The WoWinSchool Project continues to amaze me. What began in 2009 has grown, evolved, and continues to engage students in unique and exciting ways. The keys are tapping into relevance and creating a space in which what our Heroes learn relates to the context of their experiences.
The curriculum that Craig Lawson and I wrote for the program and released in June of 2011 has resonated with other pioneering educators around the globe. This year has been no exception. With the more affordable, dynamic MMO’s entering the market and game-based learning gaining the attention of district-level decision makers, more Lorekeepers (teachers) are taking up the banner and guiding a new generation of student-heroes into this adventure in learning.
The adaptability of the learning quests in the curriculum makes it suitable for games beyond World of Warcraft. In Pender County Schools, our programs have made a significant transition to a new world. The subscription fees associated with WoW have, historically, made it cost-prohibitive for many would-be additions to the program. As our allotment of 60-day subscription cards began to dwindle, I began to research viable alternatives that might allow us to continue our momentum.
I experimented with Rift and Star Wars: The Old Republic, and though they have merits, both, at the time, were subscription-based, and in my experience, didn’t provide the epic-level experience we’d had in WoW. I began following the developments of ArenaNet’s Guild Wars 2 and held out hope that this might be the one. A month after release, I was convinced. Around this same time, LeVonda Vickery from the REACH School in Oregon, contacted me regarding her desire to use our curriculum with Guild Wars 2. So, I wasn’t the only one thinking about the possibilities! Guild Wars 2 would take us and our program forward, providing our heroes with deep, story-driven content, while adding a huge layer of community-driven experience I felt had always been lacking from World of Warcraft.
We conducted a test to see how well it would fit with a group of five students in Cape Fear Middle’s SAGA class. Their feedback was very positive and the game performed acceptably on our newest Dell desktops (with integrated graphics) and beautifully on our Alienwares. After discussing with our school-based Lorekeepers, we agreed. “It’s time to move to Tyria!”
All of our 30+ Heroes have now embarked on a new adventure in Tyria. GW2’s emphasis on character and story during character creation really sets the stage for focusing on a player’s role in the bigger picture of world events. The unique level-adjusting system means that players who have outpaced their guild mates in level can go back to support their lower-level friends while still being challenged.
GW2’s focus on guilds also creates unique opportunities for our student guild, The Legacy, to engage with the larger server community. The perks that guilds earn for gaining influence points (by working together in the game), allow for students to have a greater say in the direction of their community takes. A great example of how we’re taking advantage of this is with our recent guild emblem contest.
Already, more schools have joined or expressed an intent to join the program in the near future. The Legacy Guild is growing! Exciting possibilities are on the horizon!
The future is coming. Are you ready? I am and I’m excited about what it holds for education! As if it weren’t already clear that I’m an unabashed (and rather proud) geek, you might suspect that my favorite genre of literature is science fiction. And, you’d be mostly right, though the number one spot is also shared with fantasy literature (big surprise, huh?). Last week I wrapped up Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. It was a blast! A mashup of 80’s pop culture and gaming with a healthy dose of dystopian cyberpunk, it really is this 80’s kid’s dream novel.
When consuming media, though, I find it difficult to take off my educator-glasses. So, as I’m reminiscing about the days of the blips and beeps of the mall arcade and the tabletop PacMan at the local Pizza Hut, I’m also paying close attention to what Cline says about education. I highlighted several passages because they got me thinking… Want to know what school will be like in the future? Maybe science fiction holds the key! Then, I reflected on other science fiction I’d read or seen in the movies. What if? Here are some possible futures:
"Then, one glorious day, our principal announced that any student with a passing grade-point average could apply for a transfer to the new OASIS [the virtual world in Cline's novel] public school system. The real public school system, the one run by the government, had been an underfunded, overcrowded train wreck for decades... ...every kid with half a brain was being encouraged to stay at home and attend school online."
This is a future that both excites and worries me at the same time. However, look at the pressures our public schools are facing. Imagine a system that was free, accredited, and offered experiences like these:
"...since the buildings were just pieces of software, their design wasn't limited by monetary constraints, or even by the laws of physics. So, every school was a grand place of learning, with polished marble hallways, cathedral-like classrooms, zero-g gymnasiums [way cool!], and virtual libraries containing every (school-board approved) book ever written."
