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. 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)

Checklist for Novice Education Gaming Researchers

EverQuestII Paladin character is a human-like female puma in armor at home near Frostfang Sea

This is a cursory list of important concepts and items to consider when preparing to conduct educational research that involves the use of videogames.

  • Use media selection criteria (e.g., Chapelle’s 2001 computer-assisted language learning media criteria or Jamieson, Chapelle, & Preiss, 2005 revised version)
  • Determine reading level of videogame text by analyzing chat logs with the Flesch-Kincaid readability index. Make sure participants’ reading levels are within 2 grade levels of the index.
  • Use vocabulary concordancer (e.g., Range software) to obtain frequently occurring words from chat log texts for assessment.
  • Learn commands pertinent to research analysis to capture chat logs (e.g., /log) and/or images (e.g., print screen) to computer station public folder.
  • Determine participants’ gaming literacy skills and complexity of the game.
  • Determine participants’ propensity for pathological gaming behavior: low social competence, high impulsivity, and excessive gameplay (i.e., 30 hours) (Gentile, et al., 2011).
  • Determine participants’ perceived relevance of gaming as a learning tool.
  • Provide videogame tutorial and ongoing support.
  • Provide explicit instruction on the benefits of strategies used to enhance learning.
  • Consider participants’ preferences for gaming session location, time, and features.
  • Consider Reese’s (2010) Flowometer to determine gamers’ self-perception of flow and other mental states of engagement to achieve optimal learning condition (i.e., advanced skill use during challenging gaming tasks).
  • Provide warning of photosensitivity to persons with epilepsy (Daybreak Games, 2016).
  • New! Use Discord as a communication backchannel during gameplay.

This list was shared during a gaming panel at the SITE 2017 conference in Austin, TX. Here’s the citation if you would like to reference it:

Willis, J., Greenhalgh, S., Nadolny, L., Liu, S., Aldemir, T., Rogers, S., Trevathan, M., Hopper, S. & Oliver, W. (2017). Exploring the Rules of the Game: Games in the Classroom, Game-Based Learning, Gamification, and Simulations. In Proceedings of Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference 2017 (pp. 475-480). Chesapeake, VA: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).

What advice would you add?

References

Chapelle, C. A. (2001). Computer applications in second language acquisition: Foundations for teaching, testing, and research. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

Jamieson, J., Chapelle, C., & Preiss, S. (2005). CALL evaluation by developers, a teacher, and students. CALICO Journal, 23(1), 93-138. Retrieved from http://lib.dr.iastate.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1045&context=engl_pubs

Daybreak Games [Website]. (2016). Photosensitive warning. Retrieved from https://www.daybreakgames.com/photosensitive?locale=en_US.

Gentile, D., Hyekyung, C., Liau, A., Sim, T., & Li, D. (2011). Pathological video game use among youths: A two-year longitudinal study. Pediatrics, 127(2). doi:10.1542/peds.2010-1353

Range [Software application]. (2016). Retrieved from http://www.victoria.ac.nz/lals/about/staff/paul-nation

Reese, D. D. (2010). Introducing Flowometer: A CyGaMEs assessment suite tool. In R. Van Eck (Ed.), Gaming and cognition: Theories and practice from the learning science. Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference.

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.

Goals of Research Study on MMORPGs + SLA Strategies

Embed from Getty Images

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.

Cognitive Perspective of Flow Theory and Video Games

Icon of game consul

Csikszentmihalyi’s flow theory (1990) is based on several interrelated psychological constructs: ability, attitude, cognition, emotion, motivation, and personality. When perfectly combined in a task, they catapult a person into a state of flow commonly known as being in the zone. Csikszentmilhalyi refers to this as an optimal experience. He found that people around the world had shared descriptions for flow such as the joy it yields, episodes of unfettered concentration, suspension of time, and the spontaneous automaticity during an experience. Flow occurs differently for different people. For example, individuals who aren’t good at playing games, or find the game uninteresting, wouldn’t experience flow during gameplay.

