RPG: As A Learning Tool

Forum badaczy RPG-ów, gier fabularnych itp.

Moderatorzy: Jerzy Szeja, Augustyn Surdyk, Stanisław Krawczyk

Would YOU Play an RPG in English?

Yes. Definitely.
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Yes, But It Depends On The Group.
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Hmmmm... I Never Thought Of It. Maybe....
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No. It Makes Me Uncomfortable.
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RPG: As A Learning Tool

Postprzez Richard Whipple » Pn gru 18, 2006 1:58 pm

Hello.

I was directed here from a link at http://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dyskusja:G ... dania_Gier. I was attracted by the use of English in this subtopic but have since read the other Threads in this section, leaving me at a loss where to make my post. Realising that English is ascribed to this section exclusively and being unable to read Polish, I have decided to post my comments here. An Administrator may decide to move my post from this subtopic to another subtopic where it is more appropriate to an English reader interested in what I have to comment.

I would be interested in having your comments as well.

= = =

I have been using Role Playing Games (RPGs) as a tool for teaching English for the past two years. While role-playing is a common tool for English teachers, I am referring to the social form of storytelling game (RPG) that uses dice to determine probabilities.

At first, I approached English language schools here in Poland with my idea. But I was surprised at the strong resistance I received from a great many of these educated business people. They expressed a moralising viewpoint that RPGs are bad. They expressed that the creative imagination used in RPGs leads to a breakdown in character and results in one form or another of deviant behaviour. Incredibly, these educated viewpoints are the same ones that advocated book burning over three centuries ago and condemn Harry Potter novels today. Apparently they believe repeated role-playing of a job interview scenario with students is more appropriate as being instructive and reflective of a living language rather than by engaging a student's imagination through listening and speaking in an on-going game.

So, I present a few of my own viewpoints concerning the use of these tools in developing mastery over the comprehension and articulation of a language.

First, it is to be understood that the entire scenario of a RPG is heavily dependent upon the processing of language to create mental images. The foundation of comprehension is built upon language that is descriptive, expositive and narrative. By its very definition, a RPG makes use of thought puzzles and riddles within its gaming structure.

Second, as a social game that is highly dependent upon language, it demands co-operative group effort and communication. Everyone is required to speak when it is their turn to declare their thoughts. There is no set pattern as there is in a Callan Method course or as there is in a memorized text of a prepared topic. Students who play social games (like RPGs) must interact with what the group is communicating at the moment. Since RPGs are played using imagination rather than acted out as a drama on stage, creative thinking and problem solving are requirements as are a facility with language comprehension and the willingness for self-expression.

There is nothing wrong with a Callan Method to encourage new language students to speak but methods such as these have their limitations. Even traditional "native-speaker" conversations are limited by the topics that can be discussed and by the environmental factors of learning in a classroom.

I posit that these traditional methods alone are insufficient to meet the on-going needs of advanced learners.

Third, operating as a group rather than as an individual, a student creates camaraderie that facilitates learning. The emphasis is on the collective experience of the game rather than on an individual's apprehending the language with the predicable results that enjoyment in learning is a reinforced message through experiential learning. This leaches off the most effective teaching methodology.

Four, mastery over a language includes the ability to express abstract concepts that sometimes are difficult to grasp even in the mother tongue. The creative use of English during RPGs challenges students to organize their thinking and to be innovative in its expression. RPGs place students in highly imaginative scenarios asking them to define and express their own solutions to the challenges of the game. In effect, an RPG puts the student into an active mode of learning rather than relying on the passive mode typical in watching a film.

Lastly, it is easy for me to go into the minutiae of benefits my gamers experience. I have had the privilege and the pleasure to experience this first hand, being paid over 50 PLN a teaching hour to implement. Gamers meet each other for the first time at my games and continue to speak English with each other even after the game, knowing that it is easier with a shared event to support each other in English than to convert their shared knowledge into a crude translation. This promotes the continued practice of thinking in the second language outside the RPG. Even language schools cannot offer this as a benefit outside the classroom.

The five points above cover large areas of learning that have other subtopics within them, which all support the use of RPGs as a modern device for learning a language at higher levels. I am sure that educators reading my post here can add much more academic background to my experiences using social RPG as a teaching aide.

