No Quill in TEFL! #TEFL307 #technologiesineducation

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Was I using technologies in teaching English? No!
Will I implement technologies in my future practice? Definitely yes!
Before taking the course of technologies in TEFL, I little knew how to implement technologies in my teaching process. But now after 15 weeks, not only I got introduced to many interesting software programs, but also I’ve started to use some in my classes. Blogs, chatbots, MALL, and podcasts are among the introduced technologies that now I strive to use in my teaching, and LMS/VLE, the virtual world of Second life and open education courses are among technologies that I will definitely use later in my teaching practice.
Couple of weeks ago, Scott Thornbury, a well-known educator, asked the audience Neil Postman’s question “What is the problem to which this technology is a solution?”, trying to raise awareness about the use of technologies in the classroom. Last year, I wouldn’t be able to give a thoughtful answer to this question, but now, after taking this course, I would say that technologies should be used in teaching processes judiciously. We learned that before introducing the students to any technological educational tool, the teacher first needs to clarify why and how the use of the tool would be effective and beneficial for the learners. Only after having an answer to those questions, the technologies should be used in the classrooms.
During the last 15 weeks, we learned about different types of technologies that can be used in education, and as the last post for this course, I will review my most favorite three technologies that I am deeply into them, and I will briefly mention how to use them in English teaching.

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Blogging: My first favorite one is blogs and blogging. As a student-teacher, I enjoyed the experience of having my personal blog, where I can write and share activities in it, as well as, follow other bloggers! The idea of becoming a blogger can be exciting for many students, especially teenagers and young adults. English teachers can easily make blogs a part of their curriculum. Instead of asking students to bring their writings in papers, teachers can ask them to post the writings on their blogs, and design the same page to make it more visually appealing. Blogging may improve students’ motivation and participation, can positively affect the process of language learning and can engage students in an authentic, informal written language production. Hence, I will definitely make blogging part of my teaching.
Game-based learning: what if from time to time bring digital games to the classes for educational purposes?! I am sure that all the students, especially young learners will welcome the idea to learn English through games! Just google “games for learning English,” thousands of website will pop on your screen! as blogging, game-based learning will enhance students’ engagement and motivation and will create a stress-free learning environment for the students. So, that is the reason that I will use games in my classrooms!

Podcasts: Maybe the idea of podcasts is not new, but now thanks to the smartphones, tablets, and i-tunes using them have become more widespread and popular. The philosophy behind the podcasts is “learning every day and everywhere.” By encouraging our students to listen to English podcasts, we can help them to improve their listening skills, as well as, vocabulary knowledge.  So, worth trying as a supplementary material!

To wrap up, I need to say that among all the taken courses, this  was the only course, which content was completely new for me and every time I learned something new!

Thanks to this course I have  broadened my teaching perspectives and are ready to use more technologies in my classrooms to create a different learning environment for my students.

Horizon Reports: Trends and challenges in the education

 

The proliferation of technology has affected all the spheres of the life and has become an inseparable part of our lives. In the recent years, the effect of high technology and the internet is noticeable in the education.  Traditional classes and teaching methods are disappearing in many countries, schools are getting adapted to the new situation, changing the design of the schools and adding new technological stuff.  To have more interactive lessons, the teachers are also trying to change their mode of thinking, perspective, and teaching methods by implementing technology in their classes.

Adoption of Educational Technology has become trendy and at the same time challenging for most of the educational centers. The two reports by Horizon Higher Ed and K-12 ( article-1 & article-2) touch upon the topic of recent technological trends and challenges in the schools (K-12) and higher education. According to the reports, the trends of technology adoption in the education are three types:

1-long-term trends are the ones that have been impacting decision-making and will continue to be important for more than five years.

2-mid-term trends are trends that will likely continue to be an important factor in decision-making for the next three to five years.

3-short-term trends are the ones that are in the process of adoption now and maybe remain important for only one to two years.

The adoption of above-mentioned trends is mostly followed by some challenges that most of the educational complexes meet.  Today in the blog post I will discuss some of the trends and challenges mentioned by the reports of Horizon in Armenian schools.

