Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Book Review: 'Digital Play' by Kyle Mawer & Graham Stanley

Digital Play
Computer games and language aims
Kyle Mawer & Graham Stanley
Delta Publishing 2011
ISBN 9781905085552

Publisher's Website
From the blurb: "Digital Play is a pioneering book on the use of computer games in language teaching, in which the authors share their expertise in training teachers in innovative classroom practice with their excitement for teaching with technology. It offers:
   - guidance on taking on the challenge of the digital revolution
   - insight into how learners engage with gaming outside the classroom
   - advice and activities for effectively bringing the world of gaming inside the classroom 

Kyle Mawer and Graham Stanley are two gaming enthusiasts who, after seeing the potential of computer games of various sorts in language teaching, went on to post their ideas on the Digital Play blog before finally researching and writing this book.

The principle is eminently attractive: learning language through playing, in this case, already phenomenally popular computer video games of one kind or another.

The practical aspects, however, are another story altogether. I speak from experience of letting classes of kids lose in the computer room; aims and rules are worth their weight in gold, I can tell you.

That's where Digital Play comes into its own. The start of the book is all about the concepts behind computer games and learning. Successive sections link computer games up with society, education, language learning, language teaching and language aims. Each section is fascinating and revelatory in its own right, as we realise the extent to which 'virtual' on-line worlds have become virtual reality for a vast number of people.

As someone who has more or less avoided these things I'm keen to discover exactly where we are with them now. I have to admit to two waves of on-line gaming addiction though.

The first was Second Life, the virtual world where you move your little 'avatar' around, build things, buy things, 'socialise', and so on. You very quickly get dragged into spending some decidedly unvirtual money and finally having a 'bad experience' (the 'land' I was renting to hold my three stunning art and photography galleries was sold off behind my back, ironically, to a games emporium developer) and moving on to other things.

The second round of addiction affliction was a game called Farmville, highly dependence creating, not to mention contagious - the whole of my family was rapidly spending hours clicking on virtual fields to grow virtual crops to buy virtual windmills and all sorts of nonsense. I've been 'clean' for several months now, unless blogging falls into that category of dangerous computer pastimes.

Anyway, after a dozen pages of good solid scene-setting, we have a glossary covering a mind-boggling number of game genres, including adventure, first person shooter (FPS), dressing up, arcade, singing and music, simulation, puzzle and role-playing games to name but a few. So that's what people do in their spare time and when they're arriving late for work...

Then there's an equally comprehensive list of sites about and supplying games, and then many actual games themselves, under the triple whammy heading of Some great games, great to play, great to use, so I can only assume they are.

The second part of the book, divided into four sections entitled Game on!, The non-connected classroom, The connected classroom, and Multiple connections, is where we get down to business. Ninty-odd half to one-page lesson plans take us through one of the aforementioned games from a teacher's perspective. There are indications for what to do to prepare the students, guide them through the games and follow up afterwards, all concisely presented in short bulletpointed lists.

The main skills focus of the exercises is given for each in terms of reading, writing, listening and speaking, and the variety of ideas presented is admirable and goes far beyond just playing the game in English or describing what they did afterwards which would be a recipe for lazy language teaching and inefficient learning.

The third and final part of the book is for teachers who would like to take things to the next level. Notably on integrating their new digital teaching passion into an existing, possibly inflexible syllabus. Ways of developing further are also covered, including new teaching paradigmes for the 21st century, reading up on the extensive existing literature right the way through to creating your own games and activities. The important aspect of computer room management gets a nod and we should remember that the authors' Digital Play blog often provides further ideas based on the concepts covered in the book.

I've just checked the Digital Play blog and discovered that not only is there fresh content weekly, but that the book has just won a prestigious British Council prize, so well done to all concerned. It seems that all play and no work makes Kyle and Graham smart boys indeed. Just joking about the no work part, obviously.

Sab Will is, or has been, a freelance teacher, teacher trainer, director of studies, ELT writer, fanatical blogger, Facebook freak and website weirdo. He is also a well-known street photographer, abstract artist, poet and Paris city chronicler. The 'well-known' bit only applies to those who know him well, however.
Hotch Potch English: 'The ELT Resources Review Blog' ~ Book Review: "Digital Play"
© 2012 Sab Will / Hotch Potch English

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