Why I Think Non-violent Video Games Are a Valuable Learning Domain

Students wearing decorated boxes on their heads and hip to  look like characters from the Minecraft video game

Students in Minecraft Costumes at FIRST Robotics Competition

Gee’s (2007) description of semiotic domains reminds me of what my language peers refer to as multiple literacies; that’s the literacy required to perform a task beyond reading, writing, and arithmetic.  Semiotic domain refers to the ability to detect the signs, symbols, merit, value, and language of a particular activity in order to function properly within it. For example, children who play video games are learning the semiotic domain of that particular game environment.  If they’re playing Minecraft, then they’ll learn to appreciate their physical surroundings, system alerts, personal alliances, and any help section embedded within the game.  In essence, the game’s affordances, and their role within it, become the semiotic domain that must be learned in order for the learner to be successful.

I don’t think that children should play violent video games for these same reasons.  Even though the Supreme Court declared no age-limit to graphically violent video games in 2011 (due to the lack of evidence in inciting violence among young players), I believe the semiotic domain of those violent actions become imprinted on the child.  Due to the potentially harmful activity, scientists cannot properly study this phenomenon.

Gee stated that video gaming offers important semiotic domains which include active problem-solving, critical thinking, and unique language functions (“design grammar”) in-world as an avatar and in real life as a gamer playing the game.  Additionally, the learner discovers how they would react in new situations; they can replay the situation to manipulate outcomes.  In this way, the learner is able to make corrective actions on their own or through resets by termination. We seldom get the opportunity to manipulate our outcomes in real life. These are a few of the reasons why I think that nonviolent gaming is a valuable learning domain.

When I taught preschool at the University of California’s laboratory elementary school, I encountered parents who disliked my use of the series called Rotten Ralph by Jack Gantos. It’s a story about an undisciplined cat that always gets into trouble.  I thought the book would make a nice counter match with the popular Clifford the Big Red Dog series by Norman Bridwell. Clifford causes trouble not because he’s undisciplined but rather because of his large size.  Hence, he was not really ever in trouble for misbehaving.  I liked how Rotten Ralph showed that even if you act badly, your family will still love you and want you around. Children need to know that there’s room for error in their development of knowledge about the world around them.  In a sense, gaming can provide that error-safe environment—a world of resets.

Children should participate fully in semiotic domains to produce virtual objects, create alliances, and develop new meanings.  In Minecraft, they can create Lego-like structures for their alliances (guilds) and learn to survive various physical threats to self and environmental threats to their structure(s). This affords the child the feeling of accomplishment. Children still learn about life and death but not in a graphically violent way. Play is beneficial for humans’ assimilation and accommodation throughout life.  Piaget first posited this in his theory of cognitive development in the 1950s, which stated that play and imitation are essential human strategies.  Nowadays, there’s little time during the school day for play. There is, however,  an emphasis in computer literacy and developing critical thinking.  Perhaps gaming could meet that demand and allow for playtime, too.

Gee, J.P. (2007). What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Trace Effects Video Game for Learning English as a Foreign Language

What is it?

Trace Effects  is an educational 3-D multimedia interactive video game that can be played individually off-line from a DVD or online individually or with a group.  There’s also a complimentary mobile app called Trace Word Soup, which is a vocabulary game. Trace Effects was designed for English language learners (ELLs) ages 12-16 by the United States Department of State (DOS), Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

What does it teach?

The game teaches American English and culture in the context of a student entering a university setting for the first time.  For example, Trace, the main character, navigates the campus in search of the student information center to obtain his student identification card in order to access certain buildings and ultimately progress to the next level of play. This game (and all of its supporting material) is part of an outreach program of the Office of English Language Programs and the American English resource center, which supports the efforts of the Regional English Language Officers (RELOs) worldwide.  RELOs work directly with English language specialists to promote American culture and English language learning activities in public and private schools abroad.

What learning principles and practices is it based on?

