Welcome!

“Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls.” -Joseph Campbell

My name is Adam Garnica, and this is my professional online portfolio.

You can navigate this site using the tabs at the top of the screen, below my name, in order to learn more about who I am as a person and a professional: to catch a glimpse of who I am beyond the words printed on my CV.

On this main page, I will post updates related to my professional development and relevant happenings in the field bi-weekly. This will be a dynamic environment that is always evolving, so be sure check back in the future for updates.

If you are looking for something particular, please use the search function at the top of each page, next to the navigation tabs. It is accessed by clicking the magnifying glass icon.

I can be contacted by email at adamgarnica@gmail.com.

All pictures on this site were taken by Adam Garnica, and may not be used or duplicated without permission (unless noted otherwise).

Accents in Video Games

Accents can mean big business. Photo by Unlisted Sightings (Flickr (CC)).

When examining linguistic variety within  a single language, the inevitable distinction between accents comes up. In English, there are a multitude of different accents, stretching across all parts of the globe. These accents do not have to be from nations that have citizens whose first language is English. On the contrary, those with English as a second language are often identified by nationality via their accent. Here’s a quick mental example: Think about how someone from France would sound if they spoke in English. If you’ve ever heard someone with French as their first language and English as a second language, then a very distinct idea of what they would sound like comes to mind. It’s a subtle identifying mark in that you can’t see, but as soon as someone opens their mouth to speak, perceptions begin to form.

There is a booming industry built upon accent modification, particularly for English language learners wishing to sound more “American.” A quick Google search brings up over 18 million hits, with an abundance of companies offering services at the top of the search. Clearly, there is something to be said about how we view ourselves and others when we speak with an accent.

In the media, and all popular forms of media, there tend to be areas with a glut of cultural exports: Dramas from South Korea, Action films from Hong Kong, Art from Germany and France, Pop music from America, etc. One very fascinating medium for leisure is video games. While many games traditionally came from Japan, more and more are coming from America. Technology has given us more storage space for games, so where the medium once relied heavily on in-game texts to tell a story, more and more the industry uses voice-overs and voice actors to give their characters life. It’s an expectation for many big titles these days. One thing we might not think about immediately is how our character sounds.

Both Kotaku and Pop Matters recently reported on the idea of carefully selected accents for English voice acting in video games. The issue for American made games, and games from abroad that get localized, is that they tend to get voice acting recorded in America. As such, the heroes tend to have American accents. The specifically point out Final Fantasy XIII and its use of Australian accents to distinguish between two very different groups in that world, as well as the use of stereotypical “foreign” voices in Dragon Age. The article says this all points to American ethnocentrism, with the acting in these games purposely designed to elevate the American accent.

This goes to show you the power of identity in language use, and this particular examination is a fascinating one. I myself have played through Final Fantasy XIII and noticed the accents, but did not look at them beyond face value. I think the articles bring up many interesting points that could serve as a topic of study for sociolinguists in the future.

The Studio School

Geoff Mulgan gave a talk earlier this year in Edinburgh, Scotland about his new initiative for education. His group, the creators of Open University and the School of Everything, attempted to tackle a troubling problem with English education: Dropout rates. More kids were not completing their secondary education, and Mulgan feels it is due to the way we have set up the system. The public schools prepare kids for university study, but many students who drop out had no interest to go to a university in the first place. Why spend years training for something that was not in their interests?

He took this idea and synthesized it with a common complaint he heard from the business world: Kids come out of school, but have no experience or practical skills for a trade job. Thus, the Studio School was born.

Taking up the old idea of apprenticeship, Mulgan invited skilled professionals to come teach at his schools, which resemble studio spaces more so than a traditional classroom. Through project based curricula, students would complete projects in their trade of choice while fulfilling the needs of their education: Mathematics, Language, History, and so forth. Each student has an instructor and a coach, and working in this cooperative environment, they complete real projects for the business community, building their CV/resumé, gaining practical skills, and, most importantly, keeping them engaged in the learning process.