Richard Whipple,
English RPGer
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Postprzez Augustyn Surdyk » Wt gru 19, 2006 2:26 pm

-Yes, this is indeed the right place for discussions abut RPGs. I am glad to see that the first English speaking user of this forum who has dared to start a discussion (there are others yet mute so far probably because of the domination of Polish in the vast majority of discussion groups) mentioned this topic, as it is especially close to me both because of my personal interest/hobby and profession I managed to combine.

Not a long time ago I carried out research and wrote my PhD dissertation in 2003 (titled: “Gry fabularne na lektoracie a autonomizacja studenta” – “Role-Playing Games in an EFL academic classroom and the student’s autonomisation”, unpublished so far) on RPGs in teaching foreign languages at advanced academic level therefore I totally agree with each of the five points you elaborated on above and all of them can be strongly supported by rich literature of the subject presenting undeniable evidence for the benefits of communicative techniques of teaching FLs like role-play or simulation to mention the most popular ones. Moreover, I can also see the advantages and superiority of the convention of RPGs over other communicative techniques and wrote about them in many articles (eg. in the paper presented during FIPLV conference in Goteborg/Sweden, available here: http://www.fiplv.org/WC06/documentation ... Surdyk.pdf containing also my proposition of a definition of RPG discussed on this forum before).
Yet, I would be more sceptical and careful as far as introducing pure RPGs as such (in the form of ready systems available in the shops) to education at any level is concerned. – For one simple reason – not every student/pupil is likely to accept and feel comfortable in the reality of a given system. As it is known many systems are settled in fantasy or science fiction worlds while literary tastes of the students/pupils vary depending on their age, interests and many other factors. Besides the conditions of an FL lesson (90 minutes in case of academic classes, let alone 45 minutes at lower levels of education) do not allow to carry out scenarios in time frames adequate to the time of an average session in classic RPGs which may last long hours or even days or weeks (with breaks of course) in case of complex campaigns.
However, there have been successful attempts to apply eg. “Dzikie pola”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dzikie_Pol ... ng_game%29 (co-created by members of PTBG present on this forum) or Warhammer in education at lower levels. The former one in Polish* and History classes and the latter one in English classes (among others by one of my MA students**). Yet, in both cases during voluntary, optional, extra classes.

Personally, for the needs of my work, I borrowed the convention of classic RPGs, simplified by reduction of unnecessary (in my opinion in institutionalised education conditions) elements such as complicated mechanic, procedures, dice etc. and resigned from imposing any ready-made system as such for the benefit of putting the main emphasis on the element of storytelling and narration, giving the students completely free choice of the reality/setting and plot, added necessary didactic and methodological elements and transformed it into the communicative Technique of Role-Playing Games in teaching foreign languages (on the example of advanced English at academic level). This turned out to be effective and what’s more literary tastes of students, which I also researched, did not have any particular influence on their being successful in the technique. There’s even more – ironically as it may seem – those few who had had contact with classic RPGs before (as players or game masters) usually turned out to be less successful in the TRPG than those who hadn’t participated in them or even hadn’t heard about RPGs before. I presented more detailed results of the study concerning these relations in my paper from last years’ PTBG’s conference.

I am ready for further explanations of my point but first I’d like to recommend reading the article to avoid repeating thoughts that I already included in it.

Augustyn Surdyk

* Szeja, J., 2004. Gry fabularne. Nowe zjawisko kultury współczesnej. Kraków: Rabid.
**Nowicki, K., 2006. Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play Game as an Autonomising Tool Developing Communicative Competence at Intermediate Level, (unpublished MA thesis written in Wyższa Szkoła Humanistyczno-Ekonomiczna in Łódź, Poland).
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First Thoughts on TRPG

Postprzez Richard Whipple » Pn sty 08, 2007 11:26 pm

Hello Augustyn.

I have read your treatise on the function of RPGs in teaching a foreign language and I quite agree with it on several major points. Without regurgitating the whole, I would like to draw your attention to the subsection "types of interactions" on page 13 and the assertion there that "The TP (Teaching Partner) does not take part in interactions."

