The “Why?” of Tokoha GameLab (part 1)

In my first post here, I talked about how Tokoha GameLab is being run—a bit about the mechanics of what we do each week. This time, I’d like to talk a little bit about the why—the pedagogical approach and teacher beliefs that lay behind the type of activity I’ve designed for the lab.

Most essentially, the pedagogical approach of TGL is based around what Swain & Deters (2007) call a “participation metaphor.” This phrase is meant to encapsulate a sociocultural view of language learning that focuses on learners’ engagement in certain types of practices in certain types of contexts (or communities of practice) rather than the acquisition of language through a disembodied view of cognition and cognitive processes. In this view, language is not seen as a possession of individuals, it is a thought of as a social currency, always shared, always connected to specific real-world contexts. It is something that is practiced socially over time, not something that is acquired once by an individual and then possessed for life.

But when language learning is seen as a process rather than a product, and the goal of participation is no longer “acquisition” per se, I think the question for foreign language educators becomes: what do we want the interactions with and in the foreign language we teach to yield for our students (when these take place in our educational contexts)?

In our rapidly changing and globalizing world, we cannot necessarily predict the types of contexts of language use that our students will find themselves in once they graduate. Like most humans, they will surely spend their lifetimes learning new language, whether it is local slang, jargon related to their professions, another foreign language, whatever. But even if we do know, for example, that a few of our students will likely work for shipping companies after they graduate, is the university the place where they should learn terms like “bill of lading” and “interline shipment”?

I think it is self-evident that teaching and testing such specialist language to all students so that it is “acquired” by the students who will need it would be somewhat meaningless to most students. But this is not to say that students should not be exposed to specialist language they will not necessarily “need” in the real world. This is where games come in. Games allow familiarization with various genres of language in a designed context that gives relevance to this language. A game about shipping could be fun for any number of reasons, and the language needed for the game could work as a currency for communication in the context of the game. In such a case, students could literally play with the new language much the way children do when they first appropriate new L1 speech genres.

In the end, I want students to develop greater awareness about language itself and the ways language is used for different purposes. I want students to think about what values different genres and modes of language use connect to, and how these values shape the world we live in.

From a social semiotics perspective (e.g. Kress, 2012), any interaction between two or more individuals involves the construction of a shared communicative culture. What board games offer are affordances for this culture to be co-constructed in a way that is playful and yet purpose-driven. Different games offer affordances for different types of interaction, and games naturalistically involve the usage of different genres and sub-genres of language. With some reflection on these genres and other forms, board games offer opportunities for dialogue leading to deeper understanding of the complexity of language, the functions of language, and the values and meanings behind different ways of using language.

That’s all for now. Soon, I’ll be writing more about some other real (observed) and potential benefits of Tokoha Gamelab.

References

Kress, G. (2012). Thinking about the notion of “cross-cultural” from a social semiotic perspective. Language and Intercultural Communication, 12(4), 369–385. http://doi.org/10.1080/14708477.2012.722102

Swain, M., & Deters, P. (2007). “New” Mainstream SLA Theory: Expanded and Enriched. The Modern Language Journal, 91, 820–836.

Video Game Play, Language Learning, Creation and Community

Note: This post describes a 2007-2009 project.

1. Introduction – a University Video Game Library

Video and computer games are receiving increasing attention by educational researchers and practitioners; however, most of the theory and pedagogy focus on general education (e.g., Squire, 2006) or language and literacy development of native speakers (e.g., Gee, 2007). While investigations have been made of second language learning in multiplayer games (Piirainen-Marsh & Tainio, 2009; Sykes, Oskoz & Thorne, 2008; Zheng, Young, Brewer & Wagner, 2009), there are very few examples of classroom or community uses of games to support second language development (e.g., Yip & Kwan, 2006). While language learners enjoy games, and some game features can facilitate learning or practicing a second language (deHaan, 2005a), experimental comparisons of games to other media as well as case studies of game players have resulted in mixed learning outcomes (deHaan 2005b; deHaan 2008; Fujii, 2010).

To investigate experiential aspects of games and language learning, a Video Game Library was created and administered for two years at a rural Japanese University. The design of the Library and its instructional programs were influenced by epistemic gaming (Schaffer, 2006), constructionist learning with games (Kafai, 2006), and gaming in libraries (Nicholson, 2010). The Library was open to all students between 20 to 30 hours per week, and contained multiple PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS, Nintendo Game Cube and Windows computer systems. More than 100 commercial-off-the-shelf English language games were available for student use. Students played individually and in small groups, and used dictionaries, Internet guides and forums, game diaries, vocabulary sheets, and the researcher to understand and reflect on the games’ English. Data sources included video recordings, fieldnotes, interviews, participant play, questionnaires, player projects, diaries and worksheets.

2. Library Usage Statistics

In total, more than 500 hours of games were played in the Library by more than 200 individuals. Time was logged independent of how many people played or watched a particular game; it was calculated based on how long each game was checked out of the collection.

The most played game genres were:

The 20 most played games were:

3. Game Play and Autonomous Learning (Vignettes)

Students needed to use their English skills to play most of the games; they had to carefully read and comprehend English used in game menus (“Do you want to proceed?”), game instructions (“Avoid getting flattened by the pages! Find a hole in the falling page and position yourself so you fit through to the next page.”), and character creation choices (“What are you afraid of?” 1. Getting old. 2. Being different. 3. Being indecisive.”). However, it was possible for many players to draw on game schema or intuition to play many of the games (especially sports and adventure games) “by feel” and ignore the games’ English.

Play Vignettes

These 17 short vignettes (presented alphabetically by game) illustrate various uses of English by game players in the Library. Students used English game websites, repeated game language, played games without having to read the English, used English from the games to communicate with other players, read game text carefully to make decisions, made corrections to their English through communication with a native speaker of English, and used worksheets to investigate game language. These vignettes are not representative of all experiences by players in the Library; many students played quietly by themselves and never spoke or wrote any English (these students may have learned or practiced language but these experiences are not investigated in these vignettes). PLAYER labels are specific to each game vignette.

Bully – FAQ

A player had been learning how to play the game for several sessions. He had gotten used to navigating the space and completing missions, but cannot complete a specific mission, seemingly because he cannot hear or read the English hints. He is quite frustrated. I suggest that he use an FAQ/walkthrough to complete the mission. He is interested in this and pauses his game, so I show him how to find the Bully walkthrough at www.gamefaqs.com and search for the mission using a keyword from the mission: “chocolate.” He spends a few minutes reading the online text, then goes back his game, unpauses it and immediately completes the mission.

Elder Scrolls IV Oblivion – “She is dead”

Two friends are playing the game together (one uses the controller). After spending a long time (laughing hysterically the whole time) to create a character that looks like a professor at the University, they begin to play and interact with various people in the world. The players mimic dialog (and laughs of characters) as best they can, for example “What’s going on?” “She is dead.” They something make mistakes in their mimicry, for example, they yell “Empire!” when they hear a sentence ending in “Emperor!” The players also read lots of on-screen text, for example “You need a key” and “Take how many?” After they turn off the game, one player comments in English that the “speed of conversations is too quick.”

Escape From Monkey Island – FAQ

Four friends are playing this game for the second time this week. The first play session seemed very frustrating for them – they could not solve any of the sentence puzzles. One of the friends has gone to a FAQ site and printed the walkthrough for the puzzle they were stuck on. The friends easily finish the puzzle, but do not read any of the sentences; they just read the FAQ and then select the correct answer for each question.

Grand Theft Auto III – “Green dots and pink dots”

PLAYER1 is playing a mission in which he has to pick up girls around town and bring them to a police party. He skipped the instructions for the mission and soon after he started playing says out loud in Japanese “I don’t understand what I need to do.” His friend, PLAYER2, has been playing another game, but hearing this, turns around, and after studying the screen (especially the mini map) for several seconds, tells him in Japanese to pick up a girl and bring her to the party. PLAYER1 does this and on his second try completes the mission. I talk with PLAYER2 when he finishes playing his game. He has not played GTAIII before, and when I ask him how he knew how to finish the mission, he responds in English “Green dots people…pink dots place.” He did not have to read the English instructions to be able to teach someone else how to play the game.

