Guest blog by Elina Vilar
In this guest blog, Elina Vilar, Queen Mary, University of London, explores Gamified telecollaboration practices.
The current landscape for language learning presents challenges and uncertainties in many countries, and here in the UK teachers and learners face new challenges at all levels from primary to secondary to higher education and beyond. One of the things which has interested me the last few years is how technology, and digital particularly, might play a key role in empowering new ways for language students to manage their learning in the digital world. In this post I will introduce the TeCoLa project, as a network for language teachers to feel supported and as a pool of innovative and ready made materials to incorporate in their teaching.
The European Project TeCoLa (2016-2019) Pedagogical differentiation through telecollaboration and gaming for intercultural and content integrated language teaching (www.tecola.eu) seeks to offer language teachers, primarily in secondary education, the possibility of finding a partner school so their pupils can communicate online in the target language in a meaningful way. We offer the teachers in our network assistance by providing them with necessary training and coaching, and help them create the tasks that best fit into their teaching contexts using synchronous (virtual worlds or video conference tools) or asynchronous communication (talking avatars, text messages, podcasts). For the purpose of this post, I will focus on what takes place in the TeCoLa Virtual World, a piece of ingenious open-source software where learners, through their avatars, can communicate via voice and chat and engage in action with other avatars in a 3D virtual environment.
I became a consultant for TeCoLa due to my passion for language teaching, digital technologies and inclusive education. I have taught modern languages for almost twenty years in higher education in different countries in Europe and I am excited by the potential to make languages accessible to all. Technology helps immensely in this regard, it provides our students with the opportunity to study languages beyond the four walls of a traditional classroom and it facilitates multimodality for engaging teaching and learning for all. In TeCoLa, we support gamified telecollaboration activities between students from different European countries to enhance intercultural communication in foreign language teaching and what follows is one of the gamified tasks we have created so far.
Our TeCoLa Virtual World hosts islands or worlds where cultural exchanges can take place in the project’s target languages: English, French, German and Spanish. Our goal is to add game elements to learning situations –also known as gamification of learning. Elements in traditional games are, for example: a beginning (and an end), quests, levels, time limits, rewards, feedback, challenges, leader boards, turn taking, elements of chance or success or failure. We transfer one or more of those elements to our tasks and gamify our activities in the virtual world. A good example of this is the Treasure Hunt that we created in the city of Valencia. Treasure Hunts are engaging and fun activities in the physical world, but also in the virtual world. This means that students will be discovering different locations in our virtual city in order to find the answer to a set of questions in the shortest period of time.
The task starts at a given point where a team of four students from two different countries meet. This particular treasure hunt has been designed to learn or practise Spanish at an A2 level. Four stages need to be covered in order to reach the end and stop the clock, which starts ticking when the students greet a ghost at the very beginning.
Language learning, virtual worlds and gamification are successfully intertwined in this task. And because not all the players in a game - or students - are the same, our treasure hunt caters for different styles of learning. During the game, students can communicate effectively audio-visually or through writing. Participants collaborate to obtain the answers to the given questions either by reading texts or listening to music or watching videos.
A successful answer will provide them with two letters each time so they can form an eight letter word that will stop the clock at the end and will give them the time they needed to complete the language learning adventure. The stages are only covered if the students finish the treasure hunt with 1) the four answers, 2) the word that stops the clock and 3) a Google document with information about their teammates on four suggested topics.
We believe that this task is an innovative example of gamified language learning that will appeal to many language learners. We are currently conducting pilot studies within our partner schools in Europe testing our tools. Results of these will be published on our website in the coming year. We are looking at factors such as motivation, attitude, language gain, technology use, differentiation strategies or sociodemographic characteristics, amongst others. We have already created a section on our website for TeCoLa Voices (https://sites.google.com/site/tecolaprojectoer/voices) with a couple of examples. Amongst others, some of the things we are starting to see is that the learners have a heightened sense of agency, that is, that the learners see themselves as the agent of their education. This is the view from Philip Glaser, one of our TeCoLa teachers, who observes that students help each other with the language and the technology, and have the initiative to create tutorials if they thought there was a need. He reports that “taking part in the project definitely boosted students’ motivation” and notes that “there was no student who has not profited in one way or the other in this project”. As stated by the other teacher there, Corien Van den Broek-Lammers “students reported these experiences as extremely valuable”. Our TeCoLa voices will keep on growing until the end of the project later this year.
Here is a short video to our meeting in Bordeaux in September 2018: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ohPfNJ6f6aY
And here is the information about our next meeting in April 2019, in Utrecht with online and in person attendance available: https://sites.google.com/site/tecolaproject/tecola-seminars/seminar-utrecht-april-2019
Elina Vilar, Lecturer in Spanish Studies, School of Languages, Linguistics and Film, Queen Mary, University of London (e.vilar [at] qmul.ac.uk)