Thursday, March 1, 2012

Academic Interlude: Multimedia Storytelling and Language Learning

For this academic interlude, I summarize a research article about multimedia storytelling and then discuss how I'd like to see more user-generated stories in games. I'm still playing around with formatting--I want you to be able to read about the study if you want to, but if you don't, I'd like you to be able to read the discussion on its own and have it make sense.

[Study Background] "Applying a Multimedia Storytelling Website in Foreign Language Learning," by Wenli Tsou, Wichung Wang, and Yenjun Tzeng, looks at how using a storytelling website can help Taiwanese children learn English. The background section references research that found that stories effective with children include "repetitive phrases, unique words, and enticing description." These aspects of a story encourage children to retell parts of the story. Kids like hearing and telling stories, basically.

[Study Nitty-Gritty] The researchers gave two Taiwanese classes storytelling-based English teaching. One group had the teacher trying using visual aids with the story, while the other group had Storytelling Website stories instead of storybooks (it's not clear of the children each had their own computer, or if the story was projected while the teacher read it). Afterwards the children took tests on reading comprehension, sentence complexity, and general language proficiency. In evaluating comprehension, the researchers looked at beginning statement ("once upon a time"), characters, theme, plot, resolution, and sequence. If I understand correctly, the experimental group also used the website to recreate the stories they had heard. I'm not sure how old the students were or how long they got to play around with the website, which is information I would like to have.

[Study Results; My Whining] Both groups understood the stories pretty well, but the children who interacted with the website had better overall language proficiency and sentence complexity. I think it's safe to say that telling a story in a foreign language helps you to understand the language better--which is why I don't understand why we didn't make up more stories in my Japanese classes. We used Japanese the Written Languagewhich, while excellent in building off of previous vocab, had genuinely terrible practice reading sentences. I would have loved to have a story, especially one with pictures. I think I even made a few, when I wasn't writing some form letter for homework.
this guy took this screen shot, I am not awesome enough, it is from Sleep is Death
[Game Discussion] Multimedia storytelling is good for learning a language, and I think it's good for exercising imagination. I can think of a few games that encourage user-generated storytelling: the Neverwinter Nights mod-maker, Sleep is DeathLittleBigPlanet (to an extent), and whatever that mac program was that let you make your own storybooks (a cross between clipart and paint). I love the level creation in LittleBigPlanet, but... it only allows very simple stories. I would love to see a program/game that lets users tell stories in a friendly way. It could be for children, or for authors who think with images rather than just words, or for foreign language students. It could include archetypes in the character set to get things going. I think it would encourage gamers to be creative not just in their gameplay, but also in the way they use language.

[Call to Action] Should I just go play Sleep is Death and get this storytelling kick over with, or do you think there's room for more picture-book type storytelling in video games? Also tangentially: fanfiction is so easy to make, there is already a world and characters, maybe a storytelling game could capitalize on that?