This is not strictly so, at least from my point of view as a native speaker. As a TP, a GameMaster in the common vernacular of RPGs, I have a part to play in guiding the interactions. I can, with enough preparation, create a game with subject matter to address the use of language in law, medicine, information technology, and business.

I use the literary genre of Cyberpunk to reach all of these subjects in a slightly post-modern setting.

By definition and due to the nature of being a Native Speaker, I must have interaction in the conversation. I can move the dialogues forward through either my interaction as a NonPlayerCharacter or as a catalyst for the events that become the topic for the "lesson" session. Also, the use of pronounced accent and dialect (formal/informal) could be key to appreciate usage within social contexts as certain characters speak in a certain way.

If there is legal language to learn, for example, this can be accomplished by having the LPs (Learning Partners) arrested and having to clear themselves through a modern judicial process - an interesting subplot. If the emphasis is to be business language, then I can have a plot involving the characters in a business setting. Medicine is always something that can crop in to a story line that involves pharmaceutical corporations, medics and cybernetics, as is the case within the Cyberpunk genre.

My enthusiasm may be from a biased standpoint if I were to generalize because I have played only Cyberpunk 2020 with my students. This was a conscious decision on my part as I did not envision returning to Role Playing for relaxing so much as for teaching. Students have very little need for the archaic terms and descriptions of mythical creatures, which is the norm in the case of High Fantasy RPG such as Dungeons and Dragons, Warhammer et al.

This is not to rule out Historical RPG. Games set within a historical milieu offer an unique perspective to understand the times they portray. I can think of no better way to directly place students within a time and context of the history being taught. A student who is directly engaged with the context of the subject will learn and retain more of the facts.

The analogy to this is in science where students routinely perform laboratory experiments as part of their curriculum to understand and better apprehend the theory being taught in lecture. Workshops provide the very same function to the training dialogue between LP and TP as does the Harvard Case Study Method - the closest analogy to RPG in mainstream curriculum.

A TP in TRPG is a tailored catalytic agent, who still has to have a lesson plan although a much more inter-active and flexible plan, which suits the individual learning style of students.

And that's another benefit! But it is late and I have an early morning tomorrow.
Richard Whipple
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NERWS FLASH

Postprzez Richard Whipple » Pn lut 26, 2007 11:47 am

If anyone is interested, there is a half-page article about RPGs used for teaching a foreign language in today's (26 February) METRO, a Warsaw small-market newspaper owned by Agora. It is in the education section, page 14 and includes a colour photo.

Regards,
Richard
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Postprzez Augustyn Surdyk » Cz mar 22, 2007 1:40 am

I am sorry for having not replied for so long but since we basically share our opinions about didactic values of role-playing games I did not hurry much and concentrated on my current duties until now that I found some more spare time.

Yet finally, summarising our discussion, on the basis of the state of research in foreign language didactics I can claim (and I am sure that you’ll agree) that communicative techniques like simulations and role play (and consequently the technique of role-playing games and role-playing games themselves) are the most effective techniques in mastering the skills of personal communicative competence and this is definitely undeniable among methodologists.

Though, to significant differences between classic role-playing games that you use in your practice and the TRPG which I designed having borrowed the convention of RPG belong:
1) no ‘system books’ and game mechanics in the TRPG (including the use of dice, character charts and any tests) which is determined mainly by time limits of institutionalised didactics conditions;
2) no homogenous setting for the game/single ‘adventure’ in the TRPG – scenarios can be developed and played in any reality unlike traditional RPG where quite stiff rules, mechanics etc. are applied and a particular system reality is obligatory;
3) students in the TRPG act as both game masters and players while the teaching person does not interfere (because of specific psychological assumptions of autonomisation of the process of teaching/learning FL) until the time of a discussion about the session/scenario/roles etc. and the general summary/revision/reflection on the played scenarios (including correction, discussion on the mistakes/errors that appeared and discussion on the self-correction done by the students) on the basis on recordings of the class sessions, teacher’s notes/diaries, observations and other techniques of collecting data.
All the best

Augustyn Surdyk
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English Fluency: Skuteczniej > Szybciej > Bez Wysilku