Mario Party 7 – “Jump, Move”

Four friends are playing together. At the beginning of each mini game, the friends read each word of the instructions out loud, often all together, then spend time discussing the meaning of the instructions, line by line, in Japanese, to confirm their understanding. After one confirmation discussion, PLAYER1 says in English “jump, move.” The players jump from the instructions to the controls for the game, and PLAYER1 says again (the words are displayed on the screen with their buttons) “jump, move.”

Mario Party 7 – “Not Right Now”

A player is navigating the board and has to stop at a betting game space. The game asks him if he wants to pay a coin to play. The player takes several seconds to read the choices carefully and then selects “not right now.”

Mario Party 7 – “Rotate”

Four friends are playing a collection of microphone minigames together. The game instructions tell them the controls to speak into the microphone, e.g. “Rocket Punch,” “Double Punch” and “Rotate.” The players are able to speak these words into the microphone and successfully control their characters. PLAYER1 begins to rehearse the English words and phrases before his turns, and the other players, noticing his success in the games, also start rehearsing the English phrases before their turns.

Metal Gear Solid 3 – FAQ Two friends played Metal Gear Solid 3 for several weeks together in the Library. PLAYER1 always controlled the game and PLAYER2 looked up new words in his electronic dictionary (e.g., “proceed” and “ration”) and gave translations out loud and took notes on game diary sheets. PLAYER2 sometimes mimics game dialog, for example “I see him!” At one point the players could not figure out how to enter a military complex. I suggested that they use an FAQ/walkthrough to complete the mission. I showed them how to find the Metal Gear Solid 3 walkthrough at www.gamefaqs.com and search for the mission. PLAYER2 spends a few minutes reading the online text, then tells PLAYER1, in Japanese, exactly where to enter the complex, PLAYER1 enters the complex, and they continue playing together.

NBA Live 06 – “Nice Shot”

PLAYER1 spends a lot of time in the Library and talks to me about English movies, music (e.g., “What does ‘All you need is love’ mean?”) and his homework. He regularly challenges me to play basketball with him, taunting me with “Come on!” We always make a big deal of trash talking before and during our games (in English). In one game, he hits a difficult shot and praises himself with “nice shoot” to which I respond “nice shot.” A few minutes later in the game he uses “nice shot” correctly. PLAYER1 later teaches a friend how to play the game and has the friend play the game by himself while coaching from the side. From time to time he compliments his friend with “nice block” and “nice play.” PLAYER1 plays basketball on a University club, and once told me that he learned and successfully implemented a basketball play he learned from NBA Live 06 in a game in the gym.

Resident Evil 4 – “Take”

PLAYER1 has played many games in this series, and plays the game very well. He shoots, attacks and navigates barriers with ease. He does not watch any cut scenes – he skips them. He does not read any text about items – he quickly presses the “A” button to grab them. He may be showing off for his friends who are watching. At one point the screen displays an item in the game world and a textual command “A = Take.” One friend, PLAYER2, translates “take” into Japanese. PLAYER1 does not comment. A few minutes later, PLAYER1 has escaped a falling rock and needs to kill some enemies. He moves around the screen quickly. Some ammunition appears on the ground but PLAYER1 does not pick it up. PLAYER2 begins to point at the ammunition on screen and yells excitedly at PLAYER1, in English, “Take! Take!” PLAYER1 moves over to the ammunition and takes it.

Spiderman 2 – “Hold”

The player takes a long time to read the various instructions about missions and upgrading abilities. The game has a narrator that guides the player through the tutorial, but he turns the volume of the television off. He mouths some of the words of the on-screen text. He nods his head in understanding after reading several text boxes. I ask him “Are you reading the text?” and he replies “Yes.” I ask “Do you understand” and he replies “OK.” In the next mission, he has to rescue a person hanging from a building ledge. The button to save the person is displayed on the screen. He very obviously looks at the button and explanation on the screen, then down at his controller and presses the correct button and saves the person. I sit down next to the player. He needs to carry a person to the hospital and he cannot figure out how to do it. He looks closely at the screen and notices the on-screen command. He turns to me and says in English “Hold” and then deliberately presses and holds the button to carry the person to the hospital. After the mission, he spends several minutes reading text to upgrade his abilities.

The Game of Life – “Spin the spinner”

Three friends are playing The Game of Life for the second time. Last week they paused each time they heard a new word in the game (there are audio commands and commentary) to look the word up in their electronic dictionaries. This week the friends enthusiastically repeat many of the words they looked up last week when they hear them in the game, for example “Spin the spinner,” “payday” and “revenge!”

The Sims – “Turn Off”

Four friends are playing the game together. None of them have played the game before and talk in Japanese about what they think they should do. They press various buttons and select random things on screen for several minutes. They figure out how to click on items (e.g., a bookcase) and select what to do with the item (e.g., “study”). The friends read as much as they can aloud in English and then turn to each other to confirm their understanding in Japanese. PLAYER1 says in Japanese that he wants to turn off the in-game TV then navigates to the item and chooses the command “turn off.”

Wario Ware Mega Party Games – “Nice”

Three friends are playing together and complete many of the minigames. I sit next to the group, and after I complemented one of the players saying “nice,” the players begin to complement each other in English as well with “nice.” While watching one of the minigames, I warn one student saying “Look out” and he in turn warns another player on that player’s turn saying “Look out.”

Wario Ware Mega Party Games – “Understand the words a little”

Three friends are playing together. They fail many of the mini games. PLAYER1 says in Japanese that he doesn’t understand the game. The players have difficulty reading the commands for each mini game, but they read as much as they can out loud. PLAYER2 explains a mini game he understands to his friends in Japanese. PLAYER2 says in Japanese that he doesn’t understand English. After several repetitions (some successful) of some of the games, I ask the players about the game and how they learn to play it. PLAYER1 says in English “keep playing more and more…I look at the pictures on the screen…I understand the words a little…jump…move.”

Wario Ware Mega Party Games – “Yup”

Three friends are playing together. They choose their characters and names and the game asks them to confirm their choices, prompting them with “Yup” or “Nope” as choices. The friends do not know what these words mean and do not make a choice. They turn to me and ask in English “what does this mean?” I bring them three vocabulary worksheets and they work through the questions together for the word “Yup” (looking up a definition in their dictionary), choosing parts of speech, and writing their own sentences. We spend some time on the worksheet question regarding register and I explain that “Yup” is a more casual form of “Yes.” After they finish the worksheet, I ask them “Do you understand this word?” and they all respond “Yes.” They do not respond “Yup” even though they have just repeated this word dozens of times in the last five minutes. They have perhaps made a correct pragmatic choice in their language (if they thought that they should not use “Yup” with me – a professor). However, they may not feel comfortable using the new word in conversation yet.

Winning Eleven 8 – “Mistake”

I played soccer regularly against one of my students. He spoke only in English with me. At one point in a game, he presses one button instead of another and quietly says “miss, miss.” I ask him “mistake?” He immediately responds “mistake.” The next day we are playing soccer again. He takes a shot on goal that sails high over the crossbar. He says confidently in English “mistake” and uses “mistake” and “made a mistake” instead of “miss” after controller mistakes in future game sessions.

4. Game Play and Autonomous Learning (Game Diaries and Vocabulary Worksheets)

39 students completed a total of 319 game diaries (in English) that asked them to reflect on gameplay, new vocabulary, and their opinion of a game’s usefulness for learning or practicing English.

Download Game Diary in the full report and materials pdf

The vocabulary words (587 tokens) were analyzed using VOCABPROFILE (http://www.lextutor.ca/vp/eng/) for level of vocabulary. Most of the vocabulary the students noticed and researched were Off List words. Only 8.5% of the words were academic.

Enjoyment

Game genres were cross-tabulated with students’ reported enjoyment of the game, from 1 (not at all) to 7 (very much). The following chart ranks games based on average reported enjoyment by genre:

Usefulness of Game Language.

