Connect with us

Gaming

ObjectiveEd is building a better digital curriculum for vision-impaired kids – TechCrunch

Published

on

Children with vision impairments struggle to get a solid K-12 education for a lot of reasons — so the more tools their teachers have to impart basic skills and concepts, the better. ObjectiveEd is a startup that aims to empower teachers and kids with a suite of learning games accessible to all vision levels, along with tools to track and promote progress.

Some of the reasons why vision-impaired kids don’t get the education they deserve are obvious, for example that reading and writing are slower and more difficult for them than for sighted kids. But other reasons are less obvious, for example that teachers have limited time and resources to dedicate to these special needs students when their overcrowded classrooms are already demanding more than they can provide.

Technology isn’t the solution, but it has to be part of the solution, because technology is so empowering and kids take to it naturally. There’s no reason a blind 8-year-old can’t also be a digital native like her peers, and that presents an opportunity for teachers and parents both.

This opportunity is being pursued by Marty Schultz, who has spent the last few years as head of a company that makes games targeted at the visually impaired audience, and in the process saw the potential for adapting that work for more directly educational purposes.

“Children don’t like studying and don’t like doing their homework,” he told me. “They just want to play video games.”

It’s hard to argue with that. True of many adults too, for that matter. But as Schultz points out, this is something educators have realized in recent years and turned to everyone’s benefit.

“Almost all regular education teachers use educational digital games in their classrooms and about 20% use it every day,” he explained. “Most teachers report an increase in student engagement when using educational video games. Gamification works because students own their learning. They have the freedom to fail, and try again, until they succeed. By doing this, students discover intrinsic motivation and learn without realizing it.”

Having learned to type, point and click, do geometry and identify countries via games, I’m a product of this same process, and many of you likely are as well. It’s a great way for kids to teach themselves. But how many of those games would be playable by a kid with vision impairment or blindness? Practically none.

Held back

It turns out that these kids, like others with disabilities, are frequently left behind as the rising technology tide lifts everyone else’s boats. The fact is it’s difficult and time-consuming to create accessible games that target things like Braille literacy and blind navigation of rooms and streets, so developers haven’t been able to do so profitably and teachers are left to themselves to figure out how to jury-rig existing resources or, more likely, fall back on tried and true methods like printed worksheets, in-person instruction and spoken testing.

And because teacher time is limited and instructors trained in vision-impaired learning are thin on the ground, these outdated methods are also difficult to cater to an individual student’s needs. For example a kid may be great at math but lack directionality skills. You need to draw up an “individual education plan” (IEP) explaining (among other things) this and what steps need to be taken to improve, then track those improvements. It’s time-consuming and hard! The idea behind ObjectiveEd is to create both games that teach these basic skills and a platform to track and document progress as well as adjust the lessons to the individual.

How this might work can be seen in a game like Barnyard, which like all of ObjectiveEd’s games has been designed to be playable by blind, low-vision or fully sighted kids. The game has the student finding an animal in a big pen, then dragging it in a specified direction. The easiest levels might be left and right, then move on to cardinal directions, then up to clock directions or even degrees.

“If the IEP objective is ‘Child will understand left versus right and succeed at performing this task 90% of the time,’ the teacher will first introduce these concepts and work with the child during their weekly session,” Schultz said. That’s the kind of hands-on instruction they already get. “The child plays Barnyard in school and at home, swiping left and right, winning points and getting encouragement, all week long. The dashboard shows how much time each child is playing, how often, and their level of success.”

That’s great for documentation for the mandated IEP paperwork, and difficulty can be changed on the fly as well:

“The teacher can set the game to get harder or faster automatically, or move onto the next level of complexity automatically (such as never repeating the prompt when the child hesitates). Or the teacher can maintain the child at the current level and advance the child when she thinks it’s appropriate.”

This isn’t meant to be a full-on K-12 education in a tablet app. But it helps close the gap between kids who can play Mavis Beacon or whatever on school computers and vision-impaired kids who can’t.

