internet is available in a preprint version from here). And, of course, Geoffrey Rockwell is also the son of sculptor Peter Rockwell and grandson of renowned illustrator Norman Rockwell (“Without thinking too much about it in specific terms, I was showing the America I knew and observed to others who might not have noticed.”).

Geoffrey will be guest blogging here for about two weeks and we are really looking forward to engaging in dialogue with him. An excellent start to the fall semester!

My new BOXX computer

My new computer arrived yesterday.

A brand new BOXX workstation, honed specifically for people who work within visual computing. Having worked most of my life, at least from home, on computers that were acquired relatively cheaply – I am stunned beyond belief by this machine running so smoothly and quickly and flawlessly. I still can’t, honestly, believe that I actually won this monster. When I sat down to name the computer, the first word that popped into mind was “GOD”, and then, after some consideration, I named it “OMFG” instead. I find the name very fitting.

The digital illustrator has to acquire quite pricey equipment, when compared to most traditional artists. Though they continually buy new things, new paint, brushes and canvases – when we buy something it is generally something that will leave a big and gaping hole in our economy, but also provide us with all we need for a few years.

I wonder if this doesn’t change the way we work, at least a little. We can do an endless amount of paintings for the same amount of money, rather than paying for every individual one. I start so many things that I scrap halfway through and just throw away – I mean, I didn’t actually lose anything except for time while creating it, did I? The paint didn’t cost me anything, nor did the paper.

Also, I am sure that the multi-tasking aspect of the computer makes a huge difference. When I paint, I also surf the web, chat with my friends, sometimes play computer games when the inspiration runs out and ultimately do a whole lot of different things. When I used to paint with real paint – I’d only be doing that, anything else would just get much too complicated.

Either way, I can’t wait to get started with my new computer – see how large, and detailed paintings I can do now that the tool has improved so vastly. You can never have a slow brush or a canvas that crashes a lot when you paint traditionally. The tools just don’t seem as vital in the same way.

Skype and the new Google Talk

As a faithful follower of Skype (no kickbacks so I can say what I want about their service) I am curious about this new Google Talk program. I have actually unsubscribed from my landline and now use skype and my mobile exclusively. It is very rare that I make international calls, and when I do skypeout is adequate. And while I have found the quality of the calls to be worse than previously, I don’t think that Google Talk is up to their standard yet…or maybe it is like comparing apples and oranges. Google Talk seems to be more of an IM program with voice chat (like Yahoo was a year ago), while Skype seems to be more of a phone replacement (voice mail, skypein and skypeout, video, etc). Google’s big advantage seems to be in it’s ability to combine services. They have blogger, maps, search, and now talk. If you combine these services into something that is actually cell phone friendly, you may have an amazing combination on your hands… Maybe geoblogging/ghostblogging would become a reality (a way to leave traces of your blog/thoughts behind so others who cross the same path will be notified that something was written about the place in which they stand). Google has the tools and the potential to create an augmented reality, full of collaboration and shared experiences. Another myth of the ‘potential greatness of cyberspace’ perhaps…only time will tell. Until then, I am still loving skype!

Here is another comparison about skype and google talk

Also, here is the BBC article about google talk.

Digital Materials as Design Materials

Here are some further notes (once again; NOTES, sometimes a bit vague) from the 2005 ICT and the Humanities Summer School concerning the final theme, which was Experience Design. This is an area that I had not seriously considered as relevant to my area of research (narrative, language, art) but how wrong I was. I had thought long and hard about materiality, dialogue, and reader response theory but I had never thought in terms of design in regards to these methodologies. The first to take the stand was Jonas L Löwgren, Professor of Interaction Design at Malmö University, Sweden. Good background reading for this is Inspirational Patterns for Embodied Interaction.

lowgren.jpg Jonas LöwgrenLöwgren first stated the title of his presentation was; Digital Materials as Design Materials.In terms of experience design we should be look at the trends in the development of digital materials. IT has gone from being a working tool to a play and everyday situation. The other great trend is media convergence. Information systems are becoming the domain for creative industries where “access to a new kind of channel” is being created through “non-linear stories in broadcast industries”. The primary example of this is the World Wide Web where in a relatively short time there has been a movement from usability to experience. Slide show here: Mosaic (1993) an early browser and Netscape (1994), the first commercial browser. Mosaic was primarily concerned with news on new web servers. The Web is driving the penetration of digital media into general society.

Continue reading “Digital Materials as Design Materials”

HUMlab at Nolia

Last week HUMlab participated in the Nolia trade fair/festival. 130342 people turned up and while most did not visit the university tent there was a great deal of interest in our work.


We have done this kind of presentation quite a few times but we still learn as we go along. For instance it is very important to face the crowd and if you have a group of people working together there is always a risk of internal communication excluding potential visitors. It is also important to provide som kind of activity – playing computer games and trying digital drawing out for instance.


Even though these activities (in themselves) do not necessarily give people an understanding of HUMlab they give you oppurtunity to start conversations etc. Next time we will probably try having a bunch of important and provoking questions relating to technology-culture-the humanities posted. Anyway the HUMlab crew did a great job and we also showed some of our “other” skills.


This is Jim Barrett playing the didgeridoo. He is one of our graduate students. Another one performed on the big Nolia stage with his band the Deportees.


Peder Stenberg is the lead singer and also a graduate student (working on computer games).

In another place we showed our rock carving project (together with BildMuseet).


Here people could experience a prehistoric rock carving site (a kind of activity). And while Linda Bergkvist does the drawing herself in this image she also does a great job encouring others to try.