Game genres were cross-tabulated with students’ perceptions of the usefulness of the game’s vocabulary and grammar, from 1 (not at all useful) to 7 (very useful). The following chart ranks games based on average perceived usefulness by genre:

Helpfulness of Game for Learning Language (Helpful Game Features).

Game genres were cross-tabulated with students’ perceptions of helpful game features (e.g., subtitles, repetition, story) for learning English, from 1 (not at all helpful) to 7 (very helpful). The following chart ranks games based on average perceived helpfulness by genre:

Action/Adventure and Sports games were some of the most played games in the Library, and were enjoyed, but students seemed to believe they were not especially useful or helpful for learning English. Educational games were some of the least played games in the Library, and were not enjoyed, but students seemed to believe they were useful and helpful for learning English.

The following chart shows game features students reported to be helpful for learning or practicing English. Units on the chart represent the number of times the feature was reported as “helpful” on submitted game diaries. Students could select more than one helpful feature for each game.

Game Vocabulary Worksheets.

16 students completed a total of 105 game vocabulary worksheets (in English) that asked them to select one new word from a played game and investigate the word’s context, applications and collocations.

Download Game Vocabulary Worksheet in the full report and materials pdf

The vocabulary was analyzed using VOCABPROFILE (http://www.lextutor.ca/vp/eng/) for level of vocabulary. Most of the vocabulary the students noticed and researched were either K1 Words or Off List words. Only 14% of the words were academic.

Verbs were the most popular vocabulary type noticed and researched.

5. Game Play and Autonomous Learning (Student Opinions and Learning Outcomes)

Interviews were conducted with 20 students regarding self study with games in the Library. Many students were positive about using games to learn English (“I learned a new way of studying English. I was studying and having fun. I was happy”) and found the game diaries and vocabulary worksheets “annoying” but “very useful – can get a complete understanding of the word.” Students believed that playing with friends (“If I don’t know words, my friend might and we can learn from each other and together”) or playing with a native speaker (“If we use Game Library, we will have a chance to talk with Prof. deHaan. Game may only improve reading or listening skills, but talking with teacher will improve speaking skills”) were the best ways to use games to learn English.

Questionnaires were completed by 122 students at the end of the project. 92% agreed that playing the games was fun, and 73% agreed that the English in the games was easy to understand. More than half of the students agreed that their reading, listening and vocabulary skills improved by playing the games. More than half disagreed that their speaking, writing and grammar skills improved by playing the games. Self reports of learning outcomes include “I learned many abbreviations – they appeared in games often,” “I learned how to enjoy studying English,” “I learned words not commonly used in textbooks. I think these words are useful in life,” and “I learned English to play Mario Party: to solve some puzzle games, read some explanations and understand it. And my reading skill becomes more better.” One student commented “I sometimes forget things – what did I study?”

A vocabulary test was constructed based on new words nine students had written on their game diaries and vocabulary worksheets. The test asked these same students to write the Japanese translations of the presented English words. On average, students could translate only three out of 20 words they had “learned” from the games they had played.

6. Game Design

I worked with three students for four months (we met five times) to design and develop English language roleplaying games on the Library PCs. These three students were friends and were very interested in careers in game design (one had a game design scholarship). They were students in one of my classes, and I offered to meet with them extracurricularly to make games and study English. We used RPG Maker VX (four licenses were purchased with research funds). I found game design articles and tools and led discussions on story and character design, and one of the students (the one with the scholarship) gave mini lectures on programming and other technical details (he created a wiki page for difficult terms and language in RPG Maker VX). We used an http://pbworks.com wiki to plan our games. Nearly all of the activities were done in English.

Meeting 1: We talked about RPG genre elements (character types, leveling, themes, items, parties), discussed the stories of our favorite RPGs (we collaboratively negotiated an English summary of the main plot of Final Fantasy X), and we started writing ideas for the main plot of our own RPGs. We learned how to create maps and add objects to the map.

Students’ summary of Final Fantasy X’s story: BEGINNING When Tidus is playing blitzball in Zanarkland, Sin attacks him and he is sucked into another world. MIDDLE (TURNING POINT) Many people try to kill Sin using ultimate summon spell (soul), but Tidus notices Sin is born from ultimate summon and summoner (Yuna) is dead. This is the bad cycle. END (RESOLUTION) Sin is destroyed and the world is changed by stopping bad cycle (without summoner: continental circus, an airship goes into Sin and cooperates. In fact, Sin is Tidus’ father) and Tidus is banished.

Meeting 2: I used an online three-part interactive story telling game (http://www.ludomancy.com/games/StoryTeller.html) to reinforce narrative sections and language; the students experimented with the game and had to verbally explain the story they had created with the tool. We took turns presenting our own story ideas; each person said one sentence for each chapter in his game. We learned how to create events (jumping to other maps and triggering battles).

Meeting 3: We refined our stories and continued working on game events (background music).

Meeting 4: We used Game Faqs and Google to find game scripts from our favorite RPGs. The Persona 3 script led us to discuss formal and casual English language and who might use certain English registers.

Persona 3 script student notes: student: casual conversation ex) Student: S’up, dude? How’s it goin’? teacher: formal conversation ex) Shuji Ikutsuki: Okay, everybody’s here. I’d like your undivided attention.

One student wrote a mafia story, and wanted the dialog to fit the characters and setting; he spent a lot of time reading (and asking questions about) the script for Grand Theft Auto III, e.g., “get outta here!” He was very excited to find an English forum discussion on the game confirming the appropriateness of GTA vocabulary for his game:

Forum Question: Can GTA teach me English?

Forum Post: Maybe, but there are lots of bad words. Student (out loud): Yatta!

Meeting 5: We discussed our favorite RPG characters and read an article by a professional game developer on effective character creation (http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/3480/building_character_an_analysis_of_.php). The students were very focused on comprehending the article meant for other game professionals. We used the content of the article (characterization, character development, names and backgrounds) to shape the main characters in our games. Additionally, for our main character, we described how he/she would act in certain events (e.g., if he were asked for money, if she were asked on a date) using conditional sentence structures. We also discussed dialects and varieties of English to characterize game characters, and also used online baby name websites to find appropriate names for our characters (e.g., one player searched for names meaning “beautiful”). Another student found and used a Japanese website with long lists of English adjectives and translations to describe personalities. We discussed how character names in Harry Potter (e.g., “Voldemort” or “Hermione”) sounded “good” or “bad” and students reacted to each others’ created names (e.g., “Peony” and “Menth”). We spent time manipulating and creating items for our games.

The students were very motivated to create games using RPG Maker VX; they often came hours before our meetings to work on their English text on the wiki or develop their games. The students were sometimes frustrated because they had “many ideas but can’t combine them.” The students were a little surprised when I asked them to use the English version of the software, but seemed to get used to the English menus and descriptions very quickly. The students pushed themselves to explain their story ideas to me in English, and the students offered (sometimes in Japanese) very constructive and detailed critiques of ideas. Writing story summaries, character descriptions, and brief dialogs provided opportunities for mini lectures on grammar (contractions, verb tenses) and vocabulary use. RPG Maker VX was easy for these students (computer science majors) to use; options for less computer literate students might be The Cartoon Network’s game creation tools (http://gamecreator.cartoonnetwork.com/), Scratch (http://scratch.mit.edu/), or even drawing “screenshots” and game systems on paper.

7. Game Journalism

I worked with eight students for four months on the creation of an issue of a print and online English game magazine. We met as part of a University-wide seminar series supported by extra credit and funding for each student. All of the students were taking or had taken one of my University English classes, all had played games in the Library, and some belonged to a University game creation club. Many students had been friends before the seminar. The students elected to take the seminar, and there was no limit on the number of students I would have accepted. We used Open Office to layout our magazine and an http://pbworks.com wiki to plan our articles. Nearly all of the activities were done in English.