What person wouldn’t want to experience a learning environment like that? Aside from the physical and monetary constraints on today’s schools, consider this, more personal statement by Parzival, the main character in the novel:
"Best of all, in the OASIS, no one could tell that I was fat, that I had acne... ...Bullies couldn't pelt me with spitballs... No one could even touch me. In here, I was safe."
Ever wonder why students are drawn to video games and virtual worlds? Do you think, given the option to customize the appearance of their avatars that they’d hesitate to choose this kind of schooling over the traditional brick-and-mortar alternatives?
In later passages Parzival explains his experiences exploring ancient Egypt, touring a beating human heart (a la The Fantastic Voyage), and visiting Jupiter’s Io to watch a volcano erupt as Jupiter loomed on the horizon. Imagine being able to have these sorts of experiences with your own learners! Sleeping in class? I doubt that would be an issue.
It’s interesting that I actually read Ender’s Game after I’d first used an iPad. So, as I read passages like the one below, I was amazed at the author’s vision of learning in the future:
"Ender doodled on his desk, drawing contour maps of mountainous islands and then telling his desk to display them in three dimensions from every angle...The bell rang. Everyone signed off their desks or hurriedly typed in reminders to themselves. Some were dumping lessons or data into their computers at home. A few gathered at the printers... Ender spread his hands over the keyboard near the edge of the desk and wondered what it would feel like to have hands as large as a grown-up's... Of course, they had bigger keyboards - but how could their thick fingers draw a fine line, the way Ender could..."
Already, tablet computers like the iPad are becoming frequent sights in our classrooms. Their ability to provide technology-enhanced learning, individualized to a learner’s needs is powerful. What might the future look like if every student had access to these devices to support their learning? In some places, that future is already here.
Game-Based Learning – Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (1985)
Consider the Battle School from Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. Through rigorous game-based simulations, students in Card’s world learned standard curricula as well as military strategy. Schools around the world are starting to pay attention to video games and how they can be effective tools for teaching. (This blog has examples!)
Imagine what classroom learning might look like if each student had a personal, digital assistant to help them as they learned, adjusting to their specific learning styles, and helping them as they researched online. In Neal Stephenson’s Snowcrash, the main character, Hiro, has a computer program dubbed “The Librarian” who takes the form of an avatar and helps him as he researches a mystery that’s plaguing hackers in cyberspace. Consider this interchange between Hiro and his assistant as they piece together information that each of them has collected:
"He believed that Babel was an actual historical event. That it happened in a particular time and place, coinciding with the disappearance of the Sumerian language. That prior to Babel/Infocalypse, languages tended to converge. And that afterward, languages have always had an innate tendency to diverge and become mutually incomprehensible - that this tendency is, as he put it, coiled like a serpent around the human brainstem.""The only thing that could explain that is - "Hiro stops, not wanting to say it."Yes?" the Librarian says."If there was some phenomenon that moved through the population, altering their minds in such a way that they couldn't process the Sumerian language anymore. Kind of in the same way that a virus moves from one computer to another, damaging each computer in the same way. Coiling around the brainstem. ""Lagos devoted much time and effort to this idea" the Librarian says "He believed that the nam-shub of Enki was a neurolinguistic virus"
When I consider these elements I think about my iPhone and that quirky little personality that resides within, Siri. The thing that makes Siri amazing is not that it can recognize your speech or conduct basic information gathering for you, but rather that it’s the beginning stages of tools that can make sense of what we are saying/asking. This is beyond speech recognition. This is semantics. What if each of your learners had one of these? This wouldn’t supplant a teacher, but would foster individualization and differentiation. At the same time, this we can always direct students to Siri for those “Bloom’s Basement” sorts of questions.
If you haven’t read these novels, you really should. Not only do they have interesting predictions about the future (and the future of learning), they’re great reads! There are probably countless other examples from science fiction. Perhaps you’ve got some? Leave a comment and share!
A few months back, I blogged about “The Wall.” In the minds of many, play and work (or learning) are mutually exclusive ideas. This continues to haunt me as I filter through the comments on a video of students in my district sharing their Minecraft creations on YouTube. It’s not just adults who struggle with the idea that game play can be a fertile ground for learning. Even our youngest learners are conditioned to believe that school isn’t a place for play. Learning only comes from textbooks.
