It Takes a Guild Webinar: Episode 3 – Featuring PCS Super-Teachers Craig Lawson and Sara Toothman!

Yeah… I work with amazing people.  GamesMOOC (massive open online course) was kind enough to invite Craig, Sara, and I to share about our game-based initiatives in Pender County Schools.  Missed the live show?  You can watch it here:

 

-Lucas

First Contact

wowinschool_1st_meeting

Earlier this week students from Cape Fear Middle School and Suffern Middle School had their first in-game contact with each other.  In some ways it was similar to the kinds of interactions you might expect if you put a random assortment of middle schoolers together at school dance.  There was a  little mingling, a few timid “‘Sup’s?” and a few silly emotes.  Then, they ran off to complete a few more quests before the day was over.  Could this be the beginning of a guild?  Yeah.  I think so.

-Lucas

I Don’t Teach Lessons – I Give Quests

Dwarven PriestStarting next week, the WoWinSchool Project will become a reality.  We have a great group of students lined up to participate in the project and they are in for an exciting adventure.  From the beginning, I’ve suggested that World of Warcraft, and many other popular video games today, are at least at some level,  potential models for instructional design and delivery.  Today’s games are incredibly complex intellectual pursuits that our students consume with a ravenous appetite.  They are very focused on achievement and support the players’ progress with in-game help and game play that builds in complexity cumulatively.  And, this learning is highly individualized and customized in most cases.

Why can’t our lessons be like this?  I believe they can be.  How often do students struggle for a semester to learn a complex, vocabulary-intense subject like Biology only to fail at the end?  And when they fail, do they pick back up where they left off and attempt to re-master those concepts?  No.  They have to start back over at the beginning the next semester.  I wonder if World of Warcraft would have 11.5 million subscribers if it adopted a similar model?  If I worked hard to achieve level 79 and then failed a quest sending me back to level one would I keep playing?  I doubt it.  The game designers know that would be a disaster, and no one would pay for the game.

With the WoWinSchool after school project I’ve decided I won’t be giving students lessons on math, literacy, leadership, etc.  I’ll be giving students quests for those things instead!  Which would be more effective, to give the students an assignment in the classroom or give them quest, in-game, that revolves around the rich story world that Blizzard has created?  The outcomes, pedagogically, will be the same:  they’ll be writing, they’ll be doing math, and they’ll learn the 21st-Century skills.  The method of delivery, however, will be immersive.

Here’s how it may work:

  • The teachers working with the project will create characters and put them in a guild.  This guild will be known as something like “Keepers of Lore” or “Lore Masters.”  There has been much discussion in gaming circles lately that the next great virtual world/MMO will have to include player generated content.  This would be something akin to that.  We would have students interact with these characters as though they were NPC’s (Non-player characters), but they would, of course, be much more interactive.  We would give quests (assignments) that may involve out-of-game things such as creating machinima, writing a story in a forum, etc.
  • Their work could be rewarded with in-game rewards such as bags, companion pets, mounts, etc.
  • All of this would be handled in roleplay sort of environment perhaps even integrating existing themes current in the World of Warcraft storyline.  Students would also be encouraged to reply/respond in-character.
  • The Lore Master character would support the student learning throughout the process through in-game communication or even through responses in forums to student work.

So, what do you think?  Do you have ideas about how we might blur the lines between assignments and quests, between in-game and real-life learning?  If so, share your thoughts and comments!

-Lucas

Waiting on WoW, Students Gaming With SIMS 3 on the iPod Touch!

It’s been a bit since my last update, so I thought I’d share what’s going on with the WoWinSchool Project and share another project that I’m working on.

I’m still waiting on the State to release EETT funds so that we can begin purchasing software and accounts for the students in the WoWinSchool Project.  As soon as that funding comes through (and it should be any day now), the project will begin moving ahead, full steam!  Keep an eye on the project Wiki for updates.  In the mean time, check out the podcast I and other WoW-playing educators did with Rik at RezEd – http://www.rezed.org/page/rezed-podcast-40-discussions.  Also, be on the lookout for an article on the project in THE Journal at some point soon.

