Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2014
21 Pages, Grade: 1,7
2. Theory: Digital Games in a Classroom
2.1 Relevance of Multiliteracies and Multimedia Content in the EFL Classroom
2.2 Video Games in the EFL classroom
2.3 A Guidline to Using Digital Games in the Classroom
3. Analysis of Teaching Material
3.1 Background Information about the Video Game Used
3.2 Technical Information
3.3 The Story of the Game
4. Teaching Proposal
4.1 Information about Teaching Unit
4.2 What happens in the Used Part of the Game?
4.3 Lesson Plan Overview
5.1 Possible Animations
5.2.1 Worksheet “Boston Massacre”
5.2.2 Worksheet Vocabulary Activities
6. Works Cited
According to a survey published in 2013 nearly every youth spends roughly 180 minutes online every day during the school week (MPFS 2013: 64). Of the asked adolescents, 45% said that they play computer, console or online games regularly and gave the estimate of “76 minutes on weekdays and 101 minutes on weekends” (MPFS 2013:65) spend playing digital games.
There is a term for all those born after the 1970s, that grew up surrounded and using technology on a daily basis: digital natives (Schoolnet 2009: 6). This new generation of born natives uses digital devices with little to no instruction. One could say they are fluent or literate in this 'language'. These digital natives use this technology based language to communicate, express themselves, as well as to understand and manipulate their environment. They use social networking sites as well as digital games, often combined with each other, to entertain themselves. Through their constant use digital natives are used to an environment, which constantly rewards them for things like endurance (daily log in rewards) or finishing things in a timely matter (finishing in a quest in a certain time frame). This kind of reward system is what they expect in the classroom. A traditional classroom environment may not be motivating enough for this new generation of learners (Schoolnet 2009: 6).
This term paper deals with digital games in the English foreign language classroom (EFL). As students clearly enjoy playing these games and are motivated to do so on a nearly daily basis, why not use this kind of motivation to learn English? In the following the theory behind the usage and advantage of digital games in the classroom is outlined. In the end there is a teaching proposal for a unit, that uses an online game to teach historical facts and events.
School should enable students to completely engage themselves in their public, social and economic environment (New London Group 2000: 9). In order to participate they need to become literate. The traditional literacies, reading and writing, are not sufficient enough to deal with the various forms of texts that have appeared through the advancement of new “information and multimedia technologies” (New London Group 2000: 9). There are different skills involved when writing a blog entry as opposed to a traditional diary entry. Our idea of literacy changes together with our culture (Baker 2010: 2) and we now need skills for social networking, using media portals such as YouTube as well as the usage of online games, which often use aspects of social media and team work. Students do not only have to learn how to communicate with new media, which as digital natives they probably already know, but also how to reflect and interpreted what they see, hear and read. They should not just be passive consumers.
Digital mass communication, social media platforms as well as multimedia devices have penetrated our everyday life (New London Group 2000: 6), mostly in the form of tablets and smartphones. In Germany more than 70% of school children posses their own smartphone, 88% of the youth have internet access in their bedrooms (MPFS 2013: 63) and “four out of five adolescents have their own computer or laptop” (MPFS 2013: 63). Considering the fact that more than half of the internet is written in English and only 6.1% is in German (W3techs 2014), it is clear that students will use English on their own terms while surfing the internet. Using new digital devices, social media platforms and other internet based content is a logical step in the EFL classroom as they are easily available, authentic and most importantly of all motivating.
Why use video games to teach a foreign language? There are a number of reasons why they should be used in the classroom and the most important ones are health benefits, motivation and experience. While video games have a bad reputation for being harmful for one's physical and mental health, but research has shown that used correctly and in moderation, together with physical activities, they can actually be good for you (Schoolnet 2009: 6). Games such as Nintendo Wii Fit, a game that interoperates actual physical movements of the player, or the Nintendo game Dr. Kawashima's Brain Training: How Old Is Your Brain? are both prime examples for games that were actually developed to have a positive effect on mental and physical health (Schoolnet 2009: 6). There are also video games, sometimes called serious games, that are used for therapeutic reasons, such as treating PTSD and phobias. The gamer is hereby immersed in a virtual reality, that is secure but realistic, enabling them to overcome their fears or triggers (Schoolnet 2009: 13).
The motivating aspect of video games is self-explanatory. Players are rewarded for their endurance, for solving problems, finishing tasks in a timely manner and working in teams. Success is always in their reach (Schoolnet 2009: 8). Digital natives are used to more rewarding environments and expect this in the classroom. A traditional learning environment is often not motivating enough as students have different expectations, needs and preferences that should be addressed and not ignored (Schoolnet 2009: 6).
Video games enable students to experience situations, such as human rights violations or historical events that cannot be reproduced in a classical classroom setting. There can therefore be used to teach facts along with principals, for example cause and effect, as well as practical examples that are too dangerous. Experiencing something in a game has the same effect on the memory as experiencing something in real life (Schoolnet 2009: 7). There are also simulations available for training purposes (Computer Based Training), that are used by doctors, firemen as well as soldiers. An example for such a training video game is “America's Army” that is used by the US army to recruit and train new soldiers (Schoolnet 2009: 13).
There is also an emotional factor related to playing video games. As the students play the game, they experience different situations that lead to a variety of emotional responses. The emotions that can be evoked from a video game can be joy and triumph, when winning, solving or completing the game or at least part of it. Anger and frustration when losing or getting stuck. These are normal feelings involved also with learning in school and can open a window for discussing on how to deal with these emotions (Schoolnet 2009: 9).
