Like many of you, I'm curious about the use of computer technology to facilitate the teaching and learning of second language writing. I am enthusiastic about the potentials, but aware that asking student writers to incorporate computer technology, with its virtual contexts and grammars, often adds to the hard work of learning to write well. So, I'm constantly looking for ways to make the learning of second language writing more engaging. One way I try to do this is by using the problem solving computer game Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?.
More than just providing opportunities for point-and-shoot play and fun, problem solving computer games can stimulate conversation, decision making, and other writing-related skills, both on individual and group levels. Additionally, problem solving computer games can promote active participation, not passive observation; identification by participants with a realistic context, the assumption of different roles; the acceptance of some degree of responsibility for the consequences of decisions made; the formation and testing of strategies and guiding principles and the exploration of the effects of modifying both; and chance or sudden flashes of insight-- something common to real life and communicative competency. Finally, problem solving computer games may promote "useful and meaningful" engagement and ways of filling information or opinion gaps (Andrew Wright, David Betteridge, and Michael Buckby 1-2).
Furthermore, as Mike Williamson and Penny Pence suggest, providing access to computers and opportunities to actively engage them as resources or tools can help move developing writers into a mode of self-actualization. Using computers can help them develop a sense of ownership over and a willingness to take risks with their writing. Both results are generally seen as effective means for developing writers to improve the effectiveness of their writing. Here are some examples taken from my class activities.
"Improving Second Language Writing Skills with Problem Solving Computer Games" (Introduction)
by John F. Barber, Ph. D.