Digital games in the classroom

Results and reflections from two semesters

Kristin Lange, Diane Richardson, & Chantelle Warner, University of Arizona

Lange, Richardson, & Warner
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In previous research, digital gaming has been pursued theoretically and empirically, and it has been argued that it offers several affordances to language learning and teaching and promotes digital literacy. Our poster contributes to this discourse with findings from two research studies in which digital games were integrated into the existing, text-centered curriculum of a fifth semester German language and culture course. Not only do we highlight how games were implemented, but how students reacted to the gaming unit, as well as the resulting changes in the unit’s design.

We conducted a two-week pilot study in Fall 2013. Gaming not only formed the thematic content of this unit, but students also chose games to play individually in class and at home. Data was collected through surveys, gaming diaries, and several other written and oral activities that incorporated reflective elements about gaming and the gaming unit. In addition to engaging with the pedagogical theory around gaming and multiliteracies, this pilot study examined phenomenological/attitudinal aspects of games implementation and discussed some of the challenges as well as some of the benefits of integrating games into language curriculum. Based on these reflections, we made some alterations to the unit for Spring 2014, including the games suggested to the students, the prompt for the gaming diaries, and the final essay at the end of the unit. Data was collected in a similar fashion as previously and was used to evaluate the changes made in the unit. Our poster highlights these changes as well as additional recommendations for the incorporation of gaming units in multiliteracies and text-based foreign language classrooms.

Kristin Lange

Ph.D. Student in Second Language Acquisition and Teaching
University of Arizona

Diane Richardson
Ph.D. Candidate in Transcultural German Studies
University of Arizona/Leipzig

Dr. Chantelle Warner
Associate Professor of German Studies
University of Arizona

12 thoughts on “Digital games in the classroom”

  1. Great job – interesting and worthwhile project. I am wondering what initial gliches you had and how you changed the syllabus after the reflections that you mentioned? Also, did it make a difference if the student was more digitally native? as compared to students that were not? Thanks!

    1. Thank you so much for your comments and questions.

      About initial glitches: It was difficult to actually bring the gaming experience into the classroom. We felt that students needed more guidance and support, and we did not simply want them to play the game without any task or focus. This and the prompt for the gaming log were the main issues addressed in the second semester of the study.

      About digital natives: We consider all of the participants in both semesters to be digital natives, however not all of them were gamers or interested in gaming. This factor did tend to make a difference, as these participants seemed to be less frustrated with aspects like navigating the games, although they were generally the first to complain about the repetitiveness or lack of collaborative elements in the games.

    1. Thank you for your question. The point of the logs was to reflect on their gaming experience, so the students did not necessarily comment on aspects of German culture and we were thus also not looking for such comments in our analysis of the the log entries and cannot speak to that without further analysis of the data. What students did comment on were aspects of their gaming experience, gaming culture in general, and their games specifically. We did talk about gaming culture in Germany. Particularly when we discussed the different articles in class and talked about topics such as the representation of women, games and violence, etc. in computer games from Germany.

  2. Sounds very interesting! Vielen Dank for sharing your research! I was wondering if the gaming diaries and other data collection was in English or in German and what students thought about the gaming unit and responding to the data collection.

  3. Hi Merica!
    The gaming diaries were in German as well as most of the data collection. The final semester reflection was in English.

    About students thoughts: Most of them enjoyed the unit and were eager to learn and try out something they had never done in a language class. It was also a new aspect of German culture for them. But because it was something completely new for most, and we asked them to step out of their comfort zone, some of them responded with some frustration sometimes. Learning the game while using/learning the language was sometimes a challenge.

  4. A very interesting and engaging presentation.
    I’m interested to know if you played with your students the same games. I’m not sure if you mentioned this in the presentation. do you think that playing with the students makes a difference to them?