Sadly, many of us, in our efforts to pioneer game-based learning in our classrooms are reinforcing that wall. As I read about other educators’ game-based learning projects or have discussions with teachers who have well-meaning notions of bringing Minecraft or other games into their classroom, an all-too-common thread is emerging: “After they’ve successfully completed their assignment, I’ll let them play ____.” I even see teachers using this approach with skill-and-drill “educational” games.
And so, another brick is added to the wall. This only widens the gap of relevancy between what happens in the classroom and what happens outside of school in the minds of our learners. Incentivizing play in learning relegates video games to a dessert tray that can only be sampled once you’ve eaten your spelling words and finished all of your algebra. We’re doing kids a long-term disservice in their thinking.
My plea to educators, especially those brave enough to explore game-based learning: make video game play a part of how you do business in the classroom. Don’t make it a reward. Good games can stand on their own pedagogical merit. We often talk about fostering lifelong learning in kids and we need to encourage them to be critical and thoughtful consumers of media, including video games.
In case you hadn’t noticed, education is full of jargon and rife with an alphabet soup of programs, policies, and practice. It’s often challenging for me as a professional in education technology to keep my terminology defined. What’s the difference between CIPA and COPPA? When you say PBL, do you mean problem-based learning or project-based learning? Of course, my own area of passion in education, the use of games and game principles for learning is faced with a similar, murky sea of words and ideas. Recent discussions, between David Warlick, Mathias Poulsen, and myself via Twitter during ISTE 12, forced me to consider the issues. For me, it’s time to refine the definition of “game-based learning.”
It’s exciting to watch the idea of game-based learning gaining market share in the discussion on educational change, especially, since I’ve been pushing it for a few years now. There is, however, some confusion among educators, and even in my own mind, about how we define the different terms associated with the use of games and game principles in the classroom. What’s the difference between using games to teach and gamifying the classroom? Let’s take a look at some of the big ideas:
One of the best things that game-based learning is bringing back to the education reform discussion is the value of play and a playful approach to learning. This is nothing new (see Vygotsky, Piaget, and others), of course, but it’s an idea that has seen hard times in an era of standardization and high-stakes testing. The value, here, is in encouraging learners to “play” with ideas. In doing so, the idea of failure is either not possible or is an accepted part of the process. Using this sort of approach also provides learners with opportunities to test ideas and hypotheses to solve ill-defined problems. Some key thinkers in this area that you should review include: Papert, Brian Sutton-Smith, and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Though an integral part of game-based learning, it’s a only a component of the bigger picture.
Using Games To Teach
First off, notice I’m saying “using games to teach” not “using video games to teach.” I think this in an important first distinction. While most of my work has been in the application of video games to instructional goals, I think that focusing solely on video games is too limiting. There are some incredible games out there that are not electronic at all. Secondly, I think it’s important for educators to distinguish between simulations and games. Simulations provide experiences through which participants experience concepts and are certainly valuable for learning, however, they lack many of the elements that games bring to the learning process. So, how do we define “game,” then? According to Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman, “a game is a system in which players engage in an artificial conflict, defined by rules, that results in a quantifiable outcome.” Others include variations on the definition, but the fundamentals of rules, challenge, and interaction are foundational.
I see the idea of “using games to teach” as the use of a pre-designed game to help learners reach an instructional goal. In the world of video games, this breaks down into two areas that I feel are distinct: the use of “educational” games (think Math Blaster) and the use of commercial, off-the-shelf games for education (think using Civilization V to teach World History). The quotes around educational are intentional. All good games are educational even if they weren’t designed with the classroom in mind. My personal passion is exploring the use of games not designed for the classroom to help learners understand concepts.
Serious games is another term that you’ll often hear in discussions on game-based learning. According to Wikipedia a serious game is, “a game designed for a primary purpose other than pure entertainment.” That definition can encompass a broad range of games including “educational games,” games designed for training, games designed to solve real-world problems, etc. I believe that the Games for Change movement would also fit as a subset of serious games. Consider the game Re-Mission, designed to help cancer patients not only learn about the disease but also fight it.
