Monday, October 20, 2014

Against All Odds

For this assignment I chose to play Against All Odds particularly because of my interest in the immigrant and refugee population in Buffalo. Most of my ESL experience within the classroom has been working with students who in majority are refugees. I recalled on many experiences in which students asked to watch the news to check up on their native country and see what devastation was occurring.

The game itself was very intense, as it was divided in three components - escaping your native country, entering a new country, and succeeding in this new environment. The first section was definitely the most difficult, both in completing the tasks and in its emotional effects. In my first run through of the very first game, I had to answer questions as if I were a refugee, but in the questions I disagreed with many of the questions, stating I wouldn't give up my rights, don't believe that the government is righteous, etc. To my surprise my character would get abused for wrong answers, and stimulated blood spatters, which I wasn't prepared for. The second time around I realized I had to lie in my answers and fake allegiance to this hypothetical situation in order to survive. From there, the game took me on a course out of the country where I had to leave friends behind, leave those injured behind, and strictly look after myself and my family in order to survive. Had I been in those situations in real life, I'm not sure I would be so willing to protect myself. This is an example of a game simulation which you cannot relate to unless you have experienced it. Though I know the game wants me to face these questions of ethics and morality, I'm not sure I would have been able to so easily faced these moral dilemmas in real life. From here, the components became a bit less emotionally shocking and was more upfront in the realities many refugee and immigrants must face. The game showed you what it would be like to not know the native language, not understand certain cues, and overall instilled a sense of hopelessness. Additionally, the game prompted very accurate situations of prejudice, where many of the phrases of discrimination unfortunately weren't too far of a stretch to believe.

If I were to use this game in a classroom I wouldn't use the first phase. In my hopes of teaching predominantly refugees, I wouldn't want to put them through a sort of virtual hell of something they have possibly already experienced. Rather, I would utilize the last two components of entering a new school and looking for a job, as it would be more relatable to their present condition. This would most closely relate to the NYS Standards in ESL, particularly Language for Cross Cultural Knowledge and Understanding which states:

"Students will demonstrate cross-cultural knowledge and sensitivity in communicating with others of varied social, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds. They will develop and use culturally appropriate behaviors, and a knowledge of local and US cultures and practices, in their interactions with others in their new cultural environment"

As they are experiencing the same assimilation as presented in the game, they can perhaps gain a more critical consciousness of their situation where they are able to step outside and examine the struggles they have faced and perhaps what they have learned. In my assessment, I would ask students to compare/contrast their experiences with the ones they faced in the game to examine their interpersonal awareness and overall opinion of their experience. While it is important for them to be able to look ahead and examine the benefits of fleeing to the United States, I think it is also important for them to understand the difficulties they have faced and how they personally were able to overcome such immense obstacles. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Phantasy Quest

The game I chose to play was Phantasy Quest which falls under the "Escape the Room" category of gaming, involving a point-and-click technique to navigate around a certain environment (in this case, a deserted island), picking up tools and gaining points the farther into the game you are able to. In my initial attempt, I decided not to use the Phantasy Quest Walkthrough to see how intuitive I could be in using the game. Very quickly I got frustrated, especially when I died shortly into playing. In my second attempt I used the walkthrough at my advantage to get a better understanding of what was expected of me. While the game stimulated a scenario of a broken-down ship and a "missing girl" I was still unclear of the various tools I could be picking up and how to carry out difficult tasks. Personally, my lack of understanding in my initial attempt made me very frustrated and wanted to give up. Had I been given more explicit feedback and directions, I may have been more willing to try new things and develop better strategies. But in this case, I gave up and used the Walkthrough. Even so, the Walkthrough was a bit difficult for me to follow. I understood quickly was W,N,E meant in directional usage. However as the instructions told me to "pick up the lantern" per se, after multiple clicks I was frustrated that it wasn't happening as easily as I wanted to. Additionally, some of the instructions seemed vague or wasn't matching up to what I was viewing.

Despite my failed experience, I noticed a wide variety of various language skills and cues that could be used as a basis for content acquisition when using the Walkthrough. Commands such as "pick up" "fill the bottle" and directional terms such as "Go W, W, N" help put in to place strategies and tactics that help students achieve their goal. Without the Walkthrough, students would have to use their own competency of the program and the English language to guess at what is expected of them while his very useful, I worry that if I myself couldn't get a solid handle on Phantasy Quest without the assisace of the Walkthrough, how would an ELL feel?

