18 December 2010

Some caveats of using low-threshold animation tools instructionally

I've been looking for good examples of using animation tools like Xtranormal and GoAnimator instructionally. I haven't found too many so far. I like the idea of students using them to do digital storytelling or to create role-plays. Even adults don't like to do role-plays, so one way to get around that would be to have them direct and script them. A learner-build role-play, hosted on a web site, with commenting features also adds an audience interaction channel.

From the Xtranormal examples saw, I'd say there are a few instructionally relevant caveats to keep in mind.

When language is important
For any kind of instruction in which using language "properly" is important (e.g. disciplines like foreign languages, ESL, communication, journalism), the text to speech function is problematic because it produces a range of language inaccuracies. Learners learning to speak or write "correctly" are interacting with what could be described as faulty content. For example, the software doesn't always interpret text correctly. A word can be grammatically and semantically incorrect, or even unintelligible. In this example, the word higher in higher education is pronounce higger.  Xtranormal's robotic prosody can also impede comprehension.

A simple solution around these issues would be to provide a written transcript of the script. Another would be to use the software's inaccuracies as non-examples.

When content can be presented in a scenario
Sarcastic and snarky scripts and direction that playoff of the Xtranormal's wry outputs work best. That's a matter of taste though; I like that kind of humor. Humor is a good teaching tool, but it's risky too. It's may not be worth the time investment if you're unsure it will deliver.

A good script with appropriate body gestures and camera movement (i.e. direction) is essential. We are all very used to experiencing video and film grammar, but that doesn't mean we can all produce it.
I didn't find overtly instructional scripts a good use of the platform. This is where storytelling-using analogies and metaphors, etc., is important as well as understanding the grammar and instructional uses of moving pictures.

The learning outcome should be attainable in words, which makes the whole reason to use the software a bit dubious. Even with a well directed scenario, the software is rather primitive. Avatars have a very limited capacity to interact with the environment and each other. You can't really demonstrate phenomena, which is a reason for using video in the first place. This non-example on sexual harassement has one character talking about (i.e., not demonstrating) an example of harassment. In it he says "here's an example of unacceptable physical contact in the workplace", then goes on to describe it. As a learner, I would expect to see it demonstrated too. As mentioned before, we have ingrained expectations of video and film, so when it doesn't deliver we disengage very quickly.

I love new media that do something novel and easily. And I really do want them to be instructionally beneficial not just the animated gifs of the 21st century.