MMO-School Project Wins 2013 GAward for Best Use of Engagement Techniques in Education

Yes, that's Gabe Zicherman presenting the award! Cool!

What an honor!  Last night I had the opportunity to take the stage at the 2013 Gamification Summit to receive GAward for Best Use of Student Engagement Techniques in Education for the MMO-School Project (#wowinschool).  This is award is really about the student-heroes, our Lorekeepers, the brave teachers who’ve taken on this incredible journey, and the many school leaders who have fostered environments that allow innovative experiments like this to grow. Such opportunities and exposure is available at elementary schools in Santa Ana.  A massive thanks goes out to Mr. Craig Lawson, the co-author of the curriculum, Peggy Sheehy, early adopter and champion of the cause, and the many others who’ve brought us to this place.  What does the future hold?  Who knows?  Education in the U.S. is ripe for disruption and change.  This project simply represents a possibility.  For now, we’ll keep on exploring new worlds, polishing our reading and writing skills, learning leadership and communication, and of course… growing into the Heroes we’re destined to be.




A Hero’s Journey: From Azeroth to Tyria (Guild Wars 2)

The WoWinSchool Project continues to amaze me.  What began in 2009 has grown, evolved, and continues to engage students in unique and exciting ways.  The keys are tapping into relevance and creating a space in which what our Heroes learn relates to the context of their experiences.

The curriculum that Craig Lawson and I wrote for the program and released in June of 2011 has resonated with other pioneering educators around the globe.  This year has been no exception.  With the more affordable, dynamic MMO’s entering the market and game-based learning gaining the attention of district-level decision makers, more Lorekeepers (teachers) are taking up the banner and guiding a new generation of student-heroes into this adventure in learning.

The adaptability of the learning quests in the curriculum makes it suitable for games beyond World of Warcraft.  In Pender County Schools, our programs have made a significant transition to a new world.  The subscription fees associated with WoW have, historically, made it cost-prohibitive for many would-be additions to the program.  As our allotment of 60-day subscription cards began to dwindle, I began to research viable alternatives that might allow us to continue our momentum.

I experimented with Rift and Star Wars: The Old Republic, and though they have merits, both, at the time, were subscription-based, and in my experience, didn’t provide the epic-level experience we’d had in WoW.  I began following the developments of ArenaNet’s Guild Wars 2 and held out hope that this might be the one.  A month after release, I was convinced.  Around this same time, LeVonda Vickery from the REACH School in Oregon, contacted me regarding her desire to use our curriculum with Guild Wars 2.  So, I wasn’t the only one thinking about the possibilities!  Guild Wars 2 would take us and our program forward, providing our heroes with deep, story-driven content, while adding a huge layer of community-driven experience I felt had always been lacking from World of Warcraft.

We conducted a test to see how well it would fit with a group of five students in Cape Fear Middle’s SAGA class.  Their feedback was very positive and the game performed acceptably on our newest Dell desktops (with integrated graphics) and beautifully on our Alienwares.  After discussing with our school-based Lorekeepers, we agreed.  “It’s time to move to Tyria!”

All of our 30+ Heroes have now embarked on a new adventure in Tyria.  GW2’s emphasis on character and story during character creation really sets the stage for focusing on a player’s role in the bigger picture of world events.  The unique level-adjusting system means that players who have outpaced their guild mates in level can go back to support their lower-level friends while still being challenged.

GW2’s focus on guilds also creates unique opportunities for our student guild, The Legacy, to engage with the larger server community.  The perks that guilds earn for gaining influence points (by working together in the game), allow for students to have a greater say in the direction of their community takes.  A great example of how we’re taking advantage of this is with our recent guild emblem contest.

Already, more schools have joined or expressed an intent to join the program in the near future.  The Legacy Guild is growing!  Exciting possibilities are on the horizon!


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


12 Tips For Starting A Game-Based Program At Your School

I see the fact that I’m creating this post as a fantastic sign.  Why?  Because, it means that the idea of using games for learning is spreading and that people are moving from an “ideas” phase to a “let’s do this” phase.  Several people have asked me how we got started with WoWinSchool and if I have any suggestions.  From experience, here are some suggestions that are emerging:

WowinClass1CV_1011171.  Put the kids first. It’s all about them anyway. You really must have a heart for them and what’s good for them.  Recruit educators who believe this first, because they’re the most important factor, then, recruit your gamer teachers.  Let this first suggestion frame every decision made.  (A big thanks to Diane Lewis for nailing this one at her VWBPE presentation on the topic.)