I have not received my primary and secondary education in Armenia and neither of siblings, but after living here for several years,  I have a general idea about the common educational system that most of the schools follow. Here, in Armenia, only a few schools implement technology in the teaching and learning process and practice learner-centered and competency-based approaches. The other schools either still apply traditional methods or are on the phase of technological trends adoption. Nowadays, in Armenia, most of the schools and teachers embrace the idea of learner-centered education and collaborative learning and tend to practice student-centric pedagogies to foster more positive learning outcomes.maxresdefault

Moreover, to improve students learning, redesign of the learning environment is needed.  Classrooms which contain movable furniture and technology are likely to affect positively on the learning.  EFL teachers can enhance their students’ knowledge by adopting the learner-centered approach, and changing their role as a facilitator.   Opportunity for more authentic learning is another challenge that K-12 education in Armenia needs to meet.  Hence, the schools need to change their curriculum and schedules and make them more flexible, enable students for authentic learning.

As far as higher education is concerned, a few universities like American and French university in Armenia have joint consortia to share and combine the resources. In Armenia, more universities need to achieve cross-institution collaboration which will improve the educational standards and will enable the instructors, learners, and alumni work toward common goals concerning technology, research, or shared values.

The educational system in Armenia needs a real transformation, which needs a shift from traditional methods to technological education. However, it will take years to achieve the ultimate educational transformation, as it needs huge investments.

What is Analytics?

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Thanks to the advancement in the technology, most of the data transformation, reservation and restoration happen in the virtual world, which facilitates the process of the data analysis. Now the question may arise that “what is analytics?” and “why is it matters?”
After reading several articles and watching all the available videos on the YouTube, I understood what the analytics are and how beneficial they are. Wikipedia gives a very vivid definition to the generic term “Analytics” defining it as “the process of discovery, interpretation, and communication of meaningful patterns in data.” Analytics is multidisciplinary, which makes it different from analysis. Thanks to the analytics, it is possible to go back to the massive data recorded in the archive, have an insight into them, and get the useful information needed for making better decisions and strategic moves to achieve improvements.
Long and Siemens in their article briefly write about the “big data,” “academic analytics” and “learning analytics” concepts. Big data is a term that describes the large volume of data, or as the Oracle pinpoints “Big data describes a holistic information management strategy that includes and integrates many new types of data and data management alongside traditional data.” Learning and academic analytics are similar concepts; the focus of the first one is in the learning process of the individual, whereas the latter reflects the role of data analysis at the institutional level.
In the field of teaching, teachers and educators can benefit from analytics, as it will enable them to go into the data, see the students’ progress, rank the courses according to the needs of the learners, and predict outcomes.

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In the recent years, in Armenia, many educational centers in the market became competitive, and try to offer a better education than the others. Hence, the educational centers need to make the most of all the available assets to improve their performance. Analytics will help the educational centers to identify the effectiveness of the offered courses and whether there is the need for making changes. Moreover, by comparing the performance of the students they can make find out that how helpful the received education was and predict the learners’ performance in the same filed.
Big data and analytics will help educational centers to improve their services, education, performances and make the necessary changes for better.

For more information watch the attached videos:

LMS/VLE & PLE in TEFL

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When for the first time my Armenian teacher told us that we would use Moodle to submit our assignments and participate in the discussion forum, we didn’t really embrace the idea.  Moodle, the open source learning platform, became our nightmare and we were trying to persuade the teacher to give up the idea of using it. Fortunately, we didn’t succeed and we got the opportunity to get familiarized with it. Now, as a MA TEFL student at the American University of Armenian, Moodle is the main educational tool and platform where the professors and instructors share their syllabus and all the other necessary material there.

Moodle is part of learning management system (LMS) or virtual learning environments (VLE), which many universities or any other institutions have already implemented it.  We can define LMS as a software application , which enables the user to administrate, document, track, report and delivery e-courses or programs.

There is another concept named personal learning environment (PLE) that many of us are unconsciously engaged in. PLEs are personal e-Learning systems which give the users the opportunity to manage their own learning, set definite learning goals, take control of their learning, communicate and share with others who are on the same path.

