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Occupied Paris: Creating a Virtual Learning Experience

#Twitter: 
#olc51081
Presenter(s)
Terri Nelson (California State University & San Bernardino, USA)
Session Information
October 15, 2015 - 1:30pm
Track: 
Technology and Emerging Learning Environments
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Practical Application
Institutional Level: 
Multiple Levels
Audience Level: 
Intermediate
Session Type: 
Information Session
Location: 
Oceanic 2
Session Duration: 
45 Minutes
Session: 
Concurrent Session 7
Abstract

Interactive role-playing game set in Nazi-occupied Paris creates multiple learning opportunities through rich multi-media environment. Designed in ARIS, an open-source authoring platform.

Extended Abstract

Several time periods during the Nazi-occupied Paris are studied using an instructor-created role-playing game (RPG) where upper-division French students take on fictional identities. Underlying this virtual world is an ARIS game where design mechanics scaffold student learning. ARIS is an open-source authoring environment for mobile games, data gathering and interactive story-telling.

Various elements of the Occupied Paris game -- player agency, leveling up, chunking information and a rich multimedia environment-- enrich student learning. Although the purpose of this game is to create an immersive environment for foreign language acquisition, the theoretical principles underlying the game mechanics are applicable to a wide variety of disciplines. The virtual world implements game design mechanics to scaffold and enrich student learning through player agency, leveling up, chunking information and a rich multimedia environment.

In the context of this game, the combination of historical information learned through more traditional course materials (fiction and nonfiction in various media) plus the personal, emotional engagement with their RPG character, helps students to engage in higher level critical thinking skills and express more nuanced emotional, moral and philosophical stances while also developing a more comprehensive and realistic understanding of the complex time period. The "important" context sets the stage for meaningful discussions and purposeful engagement in the assignment.

Furthermore, role play personalizes the experience while giving students both mandatory tasks and free choices. For example, for the "daily life" aspect, players must "s'informer" by choosing to read Nazi-endorsed French newspapers, find clandestine newspapers or listen illicitly to the BBC-- all choices with potential consequences and ramifications. A more dangerous choice might be whether to report a neighbor's suspicious activities or participate in acts of resistance. Each choice is linked to historical documents-- including newspapers, memoirs, autobiographies, films-- to show how people faced these difficult choices and the consequences of their real-life decisions. Again, the game format makes accessing these original resources more amenable to students by providing a game-based purpose; the authoring tool makes accessing web-based materials easy. Rather than a more traditional lecture, students get information that is perceived as relevant (and therefore more interesting) to the dilemmas currently faced by their fictional character.

These challenging, but meaningful, tasks succeed in a game format, because their careful scaffolding combines linguistic support and structured activity sequences. The immersive environment creates reasons for students to creatively use language and to learn history. The combination of historical information learned through more traditional course materials (fiction and nonfiction in various media) plus the personal, emotional engagement with their RPG character, helps students engage in higher level critical thinking skills and express more nuanced emotional, moral and philosophical stances while also developing a more comprehensive and realistic understanding of this complex time period. The "important" context sets the stage for linguistic development in these intermediate to intermediate-high level language learners.

The presentation will: (1) present the pedagogical choices made in creating the game based on underlying theories of learning, gaming, foreign language acquisition, and moral/ethical development in young adults; (2) demonstrate game play and discuss student reactions in pilot-test groups and (3) give a brief demonstration of the open-source authoring tool, ARIS (www.arisgames.org). Audience members will be challenged to think about the implications of teaching via gaming (e.g. What if students role play a villain? What if students misinterpret events?) through quick discussions, polls and activities interspersed throughout the presentation.

Lead Presenter

Long interested in gaming for educational purposes, Nelson and her colleague, Walter Oliver, were recognized by the Paul Allen Foundation in 1997 in the first international competition for Best Online Course. Their innovative online learning projects were "Un Meurtre ˆ Cinet" (French) and "Misterio en Toluca" (Spanish)-- e-mail murder mysteries with web components for intermediate-level foreign language instruction. Nelson has received numerous teaching awards, including the California Language Teachers' Association Outstanding Teacher in 2001.