Harri is 9 years old and spends most of his time playing football. I know this from the number of times he collects his ball from my garden. He has a digital world, but it is not what you would perhaps expect. He doesn’t use a laptop; the laptop in his family is his sister’s and it's used for ‘talking to other girls, yuk!’. He doesn’t have a mobile phone, but helps his Dad use his and plays the games on it. When he does use the family computer, it’s to watch re-runs of the Formula 1 Grand Prix on BBC iPlayer. Disappointingly, in school, he says he and his classmates ‘don’t do a lot on the computer.’ But even so, Harri’s digital world is vast, complex, connects him globally, allows him to communicate, and enables him to be be challenged and solve problems. It is also focused on one device, the Nintendo Wii. His Mum asked me, (due to Harri’s constant nagging), if I could connect his console to their broadband connection (after all, I work for Microsoft -- I must know how do to these things). Working with Harri in close attendance, I somehow managed to do this. Within minutes he had set up a game of ‘Mario Racing Cart’ and was trying his hardest to beat Paulo from Brazil. In a blink of an eye, this nine year-old was now interacting with other game players from all over the world and beating most of them as well.
The thought struck me that perhaps the technology that we are expecting pupils to use in our schools is not set up to engage pupils like Harri. The nature of their at-home interactions with technology, such as with the Wii console, has given them a completely different set of expectations. This idea was further reinforced to me when I came across this article that describes how to use a Wii controller to control a PowerPoint presentation using Plex for PowerPoint. You need to download an free application called the GLOVE Programmable Input Emulator. I downloaded the necessary files and followed the instructions to install, set up and create my own script, which does require some technical knowledge -- but I had Harri to help here. This setup didn’t take long and we were soon able to control a Plex for PowerPoint presentation with a flick of the wrist. (If you try this, don't worry about not having a sensor bar, it worked without that.) Harri thought this was great. Now you may think that this is just technical gimmickry, but remember Harri will be 19 when the technology that Kristen described in this post -- and that is illustrated in this video -- becomes a reality.
This vision of the future may be here sooner than we think, Windows 7 has multi-touch functionality, and then of course there is the Microsoft Surface, which are beginning to appear in schools in the UK. Finally, and this has just been announced, Project Natal for the Xbox, technology that allows controller free interactions, through natural gestures and movements. This would be fantastic for the kinaesthetic learners in our classrooms.
Its clear to me that the pupils and students in our classroom are ready and perhaps already demanding such ways of interacting with technology. We need to think about how we can allow them to do this. if you have any ideas of how this is being done, then please share them here by leaving a comment, or add them to the Innovative Teachers Network.
So, what’s next for Harri? He is continuing his world domination of ‘Mario racing cart’, as he marks each person he has played (and beaten) on a map on his bedroom wall. His biggest challenge, however, is to convince his Dad to allow him to have the BBC iPlayer installed on his Wii console, and then his digital world will be complete.