Engagement with Technology: Gaming, Immersion and Sub-Optimal Experiences

Keywords: digital technologies, language learning, motivation, engagement, digital games, immersion


This conceptual article focuses on student engagement, and the use of digital games in language classrooms. In making a contribution to the mapping of student engagement across SLA (Dörnyei, 2019a), and in line with the need to use established theories to develop insights into engagement when L2 learning involves digital games, a case is made for the concept of immersion (Brown & Cairns, 2004). The concept is first introduced. Then, to explain how immersion can contribute in understanding student engagement with digital games, an example of engaged gameplay from a classroom ethnographic project in Sweden is provided. Drawing on this example, immersion is contrasted with the more established concepts of L2 willingness to communicate and flow. These comparisons show how immersion captures a form of engaged behaviour particular to playing video games, and which is distinct from other types of focused behaviour previously identified in L2 learning contexts. It is suggested that immersion can make a significant contribution to understanding engagement in contemporary classrooms: it captures engaged behaviour of varying intensity, validated measurement instruments exist, and it can be used in multi-variable designs. Although immersion captures engagement particular to gaming experiences, it has potential to extend to other digital technologies.


Author Biographies

Alastair Henry, University West, Sweden

Alastair Henry is Professor of Language Education at University West, Sweden. His research focuses on the psychology of language learning and teaching. With Zoltán Dörnyei and Peter MacIntrye he is the co-editor of Motivational Dynamics in Language Learning (2015, Multilingual Matters), and with Martin Lamb, Kata Csizér and Stephen Ryan, he is a co-editor of The Palgrave Handbook of Motivation for Language Learning (2019, Palgrave MacMillan). His work has appeared in journals such as Applied Linguistics, Language Learning and Modern Language Journal.

Cecilia Thorsen, University West, Sweden

Cecilia Thorsen is Senior Lecturer in education at University West, Sweden. Alongside work on language learning psychology, her research focuses on educational attainment, student resilience, and assessment practices. In addition to a number of SLA journals, her work has appeared in British Journal of Educational Psychology, Educational Research and Evaluation, and Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research.