Katie Mansfield — University of Sheffield
This talk will briefly outline the research project I am currently undertaking, which seeks to explore the cognitive dimension of working-class children’s linguistic variation and its impact on their educational attainment. I will present the methodology that underpins this study by demonstrating an engaging research game developed using Gorilla’s new state-of-the-art game builder tool, to assess children’s working memory and executive functioning. I will outline my reasons for embracing gamification, the process of designing the game and present some preliminary data from my project, which will help to increase understanding of the relationship between working-class children’s language use and cognitive processing, and the role this potentially plays in their underachievement at school.
Katie Mansfield 0:00
I’m yeah so hi, everybody. I’m Katie Mansfield. I’m a PhD researcher at the University of Sheffield, currently in my second year. If you haven’t guessed already, from the front sort of picture on my first slide, my and sort of the text, obviously, my research lies at the interface of linguistics, education and psychology. So it’s a, it’s quite a broad mix of all of them. My background is in linguistics, but psychology and education have always been things that I’m interested in.
Yeah, so my talk today is all about working memory and executive functioning. And however, that plays a role in the use of standard English in working class children speech. So yeah, so we’ll begin. Yeah, so just to provide a brief outline of what I’ve touched upon today. So just a brief overview of my research just to contextualise the game that I created using the gorilla game builder, just a bit about gamifying psychological tasks, then I’ll show you some quick snapshots and video, a quick video of the game that I built using the new gorilla game builder. And then we’ll just touch upon some preliminary observations that I got from doing the task with the children.
So just a background to my study. Where do working memory and executive function sort of fit into all this then, how does it fit in with this linguistics stuff? So it all starts really with the national curriculum in England. What the national curriculum stipulates is that all pupils should be taught to speak clearly and convey their ideas confidently using standard English. One of the main criticisms of that though, is whether it is technically realistic to expect children to use standard English in these really disparate contexts where in formal situations and informal context. Researcher has consistently shown in linguistics, that informal context favour the use of local vernacular and by vernacular, what I mean is sort of local dialect, for instance, so I’m from Leicester, so the local dialect to Leicester basically, and it assumes that all pupils will be willing to change their way of talking for another and be able to manage control different language styles. So what it what it doesn’t take into account is this kind of cognitive dimension of this style shift, in this shift in between the local dialect and Standard English, it doesn’t take into that context. That kind of idea.
And also with social class as well, we touch upon this working class children, if we take if we compared working class children to middle class children, working class children, the majority of them will be local dialect speakers. And obviously, from this requirement in the national curriculum, they’ll be expected to switch the local dialect forms that they habitually use for Standard English ones, in order to succeed at school, and managing this mismatch between the variety they use at home with their family with their friends, and that expected of them at school, whilst also having to complete the intellectually demanding tasks that the teacher set for them in the classroom. What this could potentially do is impact on their processing capacities.
If we look at it from a middle class perspective, middle class children, many of them enter the classroom speaking Standard English. So therefore, they don’t bear the same burden. They come from, they come from this background where speaking Standard English is the norm. So they don’t have that same sort of cognitive burden that the working class children would. So the questions that I seek to answer is, is there a potential interaction between children’s working memory capacity and executive functioning, and their style shift and abilities, and our working class children placed under increased and inequitable cognitive load in the classroom because of the requirement that they use a language style which is less routine for them.
So gamifying psychological tasks that so if we move on to this, so the three psychological sort of abilities that I will be testing, that I’ve tested through the tasks and these are working memory capacity, shifting ability, and inhibitory control? Typically, these are measured using quite traditional psychological tests, often by pen and paper or through programming software, which is specially designed for the running of psychological experiments. Examples of this could be Psy toolkit, for instance, which is particularly good for these traditional experiments. The problems of this though, is that it’s effortful. It’s frustrating, and it’s repetitive for the children. So what they find is that it’s quite boring, that they can’t sort of engage with it. So it leads to participant disengagement, and therefore poor data quality.
This is where the Gorilla game builder comes into play. So I came across this through my supervisor, who’s a
sort of expert, she works in the psychology department at Sheffield. And…hi. Yeah. Yep, one second. One second. We’re just moving rooms.
