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Using Gamification and Gaming in Order to Promote Risk Taking in the Language Learning Process

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Taking risks is an important part of learning. The current study explores the relationship between risk taking and other pertinent factors in the second language acquisition process. Participants (N = 526) performed a foreign vocabulary learning task, followed by a questionnaire evaluating several aspects of their experience, as well as their tendency to take language-related risks. High levels of language risk taking were associated with improved performance in the task, increased self-confidence, and reduced anxiety, all of which are beneficial to learning. This indicates that the willingness to take risks is positively associated with learners' ability to successfully acquire a foreign language. The paper further examines the use of gamification and gaming as educational tools, which can be used in order to promote risk taking in learners. The idea of using gamification and gaming for pedagogical purposes is strongly supported by a theoretical framework, as well as by numerous real world examples where these techniques were successfully implemented. Overall, this paper highlights the importance of risk taking in the language learning process, and frames gamification and gaming as tools that can be used in order to promote it in learners.
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,רשע השולשה ל"טימ סנכ2015 Using Gamification and Gaming in Order to Promote Risk
Taking in the Language Learning Process
227
Using Gamification and Gaming in Order to Promote
Risk Taking in the Language Learning Process
Itamar Shatz
Tel Aviv University
Abstract
Taking risks is an important part of learning. The current study explores the
relationship between risk taking and other pertinent factors in the second language
acquisition process. Participants (N = 526) performed a foreign vocabulary
learning task, followed by a questionnaire evaluating several aspects of their
experience, as well as their tendency to take language-related risks. High levels of
language risk taking were associated with improved performance in the task,
increased self-confidence, and reduced anxiety, all of which are beneficial to
learning. This indicates that the willingness to take risks is positively associated
with learners’ ability to successfully acquire a foreign language.
The paper further examines the use of gamification and gaming as educational
tools, which can be used in order to promote risk taking in learners. The idea of
using gamification and gaming for pedagogical purposes is strongly supported by a
theoretical framework, as well as by numerous real world examples where these
techniques were successfully implemented. Overall, this paper highlights the
importance of risk taking in the language learning process, and frames
gamification and gaming as tools that can be used in order to promote it in
learners.
Keywords: risk taking, gamification, video games, second language acquisition,
foreign language teaching.
Risk taking in the language learning process
Risk taking is defined as: “a situation where an individual has to make a decision
involving choice between alternatives of different desirability; the outcome of the choice
is uncertain; there is a possibility of failure” (Bebee, 1983, p. 39). In accordance with
this definition, the willingness to take risks is deemed as crucial to success in the
second language acquisition process (Cervantes, 2013; Oxford & Ehrman, 1995; Zafar
& Meenakshi, 2011). Ely (1986), who developed a scale used to measure language-
related risk taking, lists some relevant examples of risk taking in the language learning
process: lack of hesitancy about using a newly encountered linguistic element; a
willingness to use linguistic elements perceived to be complex or difficult; a tolerance of
possible incorrectness or inexactitude in using the language (Ely, 1986, p. 8).
Despite the importance of language risk taking, there are relatively few empirical
studies which investigate its role in the learning process (Burgucu, Han, Engin, & Kaya,
,רשע השולשה ל"טימ סנכ2015 Using Gamification and Gaming in Order to Promote Risk
Taking in the Language Learning Process
228
2010). The primary goal of the current study is therefore to explore the relationship
between risk taking and other factors in the language learning process. Furthermore,
the study seeks to examine the potential use of both gamification and gaming as tools
which can facilitate risk taking in the learning process.
The current study: the importance of risk taking
Methodology
There were 526 participants (360 men, 166 women). Mean age was 22.75 (SD = 6.34,
Min = 12, Max = 53). The native language of the majority of the participants (67.3%)
was English.
Participants memorized the definitions of foreign vocabulary words (in Finnish) in a set
amount of time. Then, participants were shown the vocabulary words, and filled in the
definitions they remembered. Participants’ performance was judged based on the
number of correct definitions they were able to recall.
After completing the testing portion of the task, participants rated their self-confidence,
task motivation, and anxiety, all in relation to the current task. These factors were
chosen due to the important role that they play in language learning (Dörnyei, 2002;
Peterson, 2009; Shatz, 2014). Afterwards, participants filled a questionnaire which
gauged their language-related risk taking tendencies, based on a questionnaire
developed by Ely (1986). This questionnaire has been used for similar purposes and
with similar modifications in several studies on the subject (e.g. Liu & Jackson, 2008;
Saito & Samimy, 1996).
During data analysis, a tertiary split was used in order to divide participants into three
groups based on their language risk taking (LRT), resulting in groups of participants
with low, moderate, and high LRT. A MANCOVA was then used to determine whether
the groups differed in score, self-confidence, task motivation, or anxiety, followed by
Bonferroni-corrected pairwise comparisons across these factors.
Results
The MANCOVA revealed a statistically significant difference between the LRT groups
in performance score, self-confidence, task motivation, and anxiety (F(8, 1032) =
7.527, p < .0005, partial η
2
= .055). This difference was significant for three of the
variables: score (F(2, 523) = 4.788, p = .009, partial η
2
= .018), self-confidence (F(2,
523) = 15.092, p < .0005, partial η
2
= .055), and anxiety (F(2, 523) = 21.400, p < .0005,
partial η
2
= .076), but not for task motivation.
