A Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game with Language Learning Strategic Activities to Improve English Grammar, Listening, Reading, and Vocabulary
This mixed-methods-collective-case-study focused on the use of an online videogame combined with second language acquisition (SLA) strategic gameplay to improve English language learners’ (ELLs) grammar, listening, reading, and vocabulary. Its purpose was to determine whether a noneducational, massively, multiplayer, online, role-playing game (MMORPG) had educational merit as an extracurricular activity for ELLs when combined with the following gaming activities to promote SLA: voice and text-based chats, forming alliances, and creating a virtual social identity.
The design included 15 participants who received 25 hours of weekly English language instruction in reading, writing, grammar, and oral skills for an eight-week term at school. For the treatment group, EverQuest® II (2016) was prescribed with the SLA optimizing strategic gameplay for four hours a week for a month after school. The control group did not receive the treatment.
The Cambridge Michigan Language Assessment (CaMLA) pretest-posttest composite mean gain scores were used to assess the participants’ grammar, listening, reading, and vocabulary performance. At end of term, the control group outperformed the treatment group on the CaMLA by 1.7 mean gain score units.
To determine vocabulary acquisition from gameplay, I developed a vocabulary pretest-posttest based on frequently occurring words from the treatment group participants’ game chat logs. The treatment group learned, on average, 15 new words representing a 30% increase on the gameplay vocabulary test.
No correlations were found between prior gaming experience and attitude toward gaming for SLA or between prior gaming experience and ESL skill performance on the CaMLA. Due to the small sample size and nonrandom assignment, this study lacked the rigor and statistical power to make valid and reliable quantitative claims of the findings. Therefore, a collective case study and mixed methods were used to corroborate and augment findings. Four impact profiles of extreme cases are provided. Emergent themes on gaming and language learning gleaned from participants were as follows: most participants had a positive attitude toward videogame play for SLA, most treatment group participants disliked the prescribed SLA strategic gameplay features and activities, and most participants preferred not to play videogames after school due to other priorities.
This dissertation is available on ProQuest.
Rogers, S. A. (2017). A MMORPG with language learning strategic activities to improve English grammar, listening, reading, and vocabulary (Doctoral dissertation). Available from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses database. (UMI No. 10265484)
Two of my proposals were accepted for presentation at the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education (SITE) International Conference in Austin, TX. I’d love to connect with any of my readers who are also going to SITE. This will be my third time to attend this conference. This time around, I’ll be sharing the outcomes of my dissertation and participating in a panel on gaming for educational purposes. I will be the newbie gaming researcher on the expert panel sharing a job aid for other educators who would like to get started.
Here’s my current schedule for the conference: (All times are Central Standard Time.)
1. Brief Paper: Use of Online Role-Playing Games With Language Learning Strategies to Improve English Grammar, Listening, Reading, and Vocabulary, March 6, 2017 at 3:00- 4:00 P.M. (my session is last), in the Capitol A Room at the Sheraton Austin Hotel at the Capitol. (This was my original dissertation title. It’s now called A MMORPG with Strategic Activities to Improve English Grammar, Listening, Reading, and Vocabulary. My dissertation committee included: Burke Johnson (Chair), Univ. of South Alabama, Rick Van Eck, Univ. of North Dakota, James Van Haneghan, Univ. of South Alabama, and Susan Martin, Univ. of South Alabama, USA.
2. Panel Session: Exploring the Rules of the Game: Games in the Classroom, Game-Based Learning, Gamification, and Simulations, March 8, 2017 at 4:15-5:15 P.M. in the Capitol North Room at the Sheraton Austin Hotel at the Capitol. Panelists include:
- Jana Willis, Univ. of Houston-Clear Lake,
- Spencer Greenhalgh, Michigan State Univ.,
- Larysa Nadolny, Iowa State Univ.,
- Sa Liu, Univ. of Texas,
- Tugce Aldemir, Penn State World Campus,
- Sandra Rogers, Univ. of South Alabama,
- Monica Trevathan, Tietronix Software,
- Susan Hopper, Pedagogical Balance of Effective Learning
- Wendy Oliver, Thrivist, USA
For the complete schedule of the conference, select this link. A special thanks to the Instructional Design and Development Graduate Association and USA Student Government Association in funding my travel and conference fees!
