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!


Pender County Students Participating in Video Game Study

Screenshot from Tabula Digita's Dimension-M (Evolver, Mission 1)Back in the Fall or 2008, three classes of students at Cape Fear Middle School, the district where I work as an instructional technology coordinator,  participated in a course called Virtual Math.  In this course, we used an immersive, 3-D video game,  Tabula Digita’s Dimension-M, to see if it enhanced students’ learning of pre-Algebra concepts.  The course was a great success.  We have since expanded the course to West Pender Middle and Topsail High.

Starting in January, UNCW has launched a study at both West Pender Middle and Cape Fear Middle to take a closer, more scientific look at the impact this game is having on students’ performance in mathematics.

This story has now been picked up, not only by our local Fox/NBC affiliate (which has a great video of the students), but has now been reported by a number of online websites as well:

Look for more news in the future as the results are published!


Barry Joseph Discusses The Potential of Merging The Adult and Teen Grids in Second Life

Came across an interesting post by Barry Joseph of RezEd.  It addresses the issues surrounding a potential merger of the adult and teen grids in Second Life.  Personally, my initial thoughts are that this would be a positive move.  From a district technology coordinator’s point-of-view, anything that makes Second Life more accessible to both teachers and students would be a plus.  However, the openness of the adult grid compared to the restrictive nature of the teen grid presents some interesting issues.  It will be interesting to see how this unfolds.  I would love for students and teachers in my district to be able to pursue projects in Second Life.


My Thesis…

Well, the dust has finally settled.  I’ve wrapped up my graduate studies (Woot!) and have completed my thesis.  The middle school students and staff I worked with in my study were absolutely awesome.  The kids never ceased to amaze me at how they approached the game’s challenges and how quickly they adapt to the first-person game environment.  I’m also very excited that this study has served as a catalyst for advancing other game-oriented instruction in my district.  As of this posting at least three other schools are looking into Dimension-M as a tool for math instruction and remediation and other teachers/administrators are warming to the idea of using games for instruction.  I love my job!

Oh yeah… Here’s the link to the thesis.  It’s also linked on the right of the site.


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!


Using Virtual Worlds For Peace

Screen from Virtual Peace Came across the article, Virtual Swords to Ploughshares, today.  Researchers at Duke University have partnered with area company, Virtual Heroes, to create a virtual world/simulation in which students practice skills in diplomacy and crisis response.  The program is called Virtual Peace.  The scenario in this game-based environment was designed by educators from the Duke-UNC Rotary Center for International Studies in Peace and Conflict Resolution and resembles Central America following hurricane Mitch.  Students work in teams to decide how they’ll distribute relief funds and deal with unexpected crises, often generated on-the-fly by their instructors who monitor the virtual environment as the game takes place.

Students participating in this scenario don’t even have to be in the same physical location.  The design, very similar to an MMO such as World of Warcraft, allows student players from all over the world, to work collaboratively.

It’s promising to see researchers and designers leveraging the power of MMO-like environments for educational purposes.


Observing a Non-Gamer Gaming…

Want to see something amazing and learn about quality game design at the same time?  Take one of today’s popular video game titles or even a title marketed as an educational game and have an non-gamer or digital immigrant give it a spin.  It’s a pretty fascinating experience.

I had just such an experience today as I worked with a lady who will be teaching a course called Virtual Math at one of our district middle schools.  In this course we’ll be using the game, Dimension-M, by Tabula Digita, to provide students with an immersive and exciting instructional, game-oriented experience.  The lady who is teaching the course has had little experience with first-person video games.  Well, obviously she wanted to play the games to see what the students will be doing in the class and to see how the game will support student learning.

We sat together in the computer lab where she’ll be teaching the course and began playing the game.  It wasn’t long before I quit playing on my computer and simply watched her as she began learning the game’s controls and adapted to Dimension-M’s environment.  To my knowledge she’d never played a first-person shooter game before.  By the time she was halfway through the game’s first mission (and following the game’s tutorial), she had quickly adapted.  She began to naturally move the mouse about to “look around” in the game environment, she was using the WASD keys to move about, and was even beginning to get the hang of using the spacebar to jump from one location to the next.  It was fascinating to watch her skills so quickly adapt and improve.

Image from Thabet https://thabet.fun/

The point is, again, that games today are much more complex than they were in the early days of electronic gaming.  And as Jim Gee says, all games are ultimately about problem-solving.  The best games quickly “teach” you how their world works and integrate that learning and assessment into the game play.