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Computer games for language learning - the child's perspective

A central feature of the design-based research of language learning tools is how the views of the user impact the design process. This paper reports the contribution of 15 primary school children, aged 10-11 years, to the design cycle of a 3D virtual learning environment for learning the Irish language. The tool developed in the first phase of design was tested in a one-day pilot with 25 primary school children. After this, the second phase began with a consultation process in order to ensure the children’s voice was an integral part of the design. The children’s attitudes to computer games and their suggestions for how their favourite elements from these games could be used for learning Irish in school are reported in this paper, along with how the student voice will influence the direction of future tool design.
As research into language learning in games and virtual worlds has expanded in recent years, goal orientation has emerged as a key criterion for comparing and classifying these 3D VLEs. Finding an appropriate taxonomy to encompass the rapidly evolving area of 3D VLEs for language learning has been difficult, as the field includes virtual worlds, massively multi-player online games, commercial off the shelf games and custom-built synthetic immersive environments. Several years ago these were all included under the umbrella term “online virtual worlds” (Sykes, Oskoz, & Thorne, 2008), but more recently these have been classified according to their degree of goal orientation (Cornillie, Thorne, & Desmet, 2012), with goal oriented tools defined as part of the field of digital game-based language learning, from which non goal oriented virtual worlds are excluded.
The evolution of this framework raises interesting questions about the role of integrating goal orientation into the design of the tool itself, not just in language tasks, and leads to an important research question – how goal orientation impacts learning. It was decided to focus the consultation interviews on what computer games and virtual environments the children used outside of school, the aspects of these games they enjoyed most, and what features they would recommend for inclusion in an Irish language learning game. Focus group interviews were held on a voluntary basis with 15 of the children who had participated in the pilot study several months earlier. The audio recordings of these interviews were transcribed and analysed thematically.
A recurrent theme throughout the children’s input was that of goal orientation. They listed missions, quests, and earning rewards for successful completion of same as the most enjoyable features of the games and virtual environments with which they engaged outside of school. Again, it was primarily these goal-based missions and quests that the children highlighted as desirable for inclusion in an Irish language learning game in school. Following on from this consultation phase, the direction of future research must now be focused within the goal-oriented category of 3D VLEs. This will impact on environment and task design in order to integrate environment goals with language learning outcomes.


Gene Dalton    
School of Education
Trinity College Dublin

Gene Dalton is a PhD student in the School of Education at Trinity College Dublin, researching new methods for the teaching of Irish as a second language to primary school children. She has a degree in Chemistry and French, a Master of Science by research and a Postgraduate Diploma in Primary Education. She worked as a primary school teacher for a number of years before undertaking PhD studies.


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