Next to the classical skills (reading, writing, speaking and listening) the skill of audio-visual comprehension plays an equally important part in EFL classroom (Seidle 2007: 2) as pictures are able to communicate additional information. A complex story is more easily understood if there are visuals. Students can understand a story through pictures even if their language skills are lacking. The information in video games is mostly visual in the form of pictures, video sequences, animations and icons in addition to written text and while written language is often linear, visual forms, such as video games, present their content simultaneously as an entity (Seidle 2007: 5). The player only needs a short amount of time to get an overview as opposed to a written text.
When looking at the Curricular in Hesse there are a number of competences listed, which students are supposed to learn in the Foreign Language Classroom (FLC) and that are interdisciplinary. These are personal, social, learning and language competences (Hessen: 9 et seq.). These competences can be trained through video games. Students can learn personal competences, e.g. self-regulation. This can include good gaming habits, such as taking a five minute break every 45 minutes. When learning with and using a video game, the students realise that they are responsible for their own progress and success. Social competences that can be enhanced through video games are for example empathy, cooperation and team work. Many games have a social component in which the player needs to interact with other players, but even without there is often interaction in form of helping and learning from each other. Most importantly students take someone else's perspective when playing1, namely the character. Video games are not always developed with learning goals or pedagogical reasoning, but in each game you do learn something (Schoolnet 2009: 7). The most basic thing being how to actually play the game as well as problem solving skills and media competences. Depending on the game different kinds of language competences are practised. These can writing, reading, listening and speaking as well as communication skills (Schoolnet 2009: 7).
The following is based on the teacher's handbook for “Digital Games in the Classroom”, which was written for the European School Schoolnet's Games in Schools project (2008 – 2009). The goal of the project was to examine how games are being used in eight European countries: Austria, Denmark, France, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Spain and UK (Schoolnet 2009 : 4).
The European Schoolnet is a non-profit group that consists out of 31 educational ministries, which was created in 1997. Their goal is to establish ways schools in Europe can use new technologies to help their students to learn. As they are mostly sponsored by the Interactive Software Federation of Europe, an institution that represents European game developers, to analyse how digital games on different platforms are being used in schools, it is unclear how biased their findings are. Nevertheless the teacher's handbook is a very good starting point for those interested in using digital games in the classroom (About Schoolnet 2009).
What kind of digital games can be used in the classroom? While not all games were developed with a learning goal in mind, most are able to help develop cognitive, spacial and motor skills (Schoolnet 2009: 7). There are certain games that are unsuited for the classroom, not because of their content, as with the correct guided reflection with the help of the teacher even violent games can be used in a meaningful way, but rather because of their technical requirements. Most commercial bought video games need either a specific console to play on, which the schools or parents would need to buy, or if they are for the computer, need a lot of RAM and a very good graphic card (Schoolnet 2009: 21). While it is possible that some students possess a PC suited for such games, most school computers are not so well equipped. Online games, which are played in a web browser, run either on Java or Adobe Flash, plug-ins that are in most case already installed. They do not require a good graphic card or lots of memory, but a stable broadband connection is needed (Schoolnet 2009: 21). As nearly every student has their own mobile phone, and even a smartphone (MPFS 2013: 63), it would also be possible to use such a device. In this case the teacher should check what kind of operating systems the phones are using and if the game is available for each device. Using school computers or notebooks is the easiest and best way, especially since most school computers have software installed that enables teachers to observe the students PCs and take control over them if needed.
Before using a game in the classroom there are couple of things the teacher needs to take care of first. Other teachers, school administration as well as the parents should be informed about it and provided with background information about the game, learning goals as well as good gaming habits (Schoolnet 2009: 28). It is very important that the parents at home know about good gaming habits, e.g. how long to play without breaks, good lighting, additional sports as well as when to play, so that they can further monitor their children at home. This is not done to police them but rather to protect the children (Schoolnet 2009: 29). There is already awareness about this subject in Germany though the campaign “Schau hin was dein Kind mit Medien macht!” [Look what your child is doing with media!]2. The students will also need to be given this information and it should be made clear to them, what is expected from them. Therefore the teacher needs to formulate the learning goals beforehand as well as play the game completely through so that he or she knows which part of the game is suitable for which learning goal (Schoolnet 2009: 28).
During the lesson in which the game is actually played, the teacher should first demonstrate how the game works and explain what the goal of the lesson is. It is also help to distribute printed out help and guidelines for the students as well as worksheets for tasks and notes (Schoolnet 2009: 28). As this video game is supposed to be used in the EFL classroom, there should be a system for noting down and learning vocabulary as well as new language structures. There are possible vocabulary activities to be found in the appendix.
According to the teacher's handbook, the most important part of utilising digital games in the classroom, is talking to the students afterwards (Schoolnet 2009: 29). It has to be made clear how to game relates to the topic of the unit and the learning goals. The students have to be able to show what they have learned, like remembering the places, characters and the plot of the game, as well as key vocabulary. Through accompanying tasks the students are supposed to discuss and reflect the content of the game itself as well as their personal experiences, feelings and thoughts while playing (Schoolnet 2009: 29). In the EFL classroom the language used in the game should also be addressed. There should also be tasks about the characters in the game and their actions, the narration of the game and how the student's perspective changes. If a game is played over a longer period of time with separate levels, students can be encouraged to formulate hypothesis of how to storyline may progress. During lessons in which is not played, or after they completed the video game, there should be a reference to the students experiences of the game (Schoolnet 2009: 31).
1 Not in all games, but those with a story line.
2 Further information can be found at: http://www.schau-hin.info/
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