A Letter – A Story: Interactive Games Digital Environment as Part of a Multimedia Learning Package
The interactive web-based games learning environment “A Letter – A Story” is part of an innovative multimedia learning package aimed at teaching the Greek alphabet through entertainment. The package is produced by the Department of Educational Radio-Television of the Greek Ministry of Education, Lifelong Learning and Religious Affairs: http://www.edutv.gr The interactive games are based on the cartoon educational television series comprising 24 five-minute animated surrealistic stories. Each story corresponds to one of the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet. The multimedia package also includes a printed as well as an e-book interactive game edition, both of which will be developed in the near future. In designing the interactive games, the contemporary trends in emergent literacy and the development of educational objectives outlined by B. Bloom were taken into account. Although the interactive games are targeted at children 5 to 7 years of age; they can also be used by younger children, and can be effectively used in a school class (smart board), a computer lab, and at home. In that “A Letter – A Story” was designed to stimulate most of the senses, it supports students’ active participation and decision-making, gives control to the players, provides opportunities for exploration, reinforces the skills of attention, concentration, seeing, listening, and of course, memory. Through play and active participation, the interactive games aim to reinforce preschool learning skills that lead to progressive written literacy in the first grade, thus meeting educational objectives such as emergent literacy; phonological awareness of the letters; recognition of the written phonetic symbols of the language and their position in words; exposure to the written language; understanding the function of letters in words; listening; and proper production of sounds. [PUBLICATION ABSTRACT]
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Abstract: The interactive web-based games learning environment “A Letter – A Story” is part of an innovative multimedia learning package aimed at teaching the Greek alphabet through entertainment. The package is produced by the Department of Educational Radio-Television of the Greek Ministry of Education, Lifelong Learning and Religious Affairs: http://www.edutv.gr The interactive games are based on the cartoon educational television series comprising 24 five-minute animated surrealistic stories. Each story corresponds to one of the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet. The multimedia package also includes a printed as well as an e-book interactive game edition, both of which will be developed in the near future. In designing the interactive games, the contemporary trends in emergent literacy and the development of educational objectives outlined by B. Bloom were taken into account. Although the interactive games are targeted at children 5 to 7 years of age; they can also be used by younger children, and can be effectively used in a school class (smart board), a computer lab, and at home. In that “A Letter – A Story” was designed to stimulate most of the senses, it supports students’ active participation and decision-making, gives control to the players, provides opportunities for exploration, reinforces the skills of attention, concentration, seeing, listening, and of course, memory. Through play and active participation, the interactive games aim to reinforce preschool learning skills that lead to progressive written literacy in the first grade, thus meeting educational objectives such as emergent literacy; phonological awareness of the letters; recognition of the written phonetic symbols of the language and their position in words; exposure to the written language; understanding the function of letters in words; listening; and proper production of sounds.
This paper presents the pilot application of the interactive web-based games of the first episode of the television series “A Letter – A Story” titled “The Uncombed Cow”, which corresponds to the Greek letter A and its sound.
Keywords: alphabet literacy interactive games animation multimedia
(ProQuest: … denotes non-US-ASCII text omitted.)
1. Interactive games digital environment “A Letter – A Story”
Today’s educational landscape is vastly different from that of yesterday. The production of digital educational material can help teachers to integrate the advantages offered by new technologies into their teaching strategies. New interactive technologies facilitate the creation of an environment in which students can learn through active participation, repetition, and creativity. Research supports the use of technologies in the preschool and first grade levels. The appropriate use of technology by the teacher supports the process of learning and the development of children. Additionally, it gives children the advantage of developing operating literacy in new technologies. (Vanscoter, 2001)
By using original audiovisual material and interactive games, “A Letter – A Story” introduces the children to technology with methods that are compatible with the way they develop and learn. Play is very important for the intellectual development of children, and as such, its role in early education is vital. If computer technology is used appropriately, it can be a positive element for a child’s play and for learning through exploration and experimentation. Interactive games play a strong role in a learning environment because they are very effective learning tools.
The interactive learning environment “A Letter – A Story” is part of a multimedia learning package that is currently being developed. The package is designed to teach the Greek alphabet primarily to kindergarteners and children in the first grade; however, it may also be used to reinforce emergent writing in other levels of preschool education.