Jo Evershed 5:20
Katie, don’t, don’t worry about it at all. I know these things are stressful. But everyone’s everyone’s here with you. And what you were saying was absolutely fascinating. No, you’re very welcome. If anyone’s-
Katie Mainsfield 5:35
let’s get back to it. Yeah, to get back to it. Yeah.
Absolutely, you’re doing absolutely great. Everyone is fine and patient and eager to hear what you have to say next, when you’re ready for us.
Katie Manfield 5:51
Okay, so this is where it kind of leads on then to the Gorilla game builder. And I was introduced this for my psychologist, supervisor, at Sheffield who have been, she’s got quite lots of experience working with Gorilla. Quite well trained in it. Something I’ve never heard I’ve never heard of really before. So it’s all completely new to me. But I was intrigued to kind of look at the possibilities that it could offer to my research. So yeah, so just to sort of introduce the game builder to those who have not heard of it before. It’s a new state of the art tool, which allows you to go beyond traditional lab based work. The new game builder tool allows researchers to create interactive games like the one I’ll show you in a moment, which turns formal and often repetitive psychology tasks into quite an exciting activity that children actually really enjoy doing.
There’s no coding or programming knowledge needed, which was an absolute dream for me, because I hate coding. And it boosts participant motivation and engagement without compromising data quality, which was another big advantage for me, that kind of drew me to want to use the gorilla game builder. So just to show you to give you a brief, sort of snapshot of the video that I created. Unfortunately, the sound is not working for some reason, I’m not entirely sure why. But this is just a snapshot of the first part of the game that I created. As you can see, there’s loads of different stuff. The capabilities of the game builder is absolutely brilliant. You can make it as interactive as you want it basically there’s, you can’t you can’t see it now. But there’s background music, there’s audio clips, you can upload, there’s you can bring your characters to life, basically, to really add that extra sort of engagement with the children.
Yeah, so this is all you can have your own backstory. So this is all about a burglar stealing puppies, and the children had to retrieve the keys to unlock the puppies. So that’s like the backstory to this game so there’s three tasks. And they had to basically win a key for each task to unlock each of the puppies. And the tasks, the keys were all hidden in this burglars kind of like warehouse where we were storing all his stolen stuff. So yeah, as you can see this, you can animate text, you can animate speech bubbles, you can have as many characters as you want, you can have any backgrounds you want. The capabilities of this is literally endless. The more that you play around with it, the more exciting it gets. So yeah, that’s just basically the sort of start of the game, how that’s how I set that up.
Yeah, so just to take you through the tasks that I had. So obviously, I was talking about measuring working memory capacity. To measure working memory capacity, what I did was a running memory span, which is a psychol- psychology, sort of test of working memory capacity. Basically, what it involves is a list of numbers is read out to the participant and it will end unpredictably. So, the child will not know when it will end. And then what will what it will ask the participant to do is recall as many of the last items in the list as possible. But the catch is it has to be an order. This is quite a really, this is actually a really good test of working memory capacity. As you can see, the way I sort of integrated that into the game is through a safe. So what I did was told the children that the key was in the safe, they had the audio clip would play on the in the children’s headphones. And what they had to do was enter the code into the safe and click on this blue safe button here to try, to turn the safe and see if it would work. Obviously it was set to have so many trials. So until the game ended, obviously but they enjoyed this kind of instead of it being like a repetitive task, which it would have been had we not had this sort of interactive that had this interactive nature. They enjoyed keep trying The lock keep trying to lock to see if it would work and that was what really sort of engaged them in this task.
And then the shifting ability. So yeah, to do this shift in abilities basically their participants ability to shift from one category to another category. And to do this I employ the colour shape task which is quite notoriously
used to test this ability in the literature. And it’s had quite successful results, the colour shape task then what it does, it tests shift in ability and by that it means how participants can resolve interference. So, can they actively switch from the one one role of categorising something to another. So, in this in this case, what we had was a colour task. So Superman was with the colours, with the shapes sorry, and Wonderwoman was with the colours. And they had to categorise them by whether it was a circle or square. And when it was Wonderwoman’s turn, they had to categorise them as whether it was yellow, or blue. And in here, this is when we could, so these were all single trials. So the three blocks, we had a shape block colour block, here, we had the switching block as the third block of trials, and what the children had to do, if I just play you this just to show you what it looks like, the fixation point would appear. And wherever were the shape, whichever side it appeared on was which rule the children had to categorise by. So if the circle appeared, for instance, on Superman’s side, they had to, they they would automatically know that they had to categorise by shape. If the, if a square appeared on Wonderwoman’s side, then they would have to categorise by colour.
