Using Smart Tables to Enhance Arabic Language Learning

Research areas:
Type of Publication:
In Proceedings
Book/Proc. title:
1st Early Education and Technology for Children Conference
Across the Arab world, Classical Arabic, and its derived form, Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), are perceived as the “high” form of language, whereas the local “dialects” are usually perceived negatively. In Qatar, this discrepancy between the two forms of Arabic is further reinforced by the fact that MSA is taught in schools as the official language and used in official documents, as well as in news channels (e.g., Al Jazeera), whereas the dialect is used in all aspects of everyday life including the verbal communication between teachers and students. This diaglossic problem presents itself from the early grades of elementary school, but it is not being dealt with until students move to secondary school. By then, MSA and dialect are treated as two different languages, as it is difficult for the student to identify the connections between them. In most cases, the outdated teaching material adds to the problem, although one of our co-authors has proposed a new curriculum in Qatar aimed at enhancing MSA learning in elementary students. Parallel to curricular reform, a three-year project is currently underway to utilize the affordances of technology-enhanced learning tools, in order to reform Arabic instruction in young students. This presentation will report on the first pilot study from this project. More specifically, we are designing modules based on the story of Aladdin, a famous and loved story among young Arabic children. The learning environment will combine adapted short episodes of the story and intervening learning activities. The use of appealing images, themed music, and capturing voices will get students’ attention. The educational games will be age-appropriate so that the students will feel confident they are able to complete them and advance to the next episode. User satisfaction from the continuation of the story and the game rewards could increase engagement. Understanding the relevance between the activities and the learning goals is the most difficult issue to tackle, as the students have to possess the metacognitive skill to understand how this kind of activity can fulfill their goals (i.e., learning MSA, a goal that is not always shared among the students!). The teacher and a list of learning goals could help in this direction. Going deeper into the activities, we feel that it is important to teach the children from a very young age that they are members of a bigger community, which is why we focus our attention on collaboration games. However, extra attention is needed in designing the educational game, as we do not want to have students with strong personality or higher level of knowledge to overshadow others during the game. Following Dillenbourg’s SWISH model (acronym of “Split When Interaction Should Happen”), no student will be able to complete an activity on their own. Hence, students will have to decide their next action and actually perform it in collaboration (e.g., moving two identical objects at the same time to different hot spots). Another characteristic that we are planning to implement in the games is competition between student groups. In this way we can increase engagement, although the level of competition should not act against the learning objectives. Even the losing teams will go forward to the next episode, while the winners will get an extra reward that will not interfere with the learning objectives of the next phase (e.g., change Aladdin’s skills or choose from alternative next episodes). Finally, we had to decide on the technology that we would use. First of all, we needed a system that can support collaboration. This means many users, interacting at the same time. Second, the system had to be user-friendly, having in mind that our users are 7-year-olds with limited computer experience (use of mouse and keyboard). Third, it had to be ergonomic to support the formation of groups of students in the classroom. Based on the above, we decided to use surface computers, and more specifically SMART Tables, as they can fulfil our design needs.

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