The magazine can be read at:

http://issuu.com/aizugamemagazine/docs/made_in_japan_2009_akabeko_game_issue

Meeting 1: We discussed goals and steps of the seminar (creating and distributing an English language game magazine) and looked at numerous examples of print and online game magazines (e.g., Play, Edge, EGM, Famitsu, Game Informer, 1up.com, gamespot.com) and made and ranked a list of important game magazine elements (e.g., title page, game reviews).

Meeting 2: We narrowed the focus of our magazine (we decided to create a magazine introducing unique Japan-only games), selected features we wanted in our game reviews, brainstormed games to include in the magazine, and selected a high-quality color printer to purchase with our budget.

Meeting 3: We deconstructed various authentic video game reviews of Pokemon Diamond (a game all the students had played); we made notes of important topics and evaluative language to describe games.

Meeting 4: We spent time writing our reviews, and I gave a short workshop on using online translation software effectively (i.e., sparingly and critically). I also gave the students some instruction about using dictionaries and thesaurus tools to develop (i.e., vary) the vocabulary in their reviews.

Meeting 5: We discussed common scoring guidelines and the students added scores to the sections of their reviews.

Meeting 6: We downloaded and installed Open Office (free word processing software) on each computer. We used whiteboards then Open Office table formatting to discuss various layouts for our reviews. Students used a variety of layouts to organize their review sections. Students sent their reviews to me to edit after they finished. I gave them feedback about language choices and asked them questions to guide their writing (especially if something was unclear or ignored in their review).

Meeting 7: We brainstormed titles and layouts for the cover page, table of contents and member and information pages of the magazine. This was an extensive process, but finally all members seemed to agree on fonts, colors, layouts and text. Each student used an online flash tool (http://www.blogcdn.com/www.joystiq.com/media/2006/10/mii.swf) to create a Mii-like caricature of themselves for the member information page.

Meeting 8: This was a work day for all members to finish their reviews and layouts and work one-on-one with me.

Meeting 9: We printed all the pages of the magazine and did a group and peer review process of language and page layouts to standardize the content.

Meeting 10: A professional graphic designer working at the University in the Graduate School Office was invited to come to our seminar and critique each page of the magazine. The students were very nervous and excited about this process. They asked many questions about the layout, font, and colors of their pages. This activity was done in Japanese because the graphic designer spoke limited English. The students seemed very appreciative of the designer’s professional advice and made numerous changes based on her feedback.

Meeting 11: The pages were consolidated into one Open Office document and a pdf file of the magazine was created and once more reviewed for any omissions or formatting changes. When all the members were satisfied with the magazine, we created an issuu.com (an online magazine reading site) account and uploaded our file for public reading. The students learned how to embed the document on their own blogs and websites, and how to monitor the reading/downloading of the magazine from issuu.com (we shared issuu.com login information). We had a small “publishing party.” The remaining seminar budget was used to pay for a printing company to make 3 bound copies of the magazine for each member.

Although some of the students lost some motivation over the course of the semester (originally there were 10 members but 2 dropped out), the final weeks of designing and reviewing the magazine pages seemed very motivating to the students and all were very happy with the final results. This project created opportunities for students to develop their speaking skills (discussing games, magazine focus and design and layout issues), listening skills (having to listen carefully to other students ideas in order to respond appropriately), reading skills (reading numerous game reviews carefully to learn how to write reviews in English) and writing skills (using positive and negative critical language and describing game features). The students also developed their use of word processor, dictionary, thesaurus and translation software. I worked extensively with each student to help them write what they wanted to convey, and was able to help students use new vocabulary related to games and gameplay (e.g., “learning curve”). The students were very motivated by the professional designer’s critique of their work; they began to work much harder when her visit was announced a few weeks prior. The wiki was useful for planning magazine text and for me to give students individual feedback.

However, there were not enough PCs for each student and the Play Station 3s’ web browsers and USB keyboards were used by some students to write on the project wiki. The students did not seem comfortable using these technologies (the connection seemed slow and the wiki did not display well on the screen). There were also limitations to using Open Office to layout the magazine; some students had difficulty working with tables to create their pages and also had trouble manipulating images. Working in a larger computer lab with design software such as Scribus (also open source) might be easier to manage for the instructor and students.

A game magazine publication project seems well suited for an extracurricular project for students especially interested in games or critical writing. This project could be modified for other group review projects (perhaps of movies or music). Teachers working with lower level students might consider having students work in pairs (in order to focus students more on language by negotiating content). Alternative formats of the magazine might include a blog or half-page reviews (as long as students have enough space to describe and critique their selected games). This project could be scaled down to be used in project-based writing instruction (magazines could be a framework for developing students’ descriptive, summarizing, technical, and critical writing skills). If computers are not available, students could write/draw on note paper and the writing could be copied and bound for the class.

8. Game Communities

A Super Smash Bros Brawl tournament was held on a weekend to introduce all University students to the Library. 45 students participated. Tournament announcements (e.g., welcome, rules, bracketing, awards) were conducted in English. There were many instances of great sportsmanship, chatting and cheering (mainly in Japanese but sometimes in English). Small gift certificates were given to the winners. Many tournament participants visited the Library the following week to play Smash Bros and other games. Future tournaments could include formal English instruction (e.g., how to ask game-related questions) or be interspersed with other educational activities.

Tournament videos are available at http://www.youtube.com/user/gamelibrary.

Several weekend game and English workshops were offered to families and high school students. In the workshops, participants were introduced to game genres and good games for language learning. Participants chose a Library game to play for 30 minutes (practicing listening and reading skills), completed a video game diary or vocabulary worksheet (practicing writing skills), and gave a short presentation (in English regarding gameplay and language) about the game (practicing speaking skills). Participants were also introduced to participatory ways to develop language skills (e.g., reading and writing game FAQs and using game design tools). It was difficult for some parents not familiar with games to use the PlayStation controllers. Two young children with very low English proficiencies chose difficult RPG games and had to have everything translated for them. Overall, workshop participants enjoyed the integrated language learning with games workshops.

9. Conclusions

Tournaments and workshops may be effective ways to introduce communities to studying English with games. Although students enjoyed playing English games, and seemed to practice English skills while playing, the learning outcomes seem mixed and somewhat poor. Game players should practice reflective language learning with tools that require them to focus on and use the games’ English. Students practiced a variety of language and technology skills with the design projects held in the Library; projects such as these will be continued and further developed to meet students’ specific learning needs.

References

deHaan, J. (2005a). Learning language through video games: A theoretical framework, an analysis of game genres and questions for future research. In S. Schaffer & M. Price (Eds.), Interactive Convergence: Critical Issues in Multimedia (vol. 10), Chapter 14, pp. 229-239. [Online] Available: http://www.inter- disciplinary.net/publishing/idp/eBooks/icindex.htm

deHaan, J. (2005b). Acquisition of Japanese as a foreign language through a baseball video game. Foreign Language Annals, 38(2), 278-282.

deHaan, J. (2008). Video games and second language acquisition: The effect of interactivity with a rhythm video game on second language vocabulary recall, cognitive load, and telepresence. Unpublished doctoral dissertation: New York University.

Fujii, Y. (2010). Acquisition of English as a foreign language with an adventure puzzle video game. Unpublished graduation thesis: University of Shizuoka.

Gee, J. P. (2007). Good video games and good learning: Collected essays on video games, learning and literacy (New literacies and digital epistemologies). New York: Peter Lang Publishers.

Kafai, Y. B. (2006). Playing and making games for learning: Instructionist and constructionist perspectives for game studies. Games and Culture 1(1), 34-40.

Nicholson, S. (2010). Everyone plays at the library: Creating great gaming experiences for all ages. Medford, NJ: Information Today, Inc.

Piirainen-Marsh, A., & Tainio, L. (2009). Other-repetition as a resource for participation in the activity of playing a video game. Modern Language Journal, 93, 153–169.

Shaffer, D.W. (2006). How computer games help children learn. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Squire, K.D. (2006). From content to context: Video games as designed experiences. Educational Researcher, 35(8), 19-29.

