Interactive Participatory Dramas for Language Learning

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    http://sag.sagepub.com/content/33/2/210The online version of this article can be found at:

    DOI: 10.1177/1046878102332009

    2002 33: 210Simulation GamingPhilip Hubbard

    Interactive Participatory Dramas for Language Learning

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  • SIMULATION & GAMING / June 2002Hubbard / INTERACTIVE PARTICIPATORY DRAMAS

    Interactive participatorydramas for language learning

    Philip HubbardStanford University

    Interactive participatory dramas are software applications that engage the users by involving them as acharacter in a story. Although these dramas have been part of computer-assisted language learning (CALL)for more than a decade, they have not become a widespread genre. However, recent advances in video,graphics, and speech recognition, as well as the spread of interactive participatory dramas in other areas ofeducation and training, make the proliferation of such applications in CALL considerably more likely. Asthere is presently little in theway of research or agreed-on standards of practice to inform the process of cre-ating participatory dramas, this article offers some preliminary guidelines for software developers andevaluators engaged in their design. Among other points, it argues for the use of engaging characters andplots, the use of speech recognition for verbal interaction, the presentation of choice points with conse-quences for the learners, and the abandonment of the common use of full text prompts that are simply readout loud. It concludes by observing that most of these language learning considerations are equally relevantfor simulations and role plays.

    KEYWORDS: CALL; conversation simulation; interactive drama; participatory drama; psycho-linguistic considerations; psycholinguistic issues; response type; role play; speech recog-nition; story line.

    The use of drama as a device for language learning has a long history as both anincidental and a central element of language teaching methods (Bacon, Baolin, &Goldfield, 1993). One common use of drama is as a language practice technique withthe student playing a role in a skit or play. In defending this use of drama in languageteaching from a psychological perspective, Stern (1993) claimed that it reduces inhibi-tion, increases spontaneity, and enhances motivation, self-esteem, and empathy. Asecond use of drama is as a device to present language in a social context to focus andmaintain learner interest. This use is found in a number of popular audio and video lan-guage series, such as French in Action (Capretz, 1987). Like dramas in movies or thetheater, these are built on observation and vicarious identification with characters andtheir circumstances within a compelling story.

    The interactive potential of the computer has brought a new kind of drama blendingthese two uses, which can be called a participatory drama. In a participatory drama, thelearner is a part of the action as in the first type of drama, experiencing a story with

    AUTHORS NOTE: I would like to thank Vance Stevens and John Driscoll for the many enjoyable hours ofcollaboration and discussion of interactive participatory dramas that provided the raw material for the guide-lines presented here. Much as I would like to hold them responsible, if there are any points that are unclear orunconvincing, they are not to blame.

    SIMULATION & GAMING, Vol. 33 No. 2, June 2002 210-216 2002 Sage Publications

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  • programmed characters on the computer screen. However, as in the second type ofdrama, the plot, characters, and general direction of the action are not known to thelearner in advance, enhancing the feeling of the authenticity of the experience. Whenthe learner can manipulate the responses of a character and make choices that affect thedirection and sometimes the eventual outcome of the story, the participatory dramabecomes an interactive one. For language learning, of course, the important part of thismanipulation involves making choices of what to say in a given circumstance, with theassumption that the experience of doing so will lead to acquisition of new forms andenhanced communicative competence.

    Interactive participatory dramas have been a part of CALL for quite some time,although they have never become a dominant application. An early example of a par-ticipatory drama was A LA RECONTRE DE PHILIPPE (1994), an interactive adven-ture which came out of MITs Athena Project. The concept had its first commercialsuccess with the CD-ROM-based WHO IS OSCAR LAKE? (1996) in various lan-guages. The interaction went from point-and-click to including speech recognitionwith the publication of TRACI TALK: THE MYSTERY for English as a second lan-guage in 1997.

    Despite their current marginalization in mainstream CALL, there are a number ofreasons to believe that these types of programs are going to increase and become a sig-nificant option for language learners, both as integrated elements of a course (as inNUEVOS DESTINOS [1999], a CD-ROM based on Destinos, a popular video seriesfor learning Spanish) and as stand-alone or supplemental programs. First, we alreadysee simulations of real-life situations like this being produced for other training pur-poses, such as Ninth Houses eSeries ALL WORK ALL PLAY (2000). Second, asmore and more learners appear in our language classes who have grown up with theinteractivity of computers and immersive adventure games, both the preparation andthe expectation for such applications will be there. Third, digital audio and video pro-duction can now be done at a reasonable level on any decent desktop machine. Ani-mated characters with reasonably accurate lip synchronization have also become eas-ier to produce, bringing the production cost down to levels that will support increaseddevelopment. Finally, speech recognition authoring systems for English and com-monly taught languages are becoming more accurate and easier to integrate intoprograms.

    Although participatory dramas have been around for a while, there appears to be lit-tle in the way of general guidelines for creating useful ones. Much of the limitedamount of research that has been done appeared in the pioneering days of the interac-tive videodisc (for examples, see Smith, 1989). The majority of that research focusedon demonstrating the validity of the general approach rather than specific elements ofits implementation (Gale, 1989), and that is still the case with more recent studies(Bernstein, Najmi, & Ehsani, 1999; Harless, Zier, & Duncan, 1999). Because we donot yet have significant research and established practice to guide interactive partici-patory drama developers, it seems reasonable to begin laying a foundation for themethodology of this field by offering considerations to be addressed in the design pro-cess. As is typically the case, the same considerations are useful for teachers or

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  • institutions considering the adoption of an existing program; that is, they are the rawmaterial for both specific design and specific evaluation criteria. It is important to notethat the goal here is not to criticize any particular program or language teachingapproach. Rather, I would like to offer some suggestions that I believe will lead to amore coherent and effective package by combining the current and readily foreseeablecapabilities of the computer, the understanding we have of the motivational elementsof drama as an immersive environment, and some reflections on how people processlanguage for increasing their production and comprehension skill. This approach is inline with the ongoing task of developing a methodology specific to CALL in its tutorialfunction (Hubbard, 1996; Levy, 1997).

    Toward effective participatory dramas

    This section offers a list of some considerations in authoring interactive participa-tory dramas for CALL spanning three areas: dramatic qualities, response type, andpsycholinguistic issues.

    Dramatic qualities

    1. Consider