Portfolio by Olivia Daddi, Harleen Kaur, Jessica Innis, and Tam Nguyen
Motivation for Project:
Our group aimed to create an application that would help students learn a language in a fun, casual manner while also effectively teaching them the language. After evaluating existing language tools, we discovered that these tools lacked many features, such as a cultural engagement component and a way for students to express their personalities. Hence, students are not able to fully immerse themselves within a language through existing tools. As such, we centered our project on addressing these gaps and creating a user-centered application that integrates feedback from the user.
Observations and Interviews:
After establishing a motivation for our project, we conducted observations of our target audience, which consisted of students learning a language (in this case, students enrolled in the “Speaking like the French J-Term course”). Throughout our observations, we learned that conversation and engaging with other students and the instructor served as a core component of the students’ learning experience. Moreover, students’ learning experience was enhanced through fun activities. For example, in one observation, two students were teaching the class how to perform moves in Kung Fu — in French! Another valuable feature of the course was an atmosphere where students only spoke the language they were learning; thus, these students would use hand motions and body language to convey words they did not know in the new language. This type of environment encouraged learning through trial and error and created an environment reflective of the real world.
We also conducted interviews of a few students taking “Speaking like the French.” We noticed common themes amongst the students’ responses:
- Students claimed that the learning environment was important to them, especially having a judgement-free zone where they can make mistakes and practice speaking.
- They also cited that having guided learning was important to their learning.
- Student also wanted to learn more about different cultures in their language classes, as well as global affairs. They felt that language classes sometimes overlooked these features.
- Students also had different motivations for taking a language and wanted their learning to help them achieve their goals (career, travel, etc.)
Although we started out with many ideas, we were able to narrow them down into a smaller group of the best ones. Some of our ‘reach’ ideas, like jumping into a cartoon or going on a world cruise, actually ended up factoring into our prototype, and our notes from the empathy-focused portion really informed and guided our decision making.
During our brainstorming session, we decided that we wanted to create a video game application that would guide the user through learning the language. We also decided that we wanted to incorporate a cultural component to incorporate students’ suggestions to have more of a cultural component in their learning.
User, Need, and Insight:
After our observations and brainstorming session, we synthesized our findings to specify a user, her need, and an insight that would inform the creation of our prototype:
A nervous but enthusiastic language student interested in global affairs needs guided learning through conversation to unleash their drive to learn.
Description of Prototype:
Our prototype was inspired by a wish for a better Duolingo, and also by games like Mario Kart. We also hoped that students would learn about global affairs and aspects of culture through this application. The application is essentially a story-based game where you create an avatar and learn a language by visiting a computerized version of a country where the language is spoken. You move through the game by conversing with people in the language, as well as by completing different speaking, listening, reading and writing tasks, such as writing reviews of restaurants and reading newspapers. The intensity and direction of the game is also customizable, meaning that you can test into levels and also select the reason you are learning the language. We had three types of user in mind, beginner, native speaker, and proficient, who might need to start from the beginning, review conjugations and grammatical structure, and refresh and refine their knowledge, respectively.
During our prototype testing, one of the feedbacks from our tester was that there were certain parts where she became unsure how to interact with the surrounding features in the game. In addition, we observed that since our tester were more confident in speaking Spanish, it was more comfortable and enjoyable for her to converse off-scripts rather than following our original provided script. Taking away from this user testing experience, we realized that more proficient users need to have options where they can either have suggested word lists as tools for conversation, or being able to freestyle their speech, which allows them to inject their own personality and humor. We added these options into our game, in addition to more visual and auditory cues that would help our language learners navigate through the game environment more smoothly.
After testing our prototype and presenting our findings, we outlined a few areas of improvement for future testing:
- We can narrow our user down to specify a student that already has a level of comfort with a language and is aiming to work on practicing it.
- We can add features that allow students to connect and practice with friends, such as through Facebook.
- We can add in real world resources: for example, when the user reads the menu, he is reading a real menu from the specific country’s restaurant or a newspaper from the country.