The Design and Implementation of an Educational Game on a Mobile Platform for English Learning in Primary Schools

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1 The Design and Implementation of an Educational Game on a Mobile Platform for English Learning in Primary Schools 1 Jiyou Jia, 2 Jingmin Miao *1 Department of Educational Technology, Graduate School of Education, Peking University. Beijing, China, 2 Department of Educational Technology, Graduate School of Education, Peking University. Beijing, China, Abstract Primary school students, with strong curiosity and short attention duration, are easily bored with monotonous English learning. Therefore, we designed and developed a game of English learning on a mobile platform with Unity3D engine for them. In this game, English words are displayed with colorful pictures, and the story scenario of Farm Harvest is set up for players so that they can learn the words by solving the flash card problems. 1. Introduction Keywords: Educational game, Primary school English, Mobile platform Primary school students are usually curious about what they don t know and are easily attracted by a new language in the beginning. However, one of their distinctive characteristics is the short attention duration. Their enthusiasm and motivation can be easily turned down when they are taught in a monotonous way which always happens in a traditional English class. Another issue existing in their English learning is that students need to repeat reciting new words many times in order to completely remember them. But they do not have enough time in class and have to finish it after class. Considering those issues existing in English learning for primary school students, we find that educational games based on a mobile platform seems a reasonable way to solve them. Firstly, fantastic educational games can motivate students to acquire knowledge. Secondly, mobile platforms allow students to learn and practice English whenever and wherever they want. Therefore, we have designed and developed an educational game on a mobile platform to extend their way of English learning. In order to engage players in the game, we designed the story scenario Farm Harvest. New words here are pretended to be the ripe fruits in the tree. As farmers in the virtual farm, players need to pick all the ripe fruits in this game. All these words are displayed with corresponding word cards. Players are expected to collect as many word cards as they can to fill the farm storage. Multi-sensory stimulation is also designed to boost or retain students enthusiasm and motivation that are very important in language learning. 2. Literature Review 2.1 Games and Education It is well known that computer games can be used for educational purposes with a whole set of fundamentally sound learning principles [1]. The rapid growth of game on entertainment industry and its ability to engage players when they learn to master game complexities and accomplish objectives [2] have boosted the enthusiasm for educational games. Meanwhile, widespread mobile terminals and the development of wireless networks also contribute to the development of both entertainment games and educational games. Kafai [3] believes that, more than the quantity of time spent in front of the screen, the phenomenon of video games is clearly a highly significant indicator of something about its role in the energizing behavior. In previous research, arguments with negative impact on computer games are often discussed, mostly about the aggressive elements included in violent games and the decrease of pro-social behavior as well as difficulty in regulating the time spent on playing games [4]. Despite these negative impacts, the positive aspects in computer games are paid more and more attention to. It is generally agreed that Journal of Man,Machine and Technology Volume 2, Number 1, June 2013 doi : /jmmt.vol2.issue1.5 47

2 games provide a compelling context to motivate students to learn. And the motivation has become the most important factor that drives learning [5]. Cordova and Lepper [6] revealed the significant relationship between intrinsic motivation and learning. The intrinsic motivation is identified as pleasure for its own sake and is not dependent on external rewards [7]. Cordova and Lepper [8] pointed out that the increase of motivation leads to potentially powerful educational benefits and students show higher levels of intrinsic motivation when exposed to motivationally embellished activities. Educational games are such motivationally embellished activities. However, there is some difference between education game design and entertainment game design. In entertainment games, generating engagement and immersion is the cardinal goal [9]. But in educational games, educational content is essential to the acquisition of academic skills and knowledge. Fisch [10] claims that educational games provide students with an appealing context which engage them in activities and deliver substantive educational content and customized feedback. What educational content is considered to be substantive? Confusion over what players are expected to learn leads to a game s ineffectiveness [11]. Usually, students are deemed to gain a lot of learning outcomes such as problem-solving and collaborative work skills, and complex or abstract thinking [12] through interactivities with games. In fact, these outcomes seem too ambiguous to be considered as goals in game design. In order to create more effective educational games for learning, goals need to be set according to specific educational content. Besides, a clear goal is not the only feature of effective games. There are also some other features such as adequate level of complexity, high speed, incorporated instructions, and independence from physical laws and holding power [13]. In this paper, the educational content we incorporate serves for English learning. A story has been set up in a farm to engage students in the harvest of the word cards as a farmer. Students are expected to remember all the words they have collected. They need to get through three levels before they reach the final goal. 2.2 Primary English Curriculum New English curriculum for Chinese primary schools [14] points out that the overall goal of English curriculum of primary education is to help students cultivate the comprehensive ability of linguistic usage. Vocabulary learning plays an important role not only in the acquisition of linguistic skills and knowledge, but also in the process in which students develop their linguistic learning strategies and get to know the English culture. However, there is some difficulty existing in how to make students understand and remember new words in a more efficient way. As we mentioned before, though primary students show curiosity about learning new language at the very beginning, they have got short attention duration. It s not easy to make them concentrate on learning for a relatively long time. Their motivation and enthusiasm will be easily killed if taught in a monotonous way. On the contrary, colorful and intuitive pictures draw students attention and make new words easy to understand and remember for students. 2.3 Mobile Platform and Game Engine At present, plenty of educational applications are designed on mobile platforms because of the popularity of smartphones and tablet computers. New learning scenarios and experience have been provided through tangible user interface. Educational games can also be used on a mobile platform. But there is an issue about cross-platform which needs to be considered. Cross-platform, is an attribute conferred to computer software or computing methods and concepts that are implemented and inter-operate on multiple computer platforms [15]. Different mobile operating systems make it difficult for developers to develop applications and games compatible on different mobile platforms, such as Android form Google, ios from Apple, Windows Phone from Microsoft, Black Berry 10 from Black Berry. With the desire of promoting applications and games on a wide range, developers have to code for multiple platforms with extra development time and additional costs. Two approaches are used for the software design on multiple platforms. The first one, coding for each platform, is time consuming. The second one, coding only once with middleware can allow the applications and games to be run on various platforms with little change of the original source code. But it completely depends on what kind of support the middleware can provide. 48