Sykes, J., Oskoz, A., & Thorne, S. L. (2008). Second language use, socialization, and learning in Internet interest communities and online gaming. Retrieved September 15, 2009, from http://language.la.psu.edu/~thorne/Thorne_etal_MLJ_2009_Draft.pdf

Zheng, D., Young, M. F., Brewer, R. B., & Wagner, M. (2009). Attitude and self-efficacy change: English language learning in virtual worlds. CALICO Journal, 27, 205-231.

A: Game Features and Language Learning

deHaan, J. (2005). Language learning through video games: A theoretical framework, an analysis of game genres and questions for future research. In S. Schaffer & M. Price (Eds.), Interactive Convergence: Critical Issues in Multimedia (vol. 10), Chapter 14, pp. 229-239. Interdisciplinary Press. Link to article in e-book

1. Games are motivating

2. We learn by playing and experimenting

3. We remember through stories

4. Authentic materials challenge us

5. Simulations help us transfer learning

6. Subtitles and spoken language help us “bootstrap” meanings

7. Context (language and images) help us “bootstrap” meanings

8. We can often switch game language between native and foreign languages

9. Games often repeat language

10. Games force us to use language to make choices

11. Games give us feedback about our choices and actions

12. Physical movement with a game contextualizes language and learning

13. Our involvement in play or story helps us focus on and remember language

14. Games let us pause the action to think about language

B: List of Games in the Library

Action/Adventure

Animal Crossing (GC)
Animal Crossing Wild World (DS) (2)
Beyond Good and Evil (PS2)
Bully (PS2)
Escape from Monkey Island (PS2)
Fable: The Lost Chapters (PC)
Grand Theft Auto III (PS2)
Grand Theft Auto Vice City (PS2)
Grand Theft Auto San Andreas (PS2)
Grand Theft Auto IV (PS3) (2)
Grim Fandango (PC)
Hotel Dusk: Room 215
Jade Empire Special Edition (PC)
Kingdom Hearts (PS2)
Kingdom Hearts II (PS2)
Kings Quest VII: The Princeless Bride (PC)
Lifeline Voice Action Adventure (PS2)
Metal Gear Solid (PS2)
Metal Gear Solid 2 (PS2)
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (PS2) (2)
Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (PS3) (2)
Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door (GC)
Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney (DS)
Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Justice for All (DS)
Psychonauts (PS2)
Resident Evil 4 (GC)
Resident Evil: Outbreak (2 copies) (PS2)
Robot Alchemic Drive (PS2)
Sprung (DS)
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (GC)
Touch Detectives (DS)
Zork 1, 2 and 3 (PC)

Educational Software

Crossword DS (DS)
Dora Journey to the Purple Planet (PS2)
Dora Saves the Mermaids (PS2)
Eiken o jun ni kyu hen mensetsu simulation kintsuki (DS)
Interactive Storybook DS Series 2 (DS)
Shin TOEIC test kanzen koryaku (DS)
Snoopy to issho ni eigo lesson DS (DS)
Tabino yubisashi kaiwa cho DS America (DS)
THE microstep gijutsu de oboeru etango (DS)
TOEIC test DS training (DS)

Mini/Party

Cooking Mama Cook Off (Wii)
Feel the Magic XY~XX (DS)
Mario Party DS (DS)
Mario Party 4 (GC) (2)
Mario Party 7 (GC)
Mario Party 8 (Wii)
Warioware, inc. Mega Party Games! (GC)

Movie-based

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (GC)
Peter Jackson’s King Kong (PS2)
Spiderman 2 (PS2)
The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (PS2)

Music

Elite Beat Agents
Karaoke Revolution Presents American Idol (PS2)
Parappa the Rapper (PS one)
Parappa the Rapper 2 (PS2)
Um Jammer Lammy (PS one)

Puzzle

Brain Training: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day! (DS)
Cookie and Cream (DS) (2)
Professor Layton and the Curious Village (DS)
Trauma Center: Under the Knife (DS)

Role Playing

Dragon Quest VIII Journey of the Cursed King (PS2)
Elder Scrolls IV OBLIVION (PS3)
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles (GC)
Final Fantasy III (DS)
Final Fantasy X (PS2)
Final Fantasy XII (PS2)
Pokemon Diamond (DS)
Pokemon Pearl (DS)
River King: A Wonderful Journey (PS2)
RPG Maker 3 (PS2)

Simulation/Strategy

Civilization III Complete (PC)
Final Fantasy Tactics (PS one)
Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life (GC)
Pirates! (PC)
Real Lives 2004 (PC)
Rise of Nations (PC)
Rollercoaster Tycoon 3 Platinum (PC)
Sim City 4 Deluxe Edition (PC)
The Movies (PC)
Theme Park Roller Coaster
The Sims (PS2)
The Sims (PC)
The Sims: Hot Date Expansion Pack (PC)
The Sims: Life Stories (PC)
The Sims 2 (PS2)
The Sims 2: Deluxe (PC)

Sports

ESPN Basketball (PS2)
ESPN NFL 2K5 (PS2)
FIFA 08 Soccer (PS3)
Hot Shots Golf 3 (PS2)
Gran Turismo 3: A-spec (PS2)
MLB 06 The Show (PS2)
MLB Power Pros (Wii)
MLB Power Pros (PS2)
Madden NFL 06 (PS2)
NBA Live 06 (PS2)
NFL Head Coach (PS2)
Winning Eleven 8 (PC)

Quiz/Board Clue:

Murder at Boddy Mansion (PC)
Jeopardy Deluxe (PC)
Monopoly (PC)
Scrabble Complete (PC)
The Game of Life (PC)

Virtual Pet

Monster Rancher EVO (PS2)
Nintendogs: Dachshund & Friends (DS)

C: Technology/Administration Issues in the Library

1. Memory Cards
Games on consoles such as PS2, Gamecube, and the Dreamcast use memory cards (not internal storage) to save games. Library administration must either manage the students’ save files, or warn students that their games may be deleted/overwritten by other students. Students should be encouraged to use their own memory cards in a Library.

2. Portable Console Save Files
Games on portable consoles (PSP, Nintendo DS) save games directly to the cartridge, and often allow only a few save files at a time. Students should be aware that other students may play their saved game, or delete the saved game to start a new game. Handheld-based games might be loaned out to a student (or reserved in the Library) for a few weeks in order for students to continue their games.

3. Game Cinematics / Student Time
Some games have lengthy unskippable unpausable cinematic scenes, and these can be frustrating to a student if he just wants to “jump in” and play the game.

4. Number of Players
Some games and some systems do not allow multiple players, so if there are many students in the Library, not everyone can play a game. Some students sometimes have to be turned away creating a poor impression of the Library and resources. Equipment could be reserved if large numbers of students want to play (if additional equipment cannot be purchased).

5. PC Specifications
Older models of PC often cannot play newer games because of memory or graphics card limitations. Newer models of PCs should be purchased or games should be carefully selected to ensure that they will run smoothly on the computers.

6. PC Game Save Files and Installation
PC games cannot usually be installed to more than one PC at a time, and this can be frustrating if the computer a student used previously is not available when she returns to continue her game. Save files can also be difficult to move to another PC. A reservation system might prevent inconvenience.

7. Noise
A game library can get very noisy at times. Headphones (with splitters for multiple players) are very useful. A voice volume policy can be enforced.

8. Language of Instructional/Administrative Materials
Some students had difficulty reading English-only signs and materials, so these were translated into Japanese so both languages were presented.

9. Game Administration
Students checked out and checked in their games by themselves, and the games were kept in the original boxes on a shelf. No thefts or damage occurred. If misuse or theft are issues, the games could be kept in sleeves in a lockable cabinet (if staff are available to manage this process).

10. Marketing
Flyers, signs, and a N64 game station playing Super Smash Bros outside the Library worked well to attract students.

D: Suggestions for Language Teachers: Learning and Teaching Projects with Games

LEARNING PROJECTS

1. Game Collection
Choose a language learning focus (e.g., verbs, computer science, listening skills, games for children, …). Collect 3 games of any type with this focus and evaluate each one.

2. Game Diary
Play one game for several weeks, several times a week. Write a Game Diary each time you play the game. Write a summary of your experience at the end of the semester (e.g., language learned, opinions of the game).