2.  Find the principals who will support you, champion for you, and advocate for your kids and the awesome things they’ll be doing.  Find the ones who “get it.”  If you can’t find those, find “the willing to get it” crowd.  Involve your district leadership as well.  Not only do they need to know what you’re doing they can also be a huge resource.

3.  Recruit your IT folks.  You’re likely to need some special attention from them.  Bring them on board as partners with your project.  Praise them and market how awesome they are as they support your project.  (They too often are overlooked or get a bad rap for doing their jobs.)  They’ll need to know what impact any games will have on things like bandwidth,  your filter, etc.  You may have to gather that research for them because they’re probably very busy with other issues.  My IT people have been amazing and have really gone above and beyond (such as providing bandwidth impact graphs, and helping to set up a MineCraft server on our local network).

4.  Start as a club.  Starting as a club is a great way to begin.  Clubs are a safe place to fail and they’re typically voluntary.  After-school, before-school, or during a club period is a great time to for your kids to meet, play, and learn.

5.  Find your “at-risk” learners and “fringe” kids.  Really, most of our students are at a minimum, at-risk for extreme boredom, and many of our labeled “at-risk” learners are simply bored with school and don’t see relevance.  These students are ideal and usually need something engaging and relevant to anchor them in school.  We’ve also seen some incredible things with students who are identified ADD/ADHD and even the mildly autistic.  Let the kids “own” (or “pwn“) their learning.

6.  Read and share your reading.  Have some supporting research.  We’re building a list at  Also consider having a few copies of Gee’s What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy and Prensky’s Don’t Bother Me Mom — I’m Learning on hand to loan.holiadore

7.  Tie your project to one or more instructional goals.  Our primary charge is to foster learning, right?  It’s a big step for many to see video games as tools for learning so a clear alignment to instructional goals really helps.  This doesn’t have to be especially formal, particularly with a club format, but alignment to existing learning goals is a great idea.  Also, don’t neglect the opportunities that arise to address topics such as leadership, digital citizenship, and media literacy which are too often overlooked in our standard course of study.

8.  Get parents on board.  Communicate with them clearly and often about the project and your expectations, goals, and what will be involved.  Consider hosting a parent orientation event or informational videos that explain your project.

9.  Market your program.  Be transparent about everything, both success and failures.  Document everything because you’re a pioneer in an emerging area.  Market your learners’ work and connect them to a global audience.

10.  Invite visitors.  Even after you’re underway, many people still won’t understand what you’re doing.  Invite them to come see.  This not only broadens their understanding of the possibilities of game-based learning it’s another opportunity for your students to showcase what they know.

11.  Connect.  Connect and network with educators who are doing similar work.  Have them talk to your decision makers and district leadership.  Once your project is started, connect your kids with other kids!

12.  Remember suggestion #1.

These are some points that have helped make mine, Peggy Sheehy’s and Diane Lewis’ projects successful.  What would you add?  What have I left out?


Cataclysm, Students, and Twitter… Oh Yeah!


Image by The Ne Kow at Deviant Art (Twitter bird added)

One of our aims with the WoWinSchool Project is to encourage our learners to be good users of emerging technologies and social tools like Twitter.  Students are already writing volumes of text via their cell phones and Facebook, and though this often is, at best, overlooked in language arts circles, more often it is vilified and seen as the beginning of the end of civilization as we know it.  Far from the truth, it’s a medium of communication that we should explore and encourage with our students.

We’re using our Hero’s Journey course to do just that, and in the process students are having to think critically about characters’ point-of-view and effective word choice in a medium that values brevity:  Twitter.  If you are unaware, Blizzard Entertainment, the creators of World of Warcraft will launch their third major game expansion, Cataclysm, on December 7th of this year.  Since this is an epic and immersive story world, in the weeks leading up to this event, changes are taking place in the game to advance the story.

Our challenge to students is to tell that story, via Twitter, from an NPC’s (non player character’s) point-of-view.  Some have selected major characters like King Varian Wrynn, the leader of the humans, while others have chosen to tell the story from lesser character’s points-of-view, such as Kira Songshine, the traveling bread vendor.  Whether they chose major or minor characters, good or evil, was up to them.  In fact, one will be telling the story from the dragon Deathwing’s (the primary villain in the upcoming expansion) point-of-view.  Some will take a serious approach, others a more comical.  We’ve left that up to the students.  We’re simply providing feedback on grammar and Twitter etiquette.

