Blog Post

Introduction and Unity Project

Introduction and Unity Project

My first post: information, projects, and goals

Thank you for visiting my blog! I'd like to use this first entry to introduce myself and to speak briefly about one of my projects this year. I am a fourth-year graduate student in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at Vanderbilt University, located in Nashville, Tennessee, U.S.A. Although I am currently taking seminars, I have been preparing for doctoral exams and my dissertation, which I hope to complete within two years. My plan is to study novels written within the last ten years in Argentina and Brazil, with the goal of understanding how authors are reflecting on national identity during periods of transition in each country (Argentina suffering profound social and economic changes, and Brazil seeking to present itself as an increasingly important actor in global relations, despite a series of challenges).

During my time at Vanderbilt, I have taught introductory and intermediate Spanish and introductory Portuguese language courses. As I'm always looking for new ways to make my classes more engaging and effective, I try to keep up with the latest technology. As part of my Graduate Student Affiliate position at the Vanderbilt Center for Second Language Studies (http://www.vanderbilt.edu/csls/), I am involved in a number of projects and working groups. My colleagues and I, together with my mentor, Todd Hughes (http://www.hastac.org/users/toddhughes), are working with TEI markup (http://www.tei-c.org/index.xml), Neatline / Omeka (http://omeka.org/), 123D Catch (http://www.123dapp.com/catch), and ArcGIS (http://www.esri.com/software/arcgis). I'll speak about my experiences with these projects in future entries; for today, I'd like to focus on my attempt to learn Unity 3D (http://unity3d.com/), a game design software.

Late last summer, Dr. Hughes and Prof. Lynn Ramey from the Vanderbilt Department of French and Italian suggested that I participate in their Discoveries of the Americas project (http://www.discoveriesoftheamericas.org/), which seeks to bring the journeys of early modern travelers to life for a modern audience through the use of digital tools. During an NEH seminar, they learned how to use Unity to create three-dimensional representations of the areas that they study. Hughes has modeled scenes from Hernando de Soto's travels in what is now the United States, whereas Ramey has represented portions of the voyage of Saint Brendan, hoping to motivate students to learn Anglo-Norman.

Over the last month, I have been getting familiar with Unity. I'm practicing with an excellent textbook, Philip Chu's Learn Unity 4 for iOS Game Development (http://www.amazon.com/Learn-Unity-iOS-Game-Development/dp/1430248750). My long-term goal is to create an immersive, interactive world in which students can practice Spanish and Portuguese through visuals, text, and sound. In order to reach that level of competence, I'm working from the ground up. Chu's book is superb because it takes you through the basics of the program, teaching you how to make a bowling game. Here is an image of what I've accomplished so far:

 
As you can see, the floor has only a basic wooden texture, and the ball has no texture at all. The "pins" are merely barrels. This is a start, though, and the physics that govern the interaction among the different components are already in place. When contact is made, the "pins" fall as would real wooden pins, and the ball experiences a realistic level of friction as it moves across the plane.
 
During the coming weeks, I hope to provide more information about this project and to update my goals for Unity. Prof. Ramey is leading a monthly "Games and Gaming" working group at the Center for Second Language Studies, whose participants have been sharing stimulating ideas about games and pedagogy. As a language teacher, I find all forms of media valuable in exposing students to authentic discourse and encouraging them to communicate, but we have yet to reach a consensus on the role of videogames in teaching culture or motivating students to explore other facets of a topic. In my next post, I will share an example from Brazil, where a telecommunications company attempted to make classics of Brazilian literature more accessible to young students through the use of web-based games.
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2 comments

Steven,

It's great to hear a bit more about your work.  Upon looking over the long list of programs and technologies you are using and/or learning, I wondered whether you have any thoughts about working with so many different types of technology at once.  Does your experience with one technology help you more quickly learn or more creatively utilize other technologies--or are the different projects and technologies more discrete in your mind?  What are your goals for taking on so many different technologies--do you want to be able to use them all at a high level or proficiency, or are you hoping to have proficiency with some and simple familiarity with others?  How do you prioritize your efforts?

Thanks for writing.

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Hi Amy,

That's a good question! I became interested in all of those projects through the working groups at the Center for Second Language Studies. This semester, I have considered it my responsibility as the Center's HASTAC scholar to participate in as many projects as possible, and I'm glad I have done so, because my horizons have expanded over the last few months. Generally, the technologies are separate, simply because their immediate applications are self-sufficient. With TEI, for example, all you need is a text (a Shakespeare play, for instance), and you can begin marking the features that you deem relevant for your research. Sometimes, however, the projects overlap in a very productive way. The 3D Visualization project allows one to create models of monuments and buildings, which can then be imported into Google Earth. During the past three years, I've used Google Earth as a tool for encouraging students to speak in foreign-language classrooms and to engage them with the cultures that they are studying.

As you saw at one of our recent meetings, some technologies are easier to learn than others. I find TEI much more straightforward than ArcGIS mapping, and Neatline and Omeka are self-explanatory once you've set everything up. My basic objective is to build as large a "toolbox" as possible so as to enrich my teaching, but I particularly enjoy TEI for text markup and Unity for game design. Perhaps this is so because I have always been more of a "language person" than a plastic artist. I suppose that others will find Neatline's interactive maps and the 3D representation abilities of 123D Catch to be more connected with their skills and goals.

The most important thing I have learned this year is that one should not be afraid of incorporating technology. If I can do it, anyone can!

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