Practical measures

Importantly, the platform is not being developed without expert help — or, as is actually very important, without a business plan.

“We’ve developed relationships with several schools for the blind as well as leaders in the community to build educational games that tackle important skills,” Schultz said. “We work with both university researchers and experienced Teachers of Visually Impaired students, and Certified Orientation and Mobility specialists. We were surprised at how many different skills and curriculum subjects that teachers really need.”

Based on their suggestions, for instance, the company has built two games to teach iPhone gestures and the accessibility VoiceOver rotor. This may be a proprietary technology from Apple, but it’s something these kids need to know how to use, just like they need to know how to run a Google search, use a mouse without being able to see the screen, and other common computing tasks. Why not learn it in a game like the other stuff?

Making technological advances is all well and good, but doing so while building a sustainable business is another thing many education startups have failed to address. Fortunately, public school systems actually have significant money set aside specifically for students with special needs, and products that improve education outcomes are actively sought and paid for. These state and federal funds can’t be siphoned off to use on the rest of the class, so if there’s nothing to spend them on, they go unused.

ObjectiveEd has the benefit of being easily deployed without much specialty hardware or software. It runs on iPads, which are fairly common in schools and homes, and the dashboard is a simple web one. Although it may eventually interface with specialty hardware like Braille readers, it’s not necessary for many of the games and lessons, so that lowers the deployment bar as well.

The plan for now is to finalize and test the interface and build out the games library — ObjectiveEd isn’t quite ready to launch, but it’s important to build it with constant feedback from students, teachers and experts. With luck, in a year or two the visually-impaired youngsters at a school near you might have a fun new platform to learn and play with.

“ObjectiveEd exists to help teachers, parents and schools adapt to this new era of gamified learning for students with disabilities, starting with blind and visually impaired students,” Schultz said. “We firmly believe that well-designed software combined with ‘off-the-shelf’ technology makes all this possible. The low cost of technology has truly revolutionized the possibilities for improving education.”

Source link

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Gaming

Marvel drops first teaser for Shang-Chi and the Legend of Ten Rings

Published

on

Simu Liu stars as a martial artist trying to escape his past in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.

A young man who once trained as an assassin for a Chinese criminal organization discovers just how hard it can be to escape one’s past in the first teaser for Marvel Studios’ upcoming film, Shang-Chi and the Legend of Ten Rings, part of the MCU’s Phase Four. Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, it is the first Marvel film to feature an Asian lead—Simu Liu, best known for his role as Jung Kim on the sitcom Kim’s Convenience—as well as a predominantly Asian/Asian diaspora cast and crew.

The title character first appeared in a Marvel comic in 1973, after the company had tried and failed to acquire the comic book rights for the popular 1970s TV show Kung Fu (starring David Carradine). Modeled in part on Bruce Lee, Shang-Chi was originally the son of Chinese criminal mastermind Dr. Fu Manchu, trained in martial arts since childhood to become an assassin. After Marvel lost the rights to the Fu Manchu character, Shang-Chi’s paternity became murkier, but the international crime lord theme was common—although his father was revealed to be an ancient immortal sorcerer in the Secret Avengers storyline.

Shang-Chi has not traditionally had special superpowers, but his training in multiple styles of martial arts and assorted weaponry makes him a formidable opponent and a useful ally. Plus, he is a master of chi, making him even stronger and faster—fast enough to dodge bullets. When he eventually joins forces with the Avengers in the comics, Tony Stark gives him a pair of bracelets to further focus his chi (as well as some snazzy high-tech nunchaku).

Back in the 1980s, Stan Lee had preliminary discussions with the late actor Brandon Lee about portraying Shang-Chi in a film adaptation, but no concrete project ever transpired. The Ten Rings organization was briefly name-checked in 2008’s Iron Man, and the infamous Marvel supervillain the Mandarin made an appearance in Iron Man 3—or rather, Ben Kingsley played Trevor Slattery, an imposter posing as the Mandarin. For Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Marvel created an entirely new character, Wenwu, who has gone by many names over the years—including the Mandarin.