I was able to interview key stakeholders about the game’s program theory.  Based on their comments and my review of the game and existing documents, I concluded that Trace Effects is based on the following major concepts: cognitivism, constructivism, the communicative approach to language acquisition, the Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) Technology Standards Framework, and gaming as an instructional strategy.  Moreover, the DOS’s vision (pillars) factor into the game.  The following DOS pillars are embedded in the levels/lessons of the game: entrepreneurship, community activism, empowering women, science and innovation, environmental conservation, and conflict resolution.

Who is the target audience?

The game was designed specifically for secondary school students in various nations who are involved in the English Access Micro-scholarship Program.  This is one of the State Department’s outreach efforts to provide English language skills to talented 13-20 year-olds from economically disadvantaged sectors of the world through after school classes.  The purpose is to provide an opportunity for participants to improve their English skills to increase their chances of better employment and/or entrance into post-secondary schools. For example, Access participants may compete for, and participate in, future exchanges and study in the United States. 

How will one know if users improved their English language ability and/or learned about American culture by using the game?  

In the Trace Effects’ teacher manual,teachers are encouraged to assess students before and after so many hours of playtime (pretest/posttest).  Moreover, there are numerous extension activities in the teacher’s manual to assess learning (alternative assessments).  For example, the student worksheets associated with each chapter allow teachers to monitor student learning.  Students can monitor their own learning through the passive game feedback of points, redirects, and level achievement (self-regulation).  Students monitor their progress on an electronic log to share with the teacher.  Additionally, there are competitions held worldwide for the record of highest scorer.  Stakeholders reported that educators could conduct action research to compare a control group that does not play the game with that of the treatment group that does.  Another shared idea was about using think-alouds for qualitative research—taking notes on what students report on while playing the game (phenomenology).

How can I access this game for my students?

You can download the game from the DOS website.  If you teach English abroad, contact your local RELO for access to the teacher’s manual and DVDs if you don’t have access to the Internet.

For more information, see my logic model of Trace Effects.

Getting started on my dissertation: MMORGs for Language Learning

Massive Multiplayer Online Role-playing Games for Second Language Acquisition of Vocabulary

Problem-based learning (PBL) in simulated environments such as massive multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORGs) offers a variety of language-based scenarios with nonplaying characters providing model language support for cultural, vocabulary, and literacy development.  Gaming provides situated learning of content in a PBL format (Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989).  For example, the U.S. Department of State designed a MMORG called Trace Effects for juvenile English language learners (ELLs) in 2012.  The levels of the game take you to different American communities for rich situated learning among the varied cultural settings.  (See my logic model for Trace Effects.)

I plan to investigate the use of a general MMORG as a language-learning vocabulary tool.  I will extend a study by Rankin, Gold, and Gooch (2006) that only had four college-aged intermediate and advanced level ELL participants.  They reported that participants improved their English vocabulary by 40% from playing EverQuest II (EQ2) for four hours a week for a month without instructional supports.  Nonplaying characters provided support by modeling language; in fact, the more they modeled, the higher the accuracy in vocabulary meaning for the participants.  The authors acknowledged their small sample size and called for larger investigations of this type given the positive outcomes.  I’d like to verify and extend  their findings using mixed methods to produce a more robust understanding of this phenomenon.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of the proposed study is to determine whether college-aged intermediate and advanced level ELLs can learn vocabulary in a short amount of time from playing MMORGs. EQ2 provides opportunities for the characters (a student’s avatar) to speak.  The nonplaying characters (embedded support system) verbalize the rules and alerts to players.  All the components in this game are labeled, which serves as an English language support mechanism.  In their study, Rankin et al. (2006) found there was sufficient support for ELLs within the game; however, their findings were based on an extremely small sample.  My study will include at least 50 participants with random assignment to control and treatment groups (experimental design).  If college-aged ELLs could significantly increase  their knowledge of English vocabulary by playing a free MMORG like EQ2, then this could be an important extracurricular activity for language teaching programs or informal learning agendas.

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A special thanks to Dr. Burke Johnson for getting me started on my dissertation in his course this semester (Advanced Research Design).

