Reflection: Learning with Digital Games (2010)

I’ve already spoken my thoughts about a couple chapters of this book in a previous blog post, but as of last week I have finished the rest of the book. This has probably been my favorite pedagogy and gaming book so far: it’s well-written, a quick read, and the author clearly knows their stuff about both teaching and gaming. Even though it’s 6 years old now, I would say teachers interested in incorporating games into their lessons would get a lot of value from reading this.

On to what I’ve pulled from the rest of the book:

Part I: Theory

There are several different lists related to learning, the most useful of which is Prensky’s 5 levels of learning from games (which actually can function more as an assistant for game design, i.e. figuring out what each of these IS in your game).

  1. How to do something, i.e interaction with the system  (for my first game: point-and-click)
  2. What to do in the game, i.e. game progression/goals
  3. Why you do things in the game i.e. long-term affects
  4. Context and value systems in the game
  5. The ability to make decisions based on the value system in the game

The other lists were related to game pedagogy in areas other than literature, as much (especially early) gaming pedagogy is centered around primary and secondary education for teaching math and sciences.

Part II: Practice

This section was fantastic – it inspired a lot of design spreadsheets on my part. It has a lot of fantastic advice for the early stages:

When you begin to think about games for learning, start with the learning objectives you want the students to achieve during the session [in my case, individual game], which can then form part of a design specification for the game you want to use.
Then, think about the types of activity that you would normally undertake with students in order to meet those outcomes. How might these activities be
[effectively] embedded into a game?

And for overall lesson incorporation: A game is part of the overall learning package. If the game itself cannot fully meet all learning objectives, there can be additional outside activities surrounding the game. While I am not doing a lesson plan, we have talked about how information (esp. cultural) reinforcement could happen through this method – having quizzes or exercises that relate to the information learned from playing a game.

They also had a list of things to include for Effective Game design for Learning:

  • Support active learning: encourage exploration, problem-solving + inquiry
  • Environment should engender engagement [immersion]: explicit + achievable goals, high level of interactivity, large world, multiple pathways to success
    This point, I’m going to argue about a little. Not that these are bad things for an immersive game, but there are many types of games out there, and one game doesn’t need ALL of these to be immersive. A huge world, multiple endings, or even high interactivity can help, but there is a huge amount of wonderful little games that don’t have those things that are completely immersive. I’m gonna throw interactive fiction as a genre out there. While there are IF games that have big worlds and high interactivity (however one quantifies that), many have limited options and a small environment that are just amazing. The goals aren’t always clear either, and a game that encourages exploration might actually benefit from not having a clear goal with an explicitly defined path from the beginning. The player’s ability to completely ignore the main questline in Skyrim, for example, is what makes the exploring aspect of it so fun. Games with a sense of urgency to their goals and quests hinder the player’s comfort in exploration. That is not to say that having a clear goal means having a sense of urgency, but that is a pretty common theme.
  • The game world should be appropriate for the learning context: ie fits with the curriculum or assessment , personally relevant to students (motivation)
  • The game should provide ongoing support: initial ease into gradual difficulty

Whether a game is useful or appropriate will depend also on the type of students and their backgrounds, experiences, and preferences. I’ve talked a little bit about this before, but I run into the extra challenge of having an audience that I know nothing about save that they have access to internet and presumably are high-intermediate to advanced FL learners.

There is a chapter in this book about skills required for game creation, which reminded my once again why I wish I had a whole team of people. According to this, skills needed are: a subject expert, educationalist, game designer, programmer, interaction designer, graphic designer, and writer. While among the three people working on this we have all of these skills covered (mostly) it’s a ton to focus on at once.

That’s the bulk of stuff for the rest of this book. The next several posts will likely be more about the game design process/progress.

Book: Digital Games and Language Learning (2011)

The second book I’ve completed for my research is Digital Games and Language Learning by Freitas and Maharg. 2011 isn’t too long ago generally speaking, but 5 years is on the older side for video games. A couple of the educational games it referenced were even older – dating back to the early 2000s.

