Monday, December 31, 2012

Game world, real world, classroom

After wrestling with the experiment data and the whole writing process, I finally was able to get an article out the door to ReCALL Journal. I will hear back from them in March (or before then) with reviewer comments. In the meanwhile, I'm trying to think of next steps for how to grow the project. 

One thing that I found interesting about the data (see posting from 14 August 2012) was that study participants who were immersed in the 3D digital game-based language learning (3D-DGBLL) environment seemed to manifest a more fuller understanding of the activity associated with the recycling and waste management systems than those participants who had studied these systems in only in a text-based environment. The narratives written by the experiment group, however, were rougher and less polished than those written by the control group.

The question in my mind, I suppose, is: How to get the best of both worlds? How can learning gains in a 3D-DGBLL environment, which may not necessarily be linguistic in nature, be leveraged to promote learning gains (reading, writing, speaking, and listening) in a SLA classroom? As I like to show in my conference presentation slides, the type of activity that leads to learning in a game world:

Is very similar to the type of open-ended activity that L2 learners will encounter in the real world once they leave the classroom:

What my recent experiment findings have led me to believe is that perhaps in-game activity develops a type of mental structure (I refer to them as "story maps" in the article, borrowing a term from Nitsche), which we can use to structure the development of a second language. The next question, I guess, is what's the best way to include a 3D-DGBLL environment in the classroom curriculum so that these structures are used most effectively. More on this topic to come later.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Activity Systems and Cognitive Maps

I have been working on a write-up of the data yielded by the research study at the end of Spring Semester 2012. Although I am not sure if this blog really gets the kind of traffic that I was originally hoping it would, I thought I would just throw some of the data out there just to see what type of feedback I get. At least people who stumble across the blog will know that I am still actively thinking about how 3D-DGBL environments can be used to teach a second language and culture. This is a part of what I discovered:

Analysis of the written narratives written by the study participants did reveal distinct patterns of how the 3D-DGBL environment encouraged participants in the experiment group to frame their narrative in the language of everyday bodily action and activity. The analysis was informed by the methodology described by grounded theory, a qualitative approach to textual and discourse analysis that generates or discovers a theory through a systematic close reading of data (Corbin & Strauss, 1990; Strauss & Corbin, 1998; Charmaz, 2006; Birks & Mills, 2011). Low-level textual indicators describing the same phenomena are coded as representing the same concept, which Corbin & Strauss (1990) identify as the basic unit of organization and analysis: “Only by comparing incidents and naming the like phenomena with the same conceptual term can a theorist accumulate the basic units for a theory. These concepts in the grounded theory approach become more numerous and more abstract as the analysis continues” (p. 420). In turn, Corbin & Strauss (1990) continue, a concept can be developed into a category “in terms of its properties and dimensions, the conditions that give rise to it, the action/interaction by which it is expressed, and the consequences that result” (p. 420). Although comparison of categories over time gives rise to an overarching theory, the current study is in its initial phases and will focus primarily on low-level textual indicators and organizing concepts; further research into the narratives generated by 3D-DGBL environments may expand these concepts into categories and a theory that can be used to guide the development of language instruction in these environments.

A close reading of the short narratives generated by study participants revealed the emergence of three general concepts, each of which had several qualifying properties. The first concept (“Process”) described the procedure of correctly recycling or disposing of objects found in the problem space, and therefore could possibly be interpreted as the ability of the participants to see themselves as subjected to – as well as subjectified by –  the rules, instruments, roles, and objectives that constituted the activity system of this space. The process concept was qualified by four properties: (1) “Locating,” which described the process of finding an object that needed to be recycled or discarded; (2) “Acquiring,” which described the process of moving the object from its location in the problem space to the ownership of the study participant; (3) “Movement,” which describe the process of transporting the object to a place where the participant could recycle or discard it; and (4) “Disposal,” which described the process of the participant recycling or discarding the object.

The narratives generated by the control group manifested slightly less instances of language to express locating an object for disposal (M= 0.95, SD= 0.91) than the narratives of the experiment group (M= 1.23, SD= 0.83); t(30)= -0.89, p= 0.38. A substantial difference between the narratives, however, emerges when they are read for language expressing the acquisition of an object. The narratives produced by the control group (M= 0.32, SD= 0.48) evidenced significantly less instances of language for acquiring an object than those produced by the experiment group (M= 1.15, SD= 1.07); t(30)= -3.02, p= 0.01, showing that this stage of the recycling and waste management process was a significant feature of the cognitive maps relied upon by participants in the experiment group to structure their narratives. Although language expressing movement was not frequently used in the narrative of either groups, again there was an emerging trend that the narrative produced by the control group (M= 0.11, SD= 0.32) had slightly less textual instances verbalizing movement than the experiment group (M= 0.15, SD= 0.38); t(30)= -0.4, p= 0.69. Only when the narratives were read for language expressing the disposal of an object did the control group (M= 3.32, SD= 2.08) outperform the experiment group (M= 2.54, SD= 1.76); t(30)= 1.10, p= 0.28, suggesting that this stage of the process was the most prominent feature of the cognitive maps used by the control group. A graphic representation comparing the narrative concepts generated by both groups to express the recycling and waste management activity system can be found here:

