Improving Immigrant Inclusion Through the Design of a Digital Language Learning Game

Improving Immigrant Inclusion Through the Design of a Digital Language Learning Game

Heidi T. Katz, Emmanuel O. Acquah, Anette Bengs, Fredrik Sten, Mattias Wingren
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-9732-3.ch024
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Technology has garnered attention as a successful tool for second language learning that could help improve immigrant integration and inclusion. More specifically, digital learning games have been identified as an effective tool for enhancing a variety of outcomes related to second language learning, including language acquisition, motivation, and confidence. Digital learning games differentiate instruction, provide immediate feedback, situate the learning, and offer a safe and engaging environment to practice the target language. However, it is important that digital learning games are designed with the end-users in mind. For that reason, this study outlines how researchers and game developers can utilize user-centered design to develop a context-specific digital language learning game for immigrants. As an example, the authors present the four-phase process of an ongoing game design project in Finland, including general findings from interviews with teachers.
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As immigration increases around the world, countries must work to support social inclusion and integration by providing newly arrived immigrants with effective second language (L2) education. While some view immigrant education as an additional burden on society and the economy, underserving the immigrant community is of no benefit. People with an immigrant background contribute greatly to society through entrepreneurship, filling labor shortages, being highly skilled in their professions, having foreign language abilities, and creating more openness in society (Huddleston et al., 2013). Huddleston et al. (2013) believe, “if policymakers want to reduce unemployment in their country, create a knowledge-based society, and encourage active citizens, then immigrants are a major target group,” (Huddleston et al., 2013, p. 48). More importantly, immigrant children and adolescents have a right to a comprehensive education that meets their needs and enables them to achieve their personal goals.

Supporting the needs of learners who are both linguistically and culturally diverse is no easy feat. In most OECD countries, PISA data consistently shows a performance gap between immigrant student populations and their native-born peers (OECD, 2019a). The underperformance of students with an immigrant background is not due to a lack of ambition; rather, it can be attributed to the segregation of immigrants into low-income neighborhoods and disadvantaged schools, students’ limited proficiency in the language of instruction, lack of teachers trained to support diverse learners, inadequate assessments of student needs, and integration of language and content learning (European Commission, 2019; Huddleston et al., 2013; OECD, 2019a). Though some of these challenges must be addressed through country-specific social policies, digital tools have also been suggested as a useful means for supporting the integration and inclusion of people with an immigrant background (Ahad & Benton, 2018). Ahad and Benton (2018) note that digital tools can aid teachers in creating personalized learning experiences, collecting data (to make more informed assessments), and supporting students in overcoming barriers, including those related to language.

We specifically advocate for the development of digital language learning games (DLLG) for improving immigrant integration and inclusion. To be effective and practical for use in school and as an individual player, DLLGs must meet the needs of various stakeholders (immigrant students, teachers, schools, adult immigrants, etc.) within a given region. In the development of DLLGs, we suggest researchers and game designers follow user-centered design (UCD), a four-phase iterative process that combines rigorous background research, active involvement of targeted end-users, and multi-disciplinary design team (ISO, 2010; Ritter et al., 2014). UCD is particularly beneficial for developing a DLLG for immigrants because the process ensures the game is pedagogically, culturally, and geographically grounded, and as a result, the final product is designed to support the real-life application of newly acquired language skills.

In this chapter, we demonstrate how UCD can be used to develop a DLLG for immigrants by presenting our ongoing project in Finland. The targeted population are both first and second-generation immigrants who do not already have proficient language skills in the official language(s) of Finland. The chapter begins with an overview of approaches and challenges related to immigrant L2 education worldwide for school age and adult immigrants. We then connect research on digital learning games (DLGs) and DLLGS with theories of learning, before outlining the UCD approach to developing a DLLG. Next, we tie all the research together by demonstrating the ongoing design process of a DLLG for immigrants in Finland. We conclude by presenting societal implications as well as recommendations for those interested in applying a similar approach to developing a DLLG within other contexts. We believe being transparent about the game design process will benefit future designers of DLGs as well as educators who wish to understand the pedagogical considerations that make DLLGs effective tools.

Key Terms in this Chapter

User-Centered Design: An iterative design process in which intended end users are involved in each phase through a variety of design and research methods.

Differentiated Instruction: Adjusting the educational approach and content to meet students’ individual needs and to build off their background knowledge.

Situated Learning: Presenting content in the relevant context and enabling learners to be actively involved in the meaning-making process.

Digital Tool: An electronic resource that can be used to support a wide range of objectives and purposes.

Preparatory Education: Formal learning environments where newly arrived immigrants are provided host country language instruction and other relevant skills to prepare them for integration into mainstream classrooms and/or society.

Immigrant: A person who has moved (by choice or force) to another country with the aim of establishing residence (short or long-term).

Digital Language Learning Game: A game designed specifically for learning a language using an electronic device.

Flow State: Experiencing an optimal level of concentration, enjoyment, and immersion while engaged in an activity or task.

Host Country: The place to which an immigrant has relocated.

Digital Learning Game: A game designed for any form of learning using an electronic device.

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