This book spent a lot of time talking about “Serious Games” with the Capitals And Everything. I had never heard of Serious Games, and the authors did not define it anywhere in their book at all. I later found out that is just refers to games whose primary purpose is something other than entertainment, but no one besides educators uses this term as far as I’m aware.  They also talked a lot about Feedback, sometimes with and sometimes without capitals, which they also failed to define. I initially thought the chapter about feedback would be on student response to a game, IE game testing, but instead it seems that by “feedback” the authors are referring instead to the brain’s response to input.

The first several chapters were spent on not-quite-relevant pedagogy theory and more ambiguous uses of terminology. Later on, however, they made several useful cases for what should be part of an educational game:

  • Students should have the freedom to fail, experiment, and exert effort
  • games are not about memorization
  • build scaffolding for future learning: ideally, people who have played my games would be better off in their next language course than another student in the same course who hadn’t had the extra practice
  • offer clear incentives for more success
  • partial rewards for partial success
  • avoid brick walls – ie not letting players into a certain area until they’re at a high enough level (there are ways around this that don’t frustrate players)

The rest of it talked about stealth learning – that is definitely something I hope to accomplish, particularly with cultural and literary learning.

Remapping Reflections, and Summer Underway

Whew, it’s been a while! The last few months of school were really busy – everything was at 100%, I’d say. But now that it’s summer, I am working full time on my project, so i will be able to post frequent updates again! Huzzah!

I have finished the rest of the Remapping book and completed all the relevant chapters of another – not bad progress for my pedagogical research part! Those were a couple of the largest readings as well.

Without further ado, here are the rest of my thoughts and notes on Remapping:

Chapter 3

This chapter dealt primarily with teaching youths, but had a couple good points to make about the readability of a text:

  • they are consistent in their point of view (ie not switching characters or person all the time)
  • they are coherent stories
  • images can make a text more readable
  • reader interest (if a reader is more interested in a work, they’re more likely to understand it)
  • familiarity with words (obviously they’re going to understand more if they’re familiar with all the vocabulary)
  • redundancy can help with comprehension
  • concrete situations are more comprehensible than abstract ones

Chapter 5 (chapter 4 was not relevant to my research)

This chapter expanded on the holistic theme by introducing the concept of the Précis, which is a template for a series of pedagogical tasks that integrate comprehension and production practice. In short, it is a longer series of exercises that has elements that foster holistic learning. It aims to include cultural literacy goals and emphasizes identifying genres and stereotypes before attempting cultural analysis. This was an interesting note for me because I do hope to sneak in some cultural knowledge in my interactive story games – or at least comprehensive knowledge of historic tales. Other than this, the précis doesn’t seem to be super applicable, given that it has to do more with an entire teaching curriculum than a single game (my starting point). I have, however, have started wondering whether or not all of my games should be aimed towards a single comprehensive curriculum-like goal, or if I should just make each game have a smaller goal and let users practice what they want to specifically.

A nice point this chapter brought up is the use of genres. A genre is defined by the authors as an oral or written rhetorical practice that structures culturally-embedded communicative situations in a highly predictable fashion, thereby creating horizons of expectations for its community of users. In other words, some predictable that can be grouped by category. Genres, being easily recognizable and predictable, make comprehension of a story a lot easier for second language users. This puts more points in favor for gamifying fairy tales, as they are one of the most predicable types of stories out there. It also leads to more careful analysis – reading beyond the stereotypical structure. Formulaic stories are also more likely to be straightforward, with no abstract concepts or hidden intents, making it easy for readers to grasp the plot in its entirety as well as characters’ motivations.

Some side thoughts that occurred to me while reading this chapter:

  • The texts I will be using for my games had a different audience than what I’m aiming for – how (besides the format of experiencing the story) will I make the game more accessible to my audience? i.e. how much of the original story is going to be exact versus modernized or localized, or even just simplified?
  • Things to keep in mind (more of a note to myself): formal vs. informal language, private/public discourse, sender/receiver language, audience’s cultural literacy

Chapter 6

Notes from this chapter:

  • many entering college will not have close reading skills or knowledge about it
  • cultural literacy is something I want to subtly add in (“stealth learning,” they call it) – this can come from localized dialogue, interest points, accurate scenery, etc.

