IATEFL Annual Conference Cardiff 2009

Learning Technologies Special Interest Group Pre-Conference Event, 31 March

DIGITAL GAMES IN LANGUAGE LEARNING

A Report by Rodney Mantle
If you would like to know more, look at:
http://learningthroughdigitalgames.wikispaces.com/
Those who made the long trek to IT Suite 2 in the Julian Hodge Building (University of Wales) were rewarded by a day of digital fireworks. As always, it was also a very "hands-on" day. It was "animated" by Graham Stanley(British Council, Barcelona), Joe Pereira (British Council, Porto) and Gary Motteram (University of Manchester).

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"Why shooting zombies is good for your eyes" - Gary's attention-grabbing title (culled from a newspaper) led us into a survey of the theories behind using games in language learning with Prensky's analysis of digital "immigrants" and "natives" as a background.

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Gary's insights into the nature of games (increasingly social) helped us, with many examples shown by Graham of digital ELT programmes, including some using PowerPoint.

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Each was eventually judged not to be a game: "Genki English" (www.genkiEnglish.com) was a good borderline case.

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I discovered my definition (never consciously formulated before) of games was too vague: essential elements were engagement, challenge and problem-solving, particularly strong in adventure games.

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Trying out the various programmes, such as "Word Bird" kept us all absorbed.

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The best students, often a classroom management challenge, can become less problematic when absorbed in group work playing a digital game.

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IT-literate teachers and students can create their own animated games using e.g. http://goanimate.com.
The coffee breaks and buffet lunch provided nourishment for both stomach and brain as people from very different backgrounds exchanged ideas and experiences.

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Joe's historical survey of non-ELT digital games was a vivid reminder of how fast digital technology has developed: young people today would laugh at the simple, mechanical techniques of earlier decades, as the older and newer versions of the BBC games linked to "A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" show: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/hitchhikers/game_nolan.shtml. Intriguing for for some of us and frustrating for others were games in which the player was not clear about what s/he was trying to do, such as http://www.3wish.com/.

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One problem surfaced in the limited vocabulary available in some games for giving instructions: potentially irritating for native speakers, such limitations could be demotivating for learners of English.
"Animal Crossing" was a family addiction, Graham confessed, especially since it can be played on a TV set.

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Aimed at 10-12-year-olds, it attempts to persuade them to reflect on human relationships; it has proved popular with adults as well. Its main snag is not being very suitable for group work.

Perhaps not surprisingly in view of Prensky's analysis, most of the games we experienced were primarily aimed at young learners. As I am currently teaching EAP to groups of professors aged 30-55, I had gone to this event wondering whether there were games which could be directly useful for my classrooms. Very few, was Graham's view, but some materials on www.businessspotlight.com could be adapted. I'll be trying!