The narratives generated by the control group, therefore, seemed to focus primarily on the end state of the activity system, with the disposal of the object in the appropriate recycling or waste management container, whereas the narratives generated by the experiment group tended to pay more attention to all stages of the activity system, with significant attention being paid to the acquisition stage of the system. Given that a core mechanic of the 3D-DGBL environment was locating and gathering objects for appropriate disposal, it is not surprising to find this mechanic predominantly displayed in the narratives of those who were immersed in the environment. A close reading and comparison of the narratives from both groups suggests, therefore, that participants in the control group may have relied on a partial cognitive map to structure their narratives, one that did not fully cover all stages of the activity system and that did not completely depict them as embodied actors in this system. Narratives from the control group tended to be very well-written, although they inclined toward being a static literary exercise. Participants in the experiment group, however, tended to be more physically present in their written narratives, and the increased attention they gave the locating, acquisition, and movement stages of the activity system suggests that the cognitive maps they relied on to structure their narratives were more complete. Although sometimes lacking in attention to grammatical detail, narratives from the experiment group generally gave the impression of relating a dynamic lived experience.

Works Cited

Birks, M. & Mills, J. (2011). Grounded theory: A practical guide. Los Angeles: Sage Publications.

Charmaz, K. (2006). Constructing grounded theory: A practical guide through qualitative analysis. Los Angeles: Sage Publications.

Corbin, J. & Strauss, A. (1990). Grounded theory research: Procedures, canons and evaluative criteria. Zeitschrift für Soziologie, 19(6), 418-427.

Strauss, A. & Corbin, J. (1998). Basics of qualitative research techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory (2nd ed.). Sage Publications: London.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Presentation at CALICO 2012

I have been working in the office this morning, getting travel itineraries and other things ready for my upcoming trip to CALICO 2012, where I will be presenting a paper there on the results of my experiment using the 3D game I developed to teach German. In any case, it should be a lot of fun and interesting. I will post more information about the conference and the paper's reception when I get back.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Transfer from Games to Narratives

The end of the semester and beginning of the summer is always busy: Thousands of things to catch up on, odds jobs that need doing, and countless receptions and ceremonies to attend. I finally had a chance to look at some of the data generated by the experiment I ran in my beginning German class a few months ago. 

Basically the experiment was like this: We covered German two-way prepositions and the German recycling system in class, did some in-class exercises, finished some take-home exercises, and then wrote a short story requiring students to apply what they learned towards a solving a problem in a real-world space (i.e., cleaning up the city center of a German town). Students in the experiment group played a custom built 3D video game in which, essentially, they could practice playing their story before writing it down.

With small populations sizes a lot of the data you get is statistically insignificant. You can see trends developing, but nothing that would indicate large impact. For some reason or another, I also had a lot of students in the experiment group drop, which always makes it difficult to find statistical significance, too. I was especially intrigued, therefore, when I got this:

Basically, it seems that the students in the experiment group who played the game wrote narratives that adopted a first-person view of the game. These narratives showed, among other things, more instances of personal agency and embeddedness in a specific setting: "I see a can on the ground. I walk over to the can. I pick it up and then walk over to the recycling container. I throw the can into the container." Students in the control group had the tendency to write more narratives like this: "I see the can on the ground and I throw it into the recycling container." I'll play a bit more with these numbers and work my findings up into an article. But first, I will present my findings next week at CALICO 2012 at Notre Dame University. In any case, more to come!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Back in the Saddle

It's been a long while since I have been active with game development and blogging. Time to get back into the swing, I think. My absence for this past year has been on account of responsibilities to the German program at Elon University, and getting a business German program off the ground. Central to this program is a Web-based blended learning environment that utilizes an open source learning management system (Moodle) to layer content-specific language instruction over existing lower-division German language courses (German 121-122).

Screen capture of Business German Program interface

By offloading the business German topics onto a blended learning environment, a tighter integration between the lower-division courses and program subject matter can be achieved while simultaneously ensuring that all instruction is scalable to address the needs of any number of students, transparent to the course instructors, and flexible in terms of delivery time, manner and place. It's been fun, but I'm really looking forward to getting back to research on immersive digital game environments for second language acquisition.

What better way to start of a new research push than a total redesign of the research blog? The old design was getting a bit ... well, old. The new blog look and feel, I think, gives visitors more of a sense of what the blog has been developing over these last few years. It also seems, in my opinion, to be a bit cleaner. For those of you with smaller screen resolutions, here's an image of the full blog:

Full blog screen capture

Anyway, in the coming weeks I will be working on getting an article out detailing the results of an experiment I ran with the game a few weeks ago. Some interesting data revealing how these immersive digital game environments help students project themselves into a simulated cultural space. And then there's the eventual book project I would like to crank up. Should provide me enough material to blog on.