(Excerpted from my dissertation.)
Learning a second language is an arduous task. Most scholars would agree that it requires a lot of practice (Krashen, 1982; Nation, 2014), language activities that are embedded in realistic tasks (i.e., communicative approach) (Hymes, 1972; McFarlane, Sparrowhawk, & Heald, 2002), plasticity of the brain (Pinker & Bloom, 1990; Ward, 2010), and high levels of motivation (Crystal, 2010; Gardner, 1985). Here are the five stages of second language (L2) learning: preproduction, early production, speech emergence, intermediate fluency, and advanced fluency (Krashen & Terrell, 1983). Progress through these stages depends on level of formal education, family background, time spent in an English-speaking country, and many other variables.
For young children, oral language and literacy development should include support in their native language, sufficient time and support, developmentally and culturally appropriate material, a balanced and meaningful literacy program, and reliable, ongoing, and valid assessments (TESOL, 2010a). For adults, more specialized vocabulary and education on the sociocultural dimensions for the workplace or academic setting are required (TESOL, 2010b). Otherwise, adult L2 instruction is like that of young children, as noted in the vision and action agenda of the National Literacy Summit (2000). For example, they propose that adult learners also have access to native language or bilingual texts and instruction that is based on meaningful contexts.
There’s some disagreement as to the developmental stages of SLA, but most agree that the initial stage includes a silent period in which you understand some of the L2 but may not be able to produce it (Granger, 2004). Scholars disagree as to whether there is a critical period (cut-off time) for learning a second language with native-like fluency (Crystal, 2010). For instance, cognitive neuroscientists prefer the term sensitive period to refer to the limited window of time to learn due to evidence supporting the possibility of extended learning (Ward, 2010).
I agree with Pinker and Bloom’s (1990) idea that the critical period varies with maturation and plasticity of the brain due to natural selection. Hurford (1991), in his evolutionary model, referred to language learning past the critical age as the natural selection pressures activating the trait. These pressures affect adults who come from around the world with the hope of learning English in order to attend an American university. One way to affect the plasticity of the brain is to play video games. Current research on the brain and its behavior indicate that playing highly arousing, reward-based video games activates brain plasticity (Kilgard & Merzenich, 1998).
Numerous factors affect learning ESL. For one, learning English takes a long time. For beginners, basic interpersonal communication skills can take two years to learn, while cognitive academic language proficiency can take five to seven years (Cummins, 2008). Influential factors include, but are not limited to, native language (L1) writing system, age exposed to English, cognitive ability, and exposure to other languages (National Literacy Summit, 2000). Another important factor is gender (i.e., female, male, other), which is influenced by the gender of the teacher, strategy use (Kiram, Sulaiman, Swanto, & Din, 2014), and conventional norms (Oxford & Nyikos, 1989). There’s no conclusive evidence that one gender is better at learning a L2. Oxford and Nyikos (1989) posit that it has more to do with strategy preferences and conventional norms.
Crystal, D. (Ed.). (2010). The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language, 3rd ed. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Cummins, J. (2008). BICS and CALP: Empirical and theoretical status of distinction. In B. Street & N. H. Hornberger (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Language and Education, Volume 2: Literacy (2nd ed., pp. 71-83). New York, NY: Springer Science + Business Media LLC.
Gardner, R. C. (1985). Social psychology and second language learning: The role of attitudes and motivation. London, England: Edward Arnold (Publishers) Ltd.
Granger, C. A. (2004). Silence in second language learning: A psychoanalytical reading. Tonawanda, NY: Multilingual Matters, Ltd.
Hurford, J. R. (1991). The evolution of critical period for language acquisition. Cognition, 40, 159–201. doi:10.1016/0010-0277(91)90024-X
Hymes, D. (1972). Models on the interaction of language and social life. In J. J. Gumperz & D. Hymes (Eds.) Directions in sociolinguistics: The ethnography of communication (pp. 35-71). New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.
Kilgard, M. P., & Merzenich, M. M. (1998). Cortical map reorganization enabled by nucleus basalis activity. Science, 279, 1714-1718.
