Developing Video Game Literacy in the EFL Classroom: A Qualitative Analysis of 10th Grade Classroom Game Discourse


posted by Roger Dale Jones, Technische Universität Braunschweig, Germany

The following presents a brief summary of my dissertation project (Justus Liebig University Giessen, Germany) which focuses on the intersection of popular video games and the EFL classroom. Popular video games, the communities of gamers and even their forms of online communication (like fan-fiction, Let’s Play videos, game maps, etc.) present sources of English contact, as well as digital multi-literacies, for many young learners of English in Germany. Connecting to this contact and informal learning in the classroom can show the relevance of the EFL classroom to the everyday lives of young learners, provide them with skills and strategies for further English learning in digital gaming contexts, and introduce multiliteracies relevant for learning and communication in the 21st century. In order to support this connection, my study first defines video game literacy for connecting games and game-learning into the EFL classroom. Next, the project collects and analyzes empirical data on three 10th grade English classes in which game-topics, experiences and media were introduced to examine the affordances and problems of video game literacy in the EFL classroom. Finally, the study presents suggestions for educators, teaching materials designers, and future researchers.

Research Interest
This qualitative-exploratory research project aims at developing a model of video game literacy (VGL) to support learner participation in the English language cultural discourse on digital games. This approach recognizes digital games as a substantial source of English language contact and that digital games, as highly complex, interactive ‘texts,’ not only embed, but also are embedded in a complex network of cultural discourses. Until recently, the acceptance of other media, like literature and film, into EFL classrooms has been slow; nevertheless, initial attempts to define respective literacy models have already been undertaken. Digital games appear to have been ignored, as no model of VGL currently exists for the EFL classroom. This study addresses this gap by proposing a discourse model of VGL and by exploring the potentials and problems of EFL classroom game discourse.

Central Research Questions
The research questions address both the theoretical development of a discourse model and the empirical description of classroom game discourse. The first question addresses the theoretical, conceptual and empirical modeling of VGL including defining features and categories (and their interrelationships) of cultural game discourse. The second question explores EFL classroom game discourse to identify challenges and opportunities and investigates the potential of the cultural discourse model of VGL developed in the theoretical section as an analytical tool for understanding (and supporting) classroom game discourse.

Data Collection
Data collection focused on three EFL classroom case studies from various schools and school forms. Over a period of two weeks per case study, data was collected via videography, non-participatory observation, classroom documents and, when necessary, photographic documentation. In-class data collection preceded retrospective, semi-structured teacher and student (group) interviews. Multiple data collection tools and methods were utilized to enable data triangulation in the analysis phase.

Data Analysis
The first step of data analysis included identifying critical incidents in classroom game discourse based on observer field notes and videography, then identifying and reviewing further related data. Relevant videography and classroom products were transcribed, analyzed and coded using thematic and qualitative content analysis á Mayring that involved both a top-down process (applying the discourse model of VGL as an analytical tool) and bottom-up processes (inductive analysis of unforeseen events and patterns.) The analysis of individual data sources then underwent a process of triangulation in order to establish causal relations and increase intersubjective validation of results and findings.

Results
The central results of the study can be summarized in the following points:

Discourse Model of Game Literacy: The discourse model of VGL can serve as an analytical and categorical tool to identify and address the challenges and opportunities of classroom game discourse. Furthermore, it can also illuminate the complexity of classroom game discourse. The following points reflect the findings of this study and are organized according to the discourse model of VGL.

The Game: Game complexity and stark differences in background knowledge of students and teachers pose serious challenges for classroom game discourse. These challenges emerge in student difficulties conceptualizing and articulating game experiences and relating them to others, and in teacher difficulties developing suitable tasks and materials and in evaluating student contributions. The fictional world of games offers points of connecting classroom game analysis to existing teacher competences and classroom processes, while systemic aspects of games are largely ignored.

The Player: The topic of games is personal for both students and teachers. Video games play a substantial role in the identities of students, as digital gaming is bound up in their lives (present and past) and is a significant part of their social and familial networks (and memories). Though teachers are interested in the lives and gameplay experiences of their students, they are also concerned about the dangers of games and wish to initiate critical reflection. Questions concerning cultural, social and cognitive functions of digital games and play are largely ignored.

The World: Students and teachers have limited access to game discourse. This is in part due to the complexity of games and game experiences, to difficulties articulating game knowledge and experiences (especially on an abstract level), to differing background experiences, and possibly to the questioned value of games in a school context. As a practical application of real-life game discourse, gamification offers access to game discourse and initiates reflection on games and real-life institutions. The impact of gaming on the constitution of cultural worldviews is largely ignored.

Classroom Game Discourse: Teachers and students have discourse goals which only partially overlap. This is in part due to differing beliefs, values and intentions. Both teachers and students are interested in learning more about games and each other, but teachers are more interested in initiating reflection and articulation – focusing on negative topics of games – while students are interested in sharing their knowledge about and experiences with games. ‘Switching’ roles – or students taking on ‘teaching’ functions and vice versa – presents opportunities but also serious challenges.

Conclusion and Outlook
The discourse model of VGL reveals interrelated dimensions inextricably tied up in cultural experience, communication and discourse.  Empirical classroom research reveals complex interactions that constitute classroom game discourse and the differing goals, intentions and perspectives of teachers and students and, additionally, it reveals the challenges and opportunities facing the development of VGL in the EFL classroom. Perhaps equally important, however, this study identifies areas of further research and development. 1) Future research should focus on the model, its conceptual development and its operationalization into teaching methods and learning materials. 2) Future research should focus on teacher training, determining what skills teachers require to support VGL in the classroom. 3) Future research should focus on learners to uncover more about their (vastly heterogeneous) game experiences, articulation abilities and contact to the English language. 4) Finally, future research should focus more on the curricular integration of VGL to deal with the multiliteracies complexity of digital games and their embeddedness in superordinate networks of cultural discourse.

 

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