3. Write a Game Review
Play one game until you have a good sense of its strengths and weaknesses. Write a review of the game itself (not focusing on its language). Examples can be found at www.1up.com and www.gamespot.com. In your review, include all of the points covered by professional game journalists (e.g., graphics, story, controls, value, overall score, …).

Download Game Review Exercise in the full report and materials pdf

4. Online Video Game Forums
Become a member of an English-language video game website (e.g., http://boards.1up.com/ or www.gamespot.com forums). Read and write messages about games. Keep a record of (1) your posts and (2) responses to your posts. Write a summary of your experience at the end of the semester (e.g., difficulty communicating with native speakers, things you learned, advice for other non-native speaker forum users).

5. Write a FAQ/walkthrough/tips and tricks
Read a guide/walkthrough/FAQ for your favorite game at www.gamefaqs.com . Carefully examine the format of the walkthrough. Play a new game, take notes (record) your play, then write a detailed walkthrough of a specific part of the game. You can write a guide/walkthrough/FAQ for any type of game (e.g., video game, card game, board game).

Download Walkthrough Exercise in the full report and materials pdf

6. Check a FAQ/walkthrough
Use a guide/walkthrough/FAQ at www.gamefaqs.com while playing a new game. Carefully evaluate the walkthrough (e.g., where does the writer offer helpful advice for you? what does the writer forget/miss? what would you change about the guide?)

7. Translate a game (e.g., video game)
Choose a game in one language (e.g., English or Japanese) and translate the language of the game (e.g., menus, dialog, commands, story) into another language (e.g., from Japanese to English, or from English to Japanese). Keep notes about new language you learn in the process.

8. Make machinima (movies using game videos)
Watch several machinima (http://www.machinima.com/, http://www.mprem.com/, http://www.machinima.org.uk/, http://www.sims99.com/ ). Which machinima do you like, and why? Use machinima tools (e.g., The Movies, FRAPPS + Windows Movie Maker/iMovie) to create a short machinima piece.

9. Research project – player interaction with a game
Study how a person (or a group of players) plays a game in another language. Find another student(s) to help you. Have them play a new game in another language. Watch and record the gameplay and interview the player(s). How did the student(s) play the game, what language did the player(s) learn/practice, and how did the game help/hinder language learning? Write a short research paper.

10. Research project – language in games
Study the kind of language in games. Play one or several games and keep notes (record your gameplay). What are the frequent/typical/common/uncommon/unusual/interesting words, expressions, grammar and uses of language in the game(s)?

11. Interviews with native speakers in game worlds
Choose an topic you are interested in (a topic that might also be interesting to another person). Visit an English- language virtual world (e.g., World of Warcraft, Sims Online, Second Life) and carefully meet and interview the person about your topic. Write a short report of your experience (the person’s responses, what you learned, how you felt about the experience, and any language successes/problems in your experience online).

12. Fanfiction (stories using game characters or worlds)
Read several fanfiction stories (http://www.fanfiction.net/game/, http://www.gamertales.com/ ). Which fanfiction do you like, and why? Choose a favorite game and write a short fanfiction story.

Download Fanfiction Exercise in the full report and materials pdf

13. Vocabulary work
Use the vocabulary worksheets to study vocabulary in video games.

TEACHING PROJECTS

1. Make a game
Choose a language focus (e.g., vocabulary items, grammar point, skill work). Choose an appropriate game media/technology (e.g., video game, roleplay, board game) and create a game to teach the language focus. You cannot create a trivia, quiz, or matching game. Your game must be somewhat unique. You must have a fully developed game that can be played by other students.

Download Language Teaching Game Design Project Materials (assignment, timeline, brainstorming questions, playtesting sheet, design document items, grading rubric) in the full report and materials pdf

2. Create a design document for a game
Choose a language focus (e.g., vocabulary items, grammar point, skill work). Choose an appropriate game media/technology (e.g., video game, roleplay, board game) and write a document describing the game design. You cannot create a trivia, quiz, or matching game. Your game must be somewhat unique. This project is appropriate if your idea is too technical or complicated to design in one semester.

3. Modify a game
It may be possible to change commercial games to make them more useful for language learners (e.g., http://lingualgamers.com/thesis/ Choose a game (e.g., video game, board game) and make the game better for a language learner. Write a short report describing your changes.

4. Interview a teacher
Teachers sometimes use games in the language classroom. Meet and interview a teacher about if/how he/she uses games in the classroom. Write a short report summarizing the results of your interview – what did you learn?

5. Classroom game observation
Teachers sometimes use games in the language classroom. Go to a local school and watch a teacher use a game in the classroom. Take careful notes (and video record, if possible). Write a short report analyzing the experience (the type of game, the language used, player experience, language learned, teacher role, etc…)

6. Teach someone a game
Find a friend or family member that wants to study English. Choose an English-language game (e.g., video game, board game) and teach the person how to play the game (in English). Video tape your instruction and the subsequent gameplay. Evaluate your language use (i.e., was your language effective in teaching the game – did the player understand how to play the game?). Did the player learn English with the game?

7. Teach English with a game
Find a school or community center that will let you teach the students. Choose a language point, and choose a game that will teach the language point. Make a lesson plan, teach the game (video record the class), and evaluate your instruction and the students learning of the language point with the game. (You could also assist a teacher with game-based language instruction in this project).

8. Make a lesson plan for using a game in a class
In this project, you will only prepare to teach using a game. Choose a language point, and choose a game that will teach the language point. Make a lesson plan (e.g., objectives, activities, worksheets, test).

9. Collect games for teachers
Choose a teaching focus (e.g., verbs, computer science, listening skills, games for children, …). Collect 3 games of any type and evaluate each one – is it a good game? – can teachers use it effectively in the classroom? Use the Game Critique Guide to evaluate each game.

10. Media comparison
Choose a language focus (e.g., a particular word, a grammar point, a skill). Choose several types of games (e.g., video game, board game, conversation game, virtual world, roleplay) and compare how each type of game teaches/practices the language focus (the content should be the same; the method/media should be different). Which is the most effective, and why?

E. Examples of Student Work (available in the full report and materials pdf )

English Sentence Structure Search

Review: Metal Gear Solid 3

Translation: Metal Gear Solid 3

Game Walkthrough: Kingdom Hearts

Collection of Games for English Teachers

Design Document: Computer Game – Everyday Life Vocabulary for Elementary School Students

Computer Game Program: Make, Have and Take Quiz

Game Adaptation: Metal Gear Solid The Board Game

KR2.0 Framework test with Diceplomacy

IMG_1076

In today’s class I wanted to try and play Diceplomacy as a way to test the KR2.0 Framework. The new framework is in development right now, but I’ll outline some of the main points here.


First, what is Diceplomacy?

Very simply, it is a massively reduced version of the famous Diplomacy game that can take up to 12 hours to complete and features more feuds and fall outs than a low-budget soap opera. Read more on Diplomacy here. Diceplomacy on the other hand has a set of rules that fit on two-sides of A4, and the only requirements needed are a dice per player. Simple!

Diceplomacy rules

I won’t go into the rules here, as you can check them at the link provided above. However, a quick overview is:

  • Each player rolls one die, to determine their Power, and keep their die hidden.
  • On your turn, you can do 1 of the following 4 things: Declare war on another player, propose an alliance with another player, cancel all alliances, or reroll your Power die
  • If you declare war on another player – the one of you with highest Power scores a Victory, and the other a Defeat.
  • The goal of the game is to get 3 Victories.
  • If a player is defeated 3 times, he is out of the game.

Lesson Plan

Ok, so how am I using this game in my class? Let’s look at the structure of the lesson. Following on from this overview are notes on why I am doing each stage, what I expect, and what happened (in quoted speech).

  1. Introduce the rules
  2. Brainstorm useful language
  3. Play & record audio
  4. Transcribe the audio
    • Correct any English mistakes
    • Translate any Japanese
  5. Play again with additional rules
  6. Write a report on their experiences

Introduce the game

I have created a Google Slides presentation to introduce the rules.