Results have been amazing, according to Mulgan. Recently, the UK started a new education reform initiative targeting schools that have shown to be effective, and investing more into those succeeding ideas. Perhaps Mr. Mulgan and his schools will benefit from this new initiative, and the UK could see an even larger expanse of Studio Schools in their country.

Geoff Mulgan is the former CEO of the Young Foundation, and is now the Chief Executive of NESTA (National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts).

English Teaching Robots in Korea

Image courtesy of SlashGear

Having lived in South Korea myself a year ago, I couldn’t help but notice my news feed becoming cluttered with articles on Korea’s push to develop robots to teach English in rural communities. Last week I wrote about the use of artificial intelligence in writing feedback, and now this week, I would like to extend that discussion from web-based applications to robotics.

It seems that in Asia, especially given the heavy emphasis and breakthroughs in the field of robotics in Japan, the receptivity to mechanized workers is greater than that in America or Europe. In fact, IEEE printed a research report back in 2009 finding that Korean parents have the most liberal attitudes towards having their children taught by robots. Surprisingly, Japanese parents were more conservative in their acceptance of robotic teachers.

How will this affect teaching as a whole? Specifically, English language education?

To be clear, the robots are far from perfect, but it is a start in the eyes of many. The robotic teachers will not be without human help, as the pilot programs have Filipino English teachers behind the controls of the robot, operating them remotely.

Korea’s push to hire native speakers to assist in their English education programs is complicated, as many who take up the task have no previous teaching experience, nor do they hold a degree in English, Education, or Linguistics. The requirements are simply a college degree in any discipline. That being said, the government is paying big money simply for an individual’s native accent, not necessarily their teaching ability. Their hope is the robots will save money, and see that a qualified teacher from the Philippines is running the operation.

The robots are not without their critics. I, for one, cannot see such a simple machine replacing teachers anytime soon. While they can be a solution for poorer regions that cannot afford to hire many teachers, the human element needed for their success is undeniable. I also think students are served better learning from an adult teacher who is present in the class, who can be responsive to their needs and questions. Speech needs to be authentic, and learners need to be engaged in authentic tasks for a language classroom to be successful. At this point, the robots should be viewed as tools, or enhancements, to a language classroom; not something entire curricula need to be designed around.

Artificial Intelligence and Writing Feedback

Image by Creativity103 on Flickr (CC)

When you hear the term “Artificial Intelligence,” a great many things may come to mind, such as sentient space craft a la 2001 or friendly humanoid robots from Star Wars. The fact of the matter is, what once was science fiction is now science fact. Artificial intelligence is alive and well in the realm of software engineering.

There are many tools available online that implement artificial intelligence to assist in tasks. For the realm of literacy and writing, there are many such programs available, many of which you may very well be using in your classrooms. The most commonly known AI program among educators is Turn It In, a service that helps educators catch plagiarism, but there are many more available that can help in the writing process, both for first and second language learners.

SAS has their own program called Writing Reviser, in which artificial intelligence algorithms search a submitted piece for corrections that need to be made. The service offers instant feedback, but does no corrections for the student in their writing. Instead, the feedback gives tips such as “Too wordy” to help guide students in self-correction. This is a significant step forward as it forces the learner to make their own revisions without heavy reliance on the technology to complete the task for them.

ETS also has a similar service, called Criterion, to help students with improving their writing scores on standardized tests. Their artificial intelligence system is the e-Rater Scoring Engine, which examines writing and offers a holistic assessment based upon natural language use.

CTB MacGraw Hill also offers a program called Writing Roadmap, which offers automatic feedback in a variety of writing styles for those in grades 3-12.

With all of these educational companies embracing the use of artificial intelligence, we can see that this dynamic shift in the writing evaluation process will alter the way we as educators offer feedback. Error correction is always a touchy field to navigate, as we do not wish to damage the learner ego of our students, especially during their formative years.

While many may not view these services the same as the fantastic image of artificial intelligence they have imagined in their minds, their existence is the first step to many new and wonderful technologies to help engage our students in the writing process. eSchool News has written several articles of note on issue, which can all help to expand your understanding of how technology and education are coming together.

