Want to do a WoW-Based Project in Your School? Here’s Everything You Need…

Over the past two years I’ve been approached by several people from around the world inquiring about our World of Warcraft in School Project.  Yet, despite the numerous contacts, I’m only aware of two other schools/school systems who’ve started similar projects.  Of course, there are many potential barriers from costs to people-barriers.  Craig Lawson (@midlawsondle) and I have worked over the past year to create a full-year, standards-aligned language arts course that is based on World of Warcraft.  We have several goals in doing so:

1.  We want to demonstrate that there is value in considering commercial, off-the-shelf games for curricular integration.

2.  We want to share our work with anyone else who might take it on, and in doing so, expand the network of educators who are exploring the potential that games like this hold for the classroom.

3.  We want to create a model (using the term loosely, here) upon which similar projects, perhaps using other games might be built.

4.  We hope that others will look at the work and expand on it, improve it, and share it.

5.  We want to show that, “Yes! You can do this.”

Last Friday, we decided to kick it out of the nest.  It’s a work in progress and we sincerely welcome your feedback.  If you want to start something similar in your school, it contains most of what you need to get started.  For what’s missing, well, that’s where the power of networking comes into play.  Contact me, especially via Twitter (@PCSTech), and I’ll do my best to fill in the gaps.

If you’d like to download the .PDF of the curriculum, you can find it on the project wiki or preview it below:

WoWinSchool: A Hero’s Journey


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.


10 Educational Things I Learned From Playing MMORPG’s

Harbingers of LightI’m close to wrapping up, Prensky’s “Don’t Bother Me Mom — I’m Learning,” and to support what he’s saying about the educational value of gaming, I thought I’d list the positive, educational effects of my MMO playing also noting those that have been financially lucrative (with a $). To provide a bit of background, I’ve been involved with video games since I was six or seven years of age, first with an Atari 2600 and a Commodore 64 to the present. In the mid-20s, I was also involved with different types of games, one of which was casino games that helped me develop more for gaming strategies. At 32, if I am, in fact, a digital native, I’m an early adopter, and quite geeky compared to my classmates growing up. It was during my second year of science teaching that a student, knowing I was into gaming, said, “Hey, Mr. G-, you need to try Everquest.” The eye-candy on the box was appealing and the fantasy genre had always appealed to me, so I thought, “Why not?” Thus, it begins…

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1. Home Networking – It wasn’t long after I began playing Everquest, that my wife wanted to try it. Very quickly we realized sharing an account was not an option. The solution? Buy another computer, network them, and share a dial-up connection. This was during the Windows 98 era, and it wasn’t as easy to set up a network as it is today. The interest in networking actually inspired me to take a networking course at the local community college the following semester. DOS-based Novell, anyone? ($)

Of course, as a classroom teacher, you certainly hope you’ve got some people management skills, however, managing individuals from a variety of age groups, cultures, and parts of the world is something different. It wasn’t long after I started playing Everquest that I decided I wanted to try my hand a guild leadership. Thus, the Harbingers of Ire (now, Harbingers of Light), was born. Through the experience, still ongoing, I’ve learned:

2. Conflict Resolution – Put individuals from mixed backgrounds in an initially anonymous environment, and you’ve got a recipe for drama. I’ve seen it come and go, and maintaining the integrity of the guild as a standalone entity has, at times, been challenging.

3. Project Management – As a guild leader, who is also a full-time employee of a school system and in his last year of graduate school, you sometimes have to learn to delegate responsibilities to your leadership team. For example, we are currently planning a migration from World of Warcraft to Warhammer Online once the game goes live. To assist with this undertaking it was necessary to play to members’ strengths: one person is our news person, gathering game-related news and posting it through the guild’s blog, another is our community relations coordinator, promoting the guild and advertising us for future recruits, and the list goes on.

4. Split-Second Decision Making/Strategy – Sometimes in the midst of fast-paced action, you have to make decisions that can determine the success or failure of a large-scale undertaking. While our guild was active in Dark Age of Camelot, we occasionally emerged as a leading force among guilds in the defense of our “realm” against raiding players from other realms. Relying on reports from scouts in the field, it was often necessary to make decisions to split your forces, take refuge in a nearby keep, or launch a counter-assault into enemy territory.

