Computer Games as a Tool for Language Education

Ivan Lombardi

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Abstract

When it comes to inquiring the diffusion of the video game, and mainly the computer game, outside of a recreational context, the use of this peculiar medium in schools is certainly one of the most interesting scenarios, for computer games have a by this time well studied and documented educational potential, and represent a powerful tool for learning. Learning is, in fact, not a side effect when playing video games; every fraction of a second of gameplay needs the player to learn something, whether hand-to-eye coordination or virtuoso-like skills in key pressing, whether game-related information or educational content that is somehow supposed to make it into the learners' mind. This tendency to instill knowledge, though, has probably been the biggest mistake of the highly unsuccessful (pedagogically speaking, yet not on the market) “edutainment” approach to educational computer games. Even if such a content transfer process might work for mechanical learning, it surely will not be of any use to achieve a meaningful learning (Novak 1998), i.e. a personal, active and motivation-supported kind of learning that can lead a pupil to actually and effectively learn a second or foreign language – which is, obviously, not a mere collection of linguistic notions, but rather a whole new grammatical, socio-pragmatic, para- and extralinguistic and most of all cultural apparatus. A computer game that fits in a proper SLA/FLA (second/foreign language acquisition) methodology, should therefore refer, first of all, to a socio-cultural educational theory, which looks at the broader process of using video games as a tool for learning, by stressing the role of context, actors (both learners and educators) and their mutual interaction, experiences and culture. A constructionist approach should then be taken account of: the construction of knowledge, as meaningful through orientation in a social context, becomes paramount […]. Instead of conceiving content, skills and attitudes as residing within the user, knowledge is transferred to culture, tools and communities (Egenfeldt-Nielsen 2007: 88). Computer games are also virtual locations for real situated learning (Lave and Wenger 1991); hence, abstract and decontextualised learning objects are again thrown aside in favour of cooperation and co-construction of knowledge, usually within a community of practice. It could be ultimately said that educational theories which can effectively take advantage of gaming, and therefore the computer game medium, actually deviate from the behaviourist pattern of edutainment, or the cognitive focus on game-related skills like problem-solving or coordination. One question is now likely to arise: given the importance of context, is the classroom an effective and meaningful environment for educational computer games use? Or does the nature itself of digital gaming rule out the institutional paradigm as we know it? The answer is, of course, twofold: on one side, play sessions hardly fit in school schedules, the classroom architecture often prevents such activities, not to mention that schools may (not to say: usually) lack the sufficient technological equipment. On the other, successful experimentations of educational computer games use in the classroom have been conducted (Kirriemuir and McFarlane 2002; Squire 2004; Egenfeldt-Nielsen 2007, in some respects; Wastiau, Kearney and Van den Berghe 2009), however not yet specifically for SLA/FLA. The findings of these researches are currently being revised by the present writer in a forthcoming work, which focuses on building a “playful methodology” for learning Italian as a second language; this methodology uses computer games extensively, as a tool for active learning, language discovery and practicing. It also describes the reorganization of the teacher's role within the “edurector” metaphor (Lombardi in press), and it discusses the implications of digital ga
Lingua originaleEnglish
pagine (da-a)N/A-N/A
Numero di pagine9
RivistaG.A.M.E.
Stato di pubblicazionePubblicato - 2012

Keywords

  • edurector
  • language education
  • language learning
  • ludic methodology
  • video games

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