Using this particular game in the classroom I would first have to have them practice skills such as going left/right/up/down, identifying and clicking on various clues or hints that may be apparent throughout the navigation. By clicking on the tree, for example, they are presented with the challenge of feeding the tree water. The students would then have to think about the tools necessary to complete this task, and I would assess whether or not they would know to go in the directional of water, or things to that nature. However in tasks that are more implicit, such as finding a bottle which they have not yet encountered, I think cues and a Walkthrough would be most appropriate. What I would be assessing, then, is not whether they know the exact positioning of certain items, but whether they are aware of the tools they will need to carry out the task. When given a walkthrough however, the assessment may be more focused on how clearly they follow directions.

Images would be crucial in games as it would connect language with a visual of what they need. More difficult words that showed up in the game like "lantern" or "plank" may require a visual image for the student to understand how it is used and what its function is. Here, the assessment would be whether or not the student can acquire a foreign objects functional uses. I would have to ask questions such as, "Why was the lantern used to make a fire?" to see whether they understood that the word "lantern" associates with light and fire. Additionally, assessing which direction the student moves throughout the game will show their acquisition of directional terms such as North, West, East, South. I wouldn't use the Walkthrough provided in this case, because using the simple symbols of W,N,E, and S may be too advanced for their level of learning. Rather, I would create a Walkthrough that spelled out more difficult terms and assess their understanding.


Throughout most of the articles I have read, Gamification involves the interactive "application of game elements in non-gaming situations" (7 Things You Should Know About Gamification). This article in particular discusses the multiple dimensions of Gaming or Gamification as it has been utilized in workplaces and classrooms alike. Particularly, the use of games is used to motivate student behavior, foster interest, and create an "engaging dynamic".

Furthermore, and perhaps most relevant to what we have discussed throughout this course, Gamification "facilitates the formation of learning communities," and "has the potential to help build connections among members of the academic community, drawing in shy students, supporting collaboration, and engendering interest in course content that students might not have otherwise explored" (7 Things You Should Know About Gamification). This notion of establishing connections is one we have studied at length in terms of creating a global network through technology in the classroom. Additionally, as the article points out, the use of games involves both collaborative and individual effort which helps foster teamwork and effective strategy skills.

Within the classroom, interactive games can serve as a content-delivery mechanism. As discussed in the article 7 Things You Should Know About Games and Learning, there is a practice of "gameful learning" which increases engagement, enhances learning, and allows for an exploration of new models of education which may not be available within a standard classroom. Additionally, gamification is significant within the classroom as it allows students to "...acquire information and hone abilities while achieving interim goals that provide a clear sense of progress, rather than simply focusing on completing the course". Furthermore, students get hands-on experience work with tactics and strategies, allowing them to understand various processes, procedures, and the "value of alternative paths". In this sense, Gamification places real-life learning strategies within a make-believe, interactive environment where errors are not punished rather fostered for improvement.

The very framework of gaming allows for such benefits within an educational model. As discussed in Tom Chatfield's 7 Ways Games Reward the Brain, the neurological processes of competition, risk/reward, and uncertainty are the driving forces which allows gaming to be captivating and useful. Chatfield notes, "In the world's very,very,very hard for people to learn if they cannot link consequences to actions". By creating an alternative environment where mistakes are made and rewards are implemented, students can experience first-hand the value in effective strategy skills, as well as the importance of collaboration and feedback whenever failing. Furthermore, the reward system found in most gaming activities, especially when rewards are uncertain, will yield the greatest excitement. As Chatfield describes, "If you can model things for people, if you can give things to people that they can manipulate and play with and where feedback comes, then they can learn a lesson, they can see, they can move on, they can understand".

Chatfield ends his talk on a discussion of engagement which is directly linked to educational purposes. Through gaming, Chatfield claims, we can observe "what makes people tick and work and play and engage on a grand scale in games". With this knowledge, we can externalize or "turn these things outwards" and utilize gaming practices in the classroom, influencing not only how students learn and interact, but influencing how instructors can teach in a transformative technological era.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Educational Tweeting

While Twitter is commonly used as an avenue for social media, Education and other current event issues are taking over the Twittersphere. As I experienced during a TwitterChat, experts in their relevant professions are engaging in heated discussions over the latest news in the field.

