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Method + Process


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Method + Process


In this kind of learning environment, the students are motivated because they are making something that has value in their world. They understand the benefits of learning to design a game or program an app. The students are balancing limitations that include pedagogical issues, what do the students need to learn? technical issues, what can we figure out how to code? and gaming issues, what makes this fun? By asking the students to design a game using French language acquisition as the goal, the students are dissecting the French language on a granular level. In order to get specific answers to design the games, the French students report that the Design students are learning material that is not usually addressed until the third semester. Using the principle of “Just in time” learning (Gee, 2007), the students are generating questions based on what they need to know to build the game, and learning French becomes a byproduct of the process.

Game Design & Development

The first aspect of implementation was to acquire a physical space that would be conducive to setting up a studio-like environment. Creating a neutral “Undergraduate interdisciplinary research space” has allowed students from different disciplines to come together and solve problems in real time. As the problems became more interesting students would come in to the studio outside of class so they could work together. The focus was no longer on the “assignment” but the game of “solving the puzzle.” (GlassLab, 2015)

Collected Data Regarding Effectiveness: 

Fostering Learning Through Game Design (PDF)

+ Fostering Learning Through Game Play (PDF) 

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Learning is fun when students are in charge.

Research + Resources


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Research + Resources


Game Design & Development

“On the surface, the union of the humanities and video games might seem odd, the former focused on thoughtful reflection, context and contingencies, and the latter on reflex, immediacy and instantaneous feedback. In practice, however, this union is increasingly proving to be an enormously profound one, with games providing a platform for more experiential ways of engaging history, literature, philosophy, and even religion.” (Humanities Arcade, 2016).

The Product of this Research is Motivation

The APP Farm is a model which allows students + faculty, to come together in a collaborative experience, to analyze and frame content so that the resulting process will inspire participants as learners, authors and entrepreneurs. Regardless of their major, students learn through an analysis of the humanities (subject matter) how to collaborate, develop, explore and refine content (design thinking, Agile development) in an environment that mirrors the professional environment (software development + systems thinking) and share those results with their peers (undergraduate research). The current Quality Enhancement Plan, QEP, for the University of Tennessee is “Experience Learning” where students participate in projects emphasizing active, engaged and reflective learning.

Based on the Quest to Learn” program, we are endeavoring to build an, ecology of learning that extends beyond the four walls of an institution and engages [students] in ways that are exciting, empowering and culturally relevant”. (Salen, 2015) In this studio, we are creating a place where students can curate their educational experience, become "authors of understanding" rather than "receivers of information." (Smith-Shank, 2012)

The students are balancing limitations that include pedagogical issues, what do fellow students need to learn?; technical issues, what can we figure out how to code? and gaming issues, what makes this fun? Instead of merely computerizing old teaching practices, we are radically re-envisioning the design of the learning experience in general, and in this example, the language learning experience in particular.

The Students

We first found a group of students willing to pursue a curriculum that was open ended. The goal was to create an app. We had never done this before. But we are designers, we solve problems.

Students work to solve a specific problem. In this case, "how do we get students excited about learning French?"

Students define the problem, explore possible solutions, rapid prototype aspects of the solutions to test viability and then begin production of the most feasible option. Students are actively engaged in: writing, researching and designing the learning modules, creating the graphics, music, sound/voices + code, testing the prototype and working with primary content authors to ensure accurate material presentation.

 This process helps to alter the students.

Through weekly “Agile scrum” presentations the students are learning to self organize and to manage projects. All students take on the role of “project manager” for aspects of the product that fall within their academic focus. Students are also responsible for understanding and collaborating with team members from other disciplines within their group. (James, 2012) Through this constant interaction and presentation to the “client” or the French faculty, the students are presenting their learning and connections, and then receive specific “instruction” using the gaming principle of “just in time”. Comments and criticism is immediate and relevant because it focuses on the aspects of the material that the student is trying to understand in a specific moment.

