Computer games as a tool for language education
When it comes to examining the diffusion of videogames, and of computer games in particular, outside of a recreational context, the use of this peculiar tool for schooling is certainly one of the most interesting subjects an educator could hope for. In fact, owing to data collected by myself and a growing number of researchers in the field of education (Egenfeldt-Nielsen, 2006; Felicia, 2009; Wastiau, Kearney & VandenBerghe, 2009; Minoli, 2009; Lombardi, 2012), teachers are actually intrigued by the educational potential of digital games, but have no idea how to harness this latent power and/or can’t work out how to accommodate the medium specificities in the school curriculum. You can also follow bubdesk where you will find curriculum that needs to be takes place for problem solving ability.
Still, the potential for learning is evident. It would not be incorrect to claim that every fraction of a second of gaming requires the player to learn something, whether hand-to-eye coordination or virtuoso-like skills of key pressing, or even game-related information: learning is definitely not a side effect while playing videogames. So far, however, the relationship between education and digital gaming has mostly been represented by edutainment titles, whose underlying pedagogical model hardly fits any learning practice in school (Gee, 2007; Egenfeldt-Nielsen, 2007), and whose gameplay is normally trivial and “primitive” (Prensky, 2006).
Parents concerned about risks can also weigh the potential benefits.
- There is an ongoing controversy as to whether video games and technology are good for kids affected by autism.
On the one hand, it seems like dozens of new apps and games are being developed for kids on the spectrum every month and that these tools are being widely used in school special education programs for kids with autism. In addition, parents of kids diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders have observed how these games and technologies are a source of engagement, learning and contentment for their kids. Perhaps most important, video games are tools for digital play, and helping kids with autism learn to play is the same as helping them to learn.
On the other hand, parents report that kids affected by autism can become so focused on video game play that they refuse to do any other activity. And there are studies that support these observations that kids on the autism spectrum tend to become overly engaged in a video game play, can become inattentive as a result of extended game play, or develop obsessions (particularly with role-playing games).
Parents report that kids affected by autism can become so focused on video game play that they refuse to do any other activity.
An excellent study conducted by Micah Mazurek and Christopher Englehart found that many kids affected by autism are overly focused on video game play, experience difficulty while transitioning from video game play to other activities, and may become argumentative and oppositional, particularly when they want to play more games. Role-playing games like Pokémon that have high reward schedules and social rewards may lead to increased preoccupation or an overly intense interest in the game. These kinds of games also tend to be more time-consuming as players need to create and maintain characters, resulting in overuse or even addiction.
Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water
However, it is important for parents and educators to look for deeper meaning in these recent studies and not to simply throw all technologies out because of the risks associated with them. Perhaps the most important takeaway is that when parents allow increased access to video games as a tool for managing difficult behavior and creating a sense of calm within the household, the results may be short-lived. Parenting in the 21st century requires finding a balance, choosing the best and most appropriate technologies, and learning how to use these powerful tools to help kids with autism.
Kids affected by autism typically have three major areas of difficulty: communication and language, social skills and repetitive and inflexible behaviors. In the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) — the “bible” of psychiatric diagnosis — “autism” is refined into three levels of “Autism Spectrum Disorders”:
- Level 1 includes the highest-functioning kids, those who need some support but are generally able to function in regular school settings.
- Levels 2 and 3 include kids who require substantial support and often display “marked to severe deficits” in social, communication and behavioral control skills.
Technologies and games can be helpful for kids on all three levels, but those with more severe forms of Autism Spectrum Disorders usually benefit most from specialty technologies that address their severe limitations in developmental skills. Level 1 kids, however, can readily benefit from popular games and technologies that are being used by their typically developing peers.
Video games can be useful for practicing social skills
For these Level 1 kids, playing popular video games and using technology can be very useful for practicing and improving social skills. While some educators have argued that video games and technology are isolating, the fact is that more than 70 percent of all video game play and media use is now social. Though kids affected by autism tend toward less social technology use — using smartphones, for example, more for game play and less for texting and social media than their typically developing peers — it is up to parents and educators to ensure that technology use is predominantly social and not isolating. It has been proven that some video games can be used as tools for autistic and other SLP related disorders therapies, find out the best RBT jobs available.
Video games provide kids affected by autism with an opportunity for joint attention and shared interests with their peers. Studies suggest that kids with autism may have somewhat unique and unusual interest in these games that differs from their peers but nonetheless gives them a basis for shared focus on an activity. Kids affected by autism may be unaware of social cues and conventions, yet when they play massively multiplayer online games (MMOs) like Roblox, Minecraft, or World of Warcraft, they need to learn the social customs of the game world. They are expected to communicate with other players of the game, be it small talk or strategy.
The purpose of this essay is to provide a schematic overview of alternatives to edutainment for language education. Firstly, educational theories and approaches will be identified in order to find operational principles for building a ludic methodology. As the guidelines are formed, the reshaped role of the key factors (learner, teacher, object, setting) in teaching and learning processes will be discussed, as will, of course, the enrichment brought by computer games when used as educational tools.
Behind edutainment, beyond edutainment
In the USA, the country that produces and consumes the majority of edutainment titles, the market for edutainment hit its peak during the late 1990s, and had a $495.8 million revenue in 2000, gradually dropping to $152 million in 2004 (Egenfeldt-Nielsen, 2007); meanwhile, as the Entertainment Software Association states, the real annual growth rate of entertainment digital games sales in North America has been 16.7% for the period 2005–2008 and 10.6% for the period highly affected by the economic crisis between 2005 and 2009, resulting in a contribution to the U.S. GDP of $4.9 billion (Siwek, 2010).
