IATEFL 2014 – Teaching English via Computer Games (Mykhailo Noshchenko)

ELT Sandbox has been a bit quiet recently as I prepare for my talk at next week’s IATEFL Conference* (check out my other teaching blog davedodgson.blogspot.com for posts or, alternatively, view this neat Flipboard magazine to see all my preview posts).

To keep things ticking over here, I went back into the archives to find this review of a talk from IATEFL 2014 given by Mykhailo Noshchenko, in which he focuses on the use of popular RPG title Skyrim as a context for his students to develop their academic writing skills. Hopefully, the video link will work as well.

P.S. There is a forum on gamificaiton and game-based learning taking place at IATEFL 2017, which I will be attending. Expect a report on this blog sometime towards the end of next week. 🙂

This session immediately caught my eye from its title and digging a little further revealed it was based on the presenter’s experience of using games in class to promote language learning. The promise of discussion of in-class research and ‘merits and critiques’ piqued my interest as did the fact that it was based on a recent favourite game of mine, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

Here are my comments typed ‘live’ as I watched the session embedded above (click here to link to the presentation page on the IATEFL website, which also features Mykhalio’s slides and handouts). As ever, I would appreciate also receiving your comments at the end of this post. 🙂
  • The first point served as an important reminder that game-based learning is far from being mainstream. Lİke me, Mykhalio seems to be pursuing this as a personal project (and he is lucky enough to have the backing of his employers in this), and many people still need convincing that gaming is not a ‘waste of time’ or something detrimental to learning.
  • I liked the idea of the ‘learnification of gaming’ – I shall make a note of that for future use!
  • While I agree that role-playing games (RPGs) and turn-based games are useful in the classroom, I disagreed with some of the games cited as not useful in ELT. Online RPGs (MMORPGs) can be very useful as they offer the chance for in-game interaction (I have a lesson plan in the pipeline about using one such game as it happens) and real-time strategy games (RTS) can be great for interaction and co-operative play – as ever, it’s all a matter of setting up and managing the activities in the right way.
  • As for the time and cost of using certain games, there are ways around that as well such as using free versions, demos and allowing some ‘free play’ time for students to familarise themselves (also to come in future posts!)
  • I like the idea of ‘guided gaming’ (or ‘guided play’ as I have referred to it elsewhere) with students completing tasks under the teacher’s guidance with an element of co-operation and sharing of advice taking place.
  • As the presenter highlights, games provide a strong context for vocabulary acquisition and high motivation to tackle complex language that they have to engage with via reading or listening. Speaking, however, is something not really touched upon unless there is group discussion connected to the game-playing experience.
  • A great point (and one I had never thought of before) about gaming acting as a substitute for those learners who have no opportunity to experience life in an English-speaking environment. The right game can be their immersive English-language experience.
  • An interesting point also about how we can take something like the in-game civil war that forms part of the storyline in Skyrim and use it as the basis for discussion rather than run the risk of controversy by discussing current real-life wars and political upheavals.
  • While I agree that GBL is not suitable for all contexts, I would suggest that it best serves as an addition to a regular learning programme rather than a replacement for it.
  • Of course, gaming is not for everyone and not all students will be motivated in the same way to get the most out of a game in the language classroom. However, we could also argue that other ‘traditional’ methods of teaching and learning language do not motivate or provide maximum benefit for our students as well. 😉
  • The inclusion of ‘student voices’ in the presentation was an interesting and useful addition. The first student explained the manner of the lessons well but raised the problem of how to practice speaking and suggested discussion forums – a good idea but one that could also be part of the written process if done online. Personally, I would include breaks in play and have students discuss their progress in the game, what they did at certain points and why.
  • It was interesting to hear from the second student, who had never played games like Skyrim before. She highlighted the intense vocabulary acquisition and how the new words ‘stick’ but also stressed the need for additional activities to ensure the maximum educational benefit is gained, something I would agree with.
  • The next student focused on the ‘fun factor’ and motivation but it was also good to hear that he now keeps a dictionary to hand while playing and wants to explore the possibilities of multiplayer online gaming with English used to communicate.
  • The fourth student brought up the issues of time needed to get used to playing for novice gamers and being forced to explain the use of games to stakeholders such as parents. She also focused on the benefits of the game as the basis for discussion and other activities, something I also feel is a major benefit of using gaming as a topic in the language classroom.
  • The final student touched upon the comprehension aspect of a game like Skyrim, which requires players to listen to characters in the game and choose an appropriate response from a list of choices – an interesting twist on regular listening activities. He also called for more discussion based on the game showing the motivation games can give students to use their English.
  • Mykhalio finished by calling on the ELT community to develop the use of gaming for language learning (like we do right here!) I also feel challenging and changing people’s negative misconceptions about gaming, especially when it comes to education, will be just as important.
It is good to see that interest in game-based learning is out there and projects such as this are taking place (though it was a shame that we couldn’t actually see what the ‘guided gaming’ and assignments looked like in action). That gives me hope that GBL could gain some welcome attention as a viable way to engage and educate students. It also gives me encouragement that an ELT Sandbox inspired proposal for IATEFL could be accepted in the future…

(*Note: I am not talking about DGBL at IATEFL 2017 but have strong intentions to return to the biggest stage with something game-based in the future)

Don’t forget that you can follow this year’s IATEFL 2017 Conference online at:


http://iatefl.britishcouncil.org/2017 | Tune in for live coverage from Glasgow Monday 3rd April


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