Teachers in a Vryheid primary school are using Microsoft’s interactive hands-free gaming systems, Xbox Kinect, to improve English literacy among learners.

Microsoft says both learners and teachers have embraced the new technology in the classroom.  Victor Ngobeni, manager of Microsoft’s Africa School Technology Innovation Centre, will present a workshop about the study, which is a world first, at the upcoming African Education Week in Johannesburg from 6-8 July.
The study is taking place at the Lakeside Primary School in Vryheid, KwaZulu-Natal and six Xbox Kinect units were installed in the school’s Grade 1, 2 and 3 classrooms in March.
Ngobeni explains:  “Teachers integrate it into formal lessons two to three hours three times a week. The other time spent playing is purely for enjoyment. Although the games are used in all three learning areas, it appears that numeracy (maths) is being integrated more often than the other two as all the games have scores and these are being used in lessons on counting, number concept, basic operations and data collecting. Games like Kinect Sport, Kinectimals and Joyride have also been used in lessons on road safety, transport, wild animals, pets, diminutives and good sportsmanship.”
The goal of the study is to see a spike in literacy, according to Ngobeni, and already he says all the teachers agree that the kids love it and participate enthusiastically.
“As all the games are in English and have verbal or written instructions, learners are automatically exposed to listening and reading more English. Their vocabulary is extended and they are motivated to interact in English. It is in this interaction that language acquisition takes place coincidentally and informally.”
At the start, the Lakeside Primary School teachers were a little apprehensive as this was new to them, says Ngobeni, “but once they saw the possibilities this technology brought with it, they mellowed into it a little more. Once they saw the excitement on learners’ faces, the boost to confidence levels, the emerging leadership skills and the fun being put back into learning, they were sold.”
Ngobeni explains that the knowledge and experience gained from the study at Lakeside Primary School will be shared with other schools as the concept evolves, and is monitored and evaluated in 2011.
“Already we have found that there is a clear need for more of a variety of games to offer each of the different grades something unique, and we will release the Microsoft code for local games developers later this year, so that they can devise education-centric locally relevant games to the benefit of our youth’s education.”
While budget is often listed as the main stumbling block to getting more technology in education; it is often a matter of how best to support effective learning and teaching as well as prioritising says Ngobeni. “Technology together with other critical success factors like continuous teacher professional development and support has the potential to have a transformative impact on education.  There is a great need for clear leadership, support and guidance to ensure relevant integration of technology into education.”