My Dissertation Abstract on MMORPGs to Improve ESL Skills

A Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game with Language Learning Strategic Activities to Improve English Grammar, Listening, Reading, and Vocabulary

Brightly colored winged-ferry is learning about a quest from a farmer in his field.
Example of roleplay in EverQuestII

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., Johnson, B., Van Eck, R., Van Haneghan, J. & Martin, S. (2017). A MMORPG with Language Learning Strategic Activities to Improve English Grammar, Listening, Reading, and Vocabulary. In P. Resta & S. Smith (Eds.), Proceedings of Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference 2017 (pp. 451-463). Chesapeake, VA: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).

Join me at SITE 2017 Conference in Austin, TX

Photo of Sandra Annette Rogers
Say hello if you see me.

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!

What kind of vocabulary can you learn from role-playing videogames?

Brightly colored winged-ferry is learning about a quest from a farmer in his field.
Example of gameplay in EverQuestII

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.

CALL Criteria for Use of EverQuestII Video Game

Ocelot in full armor with sword on a snowy tundra with orcs running in the background
Meet my virtual identity, Kerrannie

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.

References

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.

Goals of Research Study on MMORPGs + SLA Strategies

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.

8th SLanguages Annual Symposium 2015

Conference Organizer
Conference Organizer

Time: November 14, 2015 to November 15, 2015
Location: EduNation in Second Life
Organized By: Heike Philp aka Gwen Gwasi

Event Description:
8th SLanguages Annual Symposium
14-15 November 2015 (Sat/Sun)
Come and join us at SLanguages Annual Symposium, a two day online conference on language learning in virtual worlds held for the 8th time on EduNation in SecondLife.  The two main topics of the conference are machinima (cinematic productions of real-time conversations in virtual environments) on Saturday, 14 Nov 2015 starting at 12pm GMT and language learning games on Sunday, 15 Nov 2015 starting at 9am GMT.
We meet on EduNation in SecondLife, and there are tours to various virtual worlds like OpenSim, Edmondo, Kitely, Minecraft, Unity 3D etc., some of which you may want to attend via our livestream.  Here are the highlights:
– a CAMELOT symposium, an Istanbul University symposium and a Minecraft symposium
– keynotes by Stylianos Mystakidis of OpenEducationEuropa, JayJay Zifanwe of the University of Western Australia, Gord Holden on immersive technology for learning in schools, Nick Zwarts of the TiLA project
– a film festival, fire side chats, games parks, water sports fun, tours and a party with the Cheerleaders
For the provisional program, please click here
http://tinyurl.com/SLanguages2015
It is free to attend and all of the sessions are being streamed and recorded in Adobe Connect. You do not need an avatar to attend, but if you do join us in SecondLife on EduNation, and if it is your first time to do so, we are happy to assist and look forward to meeting you inworld.
Twitter hashtag: #slang15 

Videogames for Extracurricular Second Language Acquisition Activities

Photo by Emma Kim

Massive multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) provide English language learners (ELLs) with various gameplay situations and narratives to learn language functions in interactive, fun, and effective ways. Commercial MMORGs like World of Warcraft (WOW) provide numerous opportunities to practice information literacy activities such as interpreting, seeking, synthesizing, and disseminating information (Martin & Steinkuehler, 2010).  According to Krashen’s (1982) acquisition versus learning hypothesis, these would be great conduits for informal second language acquisition (SLA).  When a player enters WOW to complete a quest, generally they interact with other players and non-player characters (NPCs) to find and share information. These are examples of information literacy activities, which are linguistically described as heuristic (infer), instrumental (seek), and informative (disseminate and synthesize) language functions (Yahya, 2012). ELLs need to practice these and other types of language functions in all sorts of situations to achieve English language fluency.

MMORPGs provide an informal learning environment with a narrative structure to learn language functions via observation and interaction with others.  This resonates with Bandura’s (1978) social learning theory.  Bandura posited learning occurs through observation of others and without formal reinforcement of learning.  Hence, learning is viewed as a cognitive process where one can learn vicariously through others, which can occur with the NPCs and other gamers during the role-play aspect of WOW. Krashen also posited that SLA can occur unconsciously through passive learning activities.  I extrapolate this idea to the passive learning of language functions via gameplay.  Dickey (2007) described the narrative structure of MMORPGs in her typology of quests as follows: bounty, collection, escort, FedEx, goodwill, and messenger.  For example, the bounty quest is an assignment to hunt for certain players or things within the game.  As a subject matter expert in SLA, I could work with script writers to identify the language functions that correlate to each type of quest per character and game level to develop a list of the language functions and their corresponding level of difficulty (beginner, intermediate, advance).  This document would become a curriculum map of language functions for ELLs and could be marketed as an afterschool program to schools and/or to ELLs directly.

