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EU A UNIVERSITY OF @ 


COPENHAGEN 8) 
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Digital learning environments, multimodal 
and sensory affordances: reshaping the second 
language experience for a new era 


Martine Pellerin! 


Abstract. The paper examines how the game Minecraft can be used as a new digital 
learning environment in the context of second language teaching and learning. It 
explores how the concepts of digital space and digital place within the new 3D 
digital environment can contribute to reshaping the language learners’ experience 
and promote greater engagement in the target language. The study involved one 
language teacher and his grade 6 (upper elementary) students in a French immersion 
program in Canada. Digital artifacts created by the students in Minecraft were 
collected and qualitative analysis was carried out. The findings reveal that the use 
of a new digital environment allows for the emergence of a sense of digital place 
(emotional connection), greater engagement, and a sense of agency and control on 
the part of learners. Higher levels of collaboration, creativity, and imagination were 
also observed in the language tasks. 


Keywords: Minecraft, digital environment, digital space, digital place. 


1. Introduction 


Digital technologies have become ubiquitous, affecting all spheres of our daily 
activities and providing new ways to interact with the world and communicate with 
others in formal and informal ways. Emergent technologies offer new digital and 
virtual environments, as well as multiple modalities and multisensory affordances 
that contribute to the evolution of the concept of traditional literacy (Pellerin, 
2017). The exponential development of digital 3D interactive environments is 


1. University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta Canada; pellerin@ualberta.ca 


How to cite: Pellerin, M. (2020). Digital learning environments, multimodal and sensory affordances: reshaping the second 
language experience for a new era. In K.-M. Frederiksen, S. Larsen, L. Bradley & S. Thouésny (Eds), CALL for widening 
participation: short papers from EUROCALL 2020 (pp. 279-285). Research-publishing.net. https://doi.org/10.14705/ 
rpnet.2020.48.1201 


© 2020 Martine Pellerin (CC BY) 279 


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Martine Pellerin 


penetrating the traditional walls of the classrooms and revolutionizing the concept 
of learning beyond the boundaries of the 2D textbook world (Karsenti, Bugmann, 
& Gros, 2017). In the last decade, studies in the field of mobile assisted language 
learning have examined the role of the affordances offered by new technologies 
in enhancing learning opportunities and the language learning process. However, 
the research related to the use of 3D interactive environments for second language 
learning at k-12 levels is still at an embryonic stage. 


2. Theoretical background 
2.1. Affordances of new digital environments 


Gibson’s (1979) theory of affordance explores the conceptualization of affordances 
in terms of an ecological approach to visual perception that emphasizes possibilities 
offered by the environment based on the perceptions of the actors. Following this 
perspective, the affordance of the environment or of an object is the result of 
the relationship between the actors and the environment/object. Norman (1999) 
adopted the concept in the field of human-computer interaction and focused instead 
on the users and defined affordances as “perceived and actual properties of the 
thing” (p. 9). 


2.2. The role of game-based learning 


Research has demonstrated that playful learning improves educational outcomes. 
According to Arnold (2019), games can contribute to reducing or discouraging 
negative behaviors, and can help to improve social skills. Digital games 
can contribute to the development of ‘soft skills’ such as collaboration and 
communication (Mohammed, 2019) as well as the problem-solving and critical 
thinking that are crucial literacy skills for a new digital era. 


2.3. | Minecraft as digital learning environment 


Minecraft Education version is a digital 3D interactive environment that is adapted 
for use in the classroom (Figure 1). 


According to reports from game developers, educators, and classroom research 
studies such as Understanding the Impact of Minecraft in the Math Classroom’, 


2. https://education.minecraft.net/blog/new-study-understanding-the-impact-of-minecraft-in-the-math-classroom 


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Digital learning environments, multimodal and sensory affordances... 


there are a number of benefits that can be realized through using Minecraft in the 
classroom such as: 


* collaboration with peers via online social gameplay; 
* engagement in problem-solving; 


e learning new content from diverse subject areas (e.g. maths, science, 
history); and 


* using creativity and imagination. 


Figure 1. Picture of the Minecraft digital game (https://www.minecraft.net/en-us/) 


_ 7 a 
PAE LARE. ¥ 


2.4. | Transactional relationship between digital environment, 
digital space, and digital place 


The author examined elsewhere the multimodal and multisensory affordance 
offered by digital learning environments as a dynamic ecosystem (Pellerin, 2018). 


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Martine Pellerin 


From this perspective, the digital learning environment can be understood as an 
organic element that is part of a larger ecological system that shapes the learning 
process. In the present study, the author investigates the transactional relationship 
between the three micro digital systems: the digital learning environment (e.g. the 
Minecraft platform); the digital space (e.g. the multimodal and multisensory 3D 
interactive environment in Minecraft), and the digital place (e.g. the digital world 
created by the learners in Minecraft). 