Note: These are my humble beginnings.  I’ve already begun the literature review and written about 22 pages.

See my PowerPoint presentation on MMORGs for Language Learning that I presented at SITE 2014 in Jacksonville, FL.

Here’s a live presentation on the topic at the 7th Virtual Round Table: https://lancelot.adobeconnect.com/_a875817169/p9jw1fpobx8/?launcher=false&fcsContent=true&pbMode=normal

Sandra Rogers

Science site tour, Friday, Feb 21 @ 5 pm central (3 pm slt)

This week, we’ll be visiting some sites in SL dedicated to science. First, we’ll visit the inworld session area for NPR’s Science Friday which airs weekly on Fridays. Then we’ll head to Genome Island to tour their training areas for students and finally, we’ll experience Virtual Hallucinations.

We’ll meet up at Jaguarland (http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Jaguarland%20USA%20Education/128/128/30) at 3pm slt (5 pm central) and head out from there!

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Note: Tours venture into Mature as well as PG sims. If you are not able to access Mature rated sims (if you are below 18 years of age), you will not be able to fully participate in these tours.
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First, we’ll drop in on the Science Friday program area which streams the show weekly and sometimes takes questions from the SL audience.

http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Science%20School/26/211/26

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Next, we’ll head to Genome Island.

http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Genome/119/145/53

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Genome Island is run by Texas Wesleyan University and supports genetics classes for university students studying biology.
From the rez point, we’ll walk up the hill. Look for the hovering block with the question mark on it. Click for a tour chair. Sit and click again for a guided tour of the island.

Once the chair derezzes, look for another box with a question mark. This will give you the guided tower tour chair. This chair will derez at the Gene Pool.

Look for another box with a question mark for the next tour leg. We’ll end with the abbey section tour.

Need more information? There’s a notecard full of information back  at the rez point. :)

Finally, we’ll visit the Virtual Hallucinations Lab, sponsored by University of California, Davis.

http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Sedig/26/45/22

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The Virtual Hallucinations Lab was designed to allow visitors to experience some of what those with schizophrenia live with–visual and audio hallucinations. Info cards can be picked up at the entrance.

We also need to pick up and wear a badge which will produce the audio hallucinations. As we enter, each visitor needs to select their gender for the correct audio.  Look for the blue pyramid shapes for info about the experience.

Business School Tour, 1/12/14 @ 5pm central (3 pm slt)

This Friday (1/21), I’ll be leading a tour of USC Marshall School of Business in SL and we’ll then head to Wyoming Entrepreneur if the sim is available.  We’ll head out from Jaguarland (http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Jaguarland%20USA%20Education/128/128/29) at 5pm central (3pm slt).

Tour of the Arkansas Heritage sims, this Friday, 1/17/14, 3pm slt

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Johnny Cash’s Childhood Home in SL

 

This week, we’ll be visiting the Arkansas State University heritage sims, home to Dyess, childhood home of country legend Johnny Cash.  (We’ll meet up at Jaguarland at 3pm slt–5 pm central and head out from there. http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Jaguarland%20USA%20Education/107/128/34 )

The Dyess Colony project is a virtual reminder of the real life colony, begun by President Roosevelt. Five hundred families were chosen on the basis of need, farming ability and fitness–these families were awarded 40 acres and a mule (this was during the Depression) to come to Dyess and set up homesteads.
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Note: Tours venture into Mature as well as PG sims. If you are not able to access Mature rated sims (if you are below 18 years of age), you will not be able to fully participate in these tours.
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Our first stop will take us directly to the replica of the childhood home of country legend Johnny Cash.
http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/ASU%20Dyess%20Colony/57/220/23

Next we’ll head to the “Colony Homes” street, with it’s examples of the home styles build in Dyess in the 1930s.
http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/ASU%20Dyess%20Colony/47/82/23

Walking down the street to the east, we’ll work our way around the big white house (the admin building) and find our way to the general store, made to look much like the one in Dyess in the 1930s.
http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/ASU%20Dyess%20Colony/147/46/23

