This week saw the publication of the Irish Times 50 Most Influential People in Education List. It got me thinking as to those individuals who may not necessarily have an immediate level of influence but whose work could impact significantly on the way in which our children learn in the future. Someone who would definitely appear on my list would be Stephen Howell, Lecturer in Computer Science, Institute of Technology Tallaght.
Anyone who meets Stephen at one of his Scratch workshops can only be blown away by his infectious enthusiasm and passion for programming. As a result his workshops are usually oversubscribed and it’s no surprise that he’s fast becoming the “go to” guy for Scratch. And, not just in Ireland. Stephen recently spoke at the Scratch Day Madrid event and will be hosting a workshop at the Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh later this month. Scratch is the open source programming tool for children developed by MIT; it’s an intuitive, almost lego like tool that allows users to dispense with the long and often laborious coding associated with programming. Stephen appears on my list however, not because of his contribution to the promotion of Scratch in schools, but rather due to his development of his Kinect2Scratch software. This very cool piece of kit allows the Microsoft Kinect peripheral to link to Scratch, in effect allowing the user to become a digital puppeteer with the ability to design their own interactive motion capture games and stories.
The Kinect is the big success story of 2011. Launched in November 2010, by March 2011 it was already confirmed by Guinness World Records as the fastest selling consumer electronics device of all time with sales of 10 million units. For those of you yet to be seduced by the lure of the Kinect, at its heart is a 3D camera which scans your body and imports this data into the Xbox 360 console, effectively allowing you to be the controller. I am convinced that if we are to ensure that all children, regardless of background, develop a high level of digital literacy we need to be looking at adapting gaming technology that is now found in the majority of homes. In the tough economic future that beckons we need to make certain our children become original digital creators rather than simple consumers. Anne McMorrough and Ban Ryan, both teachers with a passion for tech and 21st century learning, have demonstrated the huge potential of this approach with their innovative use of the Nintendo DS and Wii as teaching and learning tools.
As a self confessed open source addict, the cherry on the Kinect2Scratch cake for me is that Stephen has made it freely available. This has also been made easier with the beta release by Microsoft of its Kinect/Windows interface – Windows SDK. So, now your students can become masters of their own digital domain and inhabit and control a game or story designed and programmed by themselves. Now that’s digital literacy! To see how it works – http://vimeo.com/18562642 and for more information – http://scratch.saorog.com/.
You can catch Stephen demonstrating Scratch2Kinect at the following events:
Science Gallery, TCD, October 25th
Defuse IDX,Sugar Club, Dublin, November 4th
Galway Technology & Science Festival, DERI, NUI Galway, November 18th