What I did with this data is, I’m currently in the process of collecting all of the data. And we’ll be calculating reaction time and percentage of correct responses. Which brings me on to another point with the Gorilla Game builder. What’s brilliant about it is that it does it all automatically for you, you’ll get a spreadsheet with all the data on and it shows you the reaction times from participants. And the accuracy, you can set up scorers, all sorts of things behind the scenes that enables this data to be collected, like automatically and it’s brilliant. Obviously, it avoids the possibility of manual error as well, which is brilliant. Another advantage of it.
And then the last test that I did was inhibitory, it was testing inhibitory control. And one of the most used tasks for this in psychology is the go no go task. What it, what I did was employed two blocks of 50 trials. And essentially what the go no go test does it for people that don’t know what it is, essentially, it’s a task where you, the child builds up this this response. So for in this case, we had blue diamonds and purple diamonds, the children had to press the spacebar every time they saw the blue diamond. And then because they build up this automatic response, where they were expecting a blue diamond, when a purple diamond appeared on the screen, they had to control themselves and stop themselves from pressing the spacebar for the purple. So yeah, that’s how it kind of tests inhibitory control. Yeah, so two blocks of 50 trials. And again, I’m currently working through collecting the rest of the data for this. And we’ll be looking at reaction time and accuracy. Just to show you a quick video of how this one works. So again, we have a fixation point if it wants to play. If it’s going to work, yeah, so we have a fixation point and then the diamond will appear. And the children have to react accordingly.
Just some observations then to finish off with because obviously, I’ve not got any sort of data to present unfortunately today. In terms of things that I’ve noticed, whilst carrying out the game with the children, the first one no reduction in data quality. I think that’s one of the biggest things for researchers like yourselves who are probably interested in potentially using a game builder like this. The concern I definitely had at the beginning was whether there would be a reduction in the data quality from, obviously gamifying something does it would it alter the quality of the data I would be able to collect, and it hasn’t.
And the second biggest thing for me was participant engagement. So particularly what I noticed was obviously in a in an average class, you always get some children who’s potentially, who possibly don’t really have the best attention spans, they probably have lower attention spans than other children. And what I noticed was the children that I was particularly concerned about doing this task, the task with, whether they’d be able to sit in one sitting and complete the game, were the ones who actually were the ones that I shouldn’t have worried about at all. They sat down, they were completely enthralled by the game. They thought it was great. They just wanted to get, which brings me on to my next point. They just wanted to complete the game again and again and again in their free time. I’ve had the children coming up to me whilst I’ve been working at the school for the last couple of weeks, since we’ve been doing the game. And they’ve been saying, Oh, can we do the game today, can we play the game again I want to beat my score. So that just kind of tells you all you need to know really about this participant engagement and how gamifying, something that would be traditionally quite boring, quite repetitive, actually can be made into something that a child will enjoy.
And just the next step, really, in terms of how I’ll be linking this data to the rest of my project that I’m doing, I’ll be doing a speech based experiment. This is more of the linguistic based stuff. And what it’s designed to do is induce varying levels of cognitive load. They basically has a reading and comprehension task that set as the control task, and then it’s got four different conditions, as you can see, so different demands are placed on the children. So you’ve got the whether that we’re told to speak in their home language, whether they’ll be told to speak in the school language. And in these two conditions, whether there’ll be in these two conditions, sorry, two and four, whether there’ll be an additional task they have to complete, which will be an auditory based task, as well as the comprehension task. And what I’ll be doing is trying to draw some correlations between the data that’s collected from the Gorilla game that I’ve created, and this speech based experiment data to find out whether the children’s working memory and executive function scores are related to their performance in the speech based experiment, and start to explore those potential implications for educational policy and practice.