This process is also helping students of all disciplines to see themselves as entrepreneurs. From the onset, the goal is to design and develop a product that can be distributed. Copyright, permissions and production issues are always being addressed. The technical limitations and expectations push the students to refine work, that if turned in as an “assignment” would not have the imperative that the development of something that the students view as a “real product” can generate.

The Studio

Finding a stable space where the students can work together at the same time has been difficult. Through the generosity of the Library, the Learning Resource Center in the Department of Modern Foreign Languages + Literatures, and finally, the Graphic Design Program in the School of Art, we have a secure studio that is accessible to all of the team members 24/7. This is important because one of the outcomes of this type of learning is the students take ownership of the project/process. Over the past year, as the problems became more interesting students would come in to the studio outside of class so they could work together. The focus was no longer on the “assignment” but the game of “solving the puzzle”. In other words, the course content itself became a game.

 The Project Approach

By asking the students to design a game using French language acquisition as the goal, the students are dissecting the French language on a granular level. In order to get specific answers to design the games, the French graduate students report that the design students are learning material that is not usually addressed until the third semester. Using the principle of just in time” learning (Gee, 2010) the undergraduate students are generating questions based on what they need to know to build the game, learning French and exploring French culture has become a byproduct of game design.

Gaming provides a model to evaluate the users quest for knowledge as well as the synthesis of material beyond the accumulation of time on task. These ideas of progression parallel the non-linear aspects of accomplishment that educators seek to quantify. (Glass lab, 2015) This project seeks to explore the connections between game theory, studio/lab practice and the ways that educators are framing the component aspects of a complex learning experience.

The Product of this Research is a Game

“Bonne Chance” is currently being implemented as a supplementary feature to the elementary French courses at the University of Tennessee. By focusing game content around the course syllabus and text, students are able to practice language skills that they learn in class in a virtual environment which promotes critical thinking, problem solving, and contextual association. In order to facilitate production, the development team is using visual coding to further understand the nature of the project’s interactive design. Working across educational departments has allowed for the production team to contribute to the project in diverse ways while also acquiring skills from their colleagues. The collaborative environment promotes new pedagogical practices in the domains of both foreign language and interaction design by emphasizing teamwork techniques that simulate real-world dynamics of software development through a lens of French culture and language. The “Bonne Chance” project aims not only to promote new learning materials for the French classroom, but to create a scholarly model for future interdisciplinary study.

The Game as a component of Academic Research

The game “Bonne Chance” emerged from the inspiration of two graduate students’ as they decided to focus their MA Thesis on an exploration of game-based learning as it relates to French language acquisition. To achieve this objective, we first had to build a computer-based game aimed at enhancing the teaching and learning of the French language and the introduction of French culture to elementary-level students. The goal of the game is to help students acquire language skills and intercultural empathy.
Games can contribute greatly to student learning (Gee, 2007, 2008; Shaffer, 2006; Shaffer & Gee, 2005; Shaffer et al., 2009; Squire, 2011). Social constructivism, social-historical, and situated learning theories help explain this phenomenon (Driscoll, 2005; Schunk, 2012); but what kinds of games can help counteract resistance to learning?

This game is built on a growing body of work that demonstrates effective approaches to teaching strategic thinking and reasoning—or, in other words, teaching how to learn (Greenberg, 2014). In the game, the learner plays as a traveler going to Paris who is hired by the French secret services to retrieve an artifact that has been stolen from the Louvre museum. The game progresses through a series of problem-solving puzzles and form-focused, language-practice mini-games, and even a stint in a French jail. By solving the enigmas, players are able to progress through the game and retrieve the artifact, while practicing language forms in a culturally authentic and rich context (featuring art work, architecture, literary texts, etc.).