On the other side of the circle, we find the Dyess Theatre, featuring photos of real life Dyess residents over the years.
http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/ASU%20Dyess%20Colony/138/122/23

Right next door to the theatre is the Dyess Cafe, based on residents’ recollections of the real world cafe from the 40s and 50s.
http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/ASU%20Dyess%20Colony/148/134/23

If we make our way west, back down the Colony Homes street, we’ll find ourselves in the next sim, in front of the Dyess Colony design office with its real life pictures of Dyess.
http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/ASU%20Virtual%20Heritage/174/84/23

Just around the corner is the Southern Tenant Farmers Museum, set in a representation of the Bank of Tyronza.
http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/ASU%20Virtual%20Heritage/128/52/23

Your media player will need to be working in order to fully experience the museum. Don’t forget to click on and teleport to the cotton field (the teleporter is in the small theatre at the end of the museum tour).

There are other historical builds scattered around the sims, including a Delta shotgun house (right across from the museum) and Lakeport Plantation in the sim to the south.

Next we’ll head to Napoleon, AR, the underwater town. (note: as of 1/14, their media stream wasn’t working, but we can still tour).
http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/ASU%20Virtual%20HeritageS/218/240/22

Head down the dock and jump in the water. Here we can see the virtual remains of a once thriving small farming town on the Mississippi River. By 1870, erosion from the Mississippi had caused the bank (with the town included) to topple into the river, becoming an underwater ghost town.

Flight is turned off, so we’ll have to walk back up to the shore. Just down the path, we’ll find a carriage ride to the Lakeport Plantation. Each carriage seats two and you’ll be dropped off near the front door after a ride around the grounds.
http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/ASU%20Virtual%20HeritageS/211/136/24

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Please give us feedback on these tours, so we can make everyone’s experience a fun one!
The survey can be found at:
https://docs.google.com/forms/d/14i5wAUqJSlpyXqjjLVCxjpw_1aCE24tsjwPgR-OeLu8/viewform
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Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License
CC2014 Aether Education and Travel

(Originally posted on the Virtual Educator blog.) 

Jury’s Still Out on Cloud Party

When Cloud Party first hit the scene, there was a lot of metaverse press about that it may eventually topple Second Life as the king of virtual worlds (at least for us Westerners).  It was easy to get in and get started, could run in a browser window, was less laggy than SL–the list went on and on. Over the past six months or so, it seems that there’s been a new announcement from Cloud Party each week of some upgrade or another–a new physics engine, Oculus Rift capabilities, new art installations, inworld games being developed, new avatars, free building privileges, template builds, etc. Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education even had a portion in Cloud Party this year. I recall myself saying that, if Cloud Party kept on the trajectory, it could catch up to SL in a few years. The connection to SL hasn’t been lost on those working on Cloud Party.  They’ve been drawing the boundary lines of late to put to rest any confusion, pointing out the differences between Cloud Party’s Terms of Service and that of Second Life’s, as the latest Linden Labs debacle rolls on.

I like Cloud Party, but mainly as a visitor.  I like to go and hop from location to location, visiting the art installations and taking pics. I also play with the building tools and have used the building template to create an immediate virtual classroom. That said, I haven’t felt the urge yet to “live” in Cloud Party like I do in Second Life. My avatar is little more than the standard fare. Building seems to be more complex than it should be (some tools are in one location and others in another place–it’s part SL prims, part Minecraft). There’s also no privacy. One could make the argument that there’s no privacy in SL, but you can set a parcel or a sim to owner/group only which isn’t available in Cloud Party unless you are willing to pay a monthly fee.

This is my main issue with bringing students into Cloud Party. I love the free builds and access part because students can easily log in and start playing and working collaboratively on builds. This freedom also poses a risk, though. People who haven’t necessarily logged into Cloud Party can come through at any time (they’re the ones with “Guest#####” above their heads). This opens the door for trolls and griefers. (At least, from what I’ve seen, Cloud Party doesn’t have the adult seedy stuff proliferating throughout–at least not yet.)  So the jury’s still out.  I’ll continue to visit Cloud Party and encourage others to do so too but will it become part of my virtual routine? We’ll see. With each round of updates and improvements, my interest gets piqued a little bit more.

