El Mundo de Comida : the relative effectiveness of digital game feedback and classroom feedback in helping students learn Spanish food vocabulary
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Feedback has been defined as “helpful information or criticism that is given to someone to say what can be done to improve a performance, product, etc.” (Merriam-Webster, 2014) Within the field of Second Language Acquisition (SLA) researchers have shown that language learners acquire languages best when they are provided with feedback (Gass & Selinker, 2008; Loewen, 2012). Because of the importance of feedback to the language learning process, there is an ongoing line of investigation that seeks to determine whether differences in how and when feedback is provided lead to different results in acquisition (Loewen, 2012). To date this research has primarily been focused on comparing the effectiveness of the different types of feedback that naturally occur within language classrooms, as identified by such classic studies as Lyster and Ranta (1997; Bargiela, 2003). However, there are other possible approaches to feedback than those that naturally occur within the language classroom. One of these alternatives is the approach to feedback used in digital games. Similar to what is found in the field of SLA, within the field of digital game research it has been established that feedback is important for successful learning (Schell, 2008). Nevertheless, to date no research has been conducted which compares the SLA approach to feedback and the digital game approach to feedback in order to determine which would lead to better language acquisition within a digital game. Answering this question is the goal of the present dissertation. In order to answer this question I created two versions of a digital game, called “Mundo de Comida” (MuCo) ‘World of Food’, which is designed to help novice Spanish learners acquire food vocabulary. One version of the game employs feedback strategies based on the most commonly employed feedback used in Spanish language classes, while the other uses feedback designed according to the most commonly used feedback mechanisms in commercial digital games. A comparison of the vocabulary gains according to feedback type allows us to see which type of feedback seems to help learners of Spanish acquire vocabulary within the context of MuCo. The findings indicate that MuCo does indeed help participants acquire food vocabulary. However, there is no significant difference in the effectiveness of the two different feedback types, which is likely due to the fact that both feedback types have been refined within their respective environments. Nevertheless, there is evidence to suggest that participants found the game that contained the digital game-style feedback to be more game-like than the other version. It was also found that, for several participants, MuCo did motivate them in the sense that they played more of the game than was required. Finally, there was no significant effect found for the participants’ self-reported gaming habits, personalities, or motivation. These findings suggest that well-designed digital games can help learners acquire Spanish vocabulary, and that the impact of differences among participants is negligible when the game is well designed.