So, What’s Next?

wowkidsLast year was largely an experimental year.  There were so many unknowns going into the WoWinSchool Project that our overall attitude was “Let’s see what this looks like,” and some aspects of the program were largely informal.  That’s not to say that we didn’t learn a great deal and that the participating students didn’t benefit from the program (and we from them).  Going in, we were unsure of even the simplest things like, “What happens when there’s a patch?” and “Will the network and firewall handle it?”

Those early hurdles are behind us and I’m very pleased to announce that we’re ratcheting the program up a notch for the coming year.  In the 2010-2011 school year, both Cape Fear Middle and Suffern Middle will offer a World of Warcraft-based language arts elective during the regular school day.  Development has begun on the course, the syllabus, and implementation plan.  So far, here’s what we’re thinking:

  • Though taking place during the regular day, the course will be hybrid, built online using the Moodle LMS.  This grants us the opportunity to be largely paperless (a good model for other classes!) and it makes the course granular and easily shared.
  • The course will involve a parallel reading assignment for students, probably a novel.  Cape Fear Middle will likely use Tolkien’s The Hobbit.
  • We are trying hard to get away from focusing on grades and are rather granting students XP (experience points) and levels for completing assignments.  Developing appropriate rubrics and scaling is a challenge.
  • The course will have an overall theme, probably based on “The Hero’s Journey.”
  • The course will be aligned to national/state standards and will supplement students’ regular language arts instruction.
  • Our goal is to thoroughly “mash-up” course and in-world experiences.

We have a tremendous amount of work to do to prepare and are excited about where we’re going.

-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

The WoW Factor: Cognitive Dissonance and WoWinSchool the Focus of THE Journal Article

erudIf you haven’t read the recent issue of THE Journal, be sure to take a look at the article.  It’s a great discussion of how the Cognitive Dissonance Guild is supporting educators’ explorations in the virtual world, World of Warcraft.  There’s also discussion of our very own WoWinSchool Project!

-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

World of Warcraft on the iPhone?

Well, I saw the video, and then it was taken down…  What could that mean?  Whether or not an app like  this would expand the player base remains to be seen.  I strongly doubt I could heal a 25-man Naxx or Ulduar raid from my iPod Touch or an iPhone.  But, checking the auction house?  Chatting?  Sure!  I managed to find the video again at http://www.mmosite.com

Looks legit to me…

-Lucas

Businessweek: How World of Warcraft Promotes Innovation

Did you read this article by Business Week?  The authors outline features of World of Warcraft that make it a good model for encouraging innovation in business.  Ideas like:  “Keep Raising the Bar” and “Encourage Frequent and Rigorous Performance Feedback” are just a few lessons they take from the game.

What first stood out to me as I read this was how easily you could substitute the ideas of “corporate” and “business” in this article with “education” and “the classroom.”  Read it and see what you think!

-Lucas

My Gaming Thesis As A Wordle

I took my last thesis revision and put it into Wordle. It creates a very interesting representation and gives you a good idea what was studied.  Have you heard of Wordle?  Wordle analyzes any text that you copy and paste or a website with RSS feed to produce a representation of the words used.  Words used more frequently are larger.  You can then select your colors, fonts, and the orientation of the words.

-Lucas

Atmosphir – Try Your Hand At Game Design

Atmosphir logoI was invited into the beta test for an upcoming game design program called Atmosphir.  Wow!  The guys at Minor Studios have put together a very user-friendly game creation package.  The presentation is extremely smooth and creating your own levels is really simple.  The user interface is very intuitive and easy to learn.  The complexity of what you create is pretty scalable too.

I’d love to see the addition of the ability to add dialogue or text allowing the player to make choices.  Then, we’d have a story!  I’d also love to get this into the hands of students to see what they might create and to observe their decision-making processes while they create.

Looking forward to watching this game develop!

-Lucas