Statistical and economic data demonstrates that edutainment sales are dropping, while the gaming market keeps on flourishing. Egenfeldt-Nielsen (2007) ascribes this trend to a growing critical knowledge in buyers that educational games should not be focused on the needs of teachers and parents, but rather on children’s preferences as players: the play experience needs to be a genuine and fun one, as well as educational, and not just a collection of drills hidden behind an exposed façade of playfulness. Egenfeldt-Nielsen states:
children, too, are probably too smart to be cheated by the discount games that edutainment often are. If we look at the computer game titles that generally dominate the commercial hit charts, it is clear that these are not discount games, but are the result of state-of-the-art expertise in all the areas necessary to make a game . . . . [E]ducational software lacks the coolness of the games industry, the state-of-the-art technology, the constant innovation in gameplay but perhaps, most importantly, the basic desire to produce entertaining products beyond anything else. (Egenfeldt-Nielsen, 2007, p.41)
In terms of game design, edutainment titles are in fact hardly video games at all (Paciaroni, 2008), since they lack or fail to respond to the fundamental rules of gaming suggested by Crawford (1984) and Salen and Zimmerman (2004). Such an abrupt decline of popularity, though, should not be attributed to poor game design alone: at an inner level of analysis, the learning theories that constitute edutainment’s intended educative basis have proven fallacious; most educational games do not promote meaningful learning (Novak, 1998), and are instead focused on rote learning, mechanical training, drill-and-practice tasks, and instilling knowledge into the learner’s mind—practices that reveal a particularly evident reference to the core of a behaviourist theory of learning 1.
Towards an integrated approach to language education
The main principle of behaviourism is, approximately, the creation of learning habits achieved by an alteration in learners’ behaviour, thanks to practice, repetition, and reinforcement: through reiterated routines and practice, learners are eventually conditioned to respond in a determined way to a certain stimulus. It’s a kind of learning that can be defined, in reference to language especially, as parrot-like (Lombardi, in press)—mechanical, impersonal (as it does not relate with prior personal knowledge), focused on automatic reactions alone, neglecting reflection and lateral thinking, as well as parameters such as personality and affectivity.
Of course, it may work, and it surely does 2 in some respects: memorization is still a kind of learning, and a popular one in schools, which many times fails in educating pupils in critical learning. One may even argue that, in the classroom, learning by heart (too) often equals learning per se.
Still, when it comes to language education, recent literature severely criticizes behaviourist approaches or methods: effectively learning a second or foreign language does not mean putting new labels on known objects (Martinet, 1960) and memorize them, or practising linguistic notions until they become a second nature; it rather requires opening up to a whole new grammatical, socio-pragmatic, paralinguistic, extra-linguistic, and, most of all, cultural apparatus. A broader approach should then be preferable. In foreign language teaching a suitable reference model is the integrated approach (Bosisio, 2005; Lombardi, in press): a “background philosophy” in which constitutive elements—those proven to be effective in teaching practice—are selected from traditional approaches and integrated into a malleable set of teaching recommendations, thus creating a potential range of working operational instructions and classroom techniques, from which the teacher can choose, from time to time, the most appropriate.
The approach suggested by Egenfeldt-Nielsen (2006, 2007) for learning history through digital games definitely follows these dictates, and can easily, and most of all effectively, be applied to second or foreign language teaching and learning.
The theoretical principles that feed an integrated approach that includes computer games among its techniques should, first of all, be looked for in a socio-cultural educational theory (Wertsch, 1991), from which the broader process of using video games as a tool for learning, by stressing the role of context, actors (both learners and educators) and their mutual interaction, experiences, and culture ensues. A constructionist approach (Papert & Harel, 1991) should then be taken account of “the construction of knowledge, as meaningful through orientation in a social context, becomes paramount . . . . Instead of conceiving content, skills and attitudes as residing within the user, knowledge is transferred to culture, tools and communities” (Egenfeldt-Nielsen, 2007, p.88).
Computer games are also decidedly virtual locations for real situated learning (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Wenger, 1999); hence, abstract and de-contextualized learning objects are again thrown aside in favour of cooperation and co-construction of knowledge, usually within a community of practice.
Key elements of affective humanistic approaches to education, as well as communicative and constructivist approaches, will also be taken account of in building a coherent methodology, that is the fulfilment of the integrated “philosophy”.
Principles of a ludic methodology
As previously stated, in order to come into effect, an approach has to take shape within an appropriate methodology. A methodology can be defined as a collection of principles and actions that intend a didactic purpose (Balboni, 1999; Bosisio, 2005). Besides being coherent with the reference approach, it has to constitute a guideline for teaching techniques—in this case, techniques that use computer games as an effective tool for (language) learning.
It should consequently not come as a surprise that the most suitable methodology for reaching such objectives is usually referred to as ludic methodology. Ludic here is a key adjective: it does not merely mean “playful”, it also involves the philosophical and anthropological concept of ludicity (Caon & Rutka, 2004; ConceiçãoLopes, 2005, 2008; Rutka, 2006; Lombardi, in press), that is the social phenomenon—“indicating a quality and a state that are not just characteristic of childhood, but that are shared by all age groups” (Conceição Lopes, 2005, p.3) — derived by a play situation (Huizinga,1939), an intrinsic attitude characterized by gratuitousness, liberty, enjoyment, creativity, and a relationship with the world around oneself.
Learning, therefore, should not be fun(if it is actually fun, as in games, much the better): learning should respect this fundamental stateof humankind, which since the early childhood stands up as the main resource for discovering, experiencing, growingup (Bruner, 1983) — the cornerstones of education in its broadest sense.