3 A game engine is such a middleware for game development. It is an integrated game development system for the development of video games. Reusable components in the game engine can be manipulated to bring a game to life [16]. Taking the advantage of a game engine, game developers don t need to start the development of their games from the ground. Among the various game engines, we selected the Unity Engine developed by Unity Technologies. It is an integrated game engine that supports multi-platform publishing such as Android, ios and Windows Phone. 3. Game Design 3.1 Story scenario A good game always consists of interesting incidents. All these incidents make up a big picture of the game story. Players are spontaneously getting immersed in the story. The major part of the game story is a main character with a specific goal to achieve and a lot of obstacles to slow down his or her winning streak. Entertaining conflict occurs when the main character tries to overcome all these obstacles. In our game design, the story happens in a farm. The main character in our game is a farmer. All the fruits on the trees are words to learn. These words have been already transformed into word cards with intuitive cartoon images. The farmer is asked to pick all the ripe fruits that mean word cards in the tree in this game. They have to make efforts to collect these cards and stored them in their own storage. Different difficulty levels come up as the story unfolds. Passing every single level becomes the short-goal of the player. The storage with word cards works as a dictionary and provides players with correct spelling of the words to learn. But it is more than an ordinary dictionary. Each word in the storage corresponds to a lovely cartoon image. The relationship between abstract words and concrete cartoon images is built to deepen players impression of the words. Moreover, players will get accurate pronunciations of words by touching these word cards which meets the listening requirement for English learning. 3.2 Rules Since remembering words is the premise of using them, rules of this game are based on the classic card game to boost player s memory of new words. In traditional card games, a number of cards are provided and players don t know what image is on the card unless they click it. Only two cards can be revealed at one time. If these two cards are the same kind, images won t be hidden anymore. If these are totally different cards, images on them will be hidden again. Players will win the game if all the images are revealed and will lose if they run out of time and fail to make all the images show up. Difficulty increases as the quantity of the cards increases. In traditional card games, usually no special meaning is attached to the images. But in our game, each kind of cards represents a relevant word so that players can learn about the words from the word cards while playing. Considering the specialty of word learning, we have also modified some rules of traditional card games to make this game more suitable for learning. Firstly, the image on the first card will be hidden automatically after some time. This means players have to pay more attention to remember what image on the first card is before clicking the second card. Players memory of these words is strengthened by this intentional action. Secondly, how many kinds of cards are repeated instead of the quantity of cards appeared determines the difficulty of each level. The repetition is aimed to lighten players burden of memory and deepen their memory of the words. Three different categories of word cards are used in this game: animal, food and fruit, and there are three levels of games in each category. Difficulty of different levels, as mentioned before, is up to the number of repeated word cards. Cards in each level are allowed to collect only if players have passed the level within the stipulated time. As soon as players finish the level, a message about time consumed will be delivered to players, as well as the best record. The best record keeps the shortest time consumed to pass the level which stimulates players motivation. In order to get a better record, players would pay more attention to the word cards in the game. In this game, players are required to collect as many word cards as possible and to pass levels. Storage is the place for them to find how many word cards they have already collected. The long term 49