A tutorial video by Stephen Downe clearly explains the difference between LMS/PLE. The following chart is the summary of the video.

 

LMS/VLE  PLE
centralized decentralized
Need to join to the federation Directly connected to individuals.
Data is available in the system, the data will be lost in the case of leaving the system User control the data, sharing requires permission.
Moodle Google doc, LinkedIn, Drop box, Google drive

Nowadays, most of the students get registered or enrolled in many online applications creating their PLEs.  Below I created my own PLE visual diagram that currently I use for language learning and teaching.

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Teachers can easily use students’ PLEs as an educational tool. If you ask how, just simply read my other posts and find out more!

What concerns to LMS, my opinion is that it enables teachers to have more control on the process of teaching and learning. If I end up teaching in a school or institution where students have access to computers and the internet, I will definitely use Moodle to share activities and assignments, because

  • Engaging students in technology may increase motivation
  • Students can access the materials easily, even if they are absent.
  • Students don’t need to carry different books or copies around to do their homework.
  • It will enhance collaboration and cooperation.
  • LMS will help to save more trees by avoiding photocopying and printing.

For more information visit:

http://theelearningcoach.com/elearning2-0/designing-personal-learning-environment/

http://terrya.edublogs.org/2015/03/26/differences-between-students-using-ple-and-lms-systems/

 

Distance Education

 

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The implementation of distance education was and still is challenging. Not having a face-to-face interaction with the learners makes the process of teaching and learning difficult both for the teachers and learners. However, as Internet technologies have become increasingly robust, distance learning and teaching have become less challenging. In the recent years, both students and educators have become more comfortable with the technology and learn easily how to use it.

Distance learning is a great educational tool enabling many learners to access online accredited courses enjoying the luxury of remaining in the home country and study.

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In Armenia, many educational centers and universities offer distance learning education with accredited degree for those who have busy schedule and family responsibilities. However, friends of mine who applied distance learning program were not fully satisfied with the experience complaining about the practicality of the courses. According to them, the educators were novice, not being able to organize a rigid syllabus. They were paying less attention to the learners and sometimes they were completely forgetting to upload new materials and give the necessary guidelines. Hence, the implementation of distance education is not easy as it seems to be.

In the future, if I asked to develop a distance English program for young adults and adults in remote areas of Armenia, I need to consider several facts and design a rigid teaching plan.

First of all, before developing any distance course, it is important to become sure that the target areas have high-speed internet, people have access to the computers and have the literacy to use the internet and computer. Then, I should choose a platform through which teach English. Moodle, blog, email, Skype or Skype in the classroom and even a group in Facebook can be ideal tools for teaching.  For choosing the most convenient tool, an interview should be conducted to find out which is the most convenient tool for the learners and teachers. Then, according to the article written by White et. al. I need to specify certain tutor maxims and identify teachers’ roles. According to the same article and another article written by Hauck and Hampel, giving feedback is another important aspect that the distance learning teachers need to consider. The focus of the course developed for adults will be mainly fluency giving the learners the opportunity to freely express their ideas not getting worried about mistakes. However, regular general language accuracy feedback will be provided for language development. To ensure the quality of tutors, an experienced mentor will be assigned to check other teachers and the teachers need to write a report each month reporting their teaching plans.zoom-distance-learning.jpg

 

As I mentioned before, to have a successful outcome, the students need to have enough literacy to use online sources. Hence, it is important to make sure that students can properly use the given materials. If not workshops should be conducted. Moreover, as Hauck and Hampel mention, the motivation can decrease in online learning. Therefore, to maintain the motivation, regular encouragement by teacher is essential.

 

To sum up, to have a successful distance learning program, educators need to spend plenty of time to develop a well-thought curriculum, putting the focus on student-student interaction, providing a sufficient feedback and content materials.

Do you use open educational resources?

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The online network has increased the quality of life by bringing the people together. If finding simple information was a great deal in the past demanding to go through all the printed books and documents, now the same process is done within some seconds.

