Yesterday, Principal Edie Skipper took her first steps into a virtual reality. Around her, 13 – 15 year-olds were eagerly exploring new areas, taking new quests, and discovering the wonderful world of slash commands (like /dance). Edie’s initial foray into Azeroth, however, was much more calculating and intentional. Observing the differences in the way our students and their principal approached their first taste of WoW was incredible. When it came to race selection, our students seemed more influenced by what their peers thought was popular rather than considering the story elements that contribute to each race. No surprise there, really. As for choosing a name, well, let’s just say the Sisters of Elune player community (a roleplay community), will be glad that we were “guiding the process.” Edie’s actions were considerably more intentional than the students. She spent a considerble amount of time perfecting the look of her Dranei mage and choosing a name she felt suited her new blue-skinned self.
The differences in approach, here, are fascinating to watch. I’m no student of psychology, but there’s no wonder the field is focusing considerable energy studying the way we interact with and project ourselves into virtual environments. If you haven’t explored it yet, Nick Yee’s Daedalus Project details some of his work doing just that.
The unfolding of this process and how a student approaches it compared to how their principal approaches it will be exciting to see. Eventually, I believe the game will begin to put greater and greater pressure on the students to tighten up their game, their cooperation, and focus. On the other hand, watching an adult educator’s approach, and how they support their own learning will make for an interesting comparison.
WoWinSchool Day 1 Reflections
I am reminded of the sort of cliche’ scene from a military movie where you see the new recruits arrive at boot camp and their drill sergeant, sputtering and screaming, has a short time to whip them into a cohesive fighting unit. Yesterday was our first day of the WoWinSchool Project. We had about ten students and expect a few additions in the coming days. For the sake of time, because I have to be at work shortly, I’ll share a few reflections:
- I was reminded today why I went into education. The interaction with students was something I’ve missed since leaving the classroom to take the Instructional Technology Coordinator position for my district. Working with this after-school program will fill that gap.
- Throughout the development of this project, I’ve tried hard to keep my expectations in check. Yesterday I was reminded why. These are middle school kids. They are not necessarily the most academically motivated ones nor the stereotypical teachers’ pets, either. That has to frame everything that comes out of this experiment.
- The number one challenge, yesterday, was encouraging students to be thoughtful about choosing their character’s class. Normally, a player simply picks a class and starts playing, but thinking long-term, we’ll need balanced groups for grouping and raiding later as the students advance in level. In the same way everyone can’t be the quarterback on a football team, everyone can’t be a mage or rogue. We started by giving the students the game manuals (yeah, I know, no one reads game manuals), and asked them to spend about ten minutes reading about what each class can do. Did they do it? Nahh… Perhaps a better approach would be to simply put all the needed choices in a hat and have them draw them out. Then, you could let them trade as needed.
- Having Arik, our high school senior, who’s volunteering with the program as part of his senior project, was a huge help. The kids seemed to respond really well to him.
- While we were explaining the project, the expectations, the idea of choosing your class and such, the kids were chatty, giggling, and largely not paying any attention. Really, who can blame them? They’ve been talked at by teachers all day. However, once they got into the game, their attention transformed. It was really remarkable.
So, going into day two, I remind myself of this: learning is messy business. The best laid plans become something altogether different when you’re in the trenches. Remember, this is a grand adventure. I can’t wait to see them form groups and run their first dungeon…
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!
If 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!