Kiram, J. J., Sulaiman, J., Swanto, S., & Din, W. A. (2014). The relationship between English language learning strategies and gender among pre-university students: An overview of UMS. Proceedings of the 3rd International Conference on Mathematical Sciences, Vol. 1602 (pp. 502-507). Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: AIP Publishing LLC. doi:10.1063/1.4882532
Krashen, S. (1982). Principles and practices in second language acquisition. Oxford, England: Pergamon Press.
Krashen, S. D., & Terrell, T. D. (1983). The natural approach: Language acquisition in the classroom. London, England: Prentice Hall Europe.
McFarlane, A., Sparrowhawk, A., & Heald, Y. (2002). Report on the educational use of games. Cambridge, England: TEEM.
Nation, P. (2014). What do you need to know to learn a foreign language? School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies. Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. Retrieved from http://www.victoria.ac.nz/lals/about/staff/publications/paul-nation/foreign-language_1125.pdf
National Literacy Summit. (2000). Adult ESL language and literacy instruction: A vision and action agenda for the 21st century. Office of Vocational and Adult Education. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.
Oxford, R., & Nyikos, M. (1989). Variables affecting choice of language learning strategies by university students. The Modern Language Journal, 73(3), 291-300. doi:10.1111/j.1540-4781.1989.tb06367.x
Pinker, S., & Bloom, P. (1990). Natural language and natural selection. Behavior and Brain Sciences, 13, 707–784. doi:10.1017/s0140525x00081061
Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages. (2010a). Position paper on language and literacy development for young English language learners. Washington, DC: TESOL International Association. Retrieved from https://www.tesol.org/advance-the-field/position-statements
Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages. (2010b). Position statement on adult English as a second or additional language program. Washington, DC: TESOL International Association. Retrieved from https://www.tesol.org/advance-the-field/position-statements
Ward, J. (2010). The student’s guide to cognitive neuroscience. New York, NY: Psychological Press.
In my gaming research study with EverQuestII® (EQII), I was pleasantly surprised to see a dominance of neutral words and only a slight majority of negative words over positive ones. This is based on the participants’ text-based, chat logs that I analyzed with the vocabulary concordancer called Range. Chat logs include language from the non-playing characters (NPCs), playing characters (gamers), and game alerts. Range parses the most frequently used words from a text file. I categorized the top 109 most frequently occurring words according to their positive, negative, and neutral attributes.
Positive Words: achievement, benefits, bonuses, boost, defeating, defense, eligible, encounter, focus, gain, health, increases, loot, points, power, prestigious, promotion, purchase, relieve, and reviving
Negative Words: assassin, combat, corpses, critical, crush, damage, debt, destroyer, destruction, disbanded, disruption, drained, fails, fanatic, fear, infected, inflict, interrupted, intimidation, overrun, purulent, slashing, slay, strike, suffering, threat, and loot* (actually a positive word in videogame context).
Neutral Words: absorbs, agility, already, attributes, banner, beetle, claim, collect, commoner, consciousness, consider, convert, copper, current, dedicated, discourse, discovered, dwarf, engage, errands, forum, griffon, hail, icon, idle, levels, limb, magic, melee, member, mentoring, northwest, outpost, parries, piercing, reset, reverse, reward, rifts, riposte, shield, silver, spirit, stamina, statesmen, strength, target, thirst, throne, tower, trade, trigger, unique, unknown, untamed, vocals, weight, zone, and purchase
EQII is a text-heavy, massively, multiplayer, online, role-playing game (MMORPG). It’s a fantasy game with various virtual worlds, numerous characters to play, and thousands of quests, so the language encountered won’t be exactly the same for everyone. Nevertheless, I noticed some of the same language being encountered at the early levels of play. For my dissertation study, I used some of these common words parsed from English language learning (ELL) participants’ chat logs for their pretest-posttest of new words learned from gameplay. I wanted to know whether MMORPGs combined with ELL strategies are a good extracurricular activity.