Chapter 7

Am I “teaching literature” this way, or am I just giving a different form to literary works? My main goal is simply language retention, anything learned after that is a bonus, but realistically my users should have a good grasp of the plot of these tales after playing the game…

Some more questions to keep in mind:

  • What knowledge (cultural or literary) will people have when they first visit the site?
  • Need a more specific definition of “high intermediate to advanced” language user.

When my French V class was preparing for the AP exam, we listened to some other students’ oral portions of the exam. When we heard the one that got a score of 5, we were stunned. They knew so much more vocab than we did! Our teacher told us in full confidence that we were at the same level as that person, they were just taught a different set of vocabulary, and we likely knew plenty of words and structures they did not. That was a mind-boggling moment for me. What this is leading up to is that two people can be at the same language level, but one person may perfectly understand the narrative of my game, and another not simply because of what they were taught.

Outside of the end of that book, I have also started reading fairy tales, medieval romances, etc. looking for a starting point for my first game. And I have decided to start with Yvain! He’s a really cool knight with a lion. Everyone knows Lancelot, but honestly, Yvain is cooler. His story also will work really well for a more open-world feeling than some of the other stores I’ve looked at.

So far I’ve been having a blast reading all the fairy tales – especially the Quebecois ones, they don’t mess around! A lot of good vocabulary in these stories. The only problem is that they are SO directed and linear that it would be difficult to make a real “game” with meaningful choices out of them. I have played games where it seems like you have a choice, but the outcome doesn’t change, and they’re really easy to see through and get abandoned quickly.

I’ll make a separate reflection post for the next book I’ve finished, so that will be up soon!

Reflection – Learning with Digital Games

Before I began reading Remapping the Foreign Language Curriculum, I was sent a couple chapters from a book called Learning with Digital Games: A Practical Guide to Engaging Students in Higher Education. My recorded thoughts on the chapters will likely not come into play until the summer or when I start creating games, but it never hurts to have a digital log of my thoughts, instead of what I threw on some ripped out notebook pages. These notes come from Chapters 1 and 3.

To keep in mind: The author’s background is in UK higher ed (I’m in the states)

They use a constructivist learning approach, which works under the assumption that students are kinetic learners, and has the element of self-teaching. They compare the instructional or transmissional model for teaching as opposed to the author’s active learning environment for games, tying into that constructivism – using collaborative learning, experiential learning, and problem-based learning, all of which can be accomplished through games (although collaboration is not something that is feasible for my site in the near future).

The author used 3 games as examples to show how games tie well into constructivism:

  • Runescape: an MMO is definitely not what I’m going for, but it primarily demonstrates collaboration and a highly interactive world. There are some gameplay elements that could be pulled from it, primarily the open exploration. I’m not sure what direction I would take with a game like that, but freedom of exploration can be a great teaching tool, and a combination of that with an immersive world could prove highly effective.
  • NotPr0n: this was a fantastic browser puzzle game similar to the hd white puzzle in its solving process. (If you haven’t tried this, I highly recommend it). I don’t know if NotPr0n is still around, but the kind of clever riddles it uses is definitely something I would be interested in throwing into my text and storybook games. I actually hadn’t thought of his game style until reading these chapters. The author describes this game as “an excellent example of a game that uses simple technology to create engaging game-play,” which is the ideal.
  • Sleuth: A detective point-and-click game. While I haven’t played it myself, I have played similar games with investigative stages similar to it (such as Ace Attorney). Other similar point-and-click puzzle solving games include escape-the-room games or mystery-solving games. This is actually something I have thought of in terms of games to create, and I think it would be fantastic for teaching vocabulary for various common objects that may not come up in conversation all that much. Games like this also “provide a good example of a detailed environment the player can interact with” which could also be great for throwing in a little cultural learning, if we set the game in a francophone country.

Each activity I create will have to be designed with a clear purpose in mind, ie what will the learners have gained from the experience after they have completed it? Does it have an application to the real world?

