In a session at the recent SXSW Interactive show, a panel including Patrick Sanchez (Enspire Learning), Chris Pittman (RFD), and Brandon Carson (Sun Microsystems) asked the question, “Can the Wii’s revolutionary input devices be used for non-entertainment purposes, such as education?”
The panel looked at the positives and negatives of using a cheap, inaccurate (but fun) controller to reinforce learning, either on Wii or by using the Wiimote as a PC Bluetooth controller.
Patrick Sanchez opened by asking the question straight out: What are some of the ways people are using the Wii to teach?
Brandon Carson introduced his interest in the topic: “Sun produces hundreds of hours of training over the course of a year for internal and external audience. The majority are narrated bullets. At best the learner is totally passive. My job was to evaluate whether any of what we were doing was actually working. Not really.”
“So I designed an instructional model for collaborative learning – so they can work together," he continued. "We emphasized attention, participation, motivation, and retention. My niche is designing learning games which promote those behaviors.”
Using The Wiimote At Sun
Explaining his use of the Wii Remote, Carson said, “At Sun, we create really expensive hardware devices. We have a need to train our partners and employees on how to configure and run these. Our revenues are relatively low compared to Sun’s overall revenue. As E-Learning designers, a lot of times we don’t have access to the actual machines for training. So it’s mostly through images, which are flat."
He explained: "Sun Labs is doing a lot of research. They are developing technology that could be used to train troubleshooters through an immersive environment. With something like a Wiimote, they could simulate interactions in a way that is more realistic than clicking buttons.”
Sanchez asked, “What is it about people involved in E-Learning that gets them really interested in finding new ways to use technologies like the Wiimote?”
“We use Second Life," answered Carson, "but we’re not convinced that’s the way. There’s a lot of cognitive overload just getting into the environment,” opined Carson, “It really goes back to immersion. If we just stopped doing half of what we are doing now, I don’t think anyone would notice. And we could redirect those resources toward technology like the Wiimote and get a better return of investment.”
Rephrasing his question, Sanchez said, “I’m thinking about fun. Interacting with the Wiimote is fun. It gets you to stand up and move around. I see a lot of efforts toward making games and simulations. Is it okay to make E-Learning fun? What value is there in that?”
Pittman argued that people are always more interested in doing things that are fun, but Carson disagreed: “I was doing an observable usability test the other day, and there was an engineer who said, ‘I don’t come to work to play. I think my kid would do that.’”
What Can You Hack With Wiimote?
The next topic broached was exactly the kind of applications that can be created with the Wiimote.
“There is a lot of functionality and an expansion port on the bottom,” Pittman described, “All of this is completely open. I can’t hack my Xbox. This uses Bluetooth and standard infrared technology. Much more accessible.”
Sanchez continued: “And they are relatively cheap, if you can find one... the barrier to entry is very low. Do you think pantomiming an action helps one learn it?”
“I think accuracy is very important,” said Carson, “Probably more so for some things, like laproscopy, than others. Also, I think it would be great if you could simulate torque.”
Sanchez admitted “It’s not terribly sensitive,” before Pittman described how easy it was to “fool” the Wii Remote by, for example, swinging the remote in Wii Golf
sitting on the couch, rather than using the proper golfing stance.
As an example of controllers you (arguably) couldn’t fool, Sanchez asked, “With Guitar Hero
, then Rock Band
, do you think any of these other controllers have any promise for learning? You could teach rudimentary drums with Rock Band
Conclusion: Unexpected Uses Possible!
“But could you teach them surgery?” Pittman asked in return. “Those controllers have very specific purposes. The Wii is the only one designed for generality.”
“The thing that interests me is going back to that whole immersion state,” said Carson. “You have to look at what kind of procedure or performance you are looking for from the learning construct. If the shape of the device or its non-accuracy becomes a barrier or does not simulate properly - what are you doing to your audience?”
Sanchez responded, “Research shows that dexterity exercises, even if not actual simulations, enhance outcomes that require that skill. It doesn’t seem to need to be one-to-one simulation.”
Pittman agreed, concluding the panel: “Until recently I would have said the Wiimote would add nothing to math skills. But then Nintendo created Big Brain Academy
, and I changed my mind.”