Volume 2: Issue 2 (November 2018)
Simone Bregni, Ph.D. (Associate Professor of Italian)
For this issue, we interviewed Simone Bregni, Ph.D., Associate Professor at Saint Louis University. Dr. Bregni discusses his Game-Based Learning pedagogical model for language instruction. His particular approach to Game-Based Learning incorporates immersive cinematic games to help motivate students to learn secondary language skills.
Video interview, transcript, and audio versions of our interview with Dr. Bregni are below.
What is game-based learning and how do you use it in your teaching?
Game-based learning (GBL) is a pedagogical method. It is necessary to define and delineate a distinction between “gamification” and GBL, two concepts that are often confused. Unlike game-based learning, gamification (teachers turning lessons into a game they designed) is merely a revamped reward system, not an actual teaching method. It is a motivational tool. Motivation is important to encourage learning, but it does not actually do the teaching. GBL is pedagogy, closely connected to play theory. In GBL, learners apply critical thinking (see Farber, 2017).
How does game-based learning benefit student learning across disciplines?
Some specific recent video games are fully interactive multimedia experiences combining real-time animation, speech/dialogue, subtitles, writing/textual interaction and, in some cases, even spoken interaction in the form of audio/video chat with other users. Based on my research and teaching experience, the use of video games and other related realia (cultural artifacts), both in and outside the classroom, has shown to be a very effective didactic tool for reinforcing linguistic skills and exposing students to cultures of other nations and groups.
Cinematic games such as the Assassin’s Creed series, with its outstanding recreation of everyday life and culture of the specific era and geographical areas it is set in, allow educators like me, in languages and cultures, but also in other fields such as architecture and the social sciences, to explore first-hand several aspects of life in those times and places in dynamic, immersive and interactive ways. Gaming-based activities have the advantage of fostering group cooperation and active participation better than other digital lab activities, with student agency and problem-solving being the keys.
What tips do you have for instructors who want to create game-based learning activities?
As a general piece of advice to teachers exploring video games as an instructional tool, I recommend doing some extensive preliminary research. In the natural and social sciences there may be a number of "serious games" available. Serious games are games (digital or analog) that have been created by educators specifically for the purpose of learning. In the humanities and social sciences, there are a number of commercially available, "non serious" games that could also be used. The advantages of the latter, which I favor, are that they are fun, "polished" products with multi-million dollar budgets that are affordable, readily available and easy to use. However, there could be a number of concerns in terms of content for non-serious games. I would suggest that you follow the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB; www.esrb.com) ratings for objectionable language and other possible sensitive content. Another good resource is the excellent www.ign.com, one of the leading websites devoted to video games. It is available in multiple languages and regional incarnations, such as www.it.ign.com. Finally, play-through videos, uploaded by individual game players on YouTube, are an excellent way to preview materials. Some gamers also include their commentaries, which can also be an interesting way to expose students to authentic spoken language in context.
Above all, there must be solid preliminary work done involving the creation of game-based exercises and follow-up activities that should take place after each exercise. Reinforcing materials that have been recently learned through traditional instructional methods is the most effective use of digital realia.
What methods do you use for assessing game-based learning?
I use exams (a written exam that includes material that was previously covered in class through traditional methods and reinforced through game-based activities) as direct measures, as well as both a preliminary and exit survey as indirect measures. While more long-term research must be done, initial results of this course do, in fact, provide an answer to the question of whether the use of video game realia improves language acquisition. In the language course for gamers, the mid-term grade approximates the final grade that students would achieve in the first semester of the two semester sequence. In that same course, the final grade approximates the final grade that students would achieve in the second semester of the two semester sequence. A look at this data shows that students in the gaming course were almost four points lower when comparing the midterm grade with the final first semester student grades. When one looks at the final grade for the gamers, as compared to second semester students, the relationship reverses. Here the students in this new course rank two points higher than their counterparts in the regular program. What this seems to indicate is that the “initial shock” of the intensity of the course might well have a dampening effect on grades, but, by the end of the semester, the students are doing better than their counterparts in regular courses. The intensity and immersion may be confusing initially but can be overcome, yielding better results for student learning.
Reference: Farber, M. (2017). Gamify your classroom: A field guide to game-based learning (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Peter Lang.