Educational simulations

Educational simulations


I will be commencing this project from the wider view of educational simulations. It is essentially looking at simulations designed for educational and instructional purposes. The use of simulations, date back quite a number of years. Simulations have been used in a wide number of educational sectors and to varying degrees of detail and complexity. Looking at the early stages of development, the article “An Educator's encounter by Jerry Seay” defines and summarises broadly the field of simulation in education

The excerpt above highlights the classification of simulations and examples of its application. Its evolution has largely been perceived in a positive light. Simulations have an added benefit of reducing the cost associated with the real experience. In the area of language learning, total immersion would mean living in the associated country with that respective language. It then goes that if there is a simulated experience that would partly apply positive pressure, one in which the software would act upon the user during interaction, could well have significant benefits for the learning process. In a word search scenario or possibly in a conversation simulation, exploiting that pressure by translating it for entertainment value can be hugely advantageous and also enjoyable for the user.

The ability for a simulation to engage the user in an entertaining way is of major importance in this project as it takes away the perception of effort from the user in the learning process. The simulation design is also very important. The way in which the user engages the simulation can significantly reduce the effort of the user based on the way the reward system is setup and this goes a long way in keeping the users attention whilst in the learning process.

The excerpt below from the same article highlights that simulations have been in use for a long time. A huge cause for excitement is the rise of new technology to meet the potential of this platform.

Specifically portable technology such as mobile phones are of keen interest as these are devices which users usually have with them for most of their day. The idea that learning on the go per say but in a fun filled way is the appealing concept of this exercise.

Another view with regards to simulation is that it is exclusively an interaction between the user and simulated software. This however with recent advancements in communication technology is no longer the case. If we consider, the advancements in network technology applied within mobile communication, it is obvious this could be a platform for a revolutionary style of learning. This project will look to demonstrate that the tools and underlying technology required to develop such a platform are available now.

In recent years, hardware technology has evolved, increasing in memory space, processor speed plus the ability to do reasonably high level graphics processing. This has led to an enhanced manipulation of simulation software. Huge advancements have also been made in the development platforms of this simulation software. Some software companies specializing in simulation software design have provided the user with easily usable and customisable simulation software often referred to as middleware. The products on the market range from drag and drop platforms to those that can be manipulated at code level. There also exist within this simulation middleware software, huge libraries of reusable components for new development projects to reduce the overhead in development time. This is obviously a highly desired feature for developers and development companies.

As we delve further into simulations in this project, we take a closer look at a specific style of simulation to illustrate its impact on the industry. We are also interested in the factors that influence the decision of which platform best serves the target application of this project.

For the direction of this project, the simulation we have chosen to explore is one which serves a huge number of users and is also able to sustain the interconnection between those users. It is simulation software supported by a networking technology backbone. This simply means that the simulation software design is built to harness networking technology in line with the wider context of evolved technology communication. One such platform is known as MMORPG. This is short for massively multiplayer online role playing game. While we will not limit the scope of the project by focusing solely on a game simulation, it is worth mentioning that this style of simulation is valuable for illustrating the functions and features including a general grasp of the abilities of simulation software for this project.

MMORPG's have been around for some time now, although they are just becoming hugely popular on the Personal Computer gaming sphere due to advancements in PC technology and as a consequence of this the emergence of some new games in this market. The most notable of these is probably World of WAR craft the biggest MMORPG at present due to its number of subscribers. The excerpt below from online encyclopaedia wikipedia provides us with an insight on the scale of this current platform.

These statistics above point out the magnitude of this current platform and is reasserting the value of entertainment or even good old escapism for the average individual using computer technology as a medium. From these figures it is evident that this area of software simulation is currently enjoying massive success. You could say far more than the simulations designed for educational purposes. This is easily attributable to the fact that the purpose of this simulation is strictly for entertainment. The argument of this project or the problem definition is that there is absolutely no reason why the design prowess implemented within MMORPG style simulation making it very appealing to a huge number of entertainment seekers cannot be transferred and engineered effectively into a simulated learning environment without losing the entertainment quality. Whereby this is not an entirely original pursuit, the combination of the concept with the internetworking technology supported simulation is relatively new territory. On one hand it fulfils the concept of fun learning and secondly it opens up a plethora of new possibilities only limited by imagination. An example to further clarify my claim is the chat feature within the above mentioned game World of Warcraft. While players wander about this virtual fantasy world, they can open up chat windows when they run into other characters in the game. This is an ingenious incorporation of a very common internet activity into a platform and in essence creates a new dimension to the experience. It gives birth to the social element within the world of simulation Avatar's. A prescribed approach for the problem defined above is the idea of harnessing networking technology within a simulation for educational purposes. However, I prescribe the educational aspect be designed into the simulation as an underlying fabric and the purpose of the simulation retained for entertainment and socializing. This I feel should not hinder the effectiveness of the learning material or learning process for that matter. The only limitation that could be present here is the imaginative ways in which this system could be implemented.

With the new advancements in portable device technology, MMORPG's have made their way to mobile handsets. The new generation of mobile devices now posses screen sizes, memory and processing speeds capable of handling scaled down versions of your typical MMORPG that exists on the Personal Computer browser market. The exciting aspect this project wishes to emphasize is the reality that most mobile device users are almost always have their devices to hand. As we all know they have pretty much become a standard feature of our lives. Following on from this, when the ideas laid down above are considered from the perspective of learning a new language, it brings to light the fact that the resources which could make such an endeavour a reality is already in our midst. Well for the purpose of language learning, it is probably general consensus that a person learns a language at a more rapid rate when they are forced to interact in that language and it is all around them. Whereas this is not the case with the use of a mobile device but upon interaction within an MMORPG style simulation, where a users Avatar explores a virtual world imbued with the concepts described above within the design, it is evident that there may be a clear advantage in this application of the technology.

