Engineering and Computer Science receives $9,500 from Verizon Foundation to create game that teaches handwriting to children

December 21, 2007

DEARBORN / Dec. 21, 2007---The University of Michigan-Dearborn has received a $9,500 grant from the Verizon Foundation to support a project in the campus’s College of Engineering and Computer Science that creates an immersive gaming environment to teach handwriting to elementary school children using a tablet PC delivery system.

“Some teachers feel that computer games can motivate students to maintain their attention on the goals of particular learning activities,” according to computer and information science Prof. Bruce Maxim, coordinator of the UM-Dearborn project. “Others feel that games may enhance the classroom environment by allowing the teacher to play a less dominant role and not be the sole judge of student performance. Games can be a powerful and persuasive way to take learning outside the classroom.”

At the core of the UM-Dearborn project is a tablet PC equipped with a game that utilizes Macromedia Flash and Microsoft C# to teach students ages 4 through 7 how to write letters of the alphabet. When students write the required letter correctly, they are granted access to new game features.

“Our system incorporates a series of remediation rules developed by our research team working in collaboration with Donald Thurber, the creator of the D’Nealian handwriting system,” Maxim said. “When implemented, the complete set of rules will allow for the differences between fast and slow learners, girls and boys, even left-handed and right-handed users. These rules guide users through the game and help them develop their handwriting skills. Audio output and narrated animations are used to provide instructions and feedback to non-reading students.”

The game’s intelligent tutoring system goes beyond the limitations of traditional computer-based training systems by using information on a student’s current and past performance while playing the game to deliver customized content that is suited to the student’s current instructional needs. The programming and design of the intelligent tutoring is being completed by Maxim's graduate research assistant, Nicholas Martineau.

“For instance, the system provides feedback on the student’s work, telling them what is right or wrong and how to correct any errors they made,” Maxim said. “Students progress through the different levels of increasing difficulty as they work their way through the game world.”

Using a stylus on the tablet PC, students can perform all the functions found in an ordinary computer mouse, yet also use the stylus to write directly on the display screen, an element that’s ideal for teaching handwriting.

“Interacting directly with the display screen provides users with an environment that is very easy to use,” Maxim said. “Studies suggest that young children may have problems using the standard QWERTY keyboard as a compositional tool. There is some evidence that suggests children may write more easily using a Tablet PC than by typing on the keyboard.”

The Verizon Foundation grant will allow Maxim to hire college students to add art assets to the project, which needs graphic elements for five or six letters before the game can be used by children.



CONTACT: Jennifer Sroka
PHONE: 313-593-5644
The Office of University Relations
Room 1040, Administration Building
University of Michigan-Dearborn