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 Trace Effects, a video game (also a MMORG), 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; it was not designed for ELLs. 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 four weeks without instructional supports. Nonplaying characters provided support by modeling language; in fact, the more they modeled, the higher the accuracy in vocabulary meaning. The authors acknowledged their small sample size and called for larger investigations of this type given the positive outcomes. I would 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.
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.
Be sure to have a look at Trace Effects as a MMORG: http://americanenglish.state.gov/trace-effects
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