Postprzez Richard Whipple » Wt kwi 03, 2007 12:51 pm

Augustyn Surdyk napisał(a):Yet finally, summarising our discussion, on the basis of the state of research in foreign language didactics I can claim (and I am sure that you’ll agree) that communicative techniques like simulations and role play (and consequently the technique of role-playing games and role-playing games themselves) are the most effective techniques in mastering the skills of personal communicative competence and this is definitely undeniable among methodologists.
You will find that opinions on this subject vary widely. Some opinion is better informed than others, surely, and other opinions are prejudiced. In the end, these are all opinions including the opinion we share - no matter how objectified we wish to rationalize ourselves we, too, hold subjective opinions.

In my opinion, the role of dice/probability/chance is important to the spontaneity of RPG-discussions because they manufacture the element of unplanned situations. So it is, too, with the time element for response - particularly in Fluency classes that I run.

I suppose that a Teaching Partner (TP) could interrupt conversation and ask for "another way" but the idea of collaboration between the students in the face of challenge is expressed before the roll of the dice or the intervention of the TP.

However, the dice are an expected representation of situational occurrence in RPG rather than an unexpected intervention. This expectancy overcomes the typical "loaded question situation" where students tend to ask the professor a difficult question to signal that study and learning have been done (and should thus be recognized and awarded) when no study or learning has taken place whatsoever.

Your point about learning is well taken though! I would not recommend my classes for learning, per se. The lowest level I hold classes for is the Advanced Level. If I were to have students below Advanced, I can easily foresee learning problems using my technique, after all I am not a teacher but a Native Speaker. I use my technique for the practice of Fluency only.

I can always recommend remedial work but that is the student's own responsibility. I can see (and the peer group can see as well) if this remedial work is being done, of course, but I only recommend a solution and do not hold myself accountable to whether the student follows my recommendation of not. Homework is for home.

As a "Game Master," I referee the game according to what is said. Exactly verbatim. Some of my speech, when speaking as a character with whom the students interact, is purposefully ambivalent. As in life, some characters have hidden agendae while some are straightforward. It is up to the students and their questioning (listening/speaking) to determine whether one of my particular characters has more to say or not - and whether what I say can be trusted (comprehension). I do not make this easy because my students should all be near to Proficiency Level.

Another thing that is important to understand is Role Play Gaming itself. Players play for different reasons. Some players enjoy the element of power from the emersion into a illusionary story, for example. Younger students like the opportunity to be rebellious to authority within the safe confines of RPGing. Language Students play for one reason: storytelling (collaborative storytelling).

As a GM for a group with a unified playing motivation, my job is much easier. I purposefully create games/stories that are story driven and only story driven. Is there some fictional rebellion to authority in my games? Yes, if it advances the story. In the end, whether of not a student can follow a story is the test. Are my stories straightforward formulaic? No. But I foreshadow later events, which students will recall to follow along and make sense of later. Like a detective story, near the end of the game/campaign, students must have a very good idea of who is guilty and who is not: who are their friends and who are their enemies.

And they should all apprehend how it all fits in a larger picture with which they do not have direct interaction. This requires placing students within a homogenous setting, which students are able to choose: modern (ESP) Cyberpunk 2020 or fantastic (general English) D&D. This choice also appeals to student enjoyment in learning.


Augustyn Surdyk napisał(a):3) students in the TRPG act as both game masters and players while the teaching person does not interfere (because of specific psychological assumptions of autonomisation of the process of teaching/learning FL) until the time of a discussion about the session/scenario/roles etc. and the general summary/revision/reflection on the played scenarios (including correction, discussion on the mistakes/errors that appeared and discussion on the self-correction done by the students) on the basis on recordings of the class sessions, teacher’s notes/diaries, observations and other techniques of collecting data.
All the best

Augustyn Surdyk

While my lessons are definitely less formal than yours, I do use self-correcting methods such as you highlight but more towards fostering the individual student's continued enjoyment within the process of learning. Effective-> Faster-> Effortlessly.

Regards,
Richard

ps. We are in the news again with photos! This month in the magazine: JAK Sie Uczyc (How To Learn) numer specjalny, Wiedza i Zycie, pages 52-54
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