5. “Advanced Web Design” – I picked up HTML skills prior to my involvement in MMORPG’s. It wasn’t long after the founding of our guild that it became apparent that a simple HTML-based site would not suffice. Our guild needed a way to communicate outside of the game world, thus, I began to explore the concepts of domain ownership, PHP-based site design, content management systems, and even a touch of MySQL. Now, do I know these languages? Not really. However, there were times when I had to edit both PHP and MySQL scripts by trial-and-error to get a site to look and function the way I wanted. Parallel to that, the necessity of voice communications forced me to explore Voice over IP communication programs, vps hosting and administration. ($)

There have been a number of other positive learning experiences that have been a direct result of my interest in MMORPG’s:

6. A Love of Reading – Motivated by my desire to better experience the role play nature of many of the MMO’s I’ve played, I have become much more tolerant of reading novels. I say this because, prior, I didn’t do a great deal of reading for pleasure. Dark Age of Camelot even inspired me to explore Irish folklore and mythology.

7. Computer Hardware/Troubleshooting – When it comes to learning computer hardware and troubleshooting, there’s nothing more motivational than sitting down at your PC, expecting to log into your favorite MMO only to find that something’s not working. Eventually, I became comfortable enough with hardware upgrades and repairs that I decided to build my own system. I’ve since built seven PCs from scratch. ($)

8. Graphic Editing – The necessity of a website also brought about the necessity of quality graphics. ($)

9. Video Editing/Machinima – Sometimes boredom with a game can have positive benefits. During times when my game play was dragging I was occasionally hit with a creative streak. So, I figured out how to hook my camcorder to my PC and began recording game play. Before long, I wanted to tell more complex stories, so I explored storyboarding to plan movies like “Home.”

10. Instructional Design – There came a time when my love of technology, borne mostly from my love of gaming, and my love of education came together. A couple of years ago, I entered my Master’s program at UNC Wilmington to pursue a Master’s in Instructional Technology. For me, gaming, especially MMO’s, have given me creative insights into the instructional design process. I’ve even had the opportunity to create educational games like Coral Reef Crisis which uses the same game engine used to produce Counterstrike Source.

I’m sure I could think of many other details, but I’d like to hear from you. What have MMO’s taught you?

Authentic Learning? Try an MMORPG.

Typical Quest NPC in WOWSo, last night I was enjoying a guest lecture in my Computer Based Instruction course delivered by Dr. Abdou Ndoye. Dr. Ddoye is Director of Assessment in the Watson School of Education at UNCW. His style of teaching through analogy made the concepts he was sharing with the class easy to understand.

One of ideas addressed was the difference between simple and authentic or complex assessment. Why is it, in our public schools, do we consider it a valid measure of learning to give students in a carpentry class a state-administered, multiple-choice exam to measure what they’ve learned? All to often, we fail to measure the higher-order thinking and simply test for rote memorization. Who would you prefer to hire to build your house: the student who can make an “A” on a multiple-choice carpentry exam or the one who can properly cut and nail together two-by-fours to frame a home?

My intent here isn’t to rant about the ills of excessive testing, rather to suggest that maybe we consider looking to MMORPG’s (Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplay Games) for a model of how to not only place learners in a situation where they must deal with ill-structured problems, but where they might take any number of paths to achieve learning. For example, a player in a game such as World of Warcraft might be given a complex quest by an NPC (non-player character). The NPC might ask them to journey to a nearby dungeon, collect a rare item guarded by some nasty beast, and take it across the seas and up a mountain to some other NPC. That’s fairly complex and somewhat ill-structured, right?

Is there any one, correct way to achieve that mission? No. The player might band together with a group of players to defeat the beast guarding the treasure, they may raise the funds to purchase the item from another player who has the item, or they may try to sneak past the guardian beast to steal the item without engaging in combat. Again, here’s where an MMORPG could serve as a model for more complex, computer-based instruction.

What if we created an instructional environment that functioned the same way? We ask a player/learner to start with “A” and achieve “B” all while in an ever-changing, socially rich, virtual environment. There might be many paths to achieving the goal. We, as the game’s designers, could provide the just-in-time information that the learner might use as a resource, much like a well-designed MMORPG provides player support through in-game guides and maps.

Students might choose to work collaboratively to achieve the goal. Of course, we’d provide the necessary in-game tools to facilitate that: text chat and/or voice chat. We would establish game mechanics that played on the individual’s learning styles and the multiple intelligences. Thus, a well-rounded group of player/learners might achieve more as they rely on each other’s strengths.

Would there be transfer of learning to real world situations? I can’t say for certain, but surely it’s as least as good as a multiple-choice test.