That’s me finished. Thank you for listening. And thank you for putting up with my minor pause while I had to change room. I’ve included my Twitter handle here, just for anybody who’s interested in in my research or interested in how I went about building the game, and could potentially be interested in doing that themselves. So yeah, you can catch any updates on my PhD on Twitter. Hopefully, there’ll be some, some highlights and stuff with my data soon. So thanks for listening. And I’ll be happy to take any questions.
Jo Evershed 17:08
Katie, that was phenomenal. While people are putting their thoughts together into questions in the q&a, I just wanted to say I get if you were my PhD student, I’d be tremendously proud. That’s a phenomenal amount of work you’ve done. And it’s extraordinarily difficult doing work with kids in schools, psychological and you’re managing to clearly juggle a very diverse set of work, and you’re doing it with tremendous grace. So well done. If anybody does have any questions for Katie, please put them into the q&a. That would be really interesting, you’re getting lots of positive feedback here. Awh, is that the supervisor, supervisor, lots of people saying it’s very interesting work. And what a great approach. It’s one of the things we’ve heard a lot from researchers like you as well, the capacity to go and test kids with special needs. With a gamified tool. It’s just completely transformative. And there are so many parents and carers and teachers out there who actually have very weak understanding of what their children with special needs are able to do where they are at the moment. And if you could get decent measures, and then be able to track them over time, because you could send that game off to them, then then that would be a tremendous benefit. Yeah. There’s a question here from Kimberly Beaumont. Amazing talk, Katie. Just curious, how were the children responding in the switch task? different buttons for the circle square versus the red blue? Like, what were the controls here?
Katie Mansfield 18:38
Yeah, so for the colour shape task. So in the game builder, what they, it’s really clever how you can set it up. So you can set it up, set up a keyboard response. So the way this particular task was set up is if the children were responding to it in the they obviously had the single trials of the colour trial and the shape trial. So in the shape trial, if they, if a circle appeared on the screen, they would press M screen, they would press the J key, then what would happen in the next trial for the colours, they would press F if the shape was yellow, and it completely ignored the shape just looking at the colour this time? And they would press J if it was blue. And then obviously, we’ve got this thing because they’ve learned two different rules. Can they switch between those rules in the in the mixed, obviously, the switching part, the switching block of the trials? Where, depending on which side it appears, can they automatically retrieve that role that they’ve learned and know whether it’s going to be the obviously the J key or the F key?
It was quite a tricky one, to be honest. It was quite a tricky one for them to get going with it. Once they had the practice trials though, because I did include some practice trials. I should have mentioned that just to get them familiarised with the sort of the concept to have what they were meant to be doing. They flew through it, they were absolutely fine. So it was it was nice to see how much they enjoyed just playing around with it. Because I was really worried to start because this is something quite new to me I’ve not, as my supervisor will probably tell you, I’m not in any way familiar with Gorilla, it’s been something completely new from scratch to me, that I’ve had to do. And going back to December, when I first started, I was having an absolute meltdown thinking, I’m not gonna be able to do this, there’s so many different buttons, there’s so many different capabilities that this this piece of software offers. I don’t even know where to start. I took some time away. And I’m so glad I said, say to everyone at the university now, I’m so glad that I didn’t just walk away from the game builder and actually got the licence and sat and persevered a bit because it was one of the best things that I’ve done in my PhD. It’s really helped me to take this different approach to take this different perspective and actually produce some thing of this quality, I never thought that I’d be able to produce something like this, that collects the data in such a, just an efficient way, like the way the data is coming out in the spreadsheet at the moment. It’s brilliant. It’s so easy. And as I said in my talk, it just avoids these problems of manual errors. That’s so many of us when we’ve got so much work to do. It’s so easy to just make these silly errors that you don’t even realise you’ve done and but the, gorilla it just simplifies so much stuff for you. It’s brilliant. Yeah, it’s absolutely brilliant.
Jo Evershed 21:30
well that’s fantastic. We, and I’m so glad you persevered as well. I think what you’ve managed to create here is truly impressive.