The Community

Based on the “Quest to Learn” program, we endeavored to build an “ecology of learning that extends beyond the four walls of an institution and engages [students] in ways that are exciting, empowering and culturally relevant” (Salen, 2015). Guiding this learning community requires faculty to concern themselves with the question of how to craft pedagogical experiences in which students will not simply be the receiver of information but rather a full-fledged participant, actor, and social agent. The student needs to have an influence on the content of the experience as well as its trajectory. In her paper, “Semiotic
Pedagogy and Art Education,” Deborah L. Smith-Shank (2014) suggests that the current teaching dynamic “…assumes that there is a correct body of knowledge for a teacher to communicate to students. These models assume a hierarchical architecture of facts and ideas with higher forms of knowing built through some concatenation of simpler forms. In order to move away from the dominant hierarchical model, it is necessary to develop an entirely different framework.” The notion of “student as receiver of information” needs to evolve to “student as author of understanding.” Our vision is currently to turn this initial effort into a perennial working studio both for future students and additional subject matters or content areas.

With the assistance of two faculty members (one in French, one in Design) and eight undergraduate students in various disciplines (Graphic Design, French, Art, Computer Science, Linguistics), a cross-disciplinary, cross-functional team has been formed. The team materialized into a project-based, inquiry-based learning community that operates in two ways: 

  • first, by fostering French learners’ engagement in a discourse community that exists both online (students as players, playing the game and engaging in meta-discourse about the game) and in the real world (players as students, using what they have learned in the game as part of the curriculum); and
  •  second, through the construction of an interdisciplinary learning community tasked with analyzing the material to design innovative tutorials to immerse the user in the various aspects of the French language to reinforce the traditional classroom environment.

The first aspect of implementation was to acquire a physical space that would be conducive to setting up a studio-like environment. Creating a neutral “Undergraduate interdisciplinary research space” has allowed students from different disciplines to come together and solve problems in real time. As the problems became more interesting students would come in to the studio outside of class so they could work together. The focus was no longer on the “assignment” but the game of “solving the puzzle.” (GlassLab, 2015)

"Is 'valise' masculine or feminie?", "These are the questions flying around the studio as work across disciplines to develop the puzzles to teach French grammar. As students learn about the specifics of other domains, impromptu tutorials will break out. Frequently the French students will hold private tutorials based on questions that arise as the team tries to work out the mechanics of a game or the students who are proficient in the coding language will help one who is struggling.

Gaming provides a model to evaluate the users’ quest for knowledge as well as the synthesis of material beyond the accumulation of time on task. These ideas of progression parallel the nonlinear aspects of accomplishment that educators seek to quantify (Glass Lab, 2015). This project seeks to explore the connections between game theory, studio/lab practice, and the ways that educators are framing the component aspects of a complex learning experience. There are multiple goals behind the creation of a studio to help reluctant speakers interact with the spoken word through the gaming environment. 

  • First, to leverage “lowering the consequences of failure” (Gee, 2007) and to encourage practice and experimentation, and
  • Second, to document if greater language acquisition was achieved through the production of the game or the use of the game. In other words, as students turned into game designers, they became teachers and therefore “seekers of knowledge” rather than mere “recipients of knowledge.” We hypothesize that as the students practice designing gaming experiences to teach others content (e.g., in this case, French), students will gain a profound understanding of that content. We feel as though both the game and the game-design experience adhere to the overall – and apt – objective inherent to pedagogical intervention is to catalyze “the development of anticipatory dispositions that enable complex, nuanced, recipient-aware, nimble, and improvisational communicative capacities” (Thorne, 2011). It is true of foreign language teaching and learning; it is also true in teaching and learning design.

In this kind of learning environment, the students are motivated because they are making something that has value in their world. They understand the benefits of learning to design a game or program an app. The students are balancing limitations that include pedagogical issues – what do the students need to learn? – technical issues – what can we figure out how to code – and gaming issues – what makes this fun? By asking the students to design a game using French language acquisition as the goal, the students are dissecting the French language on a granular level. In order to get specific answers to design the games, the French students report that the Design students are learning material that is not usually addressed until the third semester. Using the principle of “Just in time” learning (Gee, 2007) the students are generating questions based on what they need to know to build the game, and learning French becomes a byproduct of the process.