When Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto gets an idea in his head, big things tend to happen. In fact, a couple years ago, the company banned him from speaking to the press about his hobbies. An interest in puzzles begat BrainAge. A physical fitness kick gave us Wii Fit. You get the idea. Lucky for educators, his latest interest is leveraging Nintendo consoles and handhelds in the classroom.
Maybe Nintendo's ban has been lifted, but at any rate, Miyamoto told reporters last week that educational applications of Nintendo hardware are "maybe the area where I am devoting myself the most." According to CBS News,
Miyamoto said that Nintendo's DS console was already being used in Japanese museums, galleries, and aquariums, and that his company was beginning to roll out the Nintendo DS system "in junior high and elementary schools in Japan starting in the new school year."
A few weeks ago, I asked if the larger version of Nintendo's DSi, the DSi XL, might not be another approach to 1:1 computing efforts in schools:
What sorts of devices will students have and want to use on a regular basis that can also be leveraged in education? The DSi XL, for example, has a relatively good mobile browser (based on Opera), WiFi, e-reader capability, a highly readable screen in a variety of conditions, an existing App store for distribution of software, AAC audio player capabilities, and a camera, all of which could lend themselves to educational use.
If Miyamoto wants to see Nintendo hardware in wider use in schools, serious educational software will need to emerge. However, his involvement in this area suggests that some pretty useful game-based educational tools might be on the way. A look at the Japanese pilots of the DS in schools shows that language instruction might be an easy target, using the built-in microphone and sound processing capabilities. As early as 2008, NintendoWorldReport featured a story on ways in which the small devices were improving English instruction in Japan:
The DS English language program is the first to be linked to a widely used Japanese public-school textbook series...Japanese education in the English language is well-known for failing to develop conversation skills and instead tends to focus on rote memorization and grammar. The DS program's heavy use of dialogue and interaction, linked to traditional study material, could prove to be a mighty combination.
The DSi could also be a platform for RTI, interactive response systems, skill drills, etc. However, nothing along these lines seems to be in the pipeline here in the States. However, a variety of educational applications are emerging on the iPhone platform. Will the DSi be next? Perhaps with Miyamoto's weight behind it. In principle, it's a great idea to make use of a familiar, durable, inexpensive tool for education; in practice, I have a feeling that development will be much stronger in the iPhone (and, more likely, iPad) and Android environments than in Nintendo's space. Let's hope Miyamoto proves me wrong!