A Constructivist Approach to Game-Based Language Learning: Student Perceptions in a Beginner-Level EFL Context

A Constructivist Approach to Game-Based Language Learning: Student Perceptions in a Beginner-Level EFL Context

James York (Tokyo Denki University, Tokyo, Japan) and Jonathan William deHaan (University of Shizuoka, Shizuoka, Japan)
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 22
DOI: 10.4018/IJGBL.2018010102

Abstract

This article provides information on an action research project in a low-level EFL setting in Japan. The project aims were to 1) foster spoken communication skills and 2) help students engage with their own learning. The project investigated the applicability of board games as a mediating tool for authentic communication as part of a wider TBLT approach to language development. Quantitative and qualitative data was collected from 115 first and second year Japanese university students via a questionnaire at the end of a seven-week course using the experimental methodology. Responses to the questionnaire indicated that the framework was perceived to be valuable in both fostering communicative skills and improving student engagement. Methodological improvements were also suggested. Implications applicable to teachers working in similar contexts are discussed, as well as possible improvements for future implementations.
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Introduction

The framework introduced in this paper is an explorative game-based language learning (GBLL) framework, designed in accordance with task-based language teaching (TBLT) theory and practice. This study reports on preliminary findings regarding the implementation of the framework in a beginner-level context at a Japanese university. Data was gathered in the form of a questionnaire given to learners at the end of a 7-week initial implementation. The questionnaire contained both qualitative and quantitative measures and this paper provides detailed analysis of students’ responses to both, as well as implications for future implementations.

Context of the Study

The framework under review in this paper was designed to be used in low-level English classrooms. This specific domain was selected based on two criteria.

Firstly, the authors of this paper are involved in teaching low-proficiency learners. Both researchers are based in Japan where there is a call from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) to improve English teaching pedagogy in order to foster communicative skills more effectively. MEXT aims to nurture students that can “assertively make use of their English skills, think independently, and express themselves” (2014, p.3). We argue that teaching from a constructivist perspective is key to achieving MEXT’s goal. Pedagogical considerations should include learning through the joint creation of social experiences and encouraging learners to become active agents in their learning. TBLT has been shown to facilitate such learning, and the present study utilizes the interactional affordances of board games as part of a TBLT approach to language learning.

Secondly, there is a growing number of studies that investigate the use, and benefits of virtual worlds, massively multiplayer online games (MMOs) and, commercial off the shelf video games in a number of contexts, both educational (for a review see Squire, 2003) and language learning specific (Reinhardt & Sykes, 2012). The common research paradigm for exploring the implementation of games in language learning contexts is for researchers to use digital games. However, for tabletop, non-digital games, research is still immature despite the potential benefits of the media in low-level EFL classrooms. This paper provides theoretical rationale and pedagogical considerations for one instantiation of a GBLL teaching framework. Additionally, a preliminary evaluation of the framework by a group of 115 learners is analyzed and discussed for future implementations.

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