Getting ready for a safari

Tomorrow I take my laptop, preloaded with Safari Photo Africa – Wild Earth, to the Junior school to immerse the class in a scenario closely linked to the work they are doing with their primary teacher. I only have an hour with them, so want to make sure everything is set up to work as quickly as possible.

Originally I had wanted to make use of a Nintendo Wii with Wild Earth African Safari but this was not possible (or affordable) as a proof of concept in the timeframe available, so I found an old copy of Safari Photo Africa – Wild Earth for PC and installed it on my laptop.
It looks brilliant when displayed on the data projector and allows the players to take part in a virtual animal photograph safari – taking shots for magazine articles. The photos taken in the games are automatically saved to the user’s My Pictures directory on the PC, meaning that they can be used in other applications at a later date. I think this is also possible in the Nintendo Wii version of the game but imagine it’s a little trickier to get the images onto a PC.

 

When you complete an assignment your photos are inserted into a magazine article = instant reward!

 

The main advantage of a Nintendo Wii over a laptop is that the wireless wii controller supports exploration of the game by groups of learners sat in front of the SmartBoard. I’ve read posts by Dawn Hallybone and Nicky Newbury who maximise the interactivity of the class by pairing up learners and having one pupil move and the other take the photographs. The laptop could allow this but would mean a lot of moving around and swapping places, so I wanted to try and find the best way to interact with the game wirelessly. There is a GyroMouse in my classroom but no sign of drivers or installation CDs and I wanted to be able to use the keyboard wirelessly as well. Then I remembered reading about using an iPod Touch as a wireless mouse and found Logitech TouchMouse, an app which not only allows users to control the mouse pointer on the PC using the portable device but also access its keyboard. I installed it and after a little bit of fiddling with Windows 7’s firewall settings (you need to allow it to access the Private networks, not Public – go through Control Panel for this) I got it to work!

The only issue with using the iPod Touch as a wireless controller is that it needs a wifi connection that is shared with the laptop to communicate. This is a real issue in school where there are no wireless routers and a very tight rein on network security. When I was Mobile Learning Leader for Inverurie Academy I investigated using the school’s MacBook White to set up ad-hoc wifi networks to allow iPods to access the Internet. There was little success with the Internet-access part, but the iPods were all able to communicate with each other. If only there was a way to do this in Windows 7 I thought – and luckily enough, there is!

After a little Google searching I found Virtual Router – a freeware program which allows your laptop to be set up as a wifi hotspot with the intention of sharing its Internet connection with other devices. Set up is incredibly simple – you give your ad-hoc network a name and a password and it uses WPA2 encryption to ensure no rogue devices interfere with the laptop!

“at this moment i am typing part of my blog using the ipod touch wireless keyboard – i have turned off all connection to the INTERNET and only had to restart the logitech touchuse wireless server!”

It seems to work best if you access the iPod app before┬ástarting the Logitech TouchMouse wireless server. If you don’t you may find that the devices don’t connect.

Unfortunately although the keyboard presses do get sent to the laptop, using the keyboard for games control seems impossible. Neither Logitech nor HippoRemote Lite allowed me to control the game character so I may need to allow one child to use the laptop. This may mean one learner is looking at the laptop screen instead of the SmartBoard but if I can position the laptop in a suitable place it may be a minor issue.

I ran through the first assignment on my own and it took about 40 minutes – too long for the lesson tomorrow but if I can set up saved games to allow the class to jump in at appropriate points (meeting the elephant herd for the first time, giraffes grazing, the swimming crocodiles around the elderly elephants) I feel that the class will be able to generate excellent material for their podcasts.

If you have been using computer games to augment your teaching and learning I highly recommend you visit the Consolarium site. This service, offered by Education Scotland (new name for LT Scotland) aims to explore and share how the appropriate use of computer games can have a positive impact on teaching and learning. It has received international praise and attention, and for good reason.

Augmented Reality using a webcam and laptop

I’ve long been jealous of those mobile smartphone types with their fancy embedded cameras and their Junaio, Layar and Aurasma apps. With my iPod Touch 2G I can get the apps but not the content and the closest I can get to mobile augmented reality is to watch cool videos on YouTube as I walk, or stick post-its to my headphones and play pretend…

I set myself a summer holiday target to find out more about Augmented Reality and to try and get it working on a laptop. I knew it was possible but Google searches tended to get bogged down with iOS or Android apps. However this evening I stumbled upon a web-based service called EZFlar. This site allows you to link an image, 3D model, movie, text or hyperlink to one of five fixed marker images extremely quickly (not too sure how it handles recalling the generated AR projects though – here’s a link to what should be an image of Bloom’s Taxonomy…), however this blog briefly discusses how to extend this by downloading the EZFlar program to your own machine and indulging in a bit of Flash ActionScript coding. Definitely something I’m going to try out!

I also put a tweet out asking for help in finding laptop-friendly AR applications. I had two responses, both suggesting http://www.arsights.com which uses Google Earth 3D models and a fixed marker image. It was really quick and easy to get started and I can see this being used with classes for quick and easy demonstrations of Augmented Reality. There’s a suggestion that you can use Google Sketchup to create your own 3D models and then submit links to the ARSights warehouse but I haven’t investigated it as I haven’t used Sketchup before.

So what could these applications be used for in my classroom?

  • a multimedia treasure hunt using EZFlar to store videos / clues to keep the game going
  • a fun way to display pupil work by pinning printed AR markers on the walls rather than a black and white print out of their graphic work / animation / movie
  • a method of allowing pupils to explore digital representations of computer hardware which is too expensive to buy or too fragile to hand out
  • a fantastic way of starting group tasks by using embedded audio / video on an AR-ready placemat in the middle of the group. Scanned by a webcam or mobile device, this could engage all types of learners as well as offering differentiation in the ability to replay these movies on demand (or offer extra AR markers if required)
I want to finish this blog post with a few videos I saw on YouTube. 110 Stories is an augmented reality app proposal currently attempting to get Kickstarter funding. I thought it was a great use of AR – I hope you do too.