Last 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.
Starting 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!
Well, I fly out Wednesday, headed to Madison, Wisconsin for the 2008 Games, Learning, and Society Conference. I was awared an educator’s scholarship to attend this year’s conference but will also be presenting our work with Squeak (http://www.useitproject.org) in the Poster Session at the conference.
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