Update: Check out Google Earth Tag. Also I've since writing that decided Google Maps makes a much better platform for this kind of thing than Google Earth.


In the earlier days of language pedagogy, repetition was considered a key component of any learning experience. Extending off behavioral psychology and animal learning research, it was believed that repeated exposure to the same stimulus could condition learners to exhibit correct responses. Today, however, cognitive psychologist argue that, while repeated exposure to the same underlying concept can be helpful, the surrounding context in which a concept appears should actually be as varied as possible. Similarly, language educators have stressed a shift away from having students parrot answers to instead using more free-formed activities such as role plays and interviews.

Unfortunately, the move from repetition of the same context to instead providing as varied contexts as possible also brings with it the unspoken exponential increase in curricular production costs. Rather than designing a single context for students to repeat, designers are now expected to produce a range of contexts that meaningfully integrate with one another and allow for learner agency. As a result, some designers unfortunately opt to superficially wrap repetitive content inside a pseudo-communicative activity. However, this fails to significantly increase either the pedagogical or entertainment value of the curriculum from that of a behaviorist approach.

For a theory to successfully translate into practice, a theory needs to also address practical constraints and production costs. If creating a playful approach to language learning necessitates that we actively design both success and multiple failure contexts, it will undoubtedly extend outside the budgets realistically available to educational developers. It is therefore critical that we explore techniques such as Google Earth remixing/mashing-up to connect existing resources and game mechanics with our pedagogical goals. In the same way that this allowed Noel to create Planning San Francisco and Micky Google Earth Wars -- both in their spare time among many other projects -- we could hope foreign language designers might be able to affordably create truly engaging learning activities.