There is a funny joke among graduates saying that they owe their graduation to google for helping them accomplish their assignments. However, I have to say that except google, google scholar and other similar pages, we shouldn’t forget about the open educational resources  (OER) which are another valuable resource for learners.  Open educational resources (OER) are freely accessible documents which enable the users (larger population)  to have a free access to the appropriate learning, teaching and research materials. Being in public domain, online and free, the resources have tend to be mainly used in distance learning.

Using OER are beneficial for students. Alder and Brown (2008) in their article pinpoint that the main aim of OER is to engage more population in learning and helping the learners to acquire new and more knowledge.  Worth mentioning that open resources save costs for students. Moreover, the learners can enjoy the free courses offered by many leading universities which gives them the opportunity to expand their knowledge in a specific field. Below are the link of open resources of some top universities:

Harvard Open Courses

JHSPH OpenCourseWare

Webcast.Berkeley

The available materials in OER can be beneficial both for Armenian teachers and students who are mainly graduated or studying from/at low-resource universities or educational institutions.  With the help of OER the students in Armenia are able to go beyond their schedule, explore the resources of other and maybe better universities, attend to relevant courses, read more articles and lectures.  This link will help you to find more about 1200 online educational sources.

Not only the students can benefit from OER, the teachers can also find activities by exploring the pages. Moreover, the teachers have the chance to look at the syllabus of many top universities, which may cause the improvement of their own program syllabus.

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Also,English teachers can always consult the OERs like http://orelt.col.org/, https://www.edutopia.org/open-educational-resources-guide, http://mastersinesl.com/leading-sources/ , https://www.britishcouncil.org/teach-english, to find more scholary articles about teaching method and other relevant materials, use the activities or attend the free trainings to improve their teaching skills.

To sum up, OERs are valuable sources that unfortunately  many haven’t heard of them. Using them regularly will positively affect the learning process and will increase the quality of the education.

 

Siri can you help me?

 

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When for the first time I got an I-phone, I spend the whole day asking none sense questions from Siri. I was trying to ask all the possible questions to see her reaction. Sometimes I was getting surprised for the wise answers, but sometimes her less relevant answers were making me and my brother laugh hard.  Same with chatbots, when for the first time I discovered chatbots I was a school girl! I was spending the whole day chatting with a robot and asking funny questions. But little I knew that chatting with a robot could improve my English.

In the recent years, the web is full of chatbots and programs that try to converse and answer questions just like human beings. Using automated speech recognition (ASR) and chatbots can be an interesting and funny experience for the users, especially for teenagers. The empirical research done in these articles revealed that chatbots and ASR software can positively affect the language learning.  These programs are not flawless, they do not always respond the questions accurately and are unable of creating a real conversation.  However, English language teachers can use them as “conversation practice machine”, where students can ‘chat’ in ordinary spoken English with the computer. Thanks to them, the teachers can add more colors to their classes and enhance students’ motivation.

The article by Coniam, introduces the most appropriate chatbots, which can be used in the classes. Before using any chatbots or ASR software the teacher should bear in mind that the functionality of the programs is limited. They don’t have humans’ intelligence, they have specialized vocabulary and discussion topics. Chatbots cannot always respond to the grammatically wrong formed questions and ASR software, are not always able to recognize the accent of the speaker. Moreover, most of the chatbots function best if just one sentence is typed at a time. Though the limitations, they can be a great pedagogical tool for less able ESL learners.

Check the following designed activity, where chatbots are used.

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Topic: daily talk with Mitsuku    audience: 14-16       Proficiency level: high elementary

URL: http://www.mitsuku.com/

  • Introduce the chatbot to the students.
  • Teach them how to use it.
  • Tell them that the activity is done to improve their daily spoken English.
  • Inform them that it is a safe environment, and the software has no access to the personal information or computer data. (inform about the chatbots to the parents as well)
  • Tell the students about the limitation of the program, asking them to write as clear as possible, with less spelling and grammatical mistakes.

