An interesting article ran on the front page of The Wall Street Journal today, discussing the educational uses of the Nintendo DS in Japan. The DS is the current iteration of the venerable Game Boy platform, and is a very popular gadget. It is the highest selling handheld gaming platform, with some 18 million units sold to date, three times its nearest competition, the Sony PSP. Wikipedia states previous iterations (i.e., the Game Boy Advance) have sold 75 million units worldwide, and the DS is backwards compatible with older cartridges.
It turns out Nintendo is slowly expanding the market for Game Boy applications, adding such things as reference manuals and tutoring software. Article author Yukari Iwatani Kane indicates that Brain Age is the tip of the iceberg for these educational titles; the company has been slow in exporting them to countries beyond Japan’s shores. But, these titles are gradually proliferating elsewhere. Electronic Arts is readying some reference works such as wine catalogs that can run on the platform.
One very positive element in the platform’s favor is the brighter, larger screens it offers. Plus, the clamshell design opens up to a larger, easier to hold handheld device. Previous iterations of the Game Boy were not as appealing to adults (old people) because they were hard to manipulate and the screens were hard to see, much less read. The DS goes a long way in addressing these issues. Thus, educational and reference titles that appeal to adults and have more serious uses than the traditional games are starting to proliferate in Japan.
DS stands for Dual Screen, and the second screen can be used as an input device with a stylus. The unit also features a microphone and voice recognition that is integrated in some games such as the popular Nintendogs, where users “train” virtual puppies to respond to the sound of their voice. Finally, at a price point under $150, integration into the classroom seemed economically viable in comparison to more expensive devices. These are similar to research findings for PDAs in the classroom, as reported by Norris and Soloway in particular. The features intrigued Japanese educators, who began to think of educational applications. One early idea that caught on: using the DS as an electronic English tutor:
Many teachers found computers to be a nuisance because they required preparing extra lessons, and moving children to a computer room. Some were even intimidated by the computers. But the DS could be used briefly and in the classroom. And it cut down on paperwork.
“It’s not like we’re letting the students play games without supervision,” [a school manager] says. “I don’t even consider them to be a game device. It’s a tool.”
After a cautious trial with the English tutorial software, in which students write out the words they hear, and are prompted as to whether their handwriting is correct or not …
The school found that nearly 80% of students who used the DS each day mastered junior-high-level competence in English vocabulary, compared with just 18% before. About half of those students had developed 11th-grade-level abilities. The school district is now testing other [DS] software for subjects like arithmetic and Japanese.
Students reportedly like the device in its new role as an educational assistant:
“Work sheets were such a pain […] These exercises feel like a game.”
This is consistent with research on appropriating the Game Boy Advance for educational purposes, which I’ve talked about here. Lee and colleagues were able to show a higher rate of practice math problem completion with students using a GBA math game than those in the control group using traditional paper worksheets.
Kane, Y. I. (2007, July 11). Beyond Pokémon: Nintendo DS goes to school in Japan. The Wall Street Journal (p.A1).
Lee J., Luchini, K., Michael, B., Norris, C., & Soloway, E. (2004). More than just fun and games: Assessing the value of educational video games in the classroom. In Proceedings from Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 1375 – 1378). Retrieved from ACM Portal.
Nintendo DS Classroom is on the way in 2009.