The instructional design as well as the choice of methods and means used for the multimedia learning package was based on the contemporary theory and research pertaining to the reinforcement of the continuous process of the progressive development of emergent writing and learning skills. The interactive games were organized on the basis of the cognitive, affective and psychomotor categories of Bloom’s taxonomy.
The complete multimedia learning package is based on traditional as well as new technologies. It includes:
- 24 five-minute animated videos, one for each letter.
- A digital learning environment with interactive games, one for each of the 24 letters.
- An illustrated printed edition of the 24 animated stories.
- An e-book interactive game edition.
1.3 General goals
The multimedia learning package “A Letter – A Story” aims at:
- The acquisition of oral language and vocabulary enrichment.
- The reinforcement and feeling of written language, as well as the enjoyment derived from the sound and meaning of the words.
- The development of phonological and phonemic awareness.
- The learning of the alphabet (letters and their sounds).
The multimedia learning package “A Letter – A Story” is designed to be used:
- In the classroom by the teacher through an interactive board.
- Individually or by two children in the computer lab or in the classroom.
- Individually or by two children at home through a personal computer.
The multimedia learning package “A Letter – A Story” is produced by the Department of Educational Radio-Television of the Greek Ministry of Education, which is well-known for producing learning material that supports the school curriculum and lifelong learning.
Educational Television aims at educational communication. The educational message has form and content and is a result of a design that has taken into account the characteristics and capabilities of the recipients. Thus, educational communication becomes more effective and increases the chances for a successful learning experience, which is the final objective.
Therefore, the use of Educational Television in the educational process is an effective strategy to improve teaching practice by offering a product scientifically designed to provide pupils with a common perceptual experience.
3. “A Letter – A Story”: The cartoon series
Since the interactive games “A Letter – A Story” are based on the homonymous cartoon animation series, a detailed presentation of the series’ profile and its objectives is considered necessary.
The Greek film production has a few examples of animation films for children, despite the fact that, as a means is -along with music- the dearest to them. “A Letter – A Story” is the first series of Greek productions to use cartoon animation to achieve educational goals, concurrently making use of the aspect of entertainment.
Title: “A Letter – A Story”
Number of episodes: 24
Episode Duration: 5 to 6 minutes
Age of Target Audience: Preschool, primary school
Concept – Screenplay – Instructional Design: Sophia Mandouvalou
Direction – Animation – Character Design: Aristarchos Papadaniel
Music: Dimitris Maramis
Educational Supervision: Vicky Panagopoulou, Sophia Mandouvalou
Executive Production: Syllipsis Ltd.
Production: Educational Radio-Television
Greek Ministry of Education, Lifelong Learning and Religious Affairs
The series “A Letter – A Story” aims at learning through entertainment. Children become familiar with letters and sounds of the language through 24 verse-based, humorous, surrealistic, animated stories, which combine educational language with fairytales and television. Each episode is designed within a context of an interdisciplinary and holistic approach to knowledge and thus supports the school curriculum in an innovative, original and attractive way.
3.2 Instructional design of the series
The series is designed especially for preschoolers and first graders, with the goal of introducing them to phonological awareness through exposure to the spoken language of a surrealistic story and the language of animation. The spoken verse reaches their ears as an endless river. Even if some words cannot be understood -for each letter 100-120 words have been used starting with the same phoneme- children understand that the spoken language in this little story, is divided into words, syllables and of course the smaller building block of the word, the phoneme. The perception is reinforced visually by notational and pictorial representation of letters, both as elements of the images within the story, as well as elements within a word. The series can be used as a daily exercise on the sounds of language. (Mandouvalou and Papadaniel, 2011)
3.3 Objectives set for the pupil
3.3.1 Main objectives
- To listen to and enjoy the sounds of the language.
- To discover the letters (uppercase and lowercase) within cheerful shapes of the environment in the story.
- To develop observation within the surrounding environment.
- To enrich vocabulary through exposure to at least 120 words beginning with each letter.
- To use an interdisciplinary approach to knowledge (values, environment, emotional education, social behaviour, etc.).
3.3.2 Secondary objectives
- The perception of how each letter is written.
- The perception of how letters form words.
3.4 Objectives set for the teacher
- To use video material in class.
- To attract the attention of students in a lively and original way.
- To reinforce the creativity of children.
- To utilize the film vocabulary for language activities.
- To approach the film in an interdisciplinary way and implement a work plan.
- To adopt modern teaching techniques.