Aevalle in Cloud Party

Aevalle in Cloud Party

 
inside_my_classroom

Instant Classroom in Cloud Party

How_far_will_it_push

A Guest Looks into a Cannon

Originally posted in the Virtual Educator blog.

USA’s VGDC (Video Game Development Club): Not a Club for Lurkers!

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending the first meeting of the fall semester of the Video Game Development Club (VGDC) here on campus.  First, as an aside, Shelby Hall is gorgeous and any excuse to visit is a good one!

President Joshua Dunn (Junior IS major) led the meeting by first having the club sponsor, CS instructor Howard Whitston, and the other officers introduce themselves then presented a bit about what the club would be doing.  I quickly realized that this is not a club for lurkers (which is great!).  Just as the title suggests, the group will actually be designing and developing games!  Teams will be formed with group members of varying talents and strengths.  The idea is that the team, over the course of a month, will design and develop a game using the Unreal gaming engine or Unity3D.  The club will be working towards levels/badges on the One Game a Month challenge site.  Lessons gleaned from one project can be used to hone skills and make future projects better. For those of us in education who want a boots on the ground experience in learning real-time development of games to match the book knowledge, this is perfect. :)

Interested in playing a part of this growing club?  Follow the group on Twitter and Facebook, or contact president Joshua Dunn for an invite to the Sakai project site (you must have a USA Sakai account to join).  And who knows?  In the near future when a student asks if you’ve “got game?,” you can answer “YES!”

Sometimes You Accidentally Stumble on Success :-D

We’re in full swing of the summer virtual tour season at Jaguarland.  I try to take pictures of the things I’m up to in the virtual world and gaming and upload them to Flickr (almost) daily.  Little did I know it would pay off!

The first tour of the summer was for Interactive 3D/Virtual Art and we hit the UTSA Artspace sim, along with a couple of the featured areas with teleports at the rez point.  I love the feel of the Artspace sim.  It’s gritty but in a cool way–post-apocalyptic steampunk (if there is such a term)–lots o’ rust and parts being used in odd ways.

We finished up by visiting Rebeca Bashly’s Inferno, which is straight out of Dante’s nightmarish landscape.  I led the tour while Wrath Constantine (one of the builders of Jaguarland and the mastermind behind the Iron Cloud build–not that I’m partial) snapped photos of the various levels of hell as we traveled through with the few tourists who had the courage to continue onward.  At the end of our journey, we came face-to-face with the Evil One himself but there was no climbing him to escape (as in Dante)–we had to teleport to safety. :)

It was a fun excursion and made even more amazing when I discovered that the photos from the tour had earned me the Artisan badge for GameMOOC3.  Wrath isn’t part of the GameMOOC but I have to share the honor and badge with him–it was his graphics that carried the day!  (I just led us through hell and back!)

Check out my Flickr photostream for the tour photos, starting here.

Jaguarland is back! :)

Wow, has this post been a long time coming?!  Jaguarland is officially back on the grid.  There’s going to be some tweaking over the next few weeks.  Yours truly is still trying to find pieces in my inventory and get them placed and there’s quite a bit of information updating that needs to be done on the clickables, but we’re back!  

We’ve already been training some of the ILC consultants to do talking head machinimas for introductions and directions in online courses and I’m excited to get rolling with even more.

Stay tuned to a new intro to Jaguarland machinima (once more things are in place)!  

And we start our first tour from the new Jaguarland next Wednesday (June 5th) at 5 pm central (3 pm slt)!  This first tour’s theme is 3D/Interactive Art Exhibits here in SL.  We’ll meet at the main Jaguarland hub and set off from there (http://slurl.com/secondlife/Jaguarland%20USA%20Education/99/140/35)!

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