    1. Thanks for your question. We registered for each game just to see how the games worked and to learn a little about them (to avoid glitches and such). We were mostly “incognito” though, so students did not know we were playing too. When they played in class, we did not join them because we had our hands full with navigating the classroom 🙂

      Does it make a difference for students if the teachers join the game playing? That’s a really good question. I’m not sure. I can see both happening, i.e. students’ would find it very motivating to have teachers join the experience and learning with them, or, it could be intimidating for them to have teachers’ eyes following each of their steps in the game.

  5. Thank you for your presentation and that was also great to listen to the presentation.

    In fact, I am wondering whether you have classified participants as gamers and non-gamers before implementing the study, and if so how participants’ reactions, perceptions and habits related to gaming have changed. I actually remember some sentences and reflection of a student who do not really enjoy games, but I am curious about how gaming in class changes students’ reactions and perceptions regrading games.

    On the other hand, games are great teaching tools and most people enjoy games. However, the idea that one party wins while another loses in a game has been a point for me to question it. What kind of games did participants play in this study and what do you think about this win-or-lose aspect of games in terms of self-confidence, anxiety and stress levels of our learners.

    Mustafa Polat-SLAT/University of Arizona

    1. Hi Mustafa and thanks for your interest and questions.

      Through the pre-unit survey we were able to determine which students identified themselves as gamers or not. We did discuss gaming and learning and in particular through the post-unit audio reflection as well as the closing written reflection in the first semester, we gained a lot of insight on the students’ perceptions toward gaming and learning. Of particular interest were the number of students who stated that they had originally not been interested in gaming or had been skeptical about the unit, but by the end of the unit really appreciated all that they had learned and/or even wanted to continue playing their game. One student in particular also stated that she realized her gaming “type” was “achiever”, not a “discoverer”, as she had identified with at the beginning of the course *and noted that due to this fact she was spending too much time playing the game.

      About winning and losing in games: The games we chose didn’t really have an element of players playing against each other. The students had to advance in the game, but not necessarily by being better than other students. Quite contrary, players often rather work together to take on quests that a game would give them. Many of today’s simulation games, strategy games and adventure games, and many MMOGs are designed like that. It could be a great possibility for scaffolding and negotiating meaning in the foreign language.

  6. I am currently in a teaching methods class where we are learning about and exploring literacy and multiliteracies. Most of these concepts are new to me as I was taught in a CLT-based classroom, but I am starting to see how multimodalities can enrich a foreign language learning experience. I still struggle however with the implementation of these ideas because I feel like the students don’t learn as much of the actual language. One could say that students MORE than just the language, but if I were taking a German class I wouldn’t be interested in gaming, I would be interested in learning German.

    I’m wondering if you feel that the students in these German classes were able to progress in the language as much as they would have in a traditional fifth semester German class? It seems like this type of gaming-centered class would be very focused as far as vocabulary and language use. Were you able to cover the same amount of material within the semester as traditional methods? Were the digital games an addition to the class or were they the focus of the class? It’s hard for me to imagine digital gaming being a method for foreign-language learning, but that may be because I’m not a gamer myself.

    1. Thank you for your comments and questions.

      On materials: Throughout the unit, students read German-language articles on various topics related to gaming and class discussions as well as written responses and (grammatical) focus on form exercises were based on these articles. We generally tried to give students time to play their games, which were all completely in German, in class as well, but never more than 20 minutes. When they were playing in class, it was always focused on a certain aspect from the daily topic/discussion.

      On (language) learning progress: The overwhelming majority of the students stated in their post-unit written and/or audio reflections how much they had learned about the German language in particular. Furthermore, many of them (even self-proclaimed “non-gamers”) reflected on the advantages the actual gaming experience had offered them to interact with native German speakers and the German-language world, as opposed to just reading and talking about a “traditional” text in class. One students’ comment from the audio reflection sums this up very nicely (our translation):

      “Games are an advantage for a course, because there are many words and situations and you can chat with other people in the games. It’s not just a poem or a story or something in a book. It’s interactive, you can see it and learn. I believe that gaming was better than everything we learned the rest of the semester.”

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