Wetherleigh Griffin

Majoring in Minecraft: Engaging ESL Learners in Authentic Interactions Through Virtual Escape Rooms

UAF Senior
B.A. Linguistics
Hometown: Kodiak, Alaska

Wetherleigh instructing a class of students
Wetherleigh leading ESL students registered in a conversation class through an evening lesson plan.

Wetherleigh is a Fall 2023 Student Project Award Recipient. 

Under the mentorship of Dr. Sabine Siekmann, Professor of Applied Linguistics and Foreign Languages, Wetherleigh's project investigates opportunities and challenges university English as a Second Language (ESL) students and their teachers experience while completing a unit of lesson plans that use Minecraft within a task-based language teaching (TBLT) classroom strategy. Wetherleigh's lessons draw on escape rooms, Minecraft, and the intersection of the two to teach context-specific English. 

How is your project going so far this semester?

While not without its bumps and stumbles, working on this URSA project has proven to be an exciting and fun challenge. It has been so amazing to get teaching experience in an ESL classroom with engaged and excited English learners. I feel like I'm learning as much about teaching and English as they are! Every week provides new challenges, and every week I get to come up with creative solutions. I wouldn't have been able to get this far without the support of my faculty mentors, who have been so patient and helpful with their guidance. So far, so good!

Wetherleigh assisting a student with an assignment
Wetherleigh (left) helping an ESL student (right) with an assignment

How did you find out about URSA and what encouraged you to submit an application for funding?

I vaguely knew about URSA when I started working as a student employee at UAF in Fall 2021, but thought it was just for the STEM majors. Then, in Spring 2023, I completed a Minecraft-based series of lesson plans for a class I was taking. My professors were very encouraging of me to pursue more research regarding my lesson plans. With their support, I decided to take my class project a step further and apply for URSA funding. I worked for most of the summer with Dr. Siekmann to complete the application and subsequent trainings. While it was quite a bit of work, everything fell into place. It was rather satisfying.


How does your URSA project relate to your career or personal goals?

My URSA project relates to many of my life goals because it focuses on video games and the gameification of education. I grew up loving games of many kinds, but video games especially. I got a lot of inspiration for this project from my mom. She has been gameifying her classroom(s) for years, making them themed around Pokemon and even board games. She has been a huge support to me over the course of my college career, and has also helped me gameify assignments for class. (Thanks, Mom! )

My dream job is to combine my linguistics education and passion for video games by working for an esports company whose mission is education through gaming. There's actually a UAF alumnus who does something similar as a volunteer! While I don't plan on reinventing the wheel with anything revolutionary, I seek to bolster the education scene with fun and exciting strategies. After all, video games are one of the most profitable industries at the moment.

If you could share one piece of advice with students interested in pursuing URSA in the future, what would you say?

My advice for those interested in pursuing an URSA project is to keep a good relationship with your professors. It might not be obvious which one could serve as your URSA mentor, but you want to have good rapport and reputation with them. If I hadn't taken three classes previously with Dr. Siekmann, who knows if I would have had the confidence and good standing with her to ask her to work with me on this project. Find a professor as excited as you are for the project. Their enthusiasm will be infectious, and their good attitude will do wonders.