The basis of repetition and that of compulsory interaction either with other players or computer generated characters within such a simulation are the key elements to the validity of advantages to this platform. It is also evident how repeated play and extensive time spent interacting within such a simulated environment could be hugely advantageous provided the design was dynamic enough to expand the learning experience.

In light of this an exciting point worth mentioning is the amount of time players have been reputed to spend on massively multiplayer role playing games. In the instance above, users have been reported to spend lengthy amounts of time roaming in this fantasy world and effectively combining entertainment and socialising. This is the most appealing point of this project considering its intended application. A brief reference to the extensive time spent on multiplayer online games should shed some light on this pattern of behaviour. The excerpt below from a review website provides a brief insight.

Although I have chosen a more humorous outlook on the subject for the purpose of illustration, however the key factor for this project is how this seemingly negative by-product could well be an advantage in a similar application with a different purpose.

As we proceed to a lower level of abstraction, we wish to discuss the details of the emerging design. The device should be capable of running such a simulation as described above. As we have already established early on in the subject area review, there are a number of portable devices on the market that will serve as an adequate platform for the final product. However, I am leaning toward a more generic perspective in terms of the hardware part of our devices' design. Most portable devices on the market are comprised of dedicated specific processing DSP technology handling various functional elements within the whole system. These range from graphical display functions to the embedded radio wave technology including all other parts that come together to makeup the device's basic functionality. A point worth mentioning at this phase is the fact that most portable devices available today more often than not posses extended functionality. This is usually to the order of catering for a user's general purpose computing needs in a similar way to the PC. In order to promote clarity on this project, I think the ideas would be best presented and the objective better served if we approach the design as if building the device architecture from scratch. To this effect we have chosen to focus on a single area of the overall design architecture. The reason for this is to better manage the scope of this project given the time and budget constraints.

An important idea in relation to the interaction mentioned in the subject area review is the user's speech interaction with the device. This is incorporated within the context of the simulation. It is especially significant as it is one of the components of the overall design which enhance language learning. From the lengthy research process undertaken in the course of this project, I made two key observations. These observations go some length to justify the earlier specified problem definition.

The first observation is the use of speech processing technology in language learning as a whole. This goes beyond our borders of portable devices but it I the appropriate platform to begin my explanation. My reason for this is simply that the technology on the general purpose PC platform still drives mobile technology. Mobile technology today is mostly a reduced scaled down version of the general PC platform. This is meant in terms of functional capabilities of both its software and hardware design. Without going off on a tangent, the first observation in the use of speech technology or rather the most apparent use was Fast Fourier transform Analysis FFT. One of the most successful implementations of FFT on a mass scale in the field of technology aided language learning is the “Rosetta Stone Language learning software”. A quick explanation of how this works is a user hears a word in a foreign language and attempts to replicate the pronunciation using the appropriate accent and stresses. The Fast Fourier Transform technology beneath the fancy user friendly interface computes the comparison of the users' voice against that on the computer. The parameters of measurement used to determine success are intellectual property of the software providers. There are obviously numerous other applications on speech processing but I have highlighted this purely for its interactive quality. This feature sets it apart from the other products available on the same platform. This could be one reason behind its huge success. Nevertheless, we are less concerned with its commercial success but its effectiveness in improving the learning experience of the user. I am making a slight assertion here that there is a relationship between the use of this technology and the mass appeal as an effective learning method.

The second observation is in an area closer to our target product but only from a hardware design perspective. It was an observation made on a hand held language translator device readily available in the market. This device does not provide an interactive platform as with the previous example. It does however lend all its hardware architecture and resources to the sole application it was designed to perform. This device boasts something in the order of 10,000 word translation in numerous languages. A word is entered in one language and its translation is returned. It is just a step over commonly used websites like Google translate on the PC browser platform except that the PC browser in this case Google is able to translate full sentences.

Top Level Design

At the top level of this project we have proposed design for an internetworked mobile simulation purposed for language learning. As I mentioned in the project IPP, I will be investigating the next phase of this project at hardware level. I have chosen to focus on a feature of the speech interaction implementation at hardware level in line with the proposed design. What we have done so far is propose the functionality of the whole system and then progress conceptually to the speech interaction part of our design.

As this project in executed in the engineering discipline, we were encouraged to develop a prototype to support our project. I have opted to progress in a direction that draws on knowledge from embedded systems design. In simpler terms, we are zooming down from the surface application described earlier to a very low level of hardware to illustrate how design decisions at that level affect the overall design. It also highlights an appreciation for the scope and layers involved with such an undertaking where the project life cycle implemented from conception to the final product.

Speech Interaction Interface

The proposal for the design is explained in more detail in this section. A word is input by the user into the interface on the screen of the device and a translation of the same word is returned accompanied by a vocal expression of it. This is meant to assist the user in a scenario where the user enters the word in their native tongue. i.e English and the resulting translation is audible. This will give the user an opportunity to obtain the correct pronunciation. I would also like to mention at this point that the range of functions, this device will be capable of far exceeds the specification listed here. The system design will also incorporate sentence translation with resolving differences in language structure.

As we are concerned with only the speech interaction at this level, we are proceeding next to the requirements analysis and detailed specification of the hardware components required for the prototyping exercise.

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