Approaches to Language Learning as Meaningful Play

Dongping Zheng, Michigan State University
Ruhui Ni, Michigan State University
Ken Dirkin, Michigan State University
Yi Ma, Michigan State University
D. Matthew Boyer, Michigan State University


In this panel, we will demonstrate three innovative projects that involve language learning as meaningful play from genres of text/animation-adventures, massively multiplayer online role-playing games, and metaverse games (e.g., Second Life). Although all three projects, Chinese Your Way, ZON, and Second Life Chinese School are originated and funded by Confucius Institute at Michigan State University, and design frameworks are varied and constrained by the affordances of different media environments, such as,CD-ROM, Flash-based, and fully-rendered 3D virtual worlds. Theoretical and pedagogical orientation also played a significant role in design principles and prototypes. However, central to the projects is the psychology of design that supports sociocultural interactions in meaningful contexts, to the degree which learners are enacted in responsibility, engagement and play.

In each of the presentations, we will showcase one product live, and present the theoretical orientations, design frameworks, iterative developing processes ,and lessons learned from respective datasets.

Chinese Your Way: Meaningful Vocabulary Learning In Fantasy Narratives
Chun Lai, Dongping Zheng, Yong Zhao

Travel logs in both text and flash-based animation immerse learners in the fantasy fairy tales and folklores of Chinese history, philosophy, and customs. Through rich and deep cultural content, learners become players in figuring out Chinese vocabulary. This approach is predominantly different from the tradition approaches of memorization, and drill and kill.

Second Life Chinese School: Caring as the Fuel for Collaboration
Dongping Zheng, Ken Dirkin, Yong Zhao

Regardless of the popularity of educational institutions finding their own niches in Second Life, Chinese Island has retained its uniqueness in terms of its theoretical approaches to design and learning. SL promotes itself to be a game engine for individual players to construct their own game worlds, which creates a challenge for educators to use it as a serious distance learning tool. With an ecological and social psychology perspective, quests are designed to solicitate language use in realistic interactions. In Co-questing sessions, players demonstrated a special attribute that has been rarely studied in literature, caring, which will be explored in this study.

ZON: Massively Co-Inhabitation of Massively Role-playing and Mini Games
Ruhui Ni, Ken Dirkin, Matthew Boyer

Focusing on issues in game design, this presentation will introduce ZON, an on-going project aimed at providing an MMORPG environment for Chinese language learning and Chinese culture experience aimed at English speakers. Based on the demonstration of the beta version of ZON, the rationale of the design, including the construction of game narrative and game play, the sociability of the game, the affordances of language and culture learning opportunities, and the instructional context considerations, will be explored.How these design principles are implemented in game will be presented and discussed.