One thing I learned from reading The Ultimate Twitter Guidebook for Teachers (specifically Can we use Twitter for Educational Activities?) illustrates how Education in Twitter is no longer a discourse between professionals, but an instant connection between students and teachers. One example of the potential educational uses include "Exploring collaborative writing", where Twitter can "promote writing as a fun activity...fosters editing skills, develop literacy skills; it can give our students the change to record their cognitive traits and then use them to reflect on their work". Another educational use is in collaborating with various schools from across the country. The site lists other benefits including

  • Keeps track of a conversation students carry on a particular topic
  • Serves both as a means of analysis and an object of analysis
  • Connects students to the real world
  • Supports reflection
While the article posits some great benefits, I appreciated their awareness to some of the negative effects in using Twitter. While I understand the above claim that Twitter can help students develop reading and writing skills, I wonder if this is really true. I think the fact that Twitter has a 140 character limit may pose a threat to grammar and literacy development, where students are forced to unnecessarily condense or abbreviate a thought for the sake of a tweet. Such condensing may put a well-developed thought at risk and may cap a person's reflective thinking. Other downsides that the article points out include
  • Can be too distracting for some students
  • Twitter is not to enrich and support rich learning for students

The second article I chose to read, Using Twitter for Teachers' Professional Development examined the use of Twitter as a Personal Learning Network (PLN). The relationship between Twitter and PLN is illustrated below:

Additionally, the article refers to 10 Ways Teachers Can Use Twitter for Professional Development. Such uses are:
1. Creating a Strong Profile Page
2. Keep your Profile Professional
3. Proper Use of Etiquette
4. Know Who to Follow
5. Use Hashtags
6. Use Twitter Tools
7. Use Twitter to Research
8. Share What You Read
9. Use Twitter for Teaching and Learning

While both articles create strong arguments for using Twitter in an educational setting, I feel that the only way I'd feel comfortable using Twitter with my students would be as a platform where I can directly communicate due dates/assignments or other quick news, post articles, or as a way for students to post questions. Anything beyond that, I feel would be limiting the educational process and hinder development. 

Thursday, October 2, 2014


Being involved in the #langchat Twitterchat was my first experience using Twitter for more interactive purposes. For many people, Twitter is that place to share their ideas, take place in hot-topic debates, and interact with people on a global scale about what is going on in the world. I was very intimidated to begin chatting - the chat is still taking place as I write - and I have found a few positives and negatives to using this tool.

One thing I enjoyed about chatting was the immediacy at which people could share their thoughts and ideas. Such an interactive model allows for emotional debate and quick access to new information. One thing I didn't like, however, was the also the immediacy. Perhaps I am not as quick-minded as others, but I felt a bit confused throughout the course of the discussion. Within 5 mins I felt there were multiple issues being raised, various discourses, and it was very easy for me to get lost in translation. Luckily, the article posted about twitterchats helped me see what Q1/A1, Q2/A2 meant, but even at one point, one of the chat "leaders" (@alenord) commented that the chat had no formal structure, therefore no strict Q1/Q2 usage. This made it very difficult to follow what was being argued.

Another thing I enjoyed about the chat was the sharing of links and blog posts that was relevant to the individual's argument. It opened various websites that I may utilize in the future, as well as up to date discussions taking place in the blogsphere. But as I mentioned above, there's no way I would be able to actually read the articles fast enough to come up with a timely response. By then, they may have gone on to Q15.

While I can understand the benefits of chatting via Twitter, I feel it may be too large of an audience to have any sort of valuable discussion. For me, I prefer a more intimate conversation with someone, rather than one big sound box for dozens of opinions. Seeing other teachers and sharing their thoughts is a very cool experience, but even so, many times I felt too "green" or too inexperienced to really say anything valuable. There was actually a point where one of the chat "leaders" disagreed with one of my post (@KrisClimer), discouraging me from really trying to express my opinions.

If anything, the Twitterchat would be nice to oversee an interesting discussion, and maybe even to stir the pot from time to time, but if I'm looking for any thought-out discussion, I'd prefer it be done on a smaller, more private scale.