I also drew simple diagrams on the board to highlight key points such as the rules and options available when making alliances and declaring war on other players. I plan on making slides in the future to more accurately show how these concepts work.

Brainstorm useful language

In groups, students think about what words and expressions they may need to use during the game. I collate their ideas and write them on the board.

Examples included:

  • Will you make an alliance with me?
  • I declare war on you.
  • Help me!

I was surprised that they couldn’t come up with much more than very basic expressions. It was like they couldn’t think about what the game would involve and were stuck at this stage, so I called the brainstorming session to a halt and decided to just play and see what happened instead.

As expected, the language they come up with will mostly be related to procedural actions in the game, not the meta-game talk such as:

  • If you make alliance with me, you’ll be strong.
  • If you attack me, you’ll lose.
  • Who’s turn is it?
  • Who is your ally?

Play

Play the game and record what they say.

During the play session I noticed that students really didn’t understand that the meta-game language as described above was done predominantly in Japanese, like that part of communication is not considered part of the game..! They are in for a shock when they have to transcribe ALL that they said.

Listen and transcribe

It needn’t be so long, as I’m sure there will be a ton of useful language to analyse. Perhaps go through the audio until each person has had a turn in the game. That should generate enough to look at.

We didn’t get to do this in today’s class, so I have given it as homework for them to complete before next week’s class.

Upon completion of the transcription phase I want them to do two things:

Correct mistakes in English

As a group, correct any mistakes they think they have made in English and write down any common errors.

Translate any Japanese they spoke into English

This may be harder, and if necessary I can do a session on useful English for this part. I presume they will need to look at the use of

  • conditionals,
  • phrases for giving suggestions,
  • because / so / because of constructs.

Play again

Whether we’ll have time this week or not, I’m unsure, but the next activity will be to replay the game (recording again of course).

We definitely didn’t have time.

Upon completion of the second play through, we’ll transcribe their speech again and compare it with the first session to see if there is an improvement.

For the second play through I will also add a rule:

If I speak Japanese, I have to reduce my power level by 1.

That should keep them on their toes, and, more importantly, make them aware of when they are speaking Japanese because I’m very sure that they speak Japanese without even thinking about it during gameplay. Conscious raising via game rules!


This article first appeared on my personal blog here.

Text Analysis Sheet

The Game Terakoya project is attempting to have students examine the sociocultural aspects of games and language. To help students, I put together a worksheet, which I will share here.

TextAnalysisSheet_dehaan
https://docs.google.com/document/d/1YrHBCFC_R60hcgg_R6Y5Jz5dtutWFBLHK3nLVYx4I4M/edit

Anyone should be able to comment on that document. I’d love to learn what could be altered in that document to make it more helpful to students.

My students seem to be doing very well using the worksheet. Neither of them have ever analyzed text in this manner before, and the worksheet is helping them to look past just looking up words or expressions to thinking much more about the writer, reader, purpose, meanings of various texts.

We have been using it with mostly written text at this point, but I have shown other media (e.g., President Obama’s “Yes We Can” ads) to illustrate how the questions can be used with other media.

Putting together that document was a significant learning process for me. It’s helping me change my practice as well.

“Game Terakoya” Catch up

The Game Terakoya is an extracurricular project that aims to help students interested in games and language transform those interests into public or professional participation. I have run a lot of projects with students (e.g., volunteer teaching, designing games, playtesting games for designers) but have found it hard to “measure” or contextualize the activity and development of my students.

The multiliteracies (New London Group) and learning by design (Cope and Kalantzis) frameworks were shared with me a few years ago, and I found them fascinating and something I wanted to put into practice. I wanted to “expand my repertoire” of teaching, and get students to do more conceptualizing and analysis around games.  I wanted a way to tie together game literacy, project based learning, 21st Century skills, participation in society activities. I’ve been working lately to write about the connections between multiliteracies/learning by design, media education, bridging and connected learning (Buckingham, Thorne, Reinhardt, Ito, Jenkins).


In this project, I am appropriating the term “Terakoya:
Terakoya (寺子屋 terako-ya?, literally temple schools, private elementary schools[1]) were private educational institutions that taught writing and reading to the children of Japanese commoners during the Edo period. (wikipedia).

I’m working under a broad definition of and multiple literacies: reading/understanding –> creation/participation (games/other media in addition to English languages)


The model that I am testing this year is represented in the following chart. It’s my general blueprint for moves up down left and right.

Part of the research I’m doing this year is to see how feasible all these moves are. Ultimately, I would like to make these pedagogical moves more explicit parts of other teaching that I do. I’m currently working with 2 highly motivated university undergraduate students (“M” and “N”) and am testing out various exercises and materials with them. They want to improve their English skills and learn more about games, and have fun. Sounds great to me!

We meet every Friday afternoon for 90 minutes. They are busy, but they can complete some homework each week. This is an extracurricular project, so I am trying not to overload them.

A very quick recap of the last 2 months:

  1. Students completed a variety of background English, knowledge, participation habits questionnaires
  2. We brainstormed participation options (to set a kind of roadmap for the project – something to aim for). They are interested in teaching using games, joining a gamejam, making a social impact game, teaching at our local kids center, writing online game reviews, making a game for a company and interviewing game designers… lots of great possibilities!
  3. We talked about games we all know and have played (the first step in multiliteracies work – “experience the known”). We decided to explore UNO. We examined the rules http://www.unorules.com/ and watched some actual plays https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nfwZ9cY6iTo  and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gf9lzuPxMQs
  4. We created a gmail account, website and twitter account as a group: https://sites.google.com/site/gameterakoyashizuoka/home and https://twitter.com/gameterakoya_16
  5. We played UNO and examined our own language. Our discussions brought us to discussing “house rules” and “cheating” and “licensing” and “the magic circle” concept in game studies. I plan to come back to them in a few weeks, depending on how future games and discussions go.
  6. Our discussions start with M and N’s notes, then move into my focusing them on things they didn’t point out.
  7. We then moved to looking at some online reviews of UNO, on Boardgamegeek.com – a hobbyist site, and Amazon.com – a consumer site: https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1366371/game-deep-strategy https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/312340/game-kids-not-geeks https://www.amazon.com/Mattel-42003-Uno-Card-Game/dp/B00004TZY8 What was fascinating was that the students read the first review completely at face value. They didn’t realize that the review was written sarcastically, even though they pointed out the adjectives and dramatic writing. In fact, one member said she changed her views about UNO after reading the article (she began to think of UNO as a deep strategy game). I’ve given them some info about English sarcasm and we will re-analyze it next week. It’s very interesting to me that I had to explicitly tell them that it was sarcastic (they reported to me afterwards that they knew what sarcasm was and how it was used).
  8. This coming week, we will be looking at a variety of new games for us to repeat the exercises in #3,5,6,7 with, then move into more conceptualizing, analyzing, then participating (they are intrigued with the idea of writing a sarcastic review as a participation option).

It’s been an incredible process and project so far.

I will try to blog each week with shorter updates.

Let me know if you have any questions or comments!

JALT CALL Report

JALTCALL2016
A slide from the workshop announcing the start of the “experience” phase.

Last weekend Jonathan and I presented at JALTCALL, a conference held at Tamagawa University in Tokyo (well, closer to Yokohama, but still within the Tokyo prefecture). Here is the abstract to our presentation:


The popularity of board games has risen steadily over the last decade reaching annual sales in excess of $800 million in 2014 (ICV2, 2015). Board game funding figures have also overtaken those of video games on the popular crowdsourcing website: Kickstarter. Yet, despite their increasing popularity, there is little research on the use of board games as a teaching tool in educational, let alone language-learning contexts. There is a greater tendency for researchers to be concerned with the use of digital games such as MMOs and other online virtual spaces. MMOs offer a great opportunity for intermediate or advanced learners to communicate with native speakers of the target language, but for low-level learners (such as those found in Japanese high-schools or non-major university courses) such domains may be too cognitively complex, filled with specialised discourse features, and ultimately demotivating due to the level of technical expertise needed to participate in gameplay. From such criticisms aimed at digital games, we argue that board games offer superior opportunities for authentic communication, and both affective and cognitive benefits when used as part of a rigorous teaching methodology.

