Learning Games Network Expands Language Learning Platform to Support ESL Education in Libraries and Workplace
The Learning Games Network, a non-profit spin-off of the MIT Education Arcade that bridges the gap between research and practice in game-based education, today announced a $1.99 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to expand Xenos, its flagship integrated social learning environment gaming platform, for Hispanic adults learning English (ESL) in libraries and workplaces. The goal of the Play Games-Learn English Project is to provide self-directed ESL instructional resources to adults in informal learning and vocational training settings. Pilot sites include the Boston and San Francisco Public Libraries and BJ’s Wholesale Clubs.
Produced as an open educational resource (OER) with initial funding from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Xenos and the Integrated Social Learning Environment (ISLE) enable players to navigate a virtual world, play games, and complete activities that support English language learning. Game and activity designs encourage players to discover and apply new vocabulary and phrases to complete specific tasks. Unlike traditional language learning instruction, which emphasizes memorization of vocabulary and grammatical rules, Xenos provides players with an opportunity to explore and experiment with language in engaging new ways.
“Our aim is to leverage the potential of games and provide a rich and immersive experience where players are motivated to learn English by communicating and collaborating with others,” said Alex Chisholm, Executive Director of Learning Games Network. “With support from the Gates Foundation, we are excited to be working with ESL learners in the U.S., exploring new ways to provide meaningful and valuable instruction in places where they go to learn independently and grow professionally.”
Development and Pilot Phases
During spring and summer 2012, producers and designers will be working with partners and project participants in Boston and San Francisco to refine existing Xenos games, test new concepts, and refine proposed learning paths, which are being designed to support early and mid-level beginner English language learners. Instructional and play pilots will be coordinated in fall 2012 and winter/spring 2013. In addition to online instruction, project participants will have an opportunity to practice what they learn in weekly discussion and play groups, which will give players and opportunity to apply new vocabulary, themes, and communication skills.
“We hope the playful nature of games and the freedom to experiment with a new language online will help inspire more confidence as learners come to weekly discussions and practice new skills,” said Scot Osterweil, Learning Games Network Creative Director. “Fortified by the experience of both online and group play, we hope learners seize opportunities to communicate in English beyond the library and workplace program, empowering them to achieve more in their personal and professional lives.”
A formal evaluation of the pilot development and implementation phases is planned. In addition to noting potential changes in learners’ English language skills, the development team hopes to gain insights into how alternative learning contexts such as libraries and workplaces affect performance, how games coupled with offline discussion groups create new opportunities for motivating learners, and how the experience supports technical literacy skill development.
“The Gates Foundation is pleased to support Learning Games Network in their effort to create an innovative approach for broadening access to English instruction for adult English language learners in the United States. We look forward to learning about the potential of on-line games to support language acquisition in alternative learning environments,” said Jill Nishi, Deputy Director of U.S. Program Special Initiatives.
Those interested in learning more about Xenos or participating in pilot phases should visit Xenos at http://www.xenos-isle.com.
Learning Games Network
The Learning Games Network (LGN) was founded as a 501(c)3 organization in 2008 by Eric Klopfer (Professor, MIT; Director, MIT Scheller Teacher Education Program and MIT Education Arcade), Scot Osterweil (Research Scientist and Creative Director, MIT Education Arcade), Kurt Squire (Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison), and Alex Chisholm (Former Director of Communications and Program Development, MIT Comparative Media Studies and Co-Director of the MIT Education Arcade). LGN’s team of producers, designers, programmers, teachers, and researchers collaborate with a wide variety of partners on projects that lead to research-based design, production, implementation, and evaluation of games in formal and informal settings. LGN’s creative, pedagogical, and technical expertise has informed projects with partners such as NBC News, BrainPOP, Educational Testing Service, Pearson, U.S. Department of Education, and the Chinese Ministry of Education.