Digital Debris

Embodiment, digital games & technology in Education

The Joy of Failure and the Power of Play

Hello my much neglected blog. It’s been a while. I really must update you more often.

Last year was a bit of a conference whirlwind. I can barely remember which talks I gave or in which locations. This one stood out though, mainly because the theme was something I’ve long been interested in – the delicate balance that good games strike between fun and struggle. The event (Innovate ELT) took place in May 2018 in Barcelona, one of my favourite cities. My talk was about how games frame and manage failure.


Why do we avoid failure in real life but thrive on it in games? In many games you will lose a hundred times for every fleeting victory. Spawn, try, die, repeat. Spawn, try, die, repeat. How is this fun and what can we learn from it? This session will examine how failure, play, fun and learning are intertwined, looking at how specific game mechanics can be applied in lesson design and the creation of learning materials.

What will you get out of this session? A dab of existential philosophy, a scoop of game literacy and a good dose of transferable, game-inspired interaction design ideas.

My slides:

Skyteach Russia

Augmented Reality in the Language Classroom

Had a great time participating in the Russian SkyTeach Conference today as one of 30 speakers from around the world. I've already received several requests to share my slides so I've embedded them below.

The SkyTeach Conference is one of the main online events in the English Language Teaching Calendar for Russian and CIS English teachers.  The conference is aimed at bringing together ELT professionals, sharing their knowledge and expertise and networking.

Language Learning with Digital Video Wins ESU Award

Yes! Great news! My book, Language Learning with Digital Video (Cambridge University Press) has won a prestigious English-Speaking Union Award in the Resources for Teacher category. I wrote LLWDV with the talented and prolific Ben Goldstein, and it has previously been nominated for the Ben Warren prize and an English Language Teaching Innovation Award (ELTon).

The ESU's English Language Awards help to celebrate and reward innovation and good practice in the field of English Language and English Language teaching. These awards focus on resources which aim to improve oracy skills in the English Language

The winners were announced at the awards ceremony at Dartmouth House, Mayfair, London on November 28 2016. 

I'm the dapper one on the right.

I'm the dapper one on the right.

Fictional Topographies and the Spatialisation of Narrative

I've pasted in the abstract from my keynote talk at the Image Conference in Córdoba last year below, but to cut a long story short it was about interaction design and environmental storytelling in digital games, and how these can inform ELT pedagogy.


Game spaces are meticulously designed environments. The tennis court, the football pitch and the sumo wrestler’s dohyo are spatially and visually organised to embody the rules that inform the interactions taking place within their boundaries. 

Virtual spaces are sculpted with even more painstaking care, as the digital architect can distort, subvert or completely rewrite the laws of physics and define the capabilities of the players and characters that inhabit these fictional worlds. In this talk, I will discuss how game design can inform ELT pedagogy by examining what games do well.

IATEFL 2015 (Manchester) Slides

I've received a few requests to share my slides from this year's fabulous IATEFL conference in Manchester so I've converted them to video and embedded them below. I usually keep text to an absolute minimum so those who missed my presentation may feel a bit lost in places (the dog's appearance isn't as random as it might seem). I still intend to do a write-up to expand on some of the ideas that I didn't have time to explore in the depth I think they deserved, especially the theoretical underpinnings behind my work with augmented reality and location-based experiential learning in general. This will probably be in June as I plan to take a month off to do some freelance writing and play around with some new techy ideas!

For now I've pasted in the abstract and a short(ish) summary of some of the things I covered. 

While the idea of augmented reality has received considerable hype, its practical, pedagogical application in the context of ELT has remained largely unexplored. During this talk, I will discuss and demonstrate how AR can be meaningfully integrated into the learning process through content delivery, task design and student-centred project-based learning approaches.

Augmented reality (AR) is the real-time superimposition of digital media over real-world physical environments. While AR has received considerable attention in recent years and a surge of interest from the ELT community, this enthusiasm has not often been matched with practical examples of its purposeful application for the ELT classroom. Tentative commercial efforts, which largely depend on high-end interactive 3D graphics and animations beyond the capability of the average teacher, have predominantly focused on content delivery for the STEM subjects.

If AR is to find a place in ELT we need to better explore the unique affordances of the technology from a perspective that acknowledges the dynamic interaction between the learner, action and the physical environment. In this talk, I will discuss the foundational role of embodiment in understanding how experience and context are constructed through the interplay of the digital and physical worlds and how this can empower teachers and learners to create engaging and personally meaningful augmented spaces and materials.

To illustrate my ideas, I will provide practical examples from AR projects that I have developed with language learners from different levels and backgrounds and share what was learned from these hands-on experiences. I will conclude by discussing the future potential of AR and provide ideas for how it can be used to create responsive mixed-reality surroundings to promote active learning and increase engagement. 

ELTons Awards 2015 Nomination!