4. Selection of educational means and methods
The educational film is a composition of television and educational language. Writing a script is an educational and an artistic process. The educational scenario is a “disguised” course, in which the potential of the medium and especially that of the image has been fully utilized in order to communicate knowledge in a direct, attractive and effective way. The teaching methodology is playing an important role in setting up an educational scenario. The core of an educational television program is the lesson plan. The specification of the educational goals makes the task of structuring the scenario and fleshing out of the educational film easier. The teacher, writer and director are taking into account the characteristics of the population targeted and the content, deciding what methods and tools will be used to convey the educational message. (Mandouvalou, 2007)
4.1 Video as an educational medium
Current research supports the view that educational television can be used as an effective means of learning. The question is thus not whether students are learning from TV, but how to effectively use educational videos in the classroom. Educational Television provides an overall stimulus, “all in one medium.” Multiple studies have shown that people tend to remember more when exposed to audiovisual stimuli than when exposed to any other type of sensory stimulus. The results from international surveys indicate without any doubt that students can learn from Educational Television. Television helps retain information more than any other medium. (Eleftheriadis and Mandouvalou, 1984)
We remember: We learn:
10% of what we read 11% by hearing
20% of what we hear 84% through vision
25% of what we see
45% of what we see and hear
4.2 Educational techniques
Playing with new ways of expression, trying new approaches, testing the limits and possibilities -there are always ways to reconcile the personal and the formal and thus offer children another way of understanding and perceiving the world. The techniques we have chosen are rhyme/poetry, humour, animation/visual poetry and music.
4.2.1 Poetry (Mandouvalou, 2009)
Poetry is a delight from the sound of words, a delight from the meaning of the words. A way to say a lot with very few words, a language game. Children derive pleasure from hearing poetry. Considering poetry as the plasticine of language in the classroom, it was decided to use rhyme and rhythm in series scripts. Poetry provides the ideal material for a child to learn the language, as it allows the perception, sensation, and emotion to be expressed in a straightforward manner, turning language into a transparent vehicle. At the same time, however, it directs on language an unusual projector that makes it visible. This is achieved by emphasizing the sounds of language, rhythm, repetition, alliteration, melody; all these elements can be utilized as highly effective mnemonic tools.
Children learn and remember when:
- Sound associated with feeling shakes the traditional forms of written language.
- Sound plays with different concepts, pushing the words out of their usual context, suddenly turning familiar words into words that are unfamiliar and exotic.
- The sound unexpectedly turns everyday situations into entertaining ideas.
For children who learn the language, these aspects of poetry are extremely important. If the language is to be an internal, active means of communication, if logos/verbal expression corresponds to thinking and feeling, children need to associate their own feelings and experiences with it. Thus, the goal is to eventually make language a transparent conductor, a pathway for perceptions, sensations, feelings and experiences to be conveyed. It is equally important during language learning to focus on the shapes and forms of language that will secure its visual recognition.
The plasticity of poetry promotes creativity and spurs the imagination, this valuable intellectual gift that children have in abundance; teachers working with them have the opportunity of treasuring it and remaining children. Clearly, reading and writing poetry can be used as a means of understanding language in great depth throughout all the levels of education.
The scripts of episodes of the series “A Letter – A Story” used poetry as a very powerful teaching tool. Because poetry:
- Offers pleasure and enjoyment to the student.
- Offers new ways to use known words.
- Offers exposure to a broader range of language.
- Helps to focus on phonology and intonation, on the sounds and rhythms of the language.
- Recycles and repeats the language naturally.
- Gives access to new ideas and knowledge.
- Develops feelings and imagination.
- Fosters and captivates humour.
- Stimulates production of speech and creativity.