The pairwise comparisons show that the high LRT group had a significantly higher
score and self-confidence, and significantly reduced anxiety levels compared to the two
other LRT groups. The moderate LRT group had significantly reduced anxiety
compared to the low LRT group, but did not differ from it on any of the other factors.
These results are illustrated in figure 1.
,רשע השולשה ל"טימ סנכ2015 Using Gamification and Gaming in Order to Promote Risk
Taking in the Language Learning Process
229
Figure 1. Difference across LRT groups
Discussion
Increased willingness to take language related risks was associated with improved
performance, increased self-confidence, and reduced anxiety levels, all of which are
advantageous to learning (Dörnyei, 2009; Kohler, 2009; Wen & Clément, 2010). The
difference across these factors between the high and the moderate LRT groups was
greater than the difference between the moderate and low LRT groups, suggesting that
high levels of risk taking are more strongly associated with a positive change in these
factors than moderate levels of language risk taking. While further research is required
in order to establish the nature of the relationship between these factors, particularly in
terms of the causality between them, these results nonetheless show that risk taking
plays an important role in language learning, and that learners who are willing to take
language-related risk to a high degree are more successful at the second language
acquisition process than learners who tend to be risk averse.
It is important to note the fact that while the study looked at performance in a short-
term memorization task, these results are indicative of long-term learning processes,
as literature shows that there exists a powerful connection between the two (e.g. Ellis,
1996; Payne & Whitney, 2002; Williams & Lovatt, 2003).
Promoting risk taking through gamification
Gamification is “the application of game dynamics, mechanics, and frameworks into
non-game settings” (Stott & Neustaedter, 2013, p. 1), and both the research and the
pedagogical communities view it as a useful educational tool (Sombrio, Ulbricht, &
Haeming, 2014). One of the primary advantages of using gamification in an educational
setting is that it lessens the cost of making an error in the eyes of the learners, thus
promoting them to be more risk taking (Sombrio et al., 2014). Furthermore,
,רשע השולשה ל"טימ סנכ2015 Using Gamification and Gaming in Order to Promote Risk
Taking in the Language Learning Process
230
emphasizing the concept of ‘freedom to fail’ and encouraging learners to feel
comfortable to take risks, allows learners to shift from being mostly outcome oriented to
being able to focus on learning, and this shift in focus is viewed as favorable by modern
pedagogy (Stott & Neustaedter, 2013).
One example for the successful implementation of gamification is Duolingo, a free
online language learning site, where learners advance up a language skill tree and
translate texts in their target foreign language, collecting points as they progress in
their studies (Garcia, 2013). A study which examined Duolingo’s effectiveness
concluded that the element of gamification had a definite positive impact on learning:
“Gamification works: the learner feels a sense of achievement when getting the points
and challenged when not.” (Garcia, 2013, p. 21). Further support for this notion comes
in the form of anecdotal comments from learners, such as one who stated that “I came
here to learn Spanish, but I’m staying to gain the points.” (Garcia, 2013, p. 22).
In another case, researchers presented evidence supporting the use of gamification to
supplement the teaching of Polish as a foreign language, by listing numerous benefits
for its usage, such as increased motivation and improved understanding of grammar
(Danowska-Florczyk & Mostowski, 2012). In addition, while both these examples
pertain specifically to language learning, gamification has also been utilized for
educational purposes in other domains, such as psychology (Landers & Callan, 2011)
and personalized health (McCallum, 2012). Overall, the evidence stemming from the
successful use of gamification frames it as an effective educational tool, with one of its
primary benefits being the fact that it encourages risk taking in learners.
Promoting risk taking via gaming
Video games, both with and without an educational focus, are another instrument
capable of promoting risk taking in learners, as players are immersed in a target
language environment where they can engage in organic communication via listening,
reading, speaking, and writing, all in a manner which enables risk taking and reflection
in their target language (Rama, Black, van Es, & Warschauer, 2012). In this
environment, there is a reduction of social context cues, and this reduction can lessen
anxiety and pronunciation concerns, while enhancing risk taking (Peterson, 2009).
Massively multiplayer online games, for example, encourage risk taking by language
learners, and reduce inhibition in target language interaction (Rama et al., 2012).
Similarly, playing massively multiplayer online role playing games (MMORPG) helps
reduce anxiety levels and encourage opportunities for taking risks using the target
language (Reinders & Wattana, 2014).
There are many examples for the successful use of video games as language learning
instruments. In the Forgotten World, for instance, English learners participate in an
online comic-strip drama that allows them to develop new linguistic skills while solving
an adventure story (Blake, 2011). In another case, by playing THE SIMS, a game
where players guide a virtual family through a simulated life, English learners were able
to efficiently learn new vocabulary (Peterson, 2009). A final example are Thai students,
,רשע השולשה ל"טימ סנכ2015 Using Gamification and Gaming in Order to Promote Risk
Taking in the Language Learning Process
231
who were able to improve their English while playing Ragnarok Online, a popular
MMORPG (Reinders & Wattana, 2014).
Overall, these examples illustrate several cases where video games were successfully
employed in order to facilitate language learning. Though there are many reasons why
videos games serve as effective pedagogical supplements, one of their primary
advantages is their ability to encourage risk taking, which aids those engaged in the
language learning process.
Conclusions
The willingness to take language-related risks is positively associated with several
important factors in the second language acquisition process, in a manner indicating
that increased levels of language risk taking are beneficial to learners. Gamification
and gaming are two possible methods to encourage risk taking, which highlights their
potential use as effective educational tools, and suggests that they should be
integrated into foreign language teaching practices.
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