Note: Mitsuku is an advanced chatbot, mostly able to recognize the misspelled words or grammatically wrong questions and perform better that George (chatbot introduced in the article)

  • Ask students to spend 30 minutes and chat with the machine and ask simple structured sentences.
  • Ask them to use their new words and expressions in the chat and ask the robot the word meaning that they don’t know.
  • During the next class ask students their opinion about the task, if they like it; ask them to continue to chat to improve their daily spoken English.

Smartphones here, smartphones there, smartphones everywhere

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It is not a surprising fact that wherever you go, you see that everyone’s head is down on a glowing screen with headphones on. Whether this is the sad reality of our times or not, we will not discuss in this post. Nowadays, the majority can effort to buy smartphones and tablets. Many know how to use them, and the others learn quickly. Smartphones and similar devices had a remarkable impact on humans’ life. Not only they have eased the communication, but they have also become storage for our memories having all the personal information in them.

Smartphones are an inseparable part of our lives. No one and nothing can change this fact. As language teachers, we can see that students prefer to get busy with their phones rather than attentively listen to us. So, what can we do? Here are different solutions for the issue:

  • You can ask students to put their smartphones on the teacher’s table.
  • You can shout “put your phone away” every minute.
  • You can hire anti-phone guards, so they can walk in the classroom and take the phones.
  • You can make the smartphones as part of language learning process.

As a teacher-to-be, I will definitely choose the last solution. With the help of mobile applications, which are getting updated in the play or I-store regularly, we can engage students in language learning. Stockwell and Hubbard in their  article, emphasize ten principles that need to be considered while implementing mobile-assisted language learning (MALL).

Pedagogical Implementation

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Below I introduced an application, and I designed an activity including the ten principles of the article mentioned above. (to know the principles refer the article)

Application: 6 Minute English with BBC             Audience: 14+

Proficiency level: pre-intermediate

BBC has plenty of good applications for language learning, and my favorite one is 6 minutes English which mainly contains podcasts with transcripts. Before applying MALL, make sure that all the students have smartphones or tables. (principle 4) If yes, then the mentioned application is free and accessible. However, it needs wireless internet for updating the podcasts (principle 1), but for listening to the available podcasts no internet is needed. Refereeing to principle 6, explain for students that the application needs no personal information, and it has no access to the personal info in the device.

As suggested in principle 9, before applying the app, introduce it to the students in the class. Teach them how to download it and how to use it. The application has different sections: grammar, news, short stories. For every class assign the students to read and listen to the news, and take notes. By considering principle 2, ask students to do the listening in a noise free environment to fully understand it.

For the short stories or grammar sections, you can ask students to listen and read them whenever they are free or between their dead times. (principle 8)

At the end, check the activity by asking students to share the news or story they have listened to.

Virtual World in TEFL!

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A decade ago, a few could imagine studying online in a virtual world, outside of the classroom. Now the idea of integrating online virtual world into the education seems to be appealing to most of the teachers.

Second life, an online 3D virtual world, which launched on June 23, 2003, enables the users to experience a virtual life in different spheres. For exploring the virtual world of second life, the users need to create their avatar, then, they are ready to start the adventure.  The game is similar to MMORPGs (read my previous post), where the users had the chance to meet other avatars, build their own communities and talk or write to each other.

In the recent years, many educational complexes integrated the game into their classroom by uploading their lectures as an event, asking the users to join and participate. Calogne in her article discusses that SL gave the teachers the opportunity to make their classes more interesting, by going beyond the conventional educational tools and transferring their classes to the virtual world. According to her, the students no longer have to sit in the traditional classes and listen to the teacher’s lecture and get bored. They can have the same lecture in SL, when their avatar is sitting around a fire on a beach. However, for me this point is not a convincing one to implement SL in my future EFL/ESL practice.

SL can be used for language learning purposes, as the avatars in the program have the chance to voice chat, skype or write to each other. Consequently, when a user meets an unknown avatar, most probably English is the language used for communication. Hence, the teachers can take advantage of the situation, asking the students to meet new avatars and try to communicate with them. An empirical research carried out by Milton et al. shows that SL helped the students to improve their English fluency and vocabulary. The same study revealed that students use the target language more in SL rather than in the classroom. SL creates a real context for communication. The avatars can buy or built houses and other materials by communicating or negotiating with other users. The researchers of the study came to the conclusion that using the program in language classes may increase the target language production, the students’ motivation.

