It’s been well over two years since much work was done on the CalDys2 web site. Partly, this was due to burn out on my part; the end of the project was fraught with difficulties in producing the final report. This was not helped by an extended period of “fine tooth comb” auditing of the whole project by the EU funders a year later. Sad to say, they clawed back a significant amount of the project, sometimes due to errors in accounting by our partners, and a few of our own, but the most hurtful element was discounting time that had been legitimately spent in good faith; in the end we probably lost about 13% of the total budget in the audit, in addition to earlier “adjustments” of the downward type.
So, I as principal investigator had rather had enough of CalDys2 until recently. I had organised the movement of the server from the old Newport machines when the University of Wales, Newport merged with the University of Glamorgan to form the University of South Wales (USW) in 2013. I had been maintaining the Drupal web site with patches and security updates, and generally making sure the regular spam accounts were deleted, as well as (gratifyingly) dealing with legitimate requests for new users; there has been a steady trickle of such requests, which means the web site is still being used 🙂 but clearly not as much as it was in the peak period in 2011/12. It was more care-taking than anything, even though I was still committed to the idea of games for learning language. An effectively new job – due to the relocation to Trefforest Campus where I am now based – and competing draws on my time, prevented me spending much time on CalDys2 beyond regular maintenance.
However, I missed the research, and was seeing the rise of sites, such as Memrise, and iOS/Android games, like Elevate, that were only now reproducing some of the functionality that we had back in 2010! Added to that, the web browser, flash delivered games that were developed for CalDys2 – a design choice, in fact, to tie the games to the servers, using bespoke scripts – were going to start showing their age at some point soon. So, I decided we needed to explore a more platform agnostic technology; one that would work in browsers, but also (hopefully) on tablets and smart phones. While maintaining the server connection for the bespoke data, the long term goal would be for installable Apps to be used that could still interface with the server. Several Apps use this model now, with games/activities downloaded into a shell on the user’s phone or tablet.
What I am now working on, with some undergraduate students, is an experimental HTML5 suite of games – two initially – which have been funded by a Learning & Teaching grant to investigate the use of games for Welsh language learning. To that end, we have now added Welsh to the CalDys2 web site (with some pages still to be translated), and will be replacing two of the existing games, which are little more than placeholders, with these new HTML5 based games. The first of these will be “Flappy Word”, a letter collecting game based upon the titular “Flappy Bird”, where players have to spell out words by collecting appropriate letters. This is mostly aimed at spelling and vocabulary, like Lettris and Word-o-matic, and is quite twitchy, as it relies upon some degree of dexterity.
The second game is more complex, being set in a haunted house. The players take the part of a ghost who must use limited communication to guide an Non-Player Character (NPC) character through an old mansion house, using only Knock (Yes) and Knock Knock (No) for telling the player what to do. The first part of this interaction is to allow the NPC to discover an object or objects that will achieve a goal; the end result being the release of the spirit from its Earthly prison. This interaction will be in the form of a Hot/Cold game, with the player having to explore the house to find objects, which will measure the ability to match words in different languages and relate them to language neutral images. The second, more ambitious interaction will be to answer a series of Yes/No questions about an object, which will test/stretch the player’s comprehension of an object. An example of this sort of play interaction is the Akinator, which can guess a character from a series of questions.
More details to come. Exciting times for language learning games!