Machinima, potential teaching learning materials for EFL classrooms

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by Sagun Shrestha

Machinima

Machinima is a word derived from machine animated cinema. It is a short-animated screencast video created in video games or multi-users virtual environments (MUVE) such as Second Life (See. Rainbow and Schneider, 2014; Shrestha, 2017). The machinima [i] that I am dealing with in this brief write-up are the ones created in Second Life, one of the popular virtual worlds. There are lots of simulated environments (Sims) where a machnimator can shoot their machinima in Second Life. Some Sims dedicated for Education in Second Life, such as EduNation island, also have holodecks, a repository of variety of simulated environments which can be rezzed and removed easily. Holodecks can be useful to have a variety of environment which may be required while creating machinima.

Machinima are easy to create. We need a screencast program in our computer. The free screencast program that can be used to create machinima can be ‘active presenter’. This software allows us to edit the screen capture video. The software that I used to create machinima for this study is Techsmith’s Camtasia, which is the paid version. Provided that we regularly use a screencast software, it is equally worth buying one such as Camtasia, which is a one-off payment.


Context and Methodology of the Study

The machinima that I created were based on the lesson plans sent by the teachers in Nepal. These machinima were for the English language classes held after school for 13-to-16-year-old pre-intermediate public school students. This class comprised of twenty students and was co-taught by 2 teachers. The four machinima that I made and sent to the teachers for use while teaching their lessons were: 1. ‘The Solar System‘  2. ‘Making Prediction 1’  3. ‘Making Prediction 2’ and   4. Writing persuasive expressions. These machinima were captured in the Second Life sims, such as EduNation and Sagan Planetarium and the length of machinima were from nearly two minutes to six minutes.  In this qualitative study, I looked into the benefits that machinima can bring to EFL classrooms as opposed to other teaching materials, the level of learners’ engagement in the class when machinima are used as teaching materials and some challenges in using machinima as teaching learning materials in pre-intermediate level EFL classrooms. For the collection of data, I observed 3 recorded classrooms and interviewed two teachers and four learners through Skype (Shrestha & Harrison, 2019).

Figure 1. Screenshot of the machinima entitled ‘The Solar System’

Findings

Both learners and teachers in the pre-intermediate English language classrooms found machinima as effective teaching learning materials. Particularly teachers pointed out machinima as contextualized materials. For instance, one of the teachers claimed that machinima were closely tied up with the textbooks and the contents, therefore students’ attention did not get diverted from what they were learning. They also mentioned about the unique presentation that could be made in the machinima. Referring to the machinima entitled ‘writing persuasive expressions’, they mentioned about the possibility of embedding a real life video clip in it. In this machinima, I had also embedded a short trailer of a Nepali movie named ‘Kabbaddi’ which had helped to bring local context in machinima. While talking about the machinima, ‘The solar System’, the learners also pointed out how the alien named ‘Nini’ appeared in the machinima to describe different planets. It reveals that there is a possibility to show things in machinima which could not be shown in the normal life. Both teachers and learners also stated about the relatedness of machinima to their lessons. The relatedness was expected because all the machinima were created as per the lesson plans provided by the teachers. What is indicative in this case is that we can create machinima aligning with the objectives of the lessons.

Both teachers and learners equated machinima as the attention grabber when used in language teaching and learning. The learners associated the animated figures with cartoon-like characters therefore it was found that their level of engagement was high while watching machinima and being engaged in the activities linked to this. Since there was a possibility to design pre- and post-machinima activities, this became the appropriate support to engage learners in the language lessons. One of the learners in the reflective note mentioned:

“Yes, those videos helpful to understand the lessons. Yes, they were interestings [Sic] enough. I like everything in those videos. Just like Basanta, I learnt about solar system. I learnt about prediction to put may and might [Sic]”.

In this excerpt, the learner mentioned that machinima became helpful to understand lessons and they were motivating She has shown a very strong sense of relevance of the content. She sees herself as one of the characters in machinima while learning the lesson.

Figure 2. Screenshot of Machinima entitled ‘Writing Persuasive Expressions’

As regards the critical concerns, the participants of this study pointed out that machinima that were too short were not helpful. For instance, the machinima entitled ‘Making Prediction 1’ and ‘Making prediction 2’ were less than one minute and thirty seconds. Learners mentioned that these machinima were difficult to understand. They only got the content of the videos after second screening. One of the teachers agreed that short videos do not provide enough time to think and comprehend the content of the video. The authors Rainbow and Schneider (2014) claim that machinima which is more than three and half minutes long is difficult for the learners to concentrate on. Contrary to their claim, it is found that the longer versions, such as those which were longer than five minutes were equally engaging. One of the teachers also mentioned that the machinima having night scenes which are indeed too dark and also created some trouble for learners to get the message included in the videos.

Conclusion

This study unveils that machinima has a lot of potentials when it is used as teaching learning materials for language teaching and learning; however, length of the machinima, level of language and scene selection have to be taken into account while creating machinima. The other interesting facet which is worth exploring related to machinima is how long it will take for the relatively-technology-friendly teachers to create moderately-good machinima to use in their classrooms and how the teachers and learners will respond to such machinima when they are used for language teaching and learning. In this case, provided that such machinima become really effective, teachers will be able to create their own teaching learning materials tailored to their lessons. My own experience of making machinima suggests that with a limited learning training, it is possible to create relatively good machinima. Even though it took quite a long time to create the first machinima, which is nearly five hours that included script writing, later the time spent for machinima making dropped exponentially which is roughly only two hours. I surmise that the time spent to make machinima will depend on the availability of readily built scenes in the virtual world, other characters who are good at acting the roles given to them and the content that we will select for the machinima.

There is also possibility to collaborate with different people from other parts of the world in creating machinima. We can request to some people, who are available in MUVE, such as Second Life, for their contribution by taking some roles that we have created in our machinima script. We can build a great repository of locally built contextualized materials which can address the challenge of low resource classroom in some context such as Nepal.


References

Rainbow, C. & Schneider, C. (2014). Making and using machinima in the language learning [Kindle Edition]. Retrieved from Amazon.com.

Shrestha, S., & Harrison, T. (2019). Using Machinima as Teaching and Learning Materials: A Nepalese Case Study. International Journal of Computer-Assisted Language Learning and Teaching (IJCALLT), 9(2), 37-52.

Shrestha, S. (2018). Making and Using Machinima in the Language Classroom. Journal of NELTA, 22(1– 2), 148–150.

Footnote:

[i]   The word ‘Machinima’ is used as both singular and plural form in this study. As per the English Web 2013 (enTenTen13) corpus, both forms ‘machinima’ and ‘machinimas’ have been used interchangeably.  In this corpus, it is found that there are 4,977 instances out of 19,685,733,337 total words, amongst which only 56 instances of the plural form, ‘machinimas’ are used and rest are used in singular form.

Sagun Shrestha is a PhD student at School of Applied language and Intercultural Studies in Dublin City University, Ireland. He completed his master’s degree in English Language Teaching (Specialism in ICT) from University of Warwick, Coventry, UK and master’s in English Education from Tribhuvan University, Nepal. His areas of interest include teacher professional development and ICT, affordances of ICT and materials development using technology.

Recently published work:Using Machinima as Teaching and Learning Materials: A Nepalese Case Study, International Journal of Computer Assisted Language Learning and Teaching (IJCALLT): Volume 9, Issue 2 (Co-authored)

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