We will certainly make use of our Nolia experiences next time around. Also I think you need to be relaxed about things. After all most people go to Nolia to buy things and to have a look at tractors, trailers and other equipment.

ludology vs narratology

As some of you know, HUMlab hosted a debate/discussion on game studies in January 2005 with Espen Aarseth and Henry Jenkins (realmedia stream here). The intention was not primarily to support confrontation or to resolve the so-called ludology/narratology issue.

Interestingly Janet Murray has recently published a preface to a keynote talk she delivered at DiGRA 2005, Vancouver, June 17, 2005. It is entitled “The Last Word on Ludology v Narratology in Game Studies” and is a good read I think. Murray makes reference to the HUMlab debate:

The most recent attempt an encounter between Henry Jenkins and Espen Aarseth in Umea Sweden in January 2005 — was judged by the participants and observers as lacking in the expected formalism of a contest. There was too much mutual interest and agreement, though some clear differences in emphasis.

One of our aims, I guess, was the opposite of confrontation, and mutual interest is often a good thing. But it was also clear that there really are some paradigmatic differences of perspective. The question is who defines the agenda and the positions. Murray claims that narratology is the authority against which the ludologists have rebelled and she suggests that there might be no narratologists:

In fact, no one has been interested in making the argument that there is no difference between games and stories or that games are merely a subset of stories.

And if the narratologists are being definied by the ludologists there is no resolution (unless the ludologists come up with a resolution themselves I suppose):

The ludology v narratology argument argument can never be resolved because one group of people is defining both sides of it. The “ludologists” are debating a phantom of their own creation.

I wonder whether the ludologists also could be seen as a kind of construction? Maybe not. Anyway, while I agree with many of Murray’s points (without being a real game scholar myself) I also find myself liking both the rich and contextual analysis that Henry Jenkins represents and the systematic beauty of the analysis that Aarseth and others propose. I do not particularly see the need for having to exclude other perspectives than your own but I am sure the paradigmatic tension (even if it is created by one party) contributes to our understanding of games.

The Sims and Me

Since the visit of Ravi Purushotma from MIT and Linda Bergkvist giving a seminar on Living in the Sims I have been interested in EA Games game The Sims 2.

As a text it seems very complex and rich and as a new media phenomenon it seems huge. So at the ICT and the Humanities Summer School in June I decided to write a paper on The Sims. The paper itself is almost finished but really I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I have started two Sims worlds, both have identical families living in them, named the Blackfoots. I just wanted to see what would happen with two games running the same Sims…..when you start thinking like that you know you are hooked!

Anyway, the paper. Here is the rough draft’s first few paragraphs of a work still in progress, sort of like the Sims (I wonder how it will end):

The Sims as Engine of Narrativity: A Hybrid of Digital (Cyborg) Media

The way to excel at The Sims is to pretend you
are the characters. You have to give a shit.
Mark Boal Village Voice (2000)

Key Terms: Sims, Narrative, Machinima, Hybrid Media, Virtual Space, Emergent Gameplay, New Media, Digital Humanities, Cyborg, Dialogic, Virtual Worlds, Computer Game, 3D Worlds, Simulacra,

The Sims, rather than being called a game has been described by its designer Will Wright as a “software toy”. As a platform for real time simulated interaction and representation its mis en scene flows more in a manner comparable to a midday soap opera where the cast are on sever medication rather than a work of ontological realism. However, stories do emerge for this, the world’s most popular digital game, be they the temporally determined familial interactions of countless generations of avatars or, in what I find more interesting, the hundreds of machinima films created inworld and posted on the internet community sites by those who enjoy “playing God”. The need to recount the events of daily life is seemingly manifest in many new media forms; blogs, email, MSS, and online social network softwares such as In the digital game community which emanates from the various manifestations of The Sims (2000-05) multitudes of the software’s users create and post on the internet filmed narratives recounting the interactions and lives of their inworld character avatars. Machinima is both a production technique and a genre whereby the imagery from 3D digital virtual worlds is rendered in real time to film . In the case of The Sims, some are documentary style “hidden camera” pieces where a fight, a death or a sexual encounter may be preserved in time on the video film. Others are staged and edited films contained jump cuts, montage and self contained story lines. Many of these staged films are constructed around the activities of avatar characters, which can not be completely controlled by the human users, but depend upon algorithmic responses to embedded game parameters, such as the need for food, simoleans (currency) and the age of the character.

The digital art community is

The digital art community is far removed, I think, from any other art community… perhaps most of all in that you might here speak to, and get help from, your favourite artists, or even get to help them out, as it were. The entire community is, in a way, a great, wonderful school where we’re all just trying to do our best, and along the way, to help others to do the same. That’s a little idealised, right there – I mean, not EVERYONE tries to help people out… but this internet way of speaking to one another, of hanging out in forums, of doing tutorials and of just plain offering advice, I think it’s pretty new. It’s an environment almost like a school, except there are no actual teachers, and there is no geographical limit. So I might be speaking with an artist from Singapore, and he might tell me that this or that tool is a good way to achieve something like that, and in turn, I could give him some advice on how to improve the colours on some part of his painting or perhaps tell him that I disagree with the piece of advice offered by this third artist. It is a strange way to learn how to paint but it’s very dynamic and it demands a lot from you as a ‘student’ – perhaps something to think about regarding regular teaching. We, as learners, have a lot more to offer one another than I would ever have thought. Here is a tutorial I did a little while ago, while still on vacation, to show my appreciation for the digital art community. I just love the way it works, and I’m so happy to be part of it – it’s a new, kicking thing, we’re all learning so much. Hope everyone had a lovely vacation.