MMORPGs make the target language understandable.  MMORPGs provide affordances to make the conversation comprehensible via animation, sound alerts, written rules, NPCs, and other players verbal input and actions. Krashen (1982) posited in his input hypothesis that learners need comprehensible input (i + 1) before moving to a higher level of understanding.  Besides the aforementioned affordances, the story narrative of MMORPGs provide multiple reinforcers to make the input comprehensible. For instance, the narrative structure has a logical sequence of beginning, middle, and end, as well as an appeal to the senses. In a somewhat similar theory, Vygotsky (1978) proposed that all learning takes place at the edge of one’s understanding with the help of others or a support system.  This is known as the zone of proximal development (ZPD). The role-playing aspect of the videogame provides ELLs with an opportunity to go beyond their own ability and access their ZPD with the help of their partners and NPCs within gameplay. Based on these theories, I propose MMORPGs as a way to informally learn a second language during afterschool extracurricular activities.

References

Bandura, A. (1977). Social learning theory. Oxford, UK: Prentice-Hall.

Dickey, M. (2007).  Game design and learning: A conjectural analysis of how massively multiple online role-playing games (MMORPGs) foster intrinsic motivation.  Educational Technology Research & Development, 55(3), 253-273.  doi:10.1007/s11423-006-9004-7

Krashen, S. (1982).  Principles and practices in second language acquisition.  Oxford, UK: Pergamon Press.

Martin, C., & Steinkuehler, C. (2010).  Collective information literacy in massively multiplayer online games.  E-Learning and Digital Media, 7(4), 355.  doi:10.2304/elea.2010.7.4.355

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Yahya, N. (2011). English language oral development and instruction. In H. Zainuddin, N. Yahya, C. A. Morales-Jones, & E. N. Whelan Ariza (Eds.) Fundamentals of teaching English to speakers of other languages in K-12 mainstream classrooms (3rd ed) (pp. 151-171).  Dubuque, IA: Kendall Hunt Publishing Company.

Getting started on my dissertation: MMORPGs for Second Language Acquisition

Massively Multiplayer Online Role-playing Games with Strategic Activities to Improve Grammar, Listening, Reading, & Vocabulary 

My dissertation will investigate the use of a noneducational, massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG), EverQuest II (EQ2), as a second language acquisition (SLA) tool for English.  This study will measure the effectiveness of using MMORPGs to increase the SLA of general English as a second language (ESL) skills and vocabulary. It will replicate and extend a study by Rankin, Gold, and Gooch (2006) that only had four college-aged intermediate/advanced level English language learners (ELLs) in which they reported that participants improved their English language vocabulary by 40% from solely playing EQ2 for four hours a week for a month without instructional supports.  I will use mixed methods to produce a more robust understanding of the phenomenon of gaming for SLA.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of the proposed study is to determine whether college-aged ELLs can improve their ESL skills in a short amount of time from playing commercial MMORPGs as an extracurricular activity without language supports. Rankin et al. (2006) found there was sufficient support for ELLs within the EQ2 videogame; this is why I have chosen it for my study. EQ2 provides opportunities for the participants to select an avatar (character) to speak to other players’ avatars through text-based chats or in-game speech capabilities.  Player characters sometimes form alliances to collaborate on a task. The non-player characters verbalize the rules and alerts to players. This and other embedded support systems (e.g., rules, signage, animation, audible alarms) provide ELLs with guidance and model language.  For example, the components in EQ2 are labeled, which serves as a written English language support mechanism. This means participants will do a lot of reading and will need to understand the vocabulary in order to play the game.


A special thanks to Dr. Burke Johnson for getting me started on my dissertation in his course this semester (Advanced Research Design).

Note: This was updated 12/31/15, as I write my dissertation proposal for spring semester.

See my PowerPoint presentation on MMORGs for Language Learning that I presented at SITE 2014 in Jacksonville, FL.

Here’s a live presentation on the topic at the 7th Virtual Round Table.

Your blogger,

Sandra Rogers