4 goal of this game is to collect all word cards. Positive emotional feeling emerges whenever the long term goal is achieved. 4. Game Implementation As mentioned before, the game engine used in this game is Unity. Three programming languages including JavaScript, C# and Boo are available in this development environment. We choose C # as our programming language. In Unity, a game usually splits up into several scenes as needed (e.g. different levels). A scene is an interactive sandbox for developers to manipulate all the game objects [17]. The major scenes of this game are Game Menu scene, Level Selection scene, Main Game scene and Farm s Storage scene. In the Game Menu scene as shown in Figure 1, the player can choose word card categories. After selecting the category, the Level Selection scene as shown in Figure 2 comes out. If the player wants to select a higher level, he or she must pass the lower level at first. Figure 1. Game Menu scene Figure 2. Level Selection scene In the Main Game scene as shown in Figure 3, there are three game states: run, pause and stop. In runtime, the status of mission and the consumed time are shown. When the player touches different part of the screen, a feedback is delivered accordingly. Players will be allowed to get into different scenes such as Game Menu and Farm Storage or choose to replay the game once he or she clicks the pause button. When the game is finished, the elapsed time and the recorded shortest time are displayed. 50

5 Figure 3. Main Game scene In the Farm s Storage scene as shown in Figure 4, all the collected word cards are displayed for the player to look up. The uncollected word cards are covered by default pictures. The player can look at the word cards for each of the three card categories in the farm: animal, fruit and food. Figure 4. Farm s Storage scene Data storage is a very important part of this game, because it is responsible for all the data delivered from scene to scene. We should record which cards are collected and which are not. The player s current game record as shown in Figure 5 can be updated after further playing. The data in this game is operated in three ways: initialization, timely record and resetting. Whenever the player wants to replay, he or she is enabled to reset all the records. 5. Conclusion According to primary students characteristics such as curiosity and short attention duration, an educational game has been designed and implemented for primary students to remember and to understand new English words. Compared with the traditional card game, the game rules have been changed in order to incorporate the educational content appropriately. The game s implementation in the mobile platform makes it easier for students to play anywhere and anytime, which also extend their way to practice English. 51

6 6. References Figure 5. Player s record [1] Gee, J. P. (2003). What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy. Computers in Entertainment (CIE), 1(1), 20. [2] Dondlinger, M. J. (2007). Educational video game design: A review of the literature. Journal of Applied Educational Technology, 4(1), 21. [3] Kafai, Y. B. (2006). Playing and making games for learning instructionist and constructionist perspectives for game studies. Games and Culture, 1(1), [4] Connolly, T. M., Boyle, E. A., MacArthur, E., Hainey, T., & Boyle, J. (2012). A systematic literature review of empirical evidence on computer games and serious games. Computers & Education., 59(2), [5] Gee, J. P. (2003). What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy. Computers in Entertainment (CIE), 1(1), 20. [6] Cordova, D. I., & Lepper, M. R. (1996). Intrinsic motivation and the process of learning: Beneficial effects of contextualization, personalization, and choice. Journal of educational psychology, 88, [7] Rieber, L. P. (1996). Seriously considering play: Designing interactive learning environments based on the blending of microworlds, simulations, and games. Educational technology research and development, 44(2), [8] Cordova, D. I., & Lepper, M. R. (1996). Intrinsic motivation and the process of learning: Beneficial effects of contextualization, personalization, and choice. Journal of educational psychology, 88(4), 726. [9] Gunter, G. A., Kenny, R. F., & Vick, E. H. (2008). Taking educational games seriously: using the RETAIN model to design endogenous fantasy into standalone educational games. Educational Technology Research and Development, 56(5-6), 516. [10] Fisch, S. M. (2005). Making educational computer games educational. In Proceedings of the 2005 conference on Interaction design and children (pp ). ACM. [11] Gunter, G. A., Kenny, R. F., & Vick, E. H. (2008). Taking educational games seriously: using the RETAIN model to design endogenous fantasy into standalone educational games. Educational Technology Research and Development, 56(5-6), 512. [12] Dondlinger, M. J. (2007). Educational video game design: A review of the literature. Journal of Applied Educational Technology, 4(1), 26. [13] Rosas, R., Nussbaum, M., Cumsille, P., Marianov, V., Correa, M., Flores, P.,... & Salinas, M. (2003). Beyond Nintendo: design and assessment of educational video games for first and second grade students. Computers & Education, 40(1), [14] Ministry of Education China (2011). New English Curriculum for Chinese Primary Schools and Junior/Senior Middle Schools. Beijing Normal University Publisher Group. 52

7 [15] Cross-Platform. (n.d.). Retrieved April 8, 2013, from [16] Ward. J. (2004). What is a game engine? [Web log post]. Retrieved April 8, 2013, from com /Documentation /Manual/SceneView40.html [17] Scene View. (n.d.). Retrieved April 8, 2013, from com /Documentation /Manual/SceneView40.html 53

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