New augmented reality game for French-language learners


- Stephanie Harrington

Perry and her Explorez game.

Bernadette Perry has spent hundreds of hours honing Explorez, her new French-language video game that helps students reinforce their language skills while exploring the UVic campus.

Bernadette Perry was more interested in medieval times than today’s technology when she started graduate school at UVic, but watching her children play the video game Minecraft got her thinking.

A mother of three self-professed gamers, Perry was stunned by how much her children enjoyed—and learned—from playing the world-building adventure game. A course about computer-assisted language learning opened her eyes further.

“That got me onto gamifying for learning. I did a complete 180,” she says. “I wanted to learn more.”

Levelling up PhD research

Perry refocused her French master’s research from medieval studies to applied linguistics. Initially, she wanted to test a French language learning game but she couldn’t find one that met her criteria. So she set out to create her own. Perry’s work earned her a top-25 place in the 2014 Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) storytellers competition. With that success, Perry decided to take her research to the next level and enrolled in a PhD program in French and computer science.

The ensuing years have been a crash course in design, coding and implementation. Perry’s work—“hundreds upon hundreds of hours,” she says—has resulted in Explorez, a French-language augmented reality video game that uses avatars to explore UVic’s campus using an iPhone or iPad.

French for the future

Perry had the opportunity to test her game on April 29 at the forum French for the Future—Français pour l'avenir, which was sponsored by the Department of French and Faculty of Humanities. A whopping 80 high school students visiting UVic signed up for her workshop on gamifying French language learning. She split the students into groups, gave each an iPad and sent them around campus to play Explorez.

“The goal is to engage students and make it a fun learning experience,” Perry says. “There is no reason we can’t create different ways of engaging and motivating students.”

Explore UVic through 12 quests

The game’s premise is that a francophone celebrity is visiting, and you must familiarize them with UVic’s campus. Students worked in groups to complete 12 “quests,” which included ordering a coffee in French at a café, of which they had to make an audio recording. They also had to find the French novel Les Misérables in the library and take a photo of the book using Explorez’s augmented reality function. The students collected badges as they progressed, with the quests becoming more complex.

This past year, 100 UVic French students play-tested Perry’s game. The next phase of her research involves analyzing 40 hours worth of GoPro videos recorded during gameplay, as well as pre- and post-play questionnaires and interviews from participating students. That allows Perry to observe how the students interacted with each other using Explorez—and how collaborative learning takes place.

Explorez is available on iPhone using the app ARIS. Perry says the game is best suited to those with a working knowledge of French. Perry, who is making final adjustments to the game, hopes she has created a tool that will teach and entertain students for years to come. The three avid gamers in her household, including a 23-year-old son who graduated from computer science at UVic, have given her plenty of tips and suggestions.

“I’ve spent many hours running around campus checking the game mechanics making sure it’s the best game possible for students,” Perry says. “I am very proud of how much I’ve learned on this journey.”


In this story

Keywords: languages and linguistics, video games, education, teaching, technology

People: Bernadette Perry

Publication: The Ring

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