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Microsoft's Xbox 360 team announced today that it's teaming up with several well-known children's television programs, including Sesame Street and Nat Geo Wild, to foster what it calls "playful learning" by tying these shows to the Kinect device.

The timing of the news might not be so great considering the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a report today, urging no television for toddlers under age 2.

Nevertheless, Microsoft is framing its news today in terms of education and interactivity, saying that it's now filming interactive TV shows that "seek to inspire kids and their parents to get off the couch and into the action, working cooperatively with their favorite characters to have fun and learn at the same time." By using the "controller-free magic of Kinect," says Alex Games, educational design director for Microsoft, "we can encourage kids to use their motor skills and to learn using their body in immersive experiences."

With the new programs, Microsoft says, television and play will be combined in order to promote a different level of engagement. With "Kinect Sesame Street TV," kids will be able to help Cookie Monster with specific tasks, and he'll respond to their gestures and to their voices. Of course, Sesame Street characters have always spoken directly though the screen to those watching at home. But with the Kinect software, the characters will now actually be able to interact more accurately, gauging for example if a child gets the wrong answer to a question that's posed.

With the "Kinect Nat Geo TV" program, viewers will be able to engage in different types of "hands-on-but-virtual" exploration than simply sitting and watching the television.

This more embodied type of learning, mediated through computing devices, is something that, earlier this year, the 2011 Horizon Report pegged as one of the key trends to watch in education technology. Although the Horizon Report said that "gesture-based computing" was still four or five years away from mainstream classroom adoption, we're certainly seeing strong indications of what this will look like via new consumer electronics devices. It's evident in the way in which our hands interact with the multitouch iPad, for example, and how our whole bodies interact with the Kinect. The future doesn't look like a keyboard and mouse.

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Audrey Watters


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