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

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

In my current 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.  Then we 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 game 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, massive, 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 research study, I’m using 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 want to know if 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.

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.

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.

TeachersPayTeachers: Halloween Literacy Gaming Activity

Girl dressed for Halloween going trick-or-treating
Happy Halloween!

I just uploaded a new product that incorporates gaming as an instructional strategy. I used Halloween vocabulary and images to capture young children’s interest. Students can practice syllabification, reading, storytelling, and vocabulary when playing these games! This product contains directions and material for four different types of games to use during literacy centers: clapping out the syllables, vocabulary battle game, vocabulary flashcards, and storytelling. Each game would last 30 minutes, which is about the same amount of time segment in group rotation in a 2-hour literacy block.

This product includes the following items:

  • a game scorecard;
  • a paper candy reward system;
  • directions;
  • 24 different game cards with the vocabulary word, image, and the number of syllables, and
  • 24 vocabulary cards without the name or syllable count for testing purposes.

Vocabulary includes basic words like bat and hat, as well as multisyllabic ones like Halloween and October. I suggest printing the vocabulary on card stock and laminating them prior to use. I think students are really going to enjoy these activities. Hopefully, they will want to play them multiple times to become very familiar with the content vocabulary. I also suggest having the students create their own games and corresponding rules.

Here’s a sample game:

#2A: Vocabulary Battle Game: The objective of the game is to correctly read the word for each card drawn.

Learning Objective: Students will practice reading words correctly.

Game Rules: This game can be played with 2-4 players.

Step 1: Place vocabulary cards face down in a stack.

Step 2: Player 1 takes a card and tries to read it. Then he shows it to the other players to get feedback (correct or incorrect). If the student reads it correctly, then they keep the card. If not, then the card is placed in the “trash” pile to be reused.

Step 3: Player 2 repeats this action.

Step 4: After all the face down cards have been read, shuffle the deck of discarded cards to continue the game. The player with the most cards wins. Students redeem cards for candy or other reward at the end of the game.

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Visit my store on TeachersPayTeachers to purchase this product! I plan to do the same gaming products based on content vocabulary for each holiday.

Sandra Rogers

Process Map for Reading and Remembering Information

Comprehension, Critical Thinking, Vocabulary and Reading Rate
I used this map to explain to my students the content to be covered in our class.

Electronic Flashcard Decks and Crossword Puzzles

Dear Teachers,

A simple and free alternative to creating paper and pen vocabulary logs are electronic flashcards on Dictionary.com.  However, to meet the needs of all learners, I suggest that you continue to provide the more traditional handwritten or type written logs for the visual students sine the flashcard decks are more suited for the auditory and/or kinetic learners. In fact, students could upload their typed vocabulary logs documents to review them online on Scribed.com.

For my online college reading class this semester, I provided this alternative and asked students to send me the link upon completion, as the flashcard decks on Dictionary.com are viewable by the public.  After students create a quick profile and login to create a deck, the program helps students find the definitions to the words to form their decks. Then it provides repeated opportunities for study and testing. Moreover, the program will send the students an email reminder to complete their study. For example, to complete mastery of the vocabulary list, you must test your knowledge at least 10 times over an extended period.

View my screen cast on how to create electronic flashcard decks on Dictionary.com: http://camtasia.usouthal.edu/Camtasia/J00052636/Vocabulary_Project_on_Dictionary.com_-_Flash_%28Original_Size%29_-_20110527_05.57.20PM.html

Here are the links to the four decks that I created from the Twilight Saga:

http://flashcards.dictionary.com/deckprofile/view/50903/twilight-saga-twilight/

http://flashcards.dictionary.com/deckprofile/view/50910/twilight-saga-new-moon/

http://flashcards.dictionary.com/deckprofile/view/50880/twilight-saga-eclipse/

http://flashcards.dictionary.com/deckprofile/view/50881/twilight-saga-breaking-dawn/

Another use of this resource is to download the Dictionary.com application (app) to your smartphone (BlackBerry, iPhone, Android, etc.).  Like most everybody, I’m too lazy to look up unknown words, so I use the app.  Now I keep the phone at my bedside when I’m reading to conduct easy word searches and to hear the pronunciations.  Additionally, I shared the app idea with my college students, and they really liked not having to lug their paperback dictionaries around.

Lastly, Dictionary.com provides a widget that you can add to your Web site by embedding HTML code. The widget provides the word-of-the-day. I posted it on the course announcement page of my eCollege shell, so that students will see it when they first login. Yesterday’s word-of-the-day was “inkhorn”. I relish this word because it reminds me of someone who loves to use high level academic words even in his emails! Today’s word is “bailiwick,” which I thought was apropos for my eportfolio that I’m building on this blog!

P.S. Dictionary.com now creates computer-generated crossword puzzles from you e-flashcard decks!

P.S.S. Are Flashcards an Effective Learning Tool? http://voxy.com/blog/2011/05/are-flashcards-an-effective-learning-tool-infographic/

Your Blogger,

Sandra Annette Rogers