ELT Sandbox Interviews… Shelly Sanchez Terrell

Have I got an early Christmas treat for you! Just before she takes some time away the world of social media to welcome a new baby into the world, ELT Sandbox brings you an exclusive interview with none other than Shelly Terrell.

I met Shelly online shortly after I started to blog and tweet back in 2010. I was immediately impressed by her infectious enthusiasm and her great ideas for using technology in class. Since beginning my explorations into game-based learning, I have also followed her work closely so it is a great pleasure to have her as a guest on this blog.

In the interview, we discuss the importance of putting tools into learners hands by getting them to create games, debate the value of gamification and also take a look at what the future holds for DGBL. Enjoy!


Quick-fire Round

DD: The first game you remember playing
ST: Either Qbert, Frogger, or Jungle Hunt.

DD: The first computer/console you owned
ST: The Atari

DD: Childhood memories of games at school
ST: The Oregon Trail was a favorite as well as Carmen Sandiego. We played outdoor games like dodgeball and freeze tag.

DD: The most recent game you played
ST: Words with Friends

DD: Favourite game of all time
ST: I usually don’t have a favorite, but favorites. I loved PacMan, Qbert, Frogger, and Super Mario Brothers.
DD: All the classics!

DD: Favourite games machine of all time
ST: The Atari since it was the one I grew up with.

DD: Standout gaming achievement
ST: I was actually quite a gamer as a child and beat nearly anyone on the Atari. I thought I would actually be like Fred Savage one day in The Wizard.

DD: The most addictive game you’ve played.
ST: Words with Friends or Monopoly
DD: We should have a Words with Friends rematch!

DD: Worst game you’ve ever played.
ST: Hmmmmm can’t recall a game that was that horrible.
DD: You obviously never played E.T.!

DD: First game you used in class as a teacher.
ST: I have a bit of pregnancy brain so not sure I can remember the first one. I worked in 1996 at a museum school and we played many computer games there. I’m sure hangman was one of the earliest. Later on I had my young language learners in Germany play Wonder Pets Save a Dinosaur and that was the earliest game I thought had the best learning potential.  


Games & Language Learning

DD: What initially attracted you to the idea of DGBL?
ST: I grew up glued to my Atari and loved learning in my computer class with games like the Oregon Trail. I remembered those lessons the best throughout my life and figured my students would be motivated to learn with games.

DD: What makes a good game for the language classroom?
ST: I believe we should have a criteria for choosing games. I actually have the teachers who take my ESLTec online course evaluate game based lesson plans and games. Some questions they answer when choosing a learning game, include: What type of preparation, set-up, and technology are needed to play this game? Will your students be able to easily understand how to play the game or will you need to show them how to play?  How long does it take to play? How does the game teach them the topic? What graphics, sounds, tools or multimedia help students practice the 4 skills (listening, speaking, reading, writing)?

DD: What kinds of tasks do you find work well with games?
ST: I like when students create game walkthroughs as well as learn with walkthroughs. I think we should get students to take what they’ve learned in class and build structures, cities, etc. to show their learning and creativity in games, such as Minecraft. I also believe in peer collaboration or competition when it comes to completing missions or tasks. Definitely, we should get students to create games for others to play.

DD: What tools do your students use for games creation? What do you do with the finished product?
ST: My students have created board games with recycled materials or templates from Boggles World. They have also used online game creators and mobile apps to create games. For very young learners I recommend TinyTap. For adolescents and older I like Scratch, Hopscotch, GetKahoot, and many more you’ll find here. My students build games for their peers to play and we use this as an assessment instead of a vocabulary quiz or review.

DD: What are the benefits and challenges of getting students to create digital games?
ST: The challenge is getting students to create engaging and interactive games versus drilling games. I started with getting my learners to create basic drilling games where you answer questions. Students can create GetKahoots or turn a vocabulary list into a digital crossword. However, I much prefer when students create multimedia games like adventure games, which are much more complicated but require peers to use higher order thinking skills and also give students the opportunity to show their creativity and plot out these type of games with a storyboard. This gets them to plot out a plan with missions, characters, multimedia, visuals, graphics and language. A more complicated game really pushes the threshold of learning much more than a basic game, however, students need time to create one of these games and time is usually a teacher’s biggest challenge.

DD: I draw a distinction between DGBL and gamification – do you see them as different? Would you agree that gamification is often little more than a glorified points system?
ST: Yes, they are different. We can use a game like Minecraft or other online or computer game to help our students learn geography, math, science, or develop language skills. This doesn’t necessarily mean we tie this to grading, badges, levels, or leader boards. With gamification it is taking the curriculum and adding the qualities, characteristics and motivation tied to games. You actually don’t have to use games for learning, but there is that option with gamification.

I wouldn’t agree that gamification is little more than a glorified points system. I’ve seen educators like @SarahdaTeechur, @Jkdncn, @TechedUpTeacher,  @MrMatera, and others gamify their curricula in engaging ways that is much better than what you typically see as rote learning, using worksheets, or lecturing.

DD: Thanks for the names – I will have a look at how they are gamifying their classrooms. What do you see as the future of DGBL in ELT (or in general)?
ST: I think the future is probably tied to games with virtual reality, augmented reality, wearables, and gesture-based technology. I think games will also tend to mix digital with actual physical reality, which I’m excited about because it means people will live more active healthy lives. We already see this with the popularity of Pokemon Go. I wrote an article about that here. However, I think it will be more collaborative and hands-on.

I recently read about how Mark Zuckerberg is making Oculus Rift more social (read about it and watch the video here). They have developed apps where you create avatars and can play physical games with others and watch movies. This news gets me excited about the potential of these technologies to make game based learning more humanly interactive and physically active. In addition, these types of technologies tie in communication and language with others.

DD: I have been sceptical about the potential impact of VR but, as usual, you have explained it in an exciting way and I am now keen to explore more.
ST: You can explore more here: Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and Wearables for Learning! Oh My!

DD: Thank you Shelly for your insight and your time visiting ELT Sandbox. We wish you all the best with your new arrival and we hope to see you back out there on the web and in the real world inspiring educators with fantastic ideas soon!

ST: Thanks!


547579_10150678220078052_647189103_nShelly Sanchez Terrell is a teacher trainer, elearning specialist, and the author of The 30 Goals Challenge for Teachers: Small Steps to Transform Your Teaching and Learning to Go: Lesson Ideas for Teaching with Mobile Devices, Cell Phones and BYOT. She has trained teachers and taught language learners in over 20 countries as an invited guest expert by organizations, like UNESCO Bangkok, Cultura Iglesa of Brazil, the British Council in Tel Aviv, IATEFL Slovenia, HUPE Croatia, BrazTESOL and VenTESOL. She has been recognized by the ELTon Awards, The New York Times,  NPR, and Microsoft’s Heroes for Education as a leader in the movement of teacher driven professional development as the founder and organizer of various online conferences, Twitter chats, and webinars. Recently, she was named Woman of the Year by Star Jone’s National Association of Professional Women, awarded a Bammy Award as a founder of #Edchat, and named as one of the 10 Most Influential People in EdTech for 2015 by Tech & Learning. Her latest project is the creation of Edspeakers.com to enrich the field of education with passionate voices (spoken and written) from those of diverse experiences and backgrounds.

Shelly has an Honors BA in English with a Minor in Communication and a specialization in Electronic Media from UTSA, a Masters in Curriculum Instruction ESL from the University of Phoenix, and a CELTA from CELT Athens. She regularly shares her tips for effective technology integration via TeacherRebootCamp.com and on Twitter (@ShellTerrell).

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