So, let me share with you another project I’m involved in that involves students and gaming in the classroom.  One of our middle schools, Cape Fear Middle, purchased a mobile lab of iPod Touches.  It’s awesome.  An idea struck me, based on the discussion that Henry Jenkins had about the Nickel and Dimed Challenge for SIMS 2.  “Why don’t we have students play SIMS 3, and do similar project?”  So, Craig Lawson, 7th-Grade language arts teacher, is doing just that with his students.

Students are using the SIMS 3 on the iPod Touch to learn about the elements of fiction.  Their experiences playing the game are serving as a foundation and inspiration for their writing.  Students began by writing about the characteristics of their SIM:  traits, motivations, and desires.  They then switched with their partner and after playing their partner’s SIM, trying to determine that SIM’s characteristics.  Today, they began writing stories about their SIM either in 1st or 3rd-person point of view or a game manual if they drew (out of a hat) 2nd-person point of view.  We’re also planning to have students create web-comics (all on the iPod Touch) telling stories about their SIM.

Later this year, the social studies teacher will be using Civilization Revolution to teach some of the concepts in that curriculum.

All of this is being documented/shared on the wiki:  http://ipodgamesforlearning.pbworks.com.  There are lessons, hardware/software information, student videos, and more there.

Check it out!

Here’s a video of a student explaining the first assignment:

-Lucas

Teachers In World of Warcraft – Games in Education 09

Teacher Gnomes in Ironforge Today I was privileged to work with Peggy Sheehy and Marianne Malmstrom in a three-hour, hands-on workshop for educators at the Games in Education Symposium, and what an awesome group they were!  The workshop began with Peggy giving most of them their first-ever experiences in Second Life followed by Marianne’s great lessons on using the screen capture program, Jing, to capture scenes for creating machinima.  Then I led the group into World of Warcraft.  We explored character creation, basic movements, questing and leveling.  The real challenge, though, was could this group survive the journey from the starting area to Ironforge?  The group assembled and we began our exodus.  It was a journey not without peril.  Ravenous wolves, angry troggs, and the ever-present lag monster (latency) plagued our every step.  Fortunately, members of the Harbingers of Light guild (my students!) came in to escort the throng to the steps of Ironforge.  We assembled on the steps and congratulated ourselves on accomplishing our goal!

These guys were fantastic and so patient!  We had some great laughs and hopefully, everyone got just a taste of a well-designed game and a better undestanding of why it’s so engaging to our students.

-Lucas

A New Project – World of Warcraft In School

wow_in_school For over nine years now, I’ve been playing MMORPG’s.  It was a student who introduced me to Everquest back in 2000.  Since then, I’ve played primarily with students, former students, and folks from around the world in a guild that I lead called Harbingers of Light.  We’ve progressed through Everquest, Dark Age of Camelot, and World of Warcraft.  It didn’t take long before I was convinced that these sorts of virtual environments must have some sort of place in education.  How many times have I thought, “If I could just use this feature or that, I could easily teach concept X?”  If my students were as motivated about Cell Structure and Function as they were about knowing the intricacies of a fight in Molten Core, they’d all have “A’s.”

As a gamer and a teacher I had a connecting point with many of my students.  Discussing loot or an upcoming raid always gave us something to talk about outside of class and allowed me to develop a rapport with students who often didn’t fit typical high school molds.  My classroom became their hangout during break and lunch.  I was always amazed at how easily they recalled minute trivia about the game world, often quoting specific statistics about a piece of gear or their character’s game statistics.  Their ability to think critically about a particular strategy in a boss fight blew me away.  These were not necessarily honors-level students, either.  Sometimes my poorer-performing students would amaze me with what they knew about the game.

Why couldn’t we use a game like this in a school setting?  Why not, indeed!  What would it look like to have a computer lab full of students all playing World of Warcraft together with their teacher (projected on the screen at front, of course).  I finally took the time to write down many of the ideas that I’d been formulating.  “There are some real lessons to be taught in all of this!”  I shared my ideas with one of the coolest and most forward thinking gamer/educators I’d met at the 2008 Games Learning and Society Conference, Peggy Sheehy.  Peggy’s feedback was very positive and she wanted to share it.

