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Kinect: Toy or Classroom Tool?

Friday, April 25, 2014 -- Scott Sterling

The gamification of educational tools is a big movement among software developers and other providers of classroom supplements. The theory is that students cannot get enough of the video games they have at home, so if we can make ed software more like video games then students can’t help but be engaged. Then we slip some content in.

The other side of the coin is the creative educators who are actually using traditional video games in the classroom to meet their learning goals (we discussed the use of Minecraft last week). That’s where the Kinect, Microsoft’s motion capture device for their Xbox video game system and Windows computers, comes in.

How it works

You’ve probably seen one at your nearest electronics store. The Kinect looks like the head of the robot from the 80’s movie Short Circuit. You perch it above your monitor or TV screen and stand about 10-15 feet away. Then, as you move, your character moves in the game. No special suits or control pads required. The goal is complete immersion, along with some aerobic and fitness benefits.

Games usually have to be developed especially for the Kinect. There are obviously a lot of sports games available, as well as games in which characters have to move around an environment and perform tasks. Dancing and fitness games are also available.

Where education comes in

So far, this doesn’t sound very educational (except for PE classes). First, the Kinect is a boon for special ed classes working with disabled students needing to improve their motor skills, coordination, and hand-eye coordination.

Second, it hits the very difficult kinesthetic modality. Some students simply learn better by moving their bodies. Most teachers only give the kids stretch breaks and other time wasters in an attempt to fire those synapses. With the right task, movement can accomplish learning goals as well.

So where are these lessons and games?

A simple Google search for “Kinect lesson plans” can open a whole new world of possibilities, but most of those links will point to one place: KinectEDucation. It’s a huge repository of lesson ideas and actual games that can be used with the Kinect for all sorts of subject areas and content topics, many of which you wouldn’t think could apply to your curriculum. Microsoft also keeps its own repository of lesson ideas.

Because Microsoft has released the source code for the Kinect, developers (including educators) are free to come up with their own ideas for games. Many of these games are available free while others might need a nominal donation.