In today’s workshop our goals are:

  1. to educate practitioners on the range of available board games and their specific affordances for language learning from a sociocultural perspective.
  2. to reveal our framework for using board games as a core component in EFL contexts with a specific consideration on fostering verbal interaction. This includes an extensive pre-play stage utilising YouTube “gameplay” videos and other online resources.

The workshop was divided into three sections which allowed us to first of all let people experience the Kotoba Rollers framework for themselves, then we went over the theoretical underpinnings that helped shape the development of the framework. Finally, we held a Q&A session to get feedback and to help clarify parts of the framework that might not have been so salient/required further explanation.

Experience

The first part of the workshop was for the attendees to experience the framework. We gave them five minutes to read through the rules to 2 Rooms and a Boom and create questions based on those rules in order to check understanding with the other participants. In other words, they quizzed each other on the rules that they had just read to make sure that the game rules were known to all participants.

Upon completing this stage, they played through the basic version of the game themselves. We weren’t graced with the luxury of being able to send players between rooms, so we used the room for the presentation and the corridor (I apologise to the other presenters for the ruckus we caused..!)

JALTCALL2016
A very hands-on workshop with attendees standing up, playing and being active participants.
JALTCALL2016
A group of attendees discuss who to send to the other “room” (actually the corridor) in a game of Two Rooms and a Boom.
JALTCALL2016
The other group of attendees discuss who to send to the other room in a game of Two Rooms and a Boom.

Upon completing the play phase, we went through all three post-task report sheets (verbally) to debrief (or reflect) on the activity we had just done by asking questions such as: What words had come up again and again? Who won? What were the best tactics?

Framework explanation

After the experiencing the framework for themselves, it became much easier to show them the theoretical considerations that underpin the development. The main theories being Task Based Language Teaching and Sociocultural Theory. You can see an outline of the model in this post. The only new item regarding the framework is the addition of a reference to Long’s (2014) Methodological Principals and the extent that we are adhering to them.

  • MP1 – Use task not text YES
  • MP2 – Promote learning by doing YES
  • MP3 – Elaborate Input NO
  • MP4 – Provide rich input YES
  • MP5 – Encourage chunk learning NO
  • MP6 – Focus on form SOMEWHAT
  • MP7 – Provide negative feedback SOMEWHAT
  • MP8 – Respect learner syllabi and development process SOMEWHAT
  • MP9 – Promote cooperative learning YES
  • MP10 – Individualise instruction NO

These points require more explanation, and will become the topic of a future blog post.

Q&A Session

The final Q&A session allowed the participants to ask questions about the framework, and posit any concerns they might have. Generally, we felt that questions were not so much criticisms, but requests for additional information on how the framework works in practice and suggestions for implementation in their own contexts. One questions was regarding which games we recommend, so I see a “Kotoba Rollers recommends…” post coming.

One participant mentioned fairly obviously that

This framework would work with people that like games.

which is totally fine. Much in the same way that an English designed to be taught through the reading and discussion of classic literature would work with students that are interested in that subject.

However, I would argue that the number of students that are interested in games versus those that are interested in classic literature, or even more “popular” topics such as movies, music, sports, etc. would be less than those that play games. Gaming is the real unifying factor amongst students (especially at my science and tech university…), which provides support for the use of games as a teaching tool. Why? Because students are familiar with and motivated to learn with this media. But that’s for another blog post, too.

Conclusion

Our workshop at JALT CALL went as well as we hoped and we able to both inform others of the power of games in the classroom, but also generate a discussion on what the implications of doing so are.

I do not plan on doing any more presentations regarding Kotoba Rollers this year, but am deep in the process of writing a paper on students perceptions of this framework, and also planning a revised version ’Framework 2.0’ based on student feedback for use in the autumn semester later this year. I have a lot to talk about regarding the revised framework, and will be updating this blog with details also.

As always, thanks for reading and I appreciate any questions you may have.

James / ちーぷ

Originally posted on the Kotoba Miners blog

Introducing the Game Lab at the University of Shizuoka

Game Lab website: https://sites.google.com/site/gamelabshizuoka/

 

I’ve been doing game research for more than a decade now. After doing some projects on how interactivity affects language learning with games, (and moving to the University of Shizuoka in 2009), and some case studies of students using games to learn a second language, I became more interested in literacy, media education, and 21st Century skills.

In 2011 and 2012, my thesis students and I ran 2 week-long “Game Camps” that taught students about games, had them play lots of unfamiliar games, had them make online “Sploder” games, had them create advertisements for their games, and had them present and be interviewed about their games at mock industry events.

My thesis students (with me their 3rd and 4th years at the university) conduct research projects of their own design (and some are starting to get their work published in academic journals). Some of my students are going to be putting James’ Kotoba Rollers framework into practice this year!

In 2013, I changed up the format of the Lab.

I extended the Lab to create special projects for 1st and 2nd year students at the university. I wanted these younger students to experience long-term, intensive projects other than clubs and circles before they had to begin job hunting. Some amazing students and I initiated:

  1. Community projects:
  2. Collaboration project: we competed in a local business plan contest (we wanted to make games to promote tourism in Shizuoka)
  3. Critical thinking project: we began playtesting games for professional game designers (students have to understand the rules, play repeatedly and communicate their comments to the designer over email or Skype) 
  4. Creativity project:

In addition, last year we

 

 

 

  • and a local event (Shizuoka Game EXPO) for students, families, academics, community groups, and game designers.

Students in a 2nd/3rd year elective class do most of the heavy lifting on the charity event; they make “big” versions of popular games where people are usually the “pieces” of the games. The various Lab project students and thesis students get to show their work to the community each year.

The next BOOST charity event and Shizuoka Game EXPO will be held on January 21 and 22, 2017. I’ll post more info later, but if you are interested in coming or teaching some games or sharing what you are doing, please get it touch!

A new project that has been in the works since the Game Camps is the Game Terakoya project. It explores language learning, participation, academic research skills, 21st Century skills through the multiliteracies / learning by design framework. The model that I am testing with 2 excellent students right now is:

I’ll be posting about the Game Terakoya, as well as news from each of the projects, as often as I can.

Let me know if you have any questions.

I’m very interested in comments/suggestions on these projects as well.

Introducing Tokoha GameLab

Its the middle of 2016, about two months since the start of Tokoha Gamelab (TGL). Here, I would like to briefly introduce what TGL is now and how it is developing.

TGL is a weekly meeting for any Tokoha University students and teachers who are interested in joining activities related to games in English. We meet from 2:40 to 4:10 at the Foreign Language Study Support Center on our university’s Shizuoka Campus in Sena.

What do we do?  Good question. What we do is developing and changing over time, but very broadly our activities can be categorized as “thinking together” and “doing together.” Of course, you might say that “thinking” is a kind of “doing,” and furthermore that as we are “doing” we can also be “thinking.” Okay, okay, I agree.  But I also think that dividing these two activities conceptually might be useful for explaining our activities. Bear with me.

These two processes of thinking and doing can be broken down into the following four activities:

1. preparing to play games

2  playing games

3. reflecting on games and game play

4. making/modifying game materials, including study materials useful for preparing to play games (e.g. flash cards etc)

Each of these four activities is meant to be able to “produce” something. Preparing should produce understanding, readiness, motivation, and curiosity. Playing should produce enjoyment (fun), engagement, and community. Reflecting can produce insight/growth, critical understanding, and discourse analysis. Finally, making/modifying can produce real things like flash cards, how-to videos, game reviews, new games, translations, and much more.

All of these four activities are in the service of language development. I don’t want to say “language acquisition” because I think of language learning as a process not a product. The idea is that by engaging in these activities, we can share language and culture together and also grow as people while building community.

Here is a visual representation of our model:

Screen Shot 2016-06-02 at 9.08.05 AM

Here’s a .pdf version: gamesframework.

Okay, that’s all for now. I will try to post more as our TGL evolves over time.