HOW DOES IT WORK ?
For students, the game is presented in two modes: creation and exploration. In the creation mode, the game provides the students with a platform in isometric projection, on which they place objects and characters selected from a large library of images organized by theme. Even though students can use objects from different themes in the same world, this classification allows them to quickly find the buildings, objects and characters they are looking for. They can assemble these items to build, for example, a village with houses, a hostel, shops, parks, etc. and inhabited by many people, animals and more! To every object, they can associate a descriptive text or even a narrative part of their story. To the characters, they can add dialogs and descriptions. The only limit is their imagination!
In the exploration mode, the students first create their avatar using the accessories provided. They can then chose a world created by one of their classmates and explore it using their avatar. When exploring, narrative and descriptive texts, as well as characters’ dialogs, will be activated as the avatar discovers the world and its inhabitants. Students read their classmates’ stories in an interactive way, as if playing a video game!
For teachers, not only are the creation and exploration modes also accessible, but the platform also offers configuration and correction modes through an easy-to-use administration web page. In the configuration mode, the teacher creates writing challenges for the whole class. Templates addressing many educational objectives are already built-in and ready to use, but teachers can also easily create custom challenges meeting their specific goals.
In the correction mode, teachers have access to all of their students texts in a web page without having to explore their creations (although they most certainly can do that as well!). In this interface, the teacher can make corrections and leave comments to their students, which they will find directly in the game. This enables teachers to provide immediate feedback from their desk. Teaches can also print their students’ work if they wish.
WHAT DEVICE IS IT SUPPORTED ON?
The game is supported on most devices commonly used in class : computers (Mac, PC and most Chromebooks) or tablets (Apple or Android). It also works on smartphones, which can be useful for teachers. There is a large disparity in the devices used in class, depending on each school’s allocated budget. For this reason, the game was created in a way that minimizes the devices’ requirements in storage space and in speed. The limits in Internet access bandwidth in schools have also been taken into consideration: though cool and beautiful, the images used in the game are very “light”, minimizing the amount of data that needs to be downloaded.
All students have a personal account, allowing them to modify only their own creations. If the class only has a few devices available, students can work on the same device on their allocated time without affecting their classmates work. The worlds and avatars are securely stored on the cloud. Students can therefore work on their creations from any device on which the application is installed and that is connected to the internet. Creations can then be continued at home if the students did not have time to finish in class, or simply because they want to have fun!
WHO IS IT FOR?
Boreal Tales is great to motivate students of ages 6 to 13 to write. At that age, children are developing their capacity to communicate in writing. Even though they have a boundless imagination, younger students often have trouble finding the initial idea that will spark their creativity when it is time to write in class. The game offers a large variety of inspiring graphic elements, that instantly generate storytelling ideas as children scan through them.
Boreal Tales allows students to develop their capacity to organize their ideas, since their texts have to follow a logical and chronological order set by their story. The objects and the characters used by the children to populate their worlds inspire the use of a descriptive and varied vocabulary. The game becomes a tool ideally suited for the development of children’s writing skills.
For older students, the game offers features that allow them to create very detailed stories, in which they will work on writing texts meeting their teacher’s requirements. The teacher administration web site allows teachers to easily create elaborate writing challenges, in which they can set parameters that address educational goals adjusted to their students competencies.
For younger students, Boreal Tales uses a very simple iconography, allowing them to easily find their way through the menus and create amazing stories just like older students do. Although they will not have mastered the English language as well as older students, children under 8 years-old will have a lot of fun creating adventures, and will be highly motivated to write stories that will impress their classmates! Even if their texts are not as complex, writing them in a logical structure allows the student to develop skills that will be very useful throughout their studies. Furthermore, teachers can submit challenges to their students that simply aim at developing their vocabulary and spelling abilities.
At any age, writing texts that are not only read, but also played by their classmates, encourages the creators to surpass themselves in order to please their audience. This intrinsic motivation approach increases the children’s sense of accomplishment and builds their self-confidence, which in turn makes them enjoy writing and ultimately makes them better writers for life.
