What is it?
Trace Effects is an educational 3-D multimedia interactive video game that can be played individually off-line from a DVD or online individually or with a group. There’s also a complimentary mobile app called Trace Word Soup, which is a vocabulary game. Trace Effects was designed for English language learners (ELLs) ages 12-16 by the United States Department of State (DOS), Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
What does it teach?
The game teaches American English and culture in the context of a student entering a university setting for the first time. For example, Trace, the main character, navigates the campus in search of the student information center to obtain his student identification card in order to access certain buildings and ultimately progress to the next level of play. This game (and all of its supporting material) is part of an outreach program of the Office of English Language Programs and the American English resource center, which supports the efforts of the Regional English Language Officers (RELOs) worldwide. RELOs work directly with English language specialists to promote American culture and English language learning activities in public and private schools abroad.
What learning principles and practices is it based on?
I was able to interview key stakeholders about the game’s program theory. Based on their comments and my review of the game and existing documents, I concluded that Trace Effects is based on the following major concepts: cognitivism, constructivism, the communicative approach to language acquisition, the Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) Technology Standards Framework, and gaming as an instructional strategy. Moreover, the DOS’s vision (pillars) factor into the game. The following DOS pillars are embedded in the levels/lessons of the game: entrepreneurship, community activism, empowering women, science and innovation, environmental conservation, and conflict resolution.
Who is the target audience?
The game was designed specifically for secondary school students in various nations who are involved in the English Access Micro-scholarship Program. This is one of the State Department’s outreach efforts to provide English language skills to talented 13-20 year-olds from economically disadvantaged sectors of the world through after school classes. The purpose is to provide an opportunity for participants to improve their English skills to increase their chances of better employment and/or entrance into post-secondary schools. For example, Access participants may compete for, and participate in, future exchanges and study in the United States.
How will one know if users improved their English language ability and/or learned about American culture by using the game?
In the Trace Effects’ teacher manual, teachers are encouraged to assess students before and after so many hours of playtime (pretest/posttest). There are numerous extension activities in the teacher’s manual to assess learning (alternative assessments). For example, the student worksheets associated with each chapter allow teachers to monitor student learning. Students can monitor their own learning through the passive game feedback of points, redirects, and level achievement (self-regulation). Students share their progress on an electronic log with their teacher. There are competitions held worldwide for the record of highest scorer. Stakeholders reported that educators could conduct action research to compare a control group that does not play the game with that of the treatment group that does. Another idea is using think-alouds for qualitative research—taking notes on what students report on while playing the game (phenomenology).
How can I access this game for my students?
Visit the US DOS website to play the game and download the manual. If you teach English abroad, contact your local RELO for access to the Trace Effects DVD and supporting material to use in your classroom. Click here to learn how to download the Trace Word Soup app.
To learn about the program theory behind the game, see my logic model of Trace Effects.
P.S. A special thanks to the US DOS Office of English Language Programs for the use of this image.
Rogers, S. (2014). Program Theory Logic Model of Trace Effects Video Game. In Proceedings of World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare, and Higher Education 2014 (pp. 1662-1674). Chesapeake, VA: AACE.