Grad Students Go Back to Preschool
The 5-year-old sitting at the keyboard leaned in close to the monitor, concentrating intently while her pink Converse-clad feet swung wildly below her tiny chair. "I did it!" she squealed, eliciting cheers and applause from Yan Long and Sonam Rudraraju, computer engineering graduate students who took her success to heart. The two were testing some very special software they had designed and produced along with classmates in adjunct lecturer Radhika Grover's COEN 275 course, Object-Oriented Analysis, Design, and Programming.
Tasked with creating an educational game that preschoolers with and without visual impairment could enjoy together in the classroom, the pair guided groups of 3- to 5-year-olds through their alphabet and storytelling games at Chandler Tripp Elementary—a public special education school in San Jose. Early on, Ginger Brown, a teacher at the school, visited Grover’s class to introduce the SCU students to the needs of her preschoolers, getting them started on the right path.
In describing the design process, Long’s teammate Nimisha Mathews said, "We had to think from a different perspective. We’re used to designing with visual effects—you see something and click on it and the next thing comes. For this project, we had to rely more on auditory cues. We created three little games to teach the alphabet, develop analytical skills, and improve listening capability. Those who can see a little can click on a letter, others can listen and use a braille keyboard."
Rudraraju's teammate Roberto Youssef said their "game uses just the space bar, which makes it easy for everyone. We wanted it to be fun, not just learning, with games, songs, stories, visual and audio effects." Rudraraju added, "The questions are randomized so kids can't memorize the sequence and are divided by age level. We also keep statistics on the class and individual students, and average scores to determine if questions are too hard or too easy."
A big hit with the faculty at Chandler Tripp, many of the students' games have been installed on the preschool computers. "Other games like ours cost at least $250 to install on each PC. That's just not feasible for schools like Chandler Tripp. Hopefully these alternatives will help," said Youssef. If the avid attention and delighted cries emitting from the classroom are any indication, they already have.