Boreal Tales is born from a rigorous study of the literature on the integration of technology in class, from discussion groups including many key actors in education and from the significant expertise of the team both in technology and in education. It is from the depth of the preparatory work that our project distinguishes itself from what is already on the market. All the project’s aspects were developed with the same purpose, therefore creating a product that is particularly coherent. On a technical level, the often encountered deficiencies of schools’ IT devices and internet connections were taken into consideration. From an educational point of view, the game’s concepts were based on recognized studies in the field of learning psychology. Teachers’ specific needs, as well as the obstacles they usually meet in the implementation of similar projects, were taken into consideration.
According to a study on the impact of games in teaching, most students consider educational games more bland than the other games they own. This same study and many others show that the use of edutaining apps does not have an intrinsic educational value. As a matter of fact, learning is done when the student is really stimulated by the app. The information transits from short term memory to long term memory when a topic really succeeds to pique their interest and to motivate them. A quick discussion with students who are fans of Minecraft or Pokemon is sufficient to understand how they’ve integrated a surprising quantity of information on these topics without being under the impression that they did a particular memorization effort. This represents a gold mine of opportunities for games dedicated to education.
A quality educational game is one that has the ability to spark the interest of students who play a lot at home, but but that also does not bring the undesired effect of discouraging beginners. Some studies show that a student who is not experienced with video games can easily feel overwhelmed when seeing the gap between their skills and those of some of their classmates. We worked really hard on creating a game that is exciting, yet does not need any prior gameplay knowledge. The most common answer that is given when new players are asked to explain the challenges they meet when playing video games is the difficulty of perceiving and managing 3D objects on a 2D screen. That is why Boreal Tales is in what we call a 2.5D environment, which has the benefit of allowing an effect of depth while being very easy to use. All the aspects of the game controls have been developed with the same mindset. The original engine has been tested regularly by students of different ages, and even first graders who do not play often at home have no trouble exploring the game.
MOTIVATING STUDENTS TO FACILITATE THEIR SUCCESS
Recent studies clearly show that the use of ICTs in the learning of writing greatly enhances the students’ feeling of success. Thierry Karsenti, holder of Canada’s Research Chair on ICTs in Education, says that “96% of the 835 students who participated in our study see themselves as better writers when they use a computer to write.” Following this research, the authors give a certain number of recommendations to schools, including:
- To increase the number of activities in which students write on a computer;
- To make students write on a computer to improve their writing skills;
- To choose technological and software tools adapted to students;
- To motivate students to learn languages by using technology.
Boreal Tales meets these recommendations by giving teachers a tool that inspires and motivates children to write inside a user friendly interface.
In another study by Frédéric Guay of Canada’s Research Chair on Motivation, Perseverance and School Success from Laval University’s team, it was posited that some educational practices have a positive impact on students’ motivation towards writing. Boreal Tales integrates many of those practices:
- Cooperation: According to Professor Guay’s researches, motivation towards writing would be promoted when students share their knowledge and ideas with their peers while receiving feedback from their teacher. Boreal Tales is in fact a literary creation tool in which children share their creations and obtain direct feedback from their teacher.
- Significant activities: To be significant, an activity must have a real goal, a real use, and a real target. The stories created by the students in Boreal Tales are explored in an interactive way by their classmates. Seeing their friends explore their story represents an incredible motivation for a student.
- A support to autonomy: It is recommended that teachers take into consideration the students’ perspective and that they offer them the possibility to choose learning activities. In Boreal Tales, the students are the master of their choices when writing their stories. They can decide which theme to explore and which writing style (narrative, dialog, descriptive) to use.
 Sherry, J. L. (2013). The challenge of audience reception: A developmental model for educational game engagement. New directions for child and adolescent development, 2013(139), 11-20.
 Otmakhova, N., Duzel, E., Deutch, A. Y., & Lisman, J. (2013). The hippocampal-VTA loop: the role of novelty and motivation in controlling the entry of information into long-term memory. In Intrinsically motivated learning in natural and artificial systems (pp. 235-254). Springer Berlin Heidelberg.
 Translated from : Karsenti, T. P. (2015) Usages didactiques des technologies de l’information et de la communication (TIC) pour soutenir le développement de la compétence à écrire des élèves du primaire en milieu défavorisé, Rapport de recherche intégral dans le cadre du Programme de recherche sur l’écriture.