Humour is the perception of things and life in a funny and comical way. In the series scripts, this aspect was expressed through clever, witty, surrealistic verse. Humour as an art of communication in the hands of the teacher can become a very effective learning tool since it keeps the students’ interest alive and teaches them through enjoyment. However, humour should not disrupt students’ attention. On the contrary, it should provide the element of surprise, which challenges their interest. (Garner and Houston, 2005)
Modern educational theories support the use of humour in educational practice. The use of humour as a pedagogical tool that enhances learning is supported by many studies. Humour creates a better learning environment, increases the interest and attention of pupils with its characteristic elements of analogy and metaphor, and enhances understanding and retention of information. (Kolberg and Loomans, 2002)
Research findings support the view that music promotes literacy. Those who work with children know that they are naturally connected, “tuned” to sound and rhythm. Oral language combines social interaction and music is a natural way that allows children to experience the richness of language. Music and songs bring children close, thus reinforcing the social bonds, which are developed in Preschool and Primary School age. It has also been studied that music reinforces the mnemonic and auditory skills, such as the differentiation of the sounds of the language. According to further research, music makes the brain more receptive to learning since it joins the functions of the right and left hemispheres so the two of them co-operate and make the reception of the information faster and easier. The sound itself is a psychological phenomenon. The music experience creates pleasant sentiments, which challenge the child to repeat it. (Levitin, 2006)
Animation or, as it is called, the 8th of the Arts, is highly attractive to children, since it is unique in making the televised learning experience exciting. The 8th art is characterized by several techniques from which the two-dimensional digital animation was selected; a technique that can integrate harmonically in its design the two-dimensional form of letters, as taught in school. (Vasiliadis, 2006) The use of animation as the technique of achieving the objectives of the series was made because the concepts of metamorphosis and transformation can be fully applied, thereby efficiently supporting metaphors, similes, and the surrealistic references of speech that make the text more lively and interesting. The animation is the absolute art of visual poetry, which combined with music and rhyme of course, is likely to create very powerful images that can become symbolic and emblematic, hence resulting in greater retention of information. (Culhane, 1988. Wells, 2005. Papadaniel, 2007/2008) Animation is based on the use of motion in relation to time. In education this relation can be utilized as the best kinaesthetic learning process. Through animation techniques, abstract symbols are given life and soul and concepts are visualized, thus becoming actors in action. At the same time the child is invited to take part in the visual action. TV more than any other medium has the ability to create a challenge, to invite to participation, to raise the interest and motivate the child in a way different from other media, attracting most of the senses. (Mandouvalou, 1977) Research findings support the use of animation technique as a teaching tool for children. The visual stimulus through animation helps young children direct their attention to those characteristics that improve the learning of the educational material by making this material part of the visual action. Furthermore, the animistic environment of the film, akin to the imaginary world of preschool and primary school children ideally supports the process of knowledge acquisition. (Lowe, 2005)
5. Effective use of the educational series “A Letter – A Story”
Taking advantage of the educational series “A Letter – A Story” in the classroom requires the active participation of teachers and pupils. Preparation on the part of the teacher is also necessary.
The Educational Television program is designed to meet the needs of the school curriculum. Television as a means of learning is most effective when used in an appropriate framework of teaching activities in the classroom.
6. Access to the cartoon animation series
- Via the website of the Educational Television: http://www.edutv.gr (video on demand)
- Through an open circuit: ERT Channel | Greek Parliament Channel | Satellite ERT (ERT WORLD) and local TV channels
- By Service video Greek School Network: http://www.sch.gr/vod (video on demand)
- Through EduTubePlus (European hybrid, multilingual video-based service for schools) (video on demand)
- Through YouTube (EducationalTVGreece Channel)
- Through Vimeo (Educational Television-Greece Channel)
7. Interactive language environment “A Letter – A Story”
The educational cartoon animation series “A Letter – A Story” became the basis for the development of a multimedia learning package, which is part of the Interactive Learning Environment. The interactive games are designed around the visual and verbal material of the animated series.
7.1 Educational design – rationale
Before the design of the interactive games the questions posed were “What do we want our learners to be able to remember and utilize after the game experience, and what learning strategies we will follow to achieve it?”. For the development of objectives and appropriate learning strategies best matched to the target group we found the revised Bloom’s taxonomy in learning and information design process. The three learning categories of cognitive, psychomotor and affective domains and the sub-categories of ”learned capabilities or conditions of learning” included in each one of them were taken into account. The children learn by doing simple or more complex tasks provided by the interactive games and show immediate performance learning outcomes.
The interactive games designed as a part of a multimedia package based on the series ”A Letter – A Story” combine visual, auditory and tactile learning. An attempt was made to introduce not only the conventional but also the digital application of Bloom’s learning taxonomy. A taxonomy, which follows the thinking process: to understand a concept you should first remember it. To apply knowledge you have first to understand it. The kids participate in activities associated with Bloom’s learning objectives, moving from lower order thinking to higher order thinking. From Knowledge (recall, repeat, identify, recognize, name, locate, select information, highlight, etc.) to Comprehension (understand, match, relate, classify, compare, etc.) to Application (load, play, use, execute, operate, applying a known procedure, following directions, complete a picture, etc.), to Analysis (compare, find, structure, integrate, categorize, differentiate etc.) and to Evaluation (judge, review, critique) as well as to Creation (design, produce, animate).
