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Game On : A fantasy-themed escape room as a learning environment for English as a foreign language

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Title: Game On : A fantasy-themed escape room as a learning environment for English as a foreign language
Author(s): Grönfors, Samuli
Contributor: University of Helsinki, Faculty of Arts
Degree program: Master's Programme in English Studies
Specialisation: no specialization
Language: English
Acceptance year: 2022
My thesis discusses the use of a fantasy-themed escape room as a learning environment for English as a foreign language classroom. Games, especially roleplaying games, have been the target of many studies and they have been shown to increase motivation, create new language scenarios and contexts as well as promote interaction between students and the gaming environment. However, the digital educational gaming industry in Finland is in its infancy. My study centers around piloting a digital fantasy-themed escape room called “The Mage’s Hut”, and this material package functions as the revision material for the course. I set to answer four research questions. The main goal is to find out how well a fantasy themed escape room functions as a learning environment. Secondly, I examine the attitudes of students and the teacher towards the game. Lastly, the fourth research question intends to answer how students’ previous gaming habits affect the gaming experience. I use relevant contemporary literature to examine gaming trends among Finnish upper secondary school students as well as delve deeper into the benefits of gamification used in formal contexts. This includes literature on roleplaying games as well as escape rooms and their utilization in formal educational contexts. The research design includes a digital fantasy-themed escape room that I have created based on the course material provided by Insights 5 -book by Otava for ENA5 course. The participants of the study included 26 Finnish upper secondary schoolers and their teacher. To gather the data, two questionnaires were constructed – one for students and one for the teacher. Twenty of the students responded to the questionnaire. The method for the study includes both qualitative and quantitative aspects. The questionnaires were analyzed by close-reading and were transformed into numerical values providing an easy way to compare results with each other. The results indicate that the attitudes of the students as well as the teacher towards the game are positive. The teacher and most of the students enjoyed playing the game and would like to see more similar games utilized in education. The game was deemed to be quite challenging, but it did not seem to negatively affect the game’s enjoyability or reported development of skills. These skills included vocabulary, grammar, reading comprehension, teamwork, information retrieval, logical and critical thinking. On the contrary, the students who deemed the game to be quite challenging reported more skills developed overall. The gaming habits of the students influenced the results partly. The students were categorized to non-gamers, casual gamers, active gamers, and hardcore gamers. Casual gamers, those with one to five hours of game time per week, reported developing the most skills out of all other groups. On the other hand, casual gamers reported the game as quite challenging the most. Therefore, it is not certain whether it is the difficulty or the game time that facilitates the development of the skills. Even though the majority of all groups reported enjoying the game, casual gamers reported the highest enjoyment rate. What we can gather from this study is that digital fantasy-themed escape rooms function well as a learning environment. The game corresponds to the learning objectives set by the Finnish curriculum and the teacher. Furthermore, the students felt that learning took place while playing the game. Both aspects of the game, the fantasy theme and the mechanics of an escape room were enjoyed, further reinforcing the previous knowledge on the functionality of roleplaying games in formal educational contexts.
Keyword(s): Roleplaying game escape room gamification gaming habits formal education

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