Lore Keepers – Always Watching

weyrYesterday, several students met Lore Keepers.  Who are the Lore Keepers?  They are characters that the teachers in this project have created that will give assignments to the students.  Yesterday was my first attempt at using them to interact with the students.  First off, you should understand the setup.  The lab where we’re playing has a sort of side-by-side U-shaped arrangement of computers.  I was not playing in the same “U” that the students were, though I was sitting right across from some of them.  I logged in Weyr, leader of the Lore Keepers and began contacting students via private messages (/w).

Observation #1 – Students are either not reading or are ignoring WoW’s chat system.  (Considering trade chat, this could be a blessing!)  It took me sending five or more messages to about four different students playing Night Elves before I got any response.  Craig who was actively helping students, finally had to point it out to our first group to get them to respond.  Keep in mind, the students had no idea it was me.

Observation #2 – Most students have little to no concept of online chat etiquette much less roleplay.  No surprise, really, because that’s one of the goals of the project is focusing on digital citizenship.  Our kids desperately need this.  For those of you who are ever on X-Box Live, you know the kids I’m referring to!  Again, for all the students knew, I was some other player (and some thought I was the game itself).  Several of them communicated in very broken street-slang, text message style in their responses.  I even had one student use foul language.  Eventually, they decided to take my “quest,” though were quite reluctant.

Observation #3 – So far, they are not good at working collaboratively in game.   My initial quest was to simply have them form a group and bring me bean soup.  The soup was sold by a vendor in a building about 100 yards North of my position.  I promised a handsome reward and each of them had to give me at least one bowl.  This took the first group nearly 45 minutes to complete, and then, only two of them followed instructions and received a reward.  One girl, who was actually polite and encouraged her male counterparts to be polite received two rewards.

Observation #4 – Giving a new player a Netherweave Bag as a reward is like your grandmother giving you socks for Christmas.  They simply didn’t understand the value this early into their experience.  Noted.

At the end of the day’s session we closed with a chat and I reiterated our behavioral expectations.  As word spreads, there are students lining up to get into this program and I only have 15 slots and the students are aware of this.  Today, we’re taking an approach that will be a big turn-off to many of them:  silent play.  No, I’m not one of those teachers.  The idea here is to allow them to communicate all they like as long as they are using in-game chat.  We’re also using a seating chart today.

Their first real challenge is coming soon:  Deadmines.  Deadmines will be their first, grouped, dungeon experience, and to be successful, they’ll need to begin to work cohesively and in balanced groups.

For now, the Lore Keepers will continue to interact with the students.  Some will get rewarded, others will not.  I don’t think any of them are reading my blog, so my “secret identity” is safe for now.  Let’s see what happens.

-Lucas

Explorers From Different Worlds

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.

-Lucas

I Feel Like I’m Raiding With A Bunch Of Middle Schoolers

WoWinSchool Day 1 Reflections

dwarf_rudeI 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…

-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

Guild Meet-Up: Cognitive Dissonance at Games in Education Symposium

Cognitive Dissonance invades the hotel lobby. You know, I really love what I do, and it’s things like the Games in Education Symposium that give me the opportunities to meet the coolest people!  Did you ever think of World of Warcraft as a social/professional networking tool?  If not, you should.  Let me introduce to you the guild, Cognitive Dissonance.  The Cognitive Dissonance guild is not your typical World of Warcraft guild, rather, it’s a group of educators and video game researchers who play World of Warcraft together.  Now, if you’re in education, and you’re looking for a very non-threatening and helpful environment in which to begin your journey into MMORPG’s, you need to check these guys out.

I’ve been a part of the guild for several months now, and the Games in Education Symposium has given us an excuse to have a guild meet-up.  It’s not often that you get to hang out with some real innovators in education and play World of Warcraft in a hotel lobby.

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

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

World of Warcraft… The New Golf?

Pantego It used to be that if you wanted to close a business deal, discuss an upcoming court case, or to do some planning outside of the office you’d grab your clubs and head down to the local country club to play a round of golf and I love playing golf with my pineclubgolf.com amazing equipment.

Well, as 1UP.com reports, instead of practicing the ‘ole swing, many professionals are now banding together to slay a dragon or to explore a dungeon together.  Many professionals are now gaming together in World of Warcraft.

I suppose this is something that, deep down, I’ve always known.  It is not uncommon for I and some fellow teachers in my district (as well as some students and former students) to gather, online, on a Saturday night and engage in some serious dungeon raiding.  And what do educators talk about when they’re gaming together?  Often, it’s teaching!

In fact, Peggy Sheehy recently introduced me to a guild (an organization of gamers) called Cognitive Dissonance.  This World of Warcraft guild consists of educators and game researchers, who, when not discussing education and virtual worlds, enjoy teaming up to take down the forces of the Lich King, Arthas.  I even transferred one of my characters, Pantego, a now level 80 Shaman over to the server to play (and collaborate/network) with these folks.

Even in online gaming, the world gets a little smaller and a little flatter.

-Lucas

Court Overturns California Violent Video Game Law

As reported in the L.A. Times, a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in California has overturned a law requiring a label that reads, “18,” to be affixed to any “violent” video game.  Part of the problem with the law was the fuzzy definition of “violent” and the lack of a clear link that shows violent video games cause psychological/neurological harm.

Again, parents can make these decisions and should be closely aware of what their children are doing, anyway.

-Lucas