Microsoft has been highlighting its goal of thinking differently with regard to software and hardware, but while gadget geeks may have been the first to cling to those comments, educators may actually see the most immediate results. And it may come from a most unusual source: video games. Specifically, Kinect Nat Geo TV, one of two “two-way TV experiences” to release recently for owners of an Xbox Kinect.
While Kinect Sesame Street TV (read our review) misfired in its execution and target audience, Kinect Nat Geo TV scores a direct hit with its content, pacing and intended user. Spread over the course of two discs, the “two-way TV experience” contains eight episodes full of easily digestible information about bears, cougars, wolves and wolverines. You’ll also find two episodes that discus the differences in seasons at Yellowstone, as well as a Season Pass that’ll nab you more content as it’s available. Such topics could have easily devolved into being dry or boring, but the developers and host of the Nat Geo WILD TV programs have presented it with such masterful pacing that each episode ends before pre-teens even realize they’ve just been taught something.
For instance, after just a few minutes of learning a bit about grizzly bears, the would-be students — I mean, “players” — are told to look for digital animal tracks on the screen. Once activated (or rather “if” they’re activated, since the activity is optional), pre-teens are given a short lesson about how to track grizzly bears by distinguishing their paw prints from other types of bear. Then they use gestures to control which direction the host travels to locate the grizzly. When all is said and done, the normal program resumes, only to present a digging-like activity four minutes later to keep them engaged.
This mix of content and activity — even the mix of activities themselves and gesture types — is brilliant for pre-teens, and the entire presentation is top notch. By mixing HD video with Kinect-exclusive clips and activities, Microsoft has created an entirely new type of edutainment, one that I can honestly see being employed in schools nationwide. No, the Kinect wouldn’t become a teacher, nor would the hardware become an integral part of the curriculum. But, Kinect Nat Geo TV could be an incredible complement to middle school teachers’ existing nature/outdoor-school lessons, and it could gain them a bit of street cred to boot.
Where Kinect Sesame Street TV faltered in large part because the inspiring programs already faked interaction, Kinect Nat Geo TV is built upon shows that don’t normally inspire interaction, making the experience feel fresh and unique. And, because it’s designed for older kids who understand or can more-easily comprehend gesture controls, Kinect Nat Geo TV is bound to be more intuitive for its intended consumer. I wholeheartedly recommend Kinect Nat Geo TV if you have pre-teens — or frankly anyone in your house — who’s interested in learning about nature through one of the most innovative pieces of edutainment I’ve ever come across.
Click here to buy Kinect Nat Geo TV from Amazon.com: Kinect Nat Geo TV.
Platform Reviewed: Xbox 360 (Kinect exclusive)
– Jonas Allen