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However, both Milton et al. (2012) and Welch (2008) emphasize that SL is not a safe environment for young learners because of its diversity and having various types of communities and users. As it is written in Wikipedia, the game is considered for users aged 16 and over. Another drawback mentioned by Milton et al. is that the users tend to use informal language while chatting with each other, which may hinder the formal educational goal that the teacher tends to achieve.

I am still exploring the program, and trying to figure out how it works. If now I ask myself whether I will use SL in my classrooms or not, my answer will be definitely NO, as I still struggling to learn it.  But after mastering the program and totally figuring out how to use it, I may change my opinion!

Thanks for reading my post!

Adena

P.S I may update the post later! 🙂

 

 

Game-Based Learning?! Possible?

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In this era of technology, as most of the kids, I spend most of my childhood playing various types of video games! I was not addicted to them, but I was spending at least an hour a day on playing play station or computers. I should confess that none of the games I played were educational, rather they were pure entertaining, and even sometimes a few of them like GTA series had some violent content. However, thinking back I can truly say that video games had an impact on my language skills learning tonnes of English expressions and words from them. When I was eight years old, thanks to The Sims, I learned my first English collections and words such as take a shower, make friends, have a meal and many others. Although I learned and improved my English through the entertaining video games, as a teacher-to-be, I would never integrate video games unless I become sure that they merely have educational purposes.

Many educators/scholars  like James Gee  and Sasha Barab believe that using Digital Game-Based Learning (DGBL) in EFL/ESL classes or other content-based classes, will enhance students’ engagement and motivation. However, after reading the articles and watching interviews about advantageous of video games, I am not still convinced about the effectiveness of video games as a helpful educational tool. Myself, being a professional video games player, I know that if a student sits down for playing a video game, even educational one, they can spend hours and hours, putting their other assignments away, not mentioning about other side effects.  Hence, in my future practice, I think I won’t integrate DGBL in my English classes.

However, if in my future practice, the school or institution demands me to make DGBL part of my curriculum, ask me to use COTS DGBL (non-educational video games) in the classroom, then I have to choose several appropriate online or offline video games. After surfing on the internet for several hours, I came across several interactive games that can be used in the classroom.

Draw my things  is the game that captured my attention. Some years ago I played the game in Facebook but never thought that it can be used for English learning.

draw-my-thing-facebook-1

“Draw my things” is a Massive Multiplayer Game, enabling the players to play the game with others simultaneously.  In this game, the player get a word or phrase that need to draw the picture of it, and other players need to guess . More quick correct guesses, more points. While guessing the word, a communication happens among the players, telling each other to draw it more clearly, or can’t guess what the word is, try another drawing and etc. So, for English learners who want to have fun and review their vocabulary, playing draw my things can be enjoyable and also educational. However, having the experience of playing the game, I have to say it is  appropriate for 16+, as some players may use insulting and offensive words.  Moreover, considering the psychological effect of video games, I think that this type of games won’t probably leave any serious behavioral effects on the students, because of having repetitive nature and low graphic quality; they are not attracting students to spend ample time on them.

For contend-based classes, especially for science classes the official website of NASA for kids designed the range of interesting activities aiming to raise the awareness about the solar system and Earth.The games are nor purely educational but they can be used in the classrooms. The activities in the website are appropriate for third to five graders interested in such kind of topics.  Learners should have at least A2 level of English to understand the instructions and the language focus of games are mainly on reading, writing, listening and vocabulary.  With the help of this website the teacher can assess students’ language knowledge and general information about the solar system.  The quality of the games is similar to above-mentioned games only having better graphical quality.

To sum up, I have to say using video games in the classroom can be fun for students and may ease the process of learning a subject or language.

If you know beneficial and better games, share them with me.

Thanks

Adena