Gamification is applying the principles of games and game design to a non-game-related system. This concept is quickly gaining momentum in the corporate world, spurred on by increased access to social media and mobile technology among consumers. Take a look at FourSquare, for example. When gamifying a business, consumers unlock badges and awards for being frequent patrons and earn points for participating in events and activities much as they would by completing activities in a game like Call of Duty or World of Warcaft. When applied to the classroom, the discussion focuses on ideas such as replacing traditional grades with experience points and levels, player groups, and redesigning lessons to be more akin to the quests (see quest-based learning) that players might experience in a game. It’s important for educators to distinguish, here, that this idea can be applied to any subject area and doesn’t necessarily involve the use of a pre-designed game. A video by the folks at Extra Credits does a decent job of summarizing the idea – http://youtu.be/MuDLw1zIc94. This is also another opportunity for me to plug 3DGameLab, an online system that makes this process manageable for classroom teachers.
For my own sanity, I’ll be lumping the ideas of using games to teach and gamification under the bigger umbrella of “game-based learning.” Of course, I’ll still have to ask others using the term what them mean when they say it. If you’re interested in learning more, follow the #GBL tag on Twitter. If you’re looking to engage with other educators in the trenches who are wrestling exploring these issues, take a look at Jennifer Lagarde‘s Level Up Book Club (#levelupbc on Twitter)
(Edited 7/2/12 – Added Serious Games)
“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” or so the saying goes, and apparently, there’s truth in it. According to an October 2011 story in The Atlantic, the lack of unstructured play is making our children more anxious and depressed. When I present on the topic of games and their value for learning, I usually hit this fundamental issue. Play is valuable. Powerful learning happens when we’re in that flow state. I point educators to a great TED Talk by Dr. Stuart Brown on importance of play. In his talk, he quotes Dr. Brian Sutton-Smith, “The opposite of work isn’t play – it’s depression.”
This wall between play and work is entrenched in our fast-paced, corporate-driven culture. Play is something we do on the weekends and perhaps in the evenings after we’re home from the office. What’s frightening me, lately, is that I’m seeing this same mental wall in people’s minds between play and learning. Our busy, test-driven classrooms allow little room for “sandbox” time, a time for simply exploring a concept of the student’s choice. Our curricula are formulaic and, of course, time-finite. We must ensure that all students achieve mastery before the summer.
It isn’t a surprise that the idea of bring play (and video games) into the classroom takes many educators aback. After all, we’ve been thoroughly conditioned by the rat race. What really concerns me is that this same division exists in the minds of even our youngest learners. How do I know? I’ve been moderating YouTube comments! Several months ago, I posted a video of our 5th graders sharing their Minecraft creations. At some point, the video became somewhat viral (as of this posting, over 600,000 views). The huge majority of comments (over 4,000 so far) are coming from K-12 students. I’ve been really surprised by the pushback I’m receiving from these kids. Comments like, “You can’t learn from a game, you learn at school,” and “how can you learn while playing a game?” aren’t uncommon.
I often evoke Scott McLeod’s blog title when thinking about things like this. Public education is barreling full steam down a path toward dangerous irrelevance. Is what happens in the classroom truly meaningful to our kids?
C’mon innovators! I know you’re out there. Let’s reverse this trend, and bring play and exploration back into the learning process. It doesn’t have to be through video games (though, that’s a good way to start).
@PCSTech says – Where preaching is happening, it’s directed at the choir. #iste11
My first session at ISTE 2011 was with Will Richardson. It was an excellent rallying cry. A call for us to wake up. The problem? The people who really need to hear that message aren’t in the audience. Will’s talk frightens me. Why? Because what he’s describing is simply the current state of technology. He’s not speaking as a futurist, here. And, as our learners move forward the relevance gap between school and the real world grows wider and wider. In an age of automobiles we’re educating them to be buggy whip makers. I worry about this gap, because, as one colleague said it, “this new landscape of technology is like the Wild West.” Our kids are rushing in but typically without the guidance and wisdom of adults who are also pioneering ahead. The result? Well, just spend some time on XBox Live or look at what the average video posted to YouTube or the dialogue on Facebook. I want them to share their lives and their creativity in these new media. They should be. But, they need guidance from us.