In addition to Liu, the film stars Awkwafina (Crazy Rich Asians) as Shang-Chi’s best friend, Katy, and none other than Hong Kong superstar Tony Leung (Hard Boiled, Chungking Express, Hero, and so on) as his father, Wenwu, aka the Mandarin. Meng’er Zhang plays Xialing, Shang-Chi’s estranged sister; Florian Munteanu (Creed II, Borderlands) plays Razor Fist; Ronny Chieng (Crazy Rich Asians, Bliss) plays another pal, Jon Jon; and Fala Chen (The Undoing) plays Jiang Li. Michelle Yeoh (Star Trek: Discovery) plays a character named Jiang Nan, having previously played a different MCU role (Aleta Ogord) in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. There’s also a masked character dubbed Death Dealer; Marvel has not yet revealed who plays him.

Based on this teaser and what little is known so far, the film appears to borrow a few elements from the Ultimate Marvel universe, among other storylines, and possibly the wuxia-inspired Secret Wars (2015) as well. We hear Leung’s voice as the Mandarin in a voiceover, admonishing his son for “wasting” the last 10 years. Shang-Chi works as a parking valet for a posh hotel when he isn’t hanging out with Katy singing karaoke tunes.

That carefree existence is about to end. “I trained you so the most dangerous people in the world couldn’t kill you,” we hear the Mandarin say. “But it’s time for you to take your place by my side.” Shang-Chi stubbornly refuses the offer—or is it a command? He just might learn, as his father says, that “you can’t outrun who you really are.”

Shang-Chi and the Legend of Ten Rings is currently slated for release on September 3, 2021. As of this writing, it will be solely a theatrical release.

Listing image by YouTube/Marvel

Continue Reading

Gaming

Sony reverses course, keeps legacy PlayStation online stores open

Published

on

The store has received a stay of execution on the PS3 and Vita…

Just three weeks ago, Sony announced its plans to shut down the digital stores for the PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable, and PlayStation Vita, effective this summer. Today, Sony partially reversed course, with Sony Interactive Entertainment President and CEO Jim Ryan writing in a blog post that “it’s clear that we made the wrong decision here.”

As such, the PS4 and Vita online stores will continue operations, Ryan said, while the PSP store will still shut down as planned on July 2. PS3 and Vita players will continue to be able to purchase games through the hardware itself, while web-based versions of those stores will seemingly remain closed following their shutdown last month.

“When we initially came to the decision to end purchasing support for PS3 and PS Vita, it was born out of a number of factors, including commerce support challenges for older devices and the ability for us to focus more of our resources on newer devices where a majority of our gamers are playing on,” Ryan wrote. “We see now that many of you are incredibly passionate about being able to continue purchasing classic games on PS3 and PS Vita for the foreseeable future, so I’m glad we were able to find a solution to continue operations.”

Ryan didn’t set any new timeline for the PS3 and Vita store support, so it’s not clear just how long of a reprieve this will be in the end. But nothing lasts forever in the world of corporate-controlled servers, as shown by the continuation of plans to shut down the PSP store. That will come over 16 years after the PSP launched in North America and nearly 13 years after the PSP first got support for direct game downloads through a firmware update. Sony officially stopped producing PSP hardware in Japan in 2014, while PS3 production lasted until 2017 and Vita production lasted until 2019.

A sigh of relief

In the wake of Sony’s closure announcement, many online sources had begun compiling lists of the best games to download before the legacy PlayStation Store stores went offline for good. A VGC analysis suggested over 2,000 digital-only titles would become inaccessible if those stores shut down, including 138 that were not available on any other platforms. Other observers noted how piracy would become the only way to preserve some of these games in the wake of the shutdown.

