Transformational Play: Game design as Meaningful Play for Foreign Language + Culture Learning

Cary Staples and Sebastien Dubreil

Extended Abstract

This presentation examines game design as a model to organize transformative learning experiences; in this instance, foreign language (L2) development in a rich, culturally authentic context. A group of 12 students guided by two faculty members designed and developed an innovative approach to language learning in the form of an immersive mobile game designed to enhance the teaching/learning of the French language and culture to elementary-level students. The team consisted of undergraduate and graduate students, and professors from seven departments representing two colleges at our institution. Entitled "Bonne Chance," this project offers a new way to frame L2 pedagogy and learning through two processes: (1) game play and (2) game design. Whereas learning through gaming or gameplay is not new per se, learning content through game design remains rather unexplored. It is on this latter aspect, that this presentation will focus. Based on the Quest to learn model, “Bonne Chance” strives to foster an “ecology of learning that extends beyond the four walls of an institution and engages [students] in ways that are exciting, empowering and culturally relevant” (Salen, 2015). In the development process of “Bonne Chance,” it was clear that game design itself had not only become a game for the participants, but also a transformational game for the designers/developers (Culyba, 2015). We also examine how constituting a cross-functional team (Gee, 2005) around a real-world problems (e.g., game design and app development) can in fact provide an apt framework through which L2 educators can envision and deploy a social pedagogy (Bass & Elmendorf, 2010) that fosters L2 development and culture learning, and harmoniously dovetail notions of global competence, experiential learning, and (under)graduate research. In this instance, we strive both in our design process and in the user experience we develop, to overcome the barriers to transformation identified by Culyba (2015). Using Cultural Historical Activity Theory (Engeström, 1987, 2001) as an analytical framework, we examine how learning occurred in this complex, interdisciplinary environment and what was learned (e.g., French students learning design/programming, computer-science students learning French). We document the development of the initial game to teach French language and culture and present the template for content creation, asset development, coding, and project management, and how these different phases are conducive to the kind of learning dynamics that occur in such interdisciplinary environments. This project critically examines the use of technology to transform the teaching and learning processes. Instead of merely computerizing antiquated pedagogical practices, we embrace the affordances of new technology to radically re-envision the design of complex, effective learning environments as a place where students are no longer the consumer of knowledge but rather the authors of understanding, locutors/actors (Kern & Liddicoat, 2008) who will, through their learning experiences, engage with – and help solve – “real world” problems and become agents of social change. Consequently, the “Bonne Chance” project specifically has implications on the design of undergraduate students’ language learning experience – and more broadly their entire educational experience.