3. Method 


Exploratory and teacher action research was conducted with one experienced 
teacher and his grade 6 (upper elementary) students (n=26) as they used Minecraft 
in a French immersion program in the province of Alberta, Canada. The unit 
on ‘Citizens Participating in Decision Making’ lasted six weeks. The teacher’s 
classroom observations were recorded every day during the period allowed for the 
social studies. As part of the unit students were asked to work collaboratively to 
build a city in Minecraft that includes houses, schools, churches, hospitals, a city 
hall, roads, green spaces, etc. 


A digital ethnography approach (Pellerin, 2017) was used to collect digital artifacts 
created by students while using Minecraft. The teacher, as participant researcher, 
collected digital artifacts (e.g. see Figure 2) created by the students as daily work in 
the framework of formative and summative evaluations in an authentic classroom 
context. 


Qualitative data analysis, through an axial coding process, was used to explore the 
question about how the affordances of digital space and digital place within a 3D 
virtual environment such as Minecraft can contribute to reshaping the language 
learners’ experience and promoting greater engagement in the target language. 


Figure 2. Some of the digital artifacts created in Minecraft Education version by 
the students 


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Digital learning environments, multimodal and sensory affordances... 


4. Results and discussion 
4.1. Key observations reported by the teacher 
The key observations reported by the teacher indicated: 


¢ students showed greater engagement and enthusiasm for learning tasks in 
French; 


¢ collaboration and problem-solving between students increased; 


* creativity and imagination emerged in the digital artifacts produced by the 
students; and 


¢ disruptive behaviors decreased. 


The observed results from this small study are aligned with the results from previous 
research in K-12 educational context (e.g. Karsenti et al., 2017; Mohammed, 2019). 
In the last decade, studies in the field of mobile assisted language learning have 
examined the role related to the benefits of using game-based learning, supporting 
the idea that games can improve social skills and discourage negative behavior, 
contributing to the development of ‘soft skills’ such as collaboration, communication, 
problem-solving, and critical thinking, which are crucial literacy skills for a new 
digital era. These results add new knowledge regarding to the use of 3D interactive 
environments for second language learning at k-12. 


4.2. Insights gained from the digital documentation 
and students’ experience with the digital environment 


New insights were gained from the analysis of the digital artifacts created 
by students and the observation of the students’ experience using Minecraft 
in the context of second language learning at k-12 levels. The multimodal and 
multisensory affordances offered by the new digital environment contributed to 
the creation of new modes of expression, representation of thought, action, and 
engagement which, in turn, promotes the development of new digital skills and 
literacy in the context of language learning. 


The use of Minecraft as a new digital environment also contributes to: 


* the emergence of digital space and digital place; 


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Martine Pellerin 


* a greater sense of autonomy in the language learning task; and 


* anincreased motivation to use the target language as a cognitive and social 
tool for learning. 


The research project demonstrates that within the new digital environments a 
sense of place (emotional connection) does emerge, providing greater control 
and agency over learning on the part of the learners. As a result, a greater sense 
of autonomy and motivation emerge toward the learning task at hand in the target 
language. 


5. Conclusion 


Digital 3D interactive environments like Minecraft provide new multimodal 
and multisensory affordances that contribute to reshaping the language learners’ 
experience. Moreover, these 3D digital environments allow for the emergence of a 
sense of place in terms of emotional connection that promote greater engagement of 
students in the language task. Educational research has demonstrated that students’ 
engagement is one of the best indicators of successful learning. Digital learning 
environments like Minecraft in the context of second language learning hold 
great potential in promoting greater students’ engagement and, in turn, promoting 
successful language learning experience. 


6. Acknowledgments 


I would like to thank Gilbert Bérubé, classroom teacher, and all his students for 
sharing their learning experience with Minecraft. 


References 


Arnold, S. (2019, Jan 28). Change the game: using Minecraft to teach students with autism. 
Edsurge. https://www.edsurge.com/news/2019-01-28-change-the-game-using-minecraft-to- 
teach-students-with-autism 

Gibson, J. J. (1979). The ecological approach to visual perception. Houghton Mifflin. 

Karsenti, T., Bugmann, J., & Gros, P.-P. (2017). Research highlights: transforming education 
with Minecraft? Results of an exploratory study conducted with 118 elementary-school 
students. CRIFPE. 


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Digital learning environments, multimodal and sensory affordances... 


Mohammed, S. (2019, May 8). Is technology good or bad for learning? Brown Center 
Chalboard Series. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/brown-center-chalkboard/2019/05/08/ 
is-technology-good-or-bad-for-learning/ 

Norman, D. (1999). Affordance, conventions, and design. /nteractions, 6(3), 38-43. 

Pellerin, M. (2017). L-usage des technologies numériques pour le développement de compétences 
multimodales en littératie au 21e siécle. Education et francophonie, 45(2), 85-106. https:// 
doi.org/10.7202/1043530ar 

Pellerin, M. (2018). Affordances of new mobile technologies: promoting learner agency, 
autonomy, and self-regulated learning. Journal of Interactive Learning Research, 29(3), 
335-350. 


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CALL for widening participation: short papers from EUROCALL 2020 
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