It wasn't long after the release of the Xbox 360's motion controller Kinect that we started seeing the benefits of Kinect in areas other than just gaming, such as streamlining surgeries, or helping guide people with visual impairments. Now, in a world-first, Microsoft is trialing the benefits of integrating interactive hands-free gaming systems into primary school classrooms, starting with a South African school in the remote district of Vryheid, KwaZulu-Natal.
A brain-child of Microsoft, and funded by Microsoft's Live@Edu, the new pilot programme has seen eight teachers from the Lakeside Park Primary in Vryheid trained and equipped with Xbox 360s and Kinects, which will be used to help engage students - whose first language usually isn't English - through lesson activities that involve English-based games.
"In South Africa’s rural primary schools, the chances are good that a learner’s home language is not English, but rather one of the 10 other official languages," says SchoolNet's Peter de Lisle, who were involved in developing the teacher training materials and selecting the appropriate games. "But in many schools, English is the language of learning from as early as Grade 1. The huge challenge is to create learning experiences which help to bridge this gap, rather than exacerbate it. The teachers saw the promise of Kinect’s English-based games – involving the hesitant young learners in trying the new language, through active involvement in play."
And so far, the results have been inspiring.
"Shy learners, who take months to speak up in class in their mother tongue – let alone in English, were already shouting out to classmates to 'jump' and 'duck' with no inhibition," says Lakeside Park Primary Deputy Principal, Karen Kirsten.
Lakeside Primary may be the guinea pig for now, but this teaching trial could pave the way forward for young learners across the globe. And when it does, remember that it started right here in sunny South Africa.
Update: Added a video released by Microsoft EMEA on the new project.