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!

How People Learn a Second Language

(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.

References

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.