As a computer-assisted language learning (CALL) budding researcher, I selected EverQuestII(EQ2) for my second language acquisition (SLA) research study based on a previous study and similar gaming literature. Little did I know how much reading and advanced vocabulary was involved in this game—vocabulary that you need to know in order to advance to the next level. Reading fiction is a good way to improve your vocabulary. Reading while immersed in the context is even better for the language learner!
EQ2 is in the game genre of massive multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs). Scholars like Millard (2002) believe that modern technologies can improve literacy. I’m using EQ2 combined with SLA strategies as an after school intervention with English language learners’ to see if it will improve their grammar, reading, and vocabulary.
Chapelle (2001) developed criteria for CALL media selection that included language learning potential, learner fit, meaning focus, authenticity, positive feedback, and practicality. Other SLA researchers have used it to vet video game selection for their research (Miller and Hegelheimer, 2006). This criteria is a great way for me to share how impressed I am as an ESL educator with EQ2 as a medium for informal learning. Here are my initial understandings of the fit with the CALL criteria proposed by Chapelle: (albeit brief…)
- Language Learning Potential: Text-based and/or live chats with native English speakers; written support of all communication in chat logs and speech bubbles; scaffolded introduction to each player’s role; and environment, animation and audible alerts enhance understanding
- Learner Fit: Current literature indicates promise for gaming for educational purposes; EQ2 is rated T for Teen (ESRB, 2016) for a more approachable theme; and participants are university students who are familiar with online gaming
- Meaning Focus: Role-play takes on meaning of several narratives on various kingdoms; and encounters provide salutations, skirmishes, and humor,
- Authenticity: 5000 creatures to encounter on 8000 quests for situated learning encounters with non-playing characters and gamers; capability to build your own virtual identity; and possibility of failure
- Positive Feedback: Level-up announcements; tokens for continuance in gameplay; game currency for quest completion; and rewards for being courageous, etc.
- Practicality: Free up to 91 levels of play; online for ease of access anytime; and tutorials available in-game and on YouTube; and user-friendly tips and error messages.
Drawbacks include the need to have sufficient computer graphic card, hard drive storage space, and the support of a “gaming coach” for those first-time gamers. I realize that EQ2 is no longer the most sophisticated or popular game since its heyday was around 2011. Actually, this is why I selected this video game for my research study—so that participants will likely not be familiar with it.
Millard, E. (2002). Boys and the Blackstuff. National Association of for the Teaching of English (NATE) Newsletter, 16, January.
Chapelle, C. A. (2001). Computer applications in second language acquisition: Foundations for teaching, testing, and research. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.
Entertainment Software Rating Board. (2016). ESRB Ratings. New York, NY: Entertainment Software Association. Retrieved from https://www.everquest2.com/news/february-2016-producers-letter-holly
Miller, M., & Hegelheimer, V. (2006). The Sims meet ESL: Incorporating authentic computer simulation games into the language classroom. International Journal of Interactive Technology and Smart Education, 3(4), 311–328.
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This summer, I started my research study for my dissertation on massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) combined with second language acquisition (SLA) optimizing activities. I want to find out if free, commercial video games, MMORPGs in particular, are useful in helping English language learners (ELLs) acquire English skills. Could MMORPGs be used to supplement language programs or personal learning agendas? I’ll be using EverQuest II emphasizing language interactions and social identity (use of chat log, joining guilds, and character development), as an after school add-on in a mixed-methods-collective-case-study with nonequivalent comparison group design.
In my literature review and my previous case study on gaming and language learning, ELLs self-reported that they learn English from playing video games. Also, researchers on this topic are reporting positive gains for ELLs in vocabulary and language skills (reading, writing, listening, and speaking). My dissertation study focuses on these same skills, as well as student attitude toward gaming as a language learning tool and impact of prior gaming experience.
The goal of my study is to foster ELLs’ communicative competence—no matter their locale or socioeconomic situation. Free role-play gaming (EQII provides 91 levels of free play) can provide opportunities to access authentic language learning environments for experiential learning. MMORPGs challenge ELLs linguistically and provide accessible themes and embedded support systems. Literature on gaming indicates gamers practice information literacy skills (seeking & disseminating information), collaboration, problem-solving, and decision-making through meaningful and relevant tasks.
I’ll keep you posted on my progress and findings on this blog.