@PCSTech says – The real innovation is not in technology but in thinking. #iste11
I spent enough time in the vendor area to make it from one end to the other. I am pretty confident in saying that I saw ZERO examples of any tools that were revolutionary. I didn’t see any gadget, tool, service, or resource that fundamentally shifts instruction. Every demonstration was instructor-centric. “Look at what you as the teacher can show your students…” Interactive white boards are bigger, snazzier, and offer more razzle dazzle than ever before. Student response systems have only made standardized testing easier. Like we need it. Some of the technology I saw was downright disgusting, like this tool that allows you to use an iPad 2 to score standardized Scan/Bubble sheets. Seriously people?
@PCSTech says – Please don’t put “educational” or “serious” in front of “game.” #iste11
If you are a gamer or a member of the 97% of our student population who plays electronic games, then you know what real games are like. When you go home, you immerse yourself in the fast-paced action of Call of Duty, conquer dungeons with your guild in World of Warcraft, or get your daily workout while dancing in front of your Kinect. Educators, please don’t try to sell your “educational” or “serious” game as a game in that light. It won’t help the cause of advancing games as a viable tool for learning in our learners’ eyes. When it comes to games in education, there are two areas I think we should pay close attention to: student-created games like Pat Yongpradit is doing (using tools like Kodu/XNA, GameStar Mechanic, or Game Maker) and the use of commercial, off-the-shelf games (like Civilization, SIMS, or World of Warcraft).
For me, the real meat of the conference came in the conversations between sessions and over meals. EduBloggerCon was quite possibly the most valuable experience of all. I think the un-conference format really fosters deep conversation and networking and I’m hoping to adapt the format for professional development in my district.
The EdGamer Podcast featured the WoWinSchool Project! If you haven’t subscribed to this podcast, you should!
So, just a quick post reflecting on Day One of our Minecraft project.
First off, from a technical standpoint, the program and the server worked perfectly. We didn’t have any issues and the server practically yawned with boredom as we connected our 20 elementary and three teacher accounts.
Initially, I prepped the students with a brief introduction telling them they were literally pioneers and some of the first students in the world to ever do what we were doing. It’s awesome to observe their facial expressions as they consider that. Our students’ first experiences with Minecraft consisted of them logging into the world and learning the fundamental mechanics of the game (movement, breaking and placing blocks). They were also introduced the chat system and we quickly discussed some basic limits on how much information we should share about ourselves.
A few more observations:
- The students were abuzz with excitement when they came into the lab. One particularly inquisitive student had spent quite a bit of time researching Minecraft on Youtube prior to Friday (See where they go to learn?).
- Our 45 minutes flew by entirely too quickly and the kids realized it, too.
- I think our administrators, who were there to observe, would agree that the speed at which the kids adapted to the controls was amazing.
- Engagement was through the roof.
- Students were very willing and eager to share what they were learning with their classmates.
- In most cases, I refused to give them direct instruction about how to deal with the first problems they encountered, the most common of which was, “I’ve dug myself into a hole… How do I get out?”
- I only used admin commands once to get a student who’d fallen into a deep and lightless cavern out because the glare of florescent lights on the screen made it nearly impossible to orient himself.
- Adding the “shipwrecked explorers” element to the story helped provide a context for their overall challenge of cooperatively building a town.
- One of the first thing that many of the students did was try to hit other players in the game. My advice to them was “Go ahead and get it out of your system and see that it’s a waste of time so we can get on with our real challenge.” This is normal gaming behavior. You test the boundaries, limits, and rules of the game world. That’s probably really important in sandbox games, where those limits are not well-defined. I did, however, inform them that we won’t be harassing or destroying another student’s work and if they insisted on engaging in behavior like that, we could easily find a replacement. …I don’t anticipate any issues there. 🙂
- Especially due to our short time frame, a little more up-front guidance is going to be required if we are to achieve our end goals. This has caused my anticipated direction for the second class to shift slightly, so, I’ll be headed to the store this weekend to pick up some graph paper and small composition notebooks.
- Communication between schools will be a challenge if we limit it to in-world chat. We may integrate Skype in the coming weeks.
- Feedback at the close from students was positive all around the room and they were reluctant to leave.
I felt really good about our initial outcomes. When you try something new like this, it’s difficult to guess what it will look like. You have to be flexible. Having other educators on board can help you capture some of the “amazing” that’s going on around you that you might overlook. My best advice, assume it will be messy. Good learning always is.