February 26, 2024

An English Journey Through the Digital World and English Culture : A Serious Game in the ESL Classroom

To date, very few digital game-based pedagogical materials exist to foster the development of digital competency among learners of English as a Second Language (ESL) in higher education in Quebec. This is exactly why I set out to create a game-based open educational resource (OER) that combines ESL acquisition, cultural enrichment, and the development of digital competency at the college level. More specifically, I am developing an innovative digital serious game entitled An English Journey through the Digital World and English Culture, which has multiple learning outcomes, detailed in this article.

With the arrival of conversational agents based on artificial intelligence, such as ChatGPT 3.5 in the fall of 2022, the relevance of such a project takes on its full meaning. The project has 3 objectives:

  • to create ESL OERs for college-level ESL courses
  • to enrich Quebec students’ English culture
  • to promote the development of students’ digital competency

In addition to supporting ESL learning through stimulating, entertaining content on topics consistent with the ministerial guidelines, this project will contribute to offering Quebec’s French speakers the opportunity to develop their ethical citizenship and cultural knowledge.

Gamification and serious games

Gamification [in French] refers to the application of game-design elements and game principles in non-game contexts. By incorporating game elements into educational content, gamification aims at making learning more engaging but also enhancing motivation and participation among learners. It aims at transforming mundane tasks into exciting challenges, fostering a deeper engagement with the material.

Serious games [in French] are designed with a primary purpose other than pure entertainment. These games aim to educate, train, or inform, providing a dynamic environment for learners to interact with real-world scenarios and problem-solving tasks. These games can simulate complex systems or scenarios, allowing students to experience and understand concepts firsthand, which is particularly beneficial in subjects like digital literacy.

ESL and digital literacy skills

In today’s digital age, proficiency in digital literacy is essential. Serious games and gamified learning environments offer a unique opportunity to develop these essential skills. By navigating digital platforms, learners enhance their ability to find, evaluate, and communicate information via digital technologies. Games that require players to research information, collaborate with others online, or navigate digital landscapes can significantly improve digital literacy.

For ESL learners, the immersive nature of games and gamified environments can be particularly beneficial. Language learning games can simulate real-life interactions and conversations, providing a safe space for learners to practice language skills without the fear of real-world consequences. Moreover, the contextual learning offered by serious games can enhance vocabulary retention and grammatical understanding by situating language use in relevant scenarios.

Thus, the game is rooted in the measures to be pursued in the Digital Action Plan and in the recommendations of the Avis du Conseil supérieur de l’éducation Formation collégiale, Expérience éducative et nouvelles réalités [in French], particularly those related to 21st-century competencies.

The 5 open digital learning missions created as part of the project make advanced-level students face different challenges, as presented in the Digital Competency Framework. According to the Ministère de l’éducation, digital competency is the ability to act as an ethical citizen in the digital age by considering the 12 dimensions described in the framework.

More specifically, the themes of the challenges of this serious game are aligned with the following dimensions of the framework:

  • Central dimension: Ethical citizenship
  • Dimension 4: Information literacy
  • Dimension 6: Communication
  • Dimension 7: Content production
  • Dimension 11: Critical thinking

In addition to achieving these objectives, the project aims at promoting student success and perseverance as well as the pooling of resources, since the OERs created as part of the project will be indexed to Pavillon and thus accessible to the entire college network community. This kind of reuse is particularly important in a context of human resources shortages and limited financial resources.

The project

Game development

The game is currently in the final stages of development:

  • Missions 1 and 2 are completed and validated by students and a few teacher colleagues.
  • Mission 3 is in development.
  • Missions 4 and 5 will be developed by June 2024.
Against a dark blue background, we see an airplane window showing clouds on the left, with the word “index” written on it. On the right, we see 6 tiles presented in 2 rows of 3. The top row contains, from left to right, the tiles labelled “instructions,” “health challenges,” and “advertising challenges.” On the bottom row are the tiles “privacy, safety and legal challenges,” “environmental challenges,” and “get your badge!”

Menu screen for mission 1, on ethical citizenship

Parallel to the missions themselves, I am also writing a pedagogical guide to help colleagues integrate the game into their courses. This guide will also provide extra writing and speaking activities.

Research study

To document the impact of the game on the digital literacy of college students, I aim to conduct a research study in collaboration with professors Maude Bonenfant (UQAM) and Patrick Plante (TELUQ). The game would be tested in different colleges in the Québec area and the outcomes of the study would inform revisions of the game to increase student uptake.

This study is the reason why details of the game cannot yet be publicly revealed as it might influence the research protocol if students enrolled in the experiment have been exposed to the game. The game is intended to be ready for use in Winter 2025, while research results should be available in Winter 2026.

In the meantime, how do you develop your students’ digital literacy skills? Do you use gamification or serious games in the classroom? I’d love to hear more about your ideas and practices in the comments!


I wish to thank the Entente Canada-Québec for its funding allowing the development of An English Journey through the Digital World and English Culture. Special thanks to Charles Lapointe, ESL teacher (Cégep de Sainte-Foy), Charles-Antoine Fugère, librarian (Cégep de Lévis), Philippe Groppi, digital educational advisor (Cégep de Lévis) and Jason Beaulieu, ESL teacher (Cégep de Lévis), Marilou Bourque, librarian (Université Laval), Marianne Dubé, pedagogical advisor (Université de Sherbrooke and fabriqueREL) and CADRE21, all of whom have helped me throughout the development of this game!

About the author

Sophie Marier

Sophie Marier has been very active in the field of English as a second language (ESL) teaching since the beginning of her teaching career in 1994. She has a Master’s degree in Applied Linguistics from Concordia University and specializes in vocabulary acquisition, with or without educational technologies. One of her priorities is to help college-level students develop digital literacy. The serious game she is currently developing aims exactly at helping students reach this objective.

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