Then I thought, “surely we’re not alone.”  I know there are other World of Warcraft playing teachers out there (I know because I have two from my district in my guild).  So, I migrated the project to a Wiki format because I want others to share and collaborate.  Peggy has recently shared this with the RezEd community, an online community of virtual world enthusiasts and educators. I’ve even found another, avid World of Warcraft teacher in my own state who’s been adding her ideas for World of Warcraft lessons to the wiki.  It’s very exciting to see these ideas gaining traction!

So, what sort of lessons could you learn from World of Warcraft?  There are so many and the collaborative wiki environment is allowing other teacher-gamers to add their own lesson ideas.  Here are some examples that I and other teachers have come up with:

  • In Math – Damager Per Second (DPS) Analysis: Acquire two different weapons in world used by your character’s class.  Using the targetting dummies in a capital city, find the average damage over time of each weapon and plot the data on a graph.  Try the same experiment again, this time with gear that changes your character’s agility, strength, attack power, or other melee-related statistic.  Graph the new data.  What’s the relationship between the statistic you tested and the DPS output?
  • In Writing – Design a Quest Chain – Design a quest chain, based on your experience with other quests in the game. The chain must involve at least two different areas in the zone and have at least five steps. Write all the dialogue that the NPCs involved in the quest would say. Make sure you indicate the quest requirements and the steps involved in the quest. You can research quest chains using one of the online quest helper databases like Wowwiki, Thotbott, etc.
  • 21st-Century Skills – Machinima (a movie or film created using a video game or virtual world): Create and edit a video that tells a story in game.  Create and edit a video that uses the game to address a social issue.  Use your characters to tell the story.  Write a script and create a storyboard for your movie.  Post your movie to a collaborative video-sharing site (YouTube, TeacherTube, SchoolTube, etc.).   Promote your video through your social network.

So, how would all of this be implemented?  That’s up to the teacher.  I’m hoping to use this as an after school program targeting at-risk students, but the lessons we’re developing are designed to be very granular and implementation is flexible.  I’m hoping to implement this in the coming school year.  Overall, the project is still in the early formative stages.

If you’d like more information or would be interested in contributing your expertise, visit http://wowinschool.pbworks.com.

-Lucas

Pender County Students Participating in Video Game Study

Screenshot from Tabula Digita's Dimension-M (Evolver, Mission 1)Back in the Fall or 2008, three classes of students at Cape Fear Middle School, the district where I work as an instructional technology coordinator,  participated in a course called Virtual Math.  In this course, we used an immersive, 3-D video game,  Tabula Digita’s Dimension-M, to see if it enhanced students’ learning of pre-Algebra concepts.  The course was a great success.  We have since expanded the course to West Pender Middle and Topsail High.

Starting in January, UNCW has launched a study at both West Pender Middle and Cape Fear Middle to take a closer, more scientific look at the impact this game is having on students’ performance in mathematics.

This story has now been picked up, not only by our local Fox/NBC affiliate (which has a great video of the students), but has now been reported by a number of online websites as well:

Look for more news in the future as the results are published!

-Lucas

Leveraging the Power of Gamers to Shape the Future

Brandon Sheffield, writer for Gamasutra, covered Jane McGonigal’s talk at the Game Developer’s Conference, which is going on this week.  In her talk, Ms. McGonigal made some very poignant remarks about the nature of massively multiplayer online games (MMO’s), why they’re so successful, and how there’s true potential in the medium.  Of course, her remarks have some powerful implications for educational gaming:

Positive psychology is coming to the conclusion that multiplayer games are the ultimate sustainer of happiness.

This observation is based on her research that MMO’s replicate what she feels humans crave:  satisfying work, the experience of being good at something, spending time with people we like, and being part of something bigger than ourselves.

She goes on to suggest that virtual game worlds provide a space that fosters collaboration.  Based on the estimated time it took to create Wikipedia (~100 million mental hours), she says that the collective time and efforts of World of Warcraft players could create it in five days.  She then goes on to make a statement that, could easily be applied to education in these sorts of environments:

There’s no reason why we can’t take real world work and real world problems and seductively conceal it in a game world. Gamers have no problem doing work and doing collaborative things, you just have to figure out how to make them care about it.

In my view, that’s one of the key potentials of serious games, especially virtual worlds.  They provide a context and environment in which students work together toward a shared goal.  The challenge of what she mentions will be providing quality instruction and learning goals that are meaningful to the learners while not being particularly overt about it.

-Lucas