The History of Starcraft – using video games to engage ESL students in digital humanities
Starcraft launched on March 31, 1998. Nearly one month later I was given the game as a 12th birthday present by my parents. At the time I had no idea that 13 years later I would be using Starcraft to teach Korean ESL students (many of whom are 12 years old themselves) about both English and the digital humanities.
For those unfamiliar with Starcraft it is what is referred to as a ‘Real-time Strategy Game’ (or RTS) in the video gaming world. This means that the player moves dozens of different war units in real-time to attack his or her opponent. The player can also build structures that accrue different bonuses like the ability to recruit more or different troops, or to defend the player’s base of operations.
Starcraft and its sequel Starcraft II has sold tens, if not hundreds, of millions of copies worldwide, becoming a global phenomenon. I cannot exaggerate the cultural impact Starcraft has had on Korea. Starting in the country’s numerous ‘PC rooms’ (similar to internet cafes), Starcraft has become a spectator sport in Korea, with professional game players drawing thousands of spectators to watch the competition.
Professional Starcraft players work for different teams backed by corporate sponsors. The players live in communal team housing and train, both physically and mentally 8 to 10 hours a day. The highest grossing tournaments have prize pots exceeding $100,000. At any given hour I can turn on my television and watch live and pre-recorded Starcraft matches complete with expert commentary and analysis.
To put it mildly, many South Koreans are extremely passionate about Starcraft. So what better way to motivate my students to engage in digital humanities than to draw upon their passion for Starcraft?
Starting today and continuing over the next few weeks, I will be collaborating with my students to build a timeline for the history of Starcraft using Facebook’s timeline feature. The result of this collaboration can be found by visiting the Facebook page for The History of Starcraft.
Since Facebook introduced the new timeline feature, I’ve thought it would be a great, easy to use, way to engage students in making digital timelines. Making digital timelines is a low-impact way to introduce students to the world of digital humanities, while at the same time empowering students to produce their own, original DH work.
For me teaching English is more than just teaching the mechanics of grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation, it’s about equipping students with the tool they’ll need to act on a global stage. There’s more to communicating than simply knowing English. Communication involves using the web, collaborating with peers, and producing written, audio, and visual work.
Since Facebook limits user age to 13 and over, none of my students are old enough to have their own accounts. Therefore, I’ve created the page that they will be contributing to. With each class I’m going to introduce them to Facebook and show how and why it is used. I will then give students specific research and creative tasks which will be used to build the timeline.
An example of one specific research task would be, “How old is Starcraft? Find the answer by using http://www.google.com.”; This task encourages students to use English resources on the internet for research. Students can accomplish these tasks in a manner of their choosing. If a student wants to find the answer on Wikipedia, that’s okay with me. If they’d rather find answers on different sites, that’s fine too. I will be supervising the students’ research time to make sure they stay on task, and avoid any age-inappropriate websites.
The students will also be assigned creative tasks, ranging from things like “find a picture from Starcraft II” to things like “draw a picture of a scene from Starcraft.” Creative tasks will encourage students to lend their unique, creative voice to the project and will hopefully encourage students to become content creators on the internet.
My goal for the project is to help the students to create something that they can be proud of, something they will want to share with their friends and families. Even though my students range in age from 8 to 12, I believe it’s never too early to engage students in the digital humanities.
I’d love to hear your feedback about this project. While it’s currently in its very early stages, it should growing quickly in the coming weeks. If my students enjoy this project, I might try to expand it, creating more timelines for things they are interested in. If you are interested in this project, please ‘like’ our Facebook page, it will let the students know that other people are enjoying their work.