The interactive games design takes into account the affective and psychomotor way of learning. For example, satisfaction from the reward of correct responding, listening and/or remembering (affective domain) and the use of sensory cues to guide motor activity, writing, dancing etc. (psychomotor domain).
The interactive learning environment of the series “A Letter – A Story” is targeted at children aged 5 to 7 years, though it does not exclude younger children and can be used as a supporting educational tool in school as well as at home. Since the target group does not have the same level of skills, different digital activities have been designed to meet different levels.
The Interactive Learning Environment includes:
- Games with Letters (emergent literacy, recognition of letters and their position in the word etc.)
- The Magic Pencil Games (perception of how each letter is written and application)
- Games with Sounds, (phonological awareness of the sounds of letters and language, verbal development through singing and repetition)
- Sign Language Alphabet Games
- Ideas and Educational Material for and from the Teacher
7.3 Pedagogical characteristics (Rieber and Kini, 1991. Mayer, 2001)
The Interactive Learning Environment:
- Reinforces the combined use of the majority of the senses (vision, hearing, touch)
- Supports the active learning through playing, thus giving children the opportunity for decision- making.
- Gives control to the child, offering the possibility of learning through exploration.
- Contributes to the cognitive maturity of the child, reinforcing his/her abilities for attention, concentration, visual and acoustic perception, and memory.
- Reinforces the learning of the letters and their sounds, providing acoustic or visual feedback [verbal reward (“bravo!”), visual reward (stars) etc.]
(Adams, 1990. Ball and Blachman, 1991. Porpodas, 1991. Charles and Dickinson, 1999)
- Reinforcement of preschool learning skills, which lead to the progressive acquisition of the written language in primary school age children.
- Emergent literacy through games by active participation of the child.
- Phonological awareness of the letters and mastering of writing and reading.
- Perception of the written representation of the phonological structure of the corresponding oral word.
- Progressive transition from emergent to conventional literacy.
- Creation of positive child’s relationship with the written language.
- Recognition of graphonemic language symbols and their position in the word through a total of visual, acoustic, psychomotor and reading skills as well.
- Acquaintance with oral and written language through interaction with graphic and acoustic stimuli.
- Perception and right production of the sounds of language.
- Exposition to written language, in order for the child to comprehend the operation of letters in the word.
- Development of phonological awareness in the level of syllable and phoneme through the repetition of multi-syllable words and the isolation of the first sound of the word.
8. Access to the Interactive Games Learning Environment
Via the website of the Educational Television: http://www.i-create.gr
Such a huge and innovative educational project as “A Letter – A Story” could not have been materialized without the loyalty and support of people that could influence the production progress. Therefore, acknowledgements should be given to the consecutive Directors of the Department of Educational Radio-Television of the Ministry of Education: Dr Effie Mavromichali and Assistant Director Mr Kostas Tzavaras for their enthusiastic support of the cartoon animation series production from its beginning, Mrs Anastasia Gkika, for her contribution to the continuation of the series production and Dr. Betty Tsakarestou for her contribution to broadening the educational value of the series by supporting the Digital Interactive Multimedia Learning Package production.
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Sophia Mandouvalou1 and Aristarchos Papadaniel2
1Educational Radio-Television; Greek Ministry of Education, Lifelong Learning
and Religious Affairs, Athens, Greece
2Syllipsis Ltd., Creative Productions and Publications, Athens, Greece
Sophia Mandouvalou studied Developmental Psychology, Educational Technology and Film Direction. Author of literature for children and adults (awards, translations). Scriptwriter of many programmes for Educational Television. Since 1979 she works in the Department of Educational Radio/Television of the Greek Ministry of Education, designing, writing and producing educational material.
Aristarchos Papadaniel has studied Tourism Business Administration, Graphic Design, and Animation. He is the Author of the book “Greek Political Caricature – The Serious Side of a ‘Funny’ Art” and creator of the Greek flipbook series “Pocket Cinema”. Co-founder of the creative studio Syllipsis, where he produces animation, illustration and visual communication.