Tag Archives: smartphones

Digital Language: Texting, Talking Dictionaries, and Virtual Learning

Several recent announcements shine a light on the intersection of digital technologies and language. The articles, summarized below, showcase a number of ways scientists are using digital tools to teach, preserve, and study changes in language.

Research on applying enhanced virtuality to language learning

Researchers are using a 3-D virtual world platform and geolocalization to create immersive learning experiences for language and other applications.

They are interactive spaces where the subject can be contextualized and where the impossible can be made possible. For example, if we are studying the discovery of America, we can accompany Columbus in his historic accomplishment, or we can travel through the arteries of our own bodies, see a magnetic field or modify the structure of a molecule.”

— María Blanca Ibáñez, Telematic Engineering Department, Universidad Carlos III de Madrid

According to the researchers, there are many benefits of digital technologies for e-learning, including the ability to engage students through interaction and variety. Moreover, virtual worlds provide “laboratories” for educators where they can experiment using different approaches.

‘Talking dictionaries’ document vanishing languages

Students can now listen to – and learn from — the last surviving speakers of some of the world’s most endangered languages. Linguists from the National Geographic are creating talking dictionaries to “document and revitalize struggling languages.”

The talking dictionary is and will be one of the best resources we have in our struggle to keep Siletz alive. We are teaching the language in the Siletz Valley School two full days a week now, and our young people are learning faster than I had ever imagined.”

— Alfred “Bud” Lane, among the last known fluent speakers of the Native American language known as Siletz Dee-ni, spoken in Oregon

Produced by National Geographic’s Enduring Voices project and the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages, the new talking dictionaries include:

  • Matukar Panau, an Oceanic language of Papua New Guinea. Only 600 speakers remain, living in just two small villages. 3,045 entries; 3,035 audio files; 67 images. http://matukar.swarthmore.edu
  • Remo, a highly endangered and poorly documented language of India. 4,008 entries; 1,157 audio files; one image. http://remo.swarthmore.edu
  • Tuvan, an indigenous tongue spoken by nomadic peoples in Siberia and Mongolia. 7,459 entries; 2,972 audio files; 49 images. http://tuvan.swarthmore.edu

More talking dictionaries are in production, according to the report.

Texting affects ability to interpret words

Through a study conducted for her master’s thesis in linguistics, Joan Lee found that people who text frequently seem to have more difficulty interpreting and accepting words.

Our assumption about text messaging is that it encourages unconstrained language. But the study found this to be a myth. The people who accepted more words did so because they were better able to interpret the meaning of the word, or tolerate the word, even if they didn’t recognize the word. Students who reported texting more rejected more words instead of acknowledging them as possible words.”

— Joan Hwechong Lee, M.A., University of Calgary

Lee’s study, What does txting do 2 language? The influences of exposure to messaging and print media on acceptability constraints, is available at http://gradworks.umi.com/MR/75/MR75222.html

© Tony Leininger and IT for Good 2012. See sidebar for full copyright notice.


Study: Cell Phones Satisfy Social Cravings, Stifle Prosocial Behavior

A study described in a working paper titled, The Effect of Mobile Phone Use on Prosocial Behavior, links the use of cell phones to selfish behavior. In the study, “prosocial behavior” was defined as “action intended to benefit another person or society as a whole.”

The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Maryland‘s Robert H. Smith School of Business. The researchers found that following a brief period of interaction with an actual or imagined cell phone, participants’ prosocial behaviors were diminished.

…after a short period of cellphone use the subjects were less inclined to volunteer for a community service activity when asked, compared to the control-group counterparts. The cell phone users were also less persistent in solving word problems – even though they knew their answers would translate to a monetary donation to charity.”

                          — Announcement, Robert H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland

Learn more at http://newsdesk.umd.edu/uniini/release.cfm?ArticleID=2615

© Tony Leininger and IT for Good 2012. See sidebar for full copyright notice.

The Emerging Role of Technology in Behavioral Interventaions

The future of psychotherapy is the center of attention at the new Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine’s Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies. The center’s researchers are developing concepts that bypass traditional therapy sessions to help treat depression and other mood disorders. They hope that their visionary technologies, including a virtual “therapist in your pocket,” will provide instant and much more widely available support.

We’re inventing new ways technology can help people with mental health problems. The potential to reduce or even prevent depression is enormous. These new approaches could offer fundamentally new treatment options to people who are unable to access traditional services or who are uncomfortable with standard psychotherapy. They also can be offered at significantly lower costs, which makes them more viable in an era of limited resources.”

— David Mohr, director, Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies

Funded by the National Institutes of Health, the center also has plans for a virtual human therapist designed to help prevent depression in teens, a medicine bottle that tells people when to take their antidepressant medication and can help ensure they are getting the correct dosage, and an online social network for survivors of cancer. The researchers intend to make the center a national resource, complete with a library of intervention technologies available for use by other scientists.

Dig deeper at http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-02/nu-ati020712.php

© Tony Leininger and IT for Good 2012. See sidebar for full copyright notice.

Rx. for Memory Loss – Smartphones?