Gamers Solve Molecular Puzzle

Image by RozuChu, all rights reserved

Image by RozuChu on Flickr (CC)

In a powerful display of the power of play and games applied to problem solving, a group of gamers have solved a previously unsolvable molecular structure concerning AIDS that had baffled scientists for years. When faced with difficulty, the research team decided to take a new approach that has been gaining traction: citizen science, in which scientists and teams of scientists enlist the aid of everyday people to further advance the scientific cause.

The amazing feat was accomplished in ten days.

In the article, Seth Cooper, a scientist who is the lead designer of the game, dubbed Foldit, stated that “Games provide a framework for bringing together the strengths of humans and computers.” Later in the article, Zoran Popovic, director of the University of Washington’s Center for Game Science stated that “We are currently applying the same approach to change the way math and science are taught in school.”

The potential that games bring in not only math and science, but in the humanities and language education as well, is overwhelming. I feel this discovery provides evidence towards the positive impact games can have in education. Too often people lump multimillion dollar games, such as the Call of Duty series, with games such as Foldit, under one mighty umbrella. Without the distinction between the two being made, they casually blame games for societal ills and deem them a “waste of time.” Hopefully, this will draw a distinction between computer games for entertainment purposes and computer games designed for education and scientific inquiry.

Foldit is designed by the University of Washington, and is available to play on Windows, Mac OSX, and Linux operating systems. More information about the project can be found on the Foldit About page.

The Digital Promise Initiative

Image courtesy of WhiteHouse.gov; taken by Lawrence Jackson

The government, as part of President Obama’s American Jobs Act, is putting a greater focus on education. One very important measure that was announced at the end of last week is the Digital Promise Initiative. It is a partnership between the government and private sector businesses with the expressed purpose of bringing American K-12 classrooms into the forefront of the digital age.

Within this initiative are a number of items seeking to improve the technological presence in schools across America. It encourages rapid testing of new technologies, as well as a hefty increase in spending for research and development in the K-12 setting. The government states that of all the money spent on K-12, only 0.2% goes towards R&D. It hopes by creating a demand for innovation and technological development in education, we can improve learning conditions for all students in America.

Other impressive projects highlighted include augmented reality for students with learning disabilities, online tutoring, educational games, and even vocabulary building robots (Which reminds me of the South Korean Engkey robots, but we’ll save that discussion for another week).

A full list of details can be found on the Digital Promise Fact Sheet.

Nolan Bushnell: “We’ll be able to teach a full career of high school in less than a year”

Image courtesy of NeoSeeker

In recent months, the idea of cloud computing has become a normal part of our reality, with providers like Amazon and Apple rolling out cloud storage systems. Even Google’s Doc system employs the cloud storage system to allow you to save files remotely. What most don’t realize is that we can run software off of a cloud. There already exist services like OnLive, which allows for the streaming of games through a cloud network to your home computer. Without needing to have software stored on your computer, you can run the program via the internet.

So how can we apply this to education? One man who is seeking to answer this question is Nolan Bushnell, the founder of Atari and Chuck-E-Cheese.

Bushnell recently delivered a presentation at the first ever Cloud Gaming USA Conference & Exhibition. For the past 10 years, Bushnell has been developing software to assist in the educational process. In his speech, he brought forth exciting news about his developments, stating that use of cloud computing will help alleviate hardware problems on the user end. There have also been gains in the speed with which children have been learning materials. He said that by the end of next year, he could roll out his software solutions for consumption.

His claims are bold, saying that an entire year of high school could be taught in a single year. Whether or not this is true or applicable to the wide diversity of learners in America has yet to be seen. As Mr. Bushnell reveals more information about his projects and research, perhaps even after the implementation of pilot programs, I hope to see positive and statistically significant gains in learning among students. This could be a very significant development in the field of computer assisted education.

As Mr. Bushnell himself said, “I believe education is the most important thing we can do to fix the world.”