In this post I will reflect on how the analysis is progressing, explore some emerging themes, reflect on the shortcomings of the data collection tools, interpret the data and pose some questions for further research.
Organising the data
First, I extracted the raw data from three B2. 2 CEFR classes: (13-15); (15-18); and (Adults). Then, I transformed them into ‘Popples’ in Popplet. Popples are basically nodes in a mind map or network and Popplet is my favourite mind mapping application. For each node I added another node with related key words, usually taken directly from the raw data. After this, I reflected on the data (See previous post).
Today, I went back to the data, grouped the nodes with similar themes. Then, I identified a hypernym or over-riding category for these groups of themes. This left me with a smaller group of key themes for each class to aid readability and interpretation. The raw data for each class is in three colours: Black(13-15); Blue(15-18); and Red(Adults). The initial simplification into key words is in grey, and the final collective themes are in orange.
In this way, I can look at the question, find the age group, and see the main themes easily. Then, I can follow these themes to their source for finer details. The pink nodes are other themes that were mentioned rarely, but that I might like to explore.
Here is a link to the Popplet if you are interested in navigating around the data.
First of all, it is quite easy to see general differences and similarities between the age groups. The word ‘fun’ featured quite heavily in both teenage groups (Black and Blue), but was absent in the admittedly smaller adult group. In the adult group and the older teenagers (Red and Blue) there were mentions of the lesson being ‘useful’ or mention of specific language skills and systems practice. This could indicate that a larger proportion of the younger teenagers (Black) were more intrinsically motivated by the lesson. On the other hand, comments on usefulness could be interpreted as identified and/or externally regulated motivation for the older teens and adults (Red and Blue).
This is not a game
One individual in the 13-15 age group mentioned that despite being fun they studied less. This is interesting because the actual activities were the same as those in a ‘normal’ lesson. In this specific case, the perception of the VW as being fun lowered the perception of being involved in study, or perhaps working. On the other end of the spectrum, one adult learner had a very negative perception of the lesson with reference to the term gamification. It is difficult to know how the learner interprets the word gamification, but I also hold gamification in a certain amount of contempt, especially if it is the use of game elements to motivate people in other contexts, such as work or school. Funnily enough, I specifically avoided game elements and mechanics in this little research project. In fact, there was no game in this experiment, just a virtual space instead of a classroom. It would appear that quite a few people equate VWs with games which can either lead to behaviour and feelings that are conducive to learning or the opposite.
For evidence of language use and potential learning I have to refer to my field notes. I found myself monitoring to help students use the VW, share their screens in Zoom, and deal with other technical difficulties. This made it difficult to note down as much language use as I would have liked. I did get some good examples of functional language, such as speculating, giving opinions, expressing preferences with the younger group. With the older group of teenagers I noted use of more complex grammatical structures, a wider range of lexis, and language for interaction. All of these elements are part of the FCE criteria for which the students are preparing. On the negative side, I noticed the younger group would slip into L1 to help with technical issues, and that utterances were shorter with some in order to explore the space more quickly. This was also the case with some of the adult learners, but most interestingly the adults were clearly less engaged by the VW and needed prompting to extend utterances, something that had never happened with this group before.
One of the reasons I wanted to use VWs this year was to compensate for the 2D environment Zoom and other teleconferencing applications provide. I thought that it might provide some relief and even joy for students who are stuck in front of 2D images all day, without the option to move around. However, there really wasn’t much mention of freedom of movement within the space. That said, one teenager in the older group did comment positively on the ability to ‘move into’ the space, and a student in the younger group mentioned difficulty with movement. The adults didn’t mention movement, but in my field notes I noted one student running around the space rather than doing the tasks.
Helping students with technical issues is a language learning opportunity, so it might be good to pre-teach useful language for helping out to avoid use of L1 by learners. If the responsibility to help is with the teacher it makes it difficult to monitor and provide effective feedback. Artsteps works on tablets too with point and click controls. At one point with the adults the web site crashed, luckily we had almost finished. There are opportunities for description activities and giving directions without screen sharing.
I went for very open questions and I did not collect any specific biodata on the students. The next stage would be to refine the data collection tools, maybe add some more questions based on the findings here, and then use the space again. As I am doing this out of curiosity rather than as part of a course of study or formal research, I would prefer to use this experience to inform research on second language learning in the context of a different VW. Artsteps is on the very limits of what I would call a VW, and as such it lacks many of the affordances discussed in my first post on VWs. One of these is embodiment; there are no avatars in Artsteps and no way to see each other, thus no sense of presence or opportunities for identity creation. There are also very limited opportunities to interact with the environment, and the environments are very small and dull. I would like to look into Modzilla Hubs and/or Minecraft next.
I cannot make any bold claims from such a small sample size and no control group, but I can say that, within this specific study the VW had a generally positive effect on motivation with the teenage groups and consequently the range of language use. This was less true for the small adult group although they did report on the usefulness of the experience. I can also say that, as the lesson procedure was identical to what can be done in a classroom, it could be argued that it is no less effective than a lesson in a physical space. We often compare digital technologies to non-digital tools and environments, but it is probably better to think of them as just different.