Soon, people with moderate-to-severe memory impairment may be able to regain some of their independence using smartphones or other mobile devices. Researchers from Baycrest, a developer of aging and brain health innovations that is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto, explain how this week in an online release ahead of print publication in the international journal Neuropsychological Rehabilitation.

Our findings demonstrate that it is possible to harness powerful emerging technologies with brain science in an innovative way to give people with a range of memory deficits some of their independence back.”

— Eva Svoboda, a clinical neuropsychologist in the Neuropsychology and Cognitive Health Program, Baycrest

The study’s authors believe that commercial technologies such as mobile electronic devices and smartphones hold enormous possibilities for people with memory impairment because of their inherent storage capacity, their potential for auditory and vibration alerts, the rich effects available through their multimedia capabilities, and the high appeal of consumer devices for end-users.

Learn more at http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-02/bcfg-sth020812.php

© Tony Leininger and IT for Good 2012. See sidebar for full copyright notice.

Disaster Tech: Smartphone Apps Provide Assistance for Aid Workers and Victims

Software with the potential to help aid workers quickly and accurately locate missing people has been developed by Dr Gavin Brown and his team of computer scientists in the Machine Learning and Optimisation group at The University of Manchester.

In addition, the team’s REUNITE mobile and web platform supports developments that can help aid workers use a smartphone to quickly recognize individuals affected by malnutrition and that can help people use their smartphones to locate “safe zones” during a terrorist attack or natural disaster.

Our results have demonstrated that mobile intelligent systems can be deployed in low-power, high-risk environments, to the benefit of all involved. We believe the refugee aid community will be a strong beneficiary of such technology over the next few years.”

— Dr Gavin Brown, University of Manchester

The researchers hope that the smartphone technology they are developing will not only help to save lives but perhaps also help to relieve the burdens – both financial and emotional – that aid organizations and workers experience.

Learn more at http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/01/120104111910.htm

© Tony Leininger and IT for Good 2012. See sidebar for full copyright notice.

Helping Survivors of Traumatic Brain Injury Live Fuller, More Independent Lives

Sure, personal digital assistants (PDAs) and smartphones can help people have more fun and be more efficient, but did you know that mobile devices are also proving to be a lifeline to independence for people with brain injuries?

The Acquired Brain Injury Programs and Services staff at Coastline Community College in Costa Mesa, California, has been helping survivors of traumatic brain injury live fuller, more independent lives for a number of years. I first learned about their innovative work while working on a case study several years ago. Here’s a quote from that article:

The Pocket PC has been a transformative tool in my life. It has strengthened my ability to be independent, efficient, and productive. It has given me hope and a concrete vehicle with which to create a new, fulfilling, and fruitful future for myself.”

— ABI Program Graduate, Coastline Community College

Information about the Acquired Brain Injury Programs and Services at Coastline Community College is available here: http://www.coastline.edu/departments/specialprograms/page.cfm?LinkID=990

What other uses of mobile technology do you find inspiring?

© Tony Leininger and IT for Good 2012. See sidebar for full copyright notice.

Noteworthy Health-Related Apps of 2011

From an iPhone app that can assist with psychological and social research to the ability to use a smart phone as a medical monitor, the year 2011 saw a number of remarkable uses for apps in the world of healthcare.

Below, collected from the pages of Science Daily, are highlights of some of the year’s most intriguing experiments captured in the words of those involved:

We were pleasantly surprised at our ability to detect subtle findings on the CT scan, which are often very critical in patient management, using this software.”

— Dr. Mayank Goyal, Faculty of Medicine, University of Calgary. [Goyal is director of research in the department of radiology and one of the neuro-radiologists who analyzed the data in a study that shows that doctors can make a stroke diagnosis using an iPhone application with the same accuracy as a diagnosis at a medical computer workstation.]


Brain Jog is unique among similar apps in that it has come to fruition after extensive research and collaboration with the target audience to find out exactly what appeals to them.”

— Donal O’Brien, a PhD student at Queen’s University, Belfast. [O’Brien is leading research into discovering the true effectiveness of brain training exercises with the release of an app aimed at those over 50.]


Using the iPhone or iPad to conduct scientific research is a revolutionary new concept. It could change the way that human social and psychological research is conducted because it allows us to access vast numbers of individuals from a range of demographics relatively inexpensively.”

— Professor Kathy Rastle, Department of Psychology, Royal Holloway, University of London. [Rastle is the UK member of the international team of researchers that is working on conducting psychological and social research using smart phone technologies.]


Currently, doctors observe tremor during office visits and rate it on a subjective scale of zero to four. That approach seemed outdated to me, considering all the technology now available. My wife Heather, who’s an engineer, remarked that maybe that we could try putting some accelerometers on my arm. That made me think of the accelerometer in the iPhone — and here we are.”

— Robert Delano, Georgia Tech Research Institute research scientist. [Delano is a member of the team that has developed a novel iPhone application that may enable persons with certain neurological conditions to use smart phones to collect data on hand and arm tremors and relay the results to medical personnel.]

What other research into healthcare-related apps or innovative uses of smart phone technology are you aware of?

© Tony Leininger and IT for Good 2012. See sidebar for full copyright notice.