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Researchers Test Mobile Phone Games To Teach Children

Researchers in the United States and China are exploring how games on mobile phones can be used to teach children the Chinese language. The research is coming out of Carnegie Mellon University's Mobile & Immersive Learning for Literacy in Emerging Economies (MILLEE) Project. The results may help promote the idea of mobile phones as learning devices, especially in rural areas of China.

Computer scientists from Carnegie Mellon; the University of California, Berkeley; and the Chinese Academy of Sciences developed two mobile learning games inspired by traditional Chinese games that emphasize cooperative playing, songs, and handmade objects. The Chinese language is more complex than most because it uses 6,000 characters, each corresponding to a syllable or word. One game, Multimedia Word, has the player recognize and write a Chinese character correctly based on hints such as a sketch or photo. A second game, Drumming Stroke, has a group of players practice writing Chinese characters in turns; participants must write one stroke of the character in the correct order, and then pass the mobile phone to the next player within the beat of a drum.

Initially, the games were tested with children in Xin'an, an underdeveloped region in Henan Province, China. Later, the testing was done at a private school in Beijing. In both cases the games showed that students could improve their knowledge of Chinese characters.

"We believe that the cooperative learning encouraged by the games contributed to character learning," said Matthew Kam, assistant professor in Carnegie Mellon's School of Computer Science's Human-Computer Interaction Institute and MILLEE project director. "The results of our studies suggest that further development of these games could make inexpensive mobile phones important learning tools, particularly for children in underdeveloped rural areas."

Despite their small screens and low computing power, Kam said, mobile phones could become a major educational resource as wireless carriers and mobile phone manufacturers extend sales into ever more rural areas of the globe.

MILLEE has also investigated the use of mobile phone-based games for teaching English literacy to rural children in India and Kenya.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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