Really delighted that my ARM (Augmented Reality Media) Cubes entry has been shortlisted for an ELTons Award this year. As with Spywalk (2013) and Urban Chronicles (2014) it's in the Digital Innovation category.

Fingers crossed again!

Here's my logo, a brief description of the product and a snap of my students using the cubes in a class.


ARM (Augmented Reality Media) Cubes are a new way for learners to interact with language and digital media in a tangible and fundamentally social and collaborative way. They are hybrid digital/physical objects that enable learners to organise, manipulate and even edit audio and video simply by reconfiguring the cubes in 3D space. When viewed through the camera of a smartphone or tablet, the six sides of each magnetic cube spring to life, displaying video directly on the cube’s surface. Learners work together to explore, create and (physically) build narratives, resulting in hybrid media sculptures.

Mobile Digital Video Production

Just a quick post to mention my new blog dedicated to digital video. It's called DigitalV and can be found right here

It's a growing collection of free video-based ELT lessons I'm working on with the talented Ben Goldstein, my co-author on Language Learning with Digital Video. Each post alternates between online video exploitation and creative video production activities. I hope you enjoy it and put it to good use!

Urban Chronicles Nominated for an ELTon Award!

I'm very happy to learn that Urban Chronicles, my location-based transmedia digital storytelling project, has been nominated for an English Language Teaching Innovation Award. 

The project began in a small city in northern Portugal. Learners took on the role of cultural narrators, documenting their experiences through photographs, video, text and speech to add their own stories of discovery and exploration to the town’s cultural heritage. There is a strong thread of "tactical urban intervention" running through the project, which encourages learners to take an active role in improving their neighbourhood by giving voice to the rich oral histories and spoken memories of the ordinary people that form the fabric of their local community. 

Win or lose, it's great just to be nominated. Last year one of my other projects, Spywalk was selected. It didn't win but fingers crossed for Urban Chronicles!

Creating hybrid digital/physical environments by embedding media into the physical spaces of the school.

This year I decided to attach digital media to many of the physical spaces in the school. The ones in this room are all student generated videos produced in the classroom. When you point your phone or tablet at the walls the posters trigger the videos to play as an overlay hovering over the image. The first clip is Pablo talking about Jack Kerouac's On the Road. The second clip you can see is Juan talking about Catch 22. Video tutorials can also be embedded in the physical space so that learners can check their understanding of specific language at any time simply by pointing their phones at the wall. Fast finishers can discover hidden extras that extend their learning.

The classroom doors in the school also contain embedded media. Early arrivers can point their phones at the them and, for example, watch a short video clip that will pique their curiosity about the theme of the lesson they are about to have. I'm still experimenting to find out what can be done with AR and I have a growing list of things to try out. 

Slides from the Kheiron professional development session I gave at Kings Oxford last week.

This year I've been using augmented reality to create differentiated video listenings for my fairly diverse intermediate group. Learners can take control of the material and listen multiple times. Using the headphones connected to their mobile devices they can simultaneously work on different (though thematically linked) material. The headphones also enable them to listen in a more focused way.

This year I've been using augmented reality to create differentiated video listenings for my fairly diverse intermediate group. Learners can take control of the material and listen multiple times. Using the headphones connected to their mobile devices they can simultaneously work on different (though thematically linked) material. The headphones also enable them to listen in a more focused way.

I had a lot of fun giving this session and there were some great questions at the end. Subjects covered included the use of augmented reality, green screens and digital video production, GPS-based pervasive games, the SAMR framework, project-based learning and tactical urbanism. One of the core themes was taking a combinatorial approach to exploring the affordances of mobile technologies. When considering which apps to use for a project the sum can be more than the parts, and collections of apps that work together might be considered as 'constellations of affordance'.

A workshop with a practical "how-to" focus will follow on March 27.

Project-Based Learning Using Mobile Technologies in the Classroom

Some work produced by a small group of my students as part of an ongoing project working towards creating an international news channel for the school.

This has provided a motivational and meaningful context for situated language production. The learners communicate through English during every stage as they prepare to share stories about what is happening in their individual countries in English. 

I've only been at the school a few weeks and it's been great fun teaching multilingual learners again. The class is a wonderful blend of Spanish, Polish, Italian, Turkish and Iranian people with unique and interesting perspectives on the world. 

The project has been scaffolded through building journalistic lexis and knowledge of collocations, writing articles, recording audio reports, dubbing television news and writing and presenting original news stories based on found footage (which is then used as a backdrop).


If you'd like to set up a game of INVADER with your students, I've written an article outlining the logistics and suggesting some of the language areas you might use it to focus on. Check out pages 17-20 of The British Council's In English Digital magazine or download a pdf of the article directly.

For the curious, I've been asked several times whether the binary code on the front cover of the magazine is randomly generated or actually means something. The answer is… that you'll have to type it into a binary to ASCII converter and find out! :)

IED 6 Binary.png

How to set up INVADER, a GPS-based pervasive game I designed for learners of English as a foreign language.