At some point, I’m sure someone will ask me “Why games? Why not some other form of pedagogy? Why not simple readings and exercises?” Honestly, I should probably make a whole post about this at some point, but here are a few of my initial thoughts that cropped up while reading these chapters. For one thing, there are plenty of exercise-based FL sites online, and I don’t want to make a duolingo clone either. The purpose of this site is not to teach, but help with retention in between courses. The reason people forget so many things is because they lack the ability and/or the motivation to practice. However, if there were fun, engaging things like games in a foreign language, they might feel more encouraged to practice. They wouldn’t be doing exercises, or trying to read a book while looking up an unfamiliar word every minute. This site’s adaptability and easy-access vocab list would solve that issue, and the games would (hopefully) keep people interested and immersed. I think of it in a similar way to exercise – running on a treadmill is not very exciting to many people, but many people do enjoy playing sports – casually or otherwise, and it’s much easier to pass the time that way without even noticing how much work one is doing. Similarly, games would help with language retention without people even noticing because they’re focusing on the game instead of work. An issue I recognize, however, is that not everyone plays games, which is why there will be a variation of games – some will be short, or casual, and others will be more difficult mechanics-wise or more time-consuming.

The biggest aim here, is that it will be fun and optional. It is not my wish for professors to require their students to play my games online, but for students who want to practice to have the option to play games to practice for themselves. Even if students enjoy an assignment, if it is required of them, most of the time there will still be a certain amount of resistance on the part of the student. I hope to avoid that.

This article was clearly written for a pedagogical audience, as much of their terminology is over-explained or redefined. For example, there was a phrase called flow theory, which they defined carefully, that is the exact same thing as immersion. They also often used the word engagement over immersion, which I found interesting (engagement is used more in the teaching world, immersion in the gaming world, though they are very similar in definition).

Control in games will be important for immersion – there must be consistency and logical interactions in the game, choices for the player to make, and power – that is to say, that the player’s choices matter. The author suggests that lots of choices in a narrative will lead to better learning, and I am inclined to agree, at least that there will be a better understanding of the narrative as the player sees how their choices affect the world.




Misc notes:

Situated cognition – environment and context shape learning

cognitive puzzlement – stimulus for learning. ie the goal for learning something shapes how well it is learned

problem-based learning, games in broader context, fixed goals v. emergent goals, sensory v. cognitive curiosity

This book relates more to in-depth, bigger games, rather than casual games (such as little word games that have no minimum or maximum time to play)

Remapping – Ch. 2 Reflection

Linking Meaning and Language

This longer chapter introduced the concept of the hollistic program, whose intent is to focus less on grammar, and join language production and content while teaching. That is to say, by doing certain activities that engage the learner on multiple levels (not just filling out exercises), they overall take away a deeper understanding of the language. This is a huge part of what I’m trying to accomplish – I hope for the users to learn almost unconsciously through games.

There are four different skills that language learners obtain and practice: Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing. Speaking and writing are active skills (the learner creates their own content in their foreign language), whereas reading and listening are passive skills (the learner focuses on understanding). This part of the chapter was very interesting because it mentioned how what affects long versus short-term memory. I would guess the little word games would be more vocabulary reinforcing, but ultimately would fit into short-term memory. When it comes to the goal of language retention, I will be focusing more on long-term memory skills. Things that aid in long-term memory include assignments outside of class and working with longer texts. In other words, long term memory functions are activated when the reader must synthesis larger quantities of information (>500 words) (36). I feel the interactive storybooks will be fantastic for this, as their length can be easily altered, and they will also include visual to help synthesize an understanding of the work. Additionally, since I am planning on making interactive games based off of original foreign works and fairy tales, there will be a certain amount of cultural context as well. It would be an added bonus for users to add to their bicultural perspective as well as simple language use. It certainly seems that these should be the very first apps I strive to create come the summer.

There is, however, an inherent disadvantage to my future site, in that the primary skill utilized is reading. There is no easy way to improve writing skills other than through traditional FIB exercises online, and while speaking with other users could eventually become a possibility, it would first have to, well, gain a userbase interested in doing so. Certainly some of the games will have audio, but it is not the same thing as, say, watching a film or news program. I wold like to incorporate more audio-based games/exercises, but there is the roadblock in terms of copyright for pre-recorded media, and there is a lack of native speakers for original content. Even though audio-based items are not the priority, it is something I still want to think about for the future.