As The Gamer noted, the planned Vita store shutdown also threatened to stop the production of some Vita games that were (and now are) still in development. “We’re way past the point where it makes a ton of financial sense to release on Vita, but it’s one of my all-time favorite consoles and I wanted to release a game on it before everything shut down,” Spooky Squid Games developer Miguel Sternberg told the site regarding a planned Vita port of Russian Subway Dogs.

Sony has still remained silent on a longer-term problem that could eventually make digital PS3 titles and all PS4 titles unplayable if and when Sony decides to stop supporting those consoles’ PSN connections. Recent testing by concerned players suggests that same problem could affect all digital PS5 games and some physical PS5 discs at an unknown point in the future.

Sony’s decision to change course comes months after Microsoft quickly reversed plans to raise the price of Xbox Live after strong fan backlash to the idea. “We messed up today and you were right to let us know,” Microsoft said of that turnaround.

Continue Reading

Gaming

Nintendo sues Bowser (not that one) over Team Xecuter’s Switch hacks

Published

on

Enlarge / A prototype SX Core device soldered to a Nintendo Switch motherboard.

Team Xeceuter

Months after his arrest on 11 felony counts last year, Nintendo has filed a civil lawsuit against Gary “GaryOPA” Bowser, the leader of notorious Switch hacking group Team Xecuter, in a Seattle federal court.

The suit (as obtained by Polygon) seeks significant monetary damages and disgorgement of all profits from Team Xecuter’s sale of the piracy-enabling SX OS software and a line of hardware devices that use various exploits to install the OS on Switch units. The suit alleges that “at one point, the SX OS was pre-installed on 89% of modded/hacked Nintendo Switch products available for sale,” though the suit doesn’t provide a source for that number.

The lawsuit calls out Bowser as “one of only a handful of key members of Team Xecuter,” and it quotes Ars’ own assessment (without credit) that Bowser is “the closest thing to a public face for the team of coders and foreign manufacturers that made up the [Team Xecuter] supply chain.” In promoting and selling SX OS, Bowser “worked with a network of developers; established a distribution chain of resellers, testers, and websites; and designed the marketing and content of other public-facing websites for Team Xecuter,” the suit alleges.

The Team Xecuter website (and a number of URLs that pointed to it) were “largely under [Bowser’s] control,” according to the lawsuit. A handful of hand-picked moderators also provided assistance. The suit notes that “after Defendant’s arrest, no additional posts were ever made to Team-xecuter.com.” That site, which remained up as recently as January, has started returning a database connection error in recent months.

Bowser has “continued to thumb his nose at the law,” Nintendo says, providing circumvention tools to resellers and “forcing Nintendo into a game of whack-a-mole” to try to shut down their distribution at the retail level.

A history of hacking

Team Xecuter has been involved in the console hacking scene since the days of the original Xbox. The group drew its fair share of controversy in that scene even before Bowser and two of his associates were arrested as part of an international manhunt last October.

That’s in part because the group profits from what are otherwise generally open source efforts to identify and publicize vulnerabilities in console hardware. Team Xecuter also markets its devices with a specific focus on decrypting and copying legitimate software, while open source hackers tend to keep the focus on installing homebrew software and custom firmware that doesn’t directly enable piracy.

In 2018, Kate Temkin, who worked with Team ReSwitched on the Switch’s original Fusee Gelée exploit, told Ars that she “strongly disagree[s] with the idea of hiding software exploits and then releasing modchips that use (potentially obfuscated) versions of them,” as Team Xecuter does. “I think it’s both unethical—as it gives malicious actors a chance to pick up and use the vulnerabilities before they can be addressed or public knowledge can spread—and against the spirit of knowledge-exchange we want to see in the console-hacking community.”

Aside from monetary damages that could easily run into hundreds of thousands of dollars, Nintendo is asking that Bowser give up his control of the Team Xecuter website and its URLs and turn over every SX OS hacking device in his possession.

Continue Reading

Trending