As an instructional designer, I want to create optimal learning experiences. Flow theory has components similar to those used for effective instruction based on cognitivism. For instance, Sweller’s cognitive load theory (1998) recommends reducing distractions (extraneous elements) and delivering germane and intrinsic elements of instruction in manageable chunks. This correlates to the component of enjoyment in flow theory in that a person can only fully enjoy a task if they’re capable of completing it. Flow theory has eight main components that engender enjoyment: manageable tasks, deep concentration, clear goals, immediate feedback, effortless involvement, learner autonomy, metamorphosis of self, and suspension of time. These components parallel best practices for instruction.

To make learning more enjoyable, I’d apply Miller’s seven-plus-or-minus-two principle (1956) regarding the limitations surrounding the amount of input that can be remembered at any given time. Adherence to Miller’s principle will make a task more manageable. Additionally, I’d use Gagne’s (1985) nine events of learning to establish the optimal cognitive conditions for effective learning to occur. Three of Gagne’s events (state objective, provide feedback, and provide practice) closely correlate with the enjoyment phenomena of flow theory (task has clear goals, task provides immediate feedback, and sense of control). Furthermore, the aspects of clear goals and feedback also correlate to self-regulation of learning. Self-regulation processes include rehearsal, selection of important information, and metacognitive strategies. The selection of important information aids deep concentration for possible enjoyment of an optimal experience.

A vehicle for cognitive learning experiences with flow potential would be well-designed educational games. Elements of good game design include goal-oriented, stimulating, active learning that is anchored in instruction (Shute, Reiber, & Van Eck, 2012). While playful (fun) learning has similar elements, the key difference is active learning, as many playful activities passively follow the teacher’s directives. Another difference is the challenge aspect of gaming that adapts to the learners’ abilities, whereas playful learning is freeform. A challenge provides learners with intrinsic motivation and the pathway to achieve learner autonomy to make their own way through the world. This is different from traditional learning activities that are teacher directed. Chatti, Jarke, and Specht (2010) described this as a knowledge push, whereas knowledge-pull is akin to gaming where the learner gravitates toward knowledge.

Videogames, in particular, have similar characteristics for creating a context for flow. According to Csikszentmihalyi, clarity, centering, choice, commitment, and challenge are the characteristics necessary for a unified flow experience. In my opinion, these are the flow characteristics that can be found in gameplay: 1) clarity with explicit gaming context, rules, feedback, and goals, 2) centering with narrative providing storyline, 3) choice with multilevels of play, numerous episodes, variety of characters and actions, and guilds, 4) commitment via resets (do-overs) and new virtual identity, and 5) challenge via incremental task difficulty and reward system. The challenge for instructional designers is to determine how to use the potentiality of videogames to engender flow for educational purposes. Based on the aforementioned research on cognitive learning best practices and flow theory, we have the theoretical basis to move forward.

Sandra Rogers

References

Chatti, M. A., Jarke, M., & Specht, M. (2010). The 3P learning model. Educational Technology and Society, 13(4), 74-85.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York, NY: Harper & Row.

Gagné, R. M. (1985). The Conditions of Learning. New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston.

Miller, G. A. (1956). The magical number seven, plus-or-minus two: Some limits on our capacity
for processing information. Psychological Review, 63, 81-97.

Shute, V. J., Rieber, L. P., & Van Eck, R. (2012).   Games…and…Learning. In R. A. Reiser & J. V. Dempsey   (Eds.), Trends and issues in instructional design and   technology (pp. 321-332). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill   Prentice Hall.

Sweller, J., Van Merriënboer, J., & Paas, F. (1998). Cognitive architecture and instructional design. Educational Psychology Review 10(3), 251–296. doi:10.1023/A:1022193728205

Trace Effects Video Game for Learning English as a Foreign Language

Trace and other characters in the game called Trace Effects
Source: Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, U.S. Department of State

 

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.

Inputs, Outputs & Outcomes
IDE 660: Program Evaluation Project

 

Your blogger,

Sandra Rogers

P.S. A special thanks to the US DOS Office of English Language Programs for the use of this image.

Reference

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.

Getting started on my dissertation: MMORPGs for Second Language Acquisition

Embed from Getty Images

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