The real magic is that anyone can watch this Twitter drama unfold over the coming weeks!  All you need to do is search #wowinschool, which will be included in each Tweet the students create.  We also encourage you to interact with the kids.  Ask them questions about the events they “see” unfolding around them.  Expect them to respond, “in-character.”  In fact, this may take on more of a journalism aspect depending on the level of interaction.

And, you can follow it all here:


Challenge: Write A Guild Mission Statement

banner_legacy In the education world, we love to talk about how we’re preparing our learners for life in the 21st-Century (a phrase that’s really getting old by now), and to be competitive in the global marketplace.  However, I wonder, how often do we give them authentic learning experiences, with context they’re passionate about, to actually try the the things we say we value in education?  Enter World of Warcraft.  Now here’s an environment they’re passionate about because they’re experiencing it through play.  Part of what our learners have been experiencing is the social aspect of the game, specifically player guilds.  About a week ago, we inducted each of them into the student guild, The Legacy.

We’ve discussed what it means to be a guild, how a guild might be organized, and what its purpose might be.  Afterwards, we discussed mission statements and their components while examining the mission statements of companies from Apple to Avon (Avon’s is a novel, by the way.  Perhaps they should hire one of our kids to re-write it!).

After both peer editing and teacher feedback, we’ve compiled their work on the project wiki.  I think you’ll be amazed at these, recalling that they were written by 8th graders.

You can find them at:

Great work!


WoWinSchool: A Hero’s Journey – Anatomy of a Typical Week

Though we’re nowhere close to having a complete, 36-week course available to share with the world, we do have about 1/4 of the course completed. (Also known as building the plane while in the air!)  So, what in the world does this look like?  How is the Moodle set up?  Though we’re not quite ready to offer guest access to the Moodle yet, I thought I’d give a sneak-peak of some examples of what we’re doing.  I took some screenshots from our course showing how we’re setting it up and put them into a presentation, uploaded to Slideshare.  To be able to read the text clearly, you may want to view full screen or download the presentation.

One feature we’ve added recently, and as instructors are having a blast with, is in-class achievements.  For example, we challenged students to successfully “friend” each of their classmates in the game.  The two students who successfully completed this on the first day assigned, were awarded the “Fast Friend” achievement.  We’re creating game-like achievement badges for unlocking these and then adding them to the students’ Moodle profiles.


So, What’s Next?

wowkidsLast 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.


Flash Mob Antics in World of Warcraft

Today wrapped up our last major event in WoWinSchool for the students at Cape Fear Middle.  As the district’s after-school programs are winding down, so does the busing.  The students at Suffern Middle’s program will continue playing for a few weeks.  To celebrate a successful first year of the program, we wanted to get the kids together, in world, for some fun.  What’s more fun that a Gnomish Flash Mob?  Now, if you’re unfamiliar with flash mobs, I highly recommend watching some of Improv Everywhere’s videos, they’re lots of fun.  But, a flash mob in a virtual world?  Why not!

wump2_sWe started the event by having each student create a gnome.  We specified that they should have either pink or green hair, and their name should end in –wumpus.  As the crowd began to assemble at the starting area, I could already tell this would be fun.  We had names such as Firewumpus and Applewumpus, among others.  Each of our students were logged into our Ventrilo server, so I gave them instructions on creating basic macros.  We made macros for /dance, /cheer, and /say “Wump!”  Before rolling out to Ironforge, we practiced our timing.  “Three, two, one, Dance!”  Seeing 20+ Gnomes in a coordinated dance is a beautiful thing (or totally weird?).

Ironforge was mostly dead.  We had a challenging time of getting anyone to interact with us, so we boarded the Tram and made for Stormwind.  Stormwind, was where the magic began!  Our first order of business was to surround a bystander, kneel, and in unison ask, “Are you the Great Wumpus?”  Now, I don’t know about you, but World of Warcraft is over five years old, players are burning through content, and hanging out in a capital city for any length of time is a clear indication of “I’m bored, but what else am I gonna do?”  It’s not every day, you are deified by a swarm of mohawk-sporting gnomes.  The lady Night Elf invited us to a play a quick game of follow-the-leader, and we obliged.  When she walked, we followed walking, when she jumped, we jumped, occasionally uttering a random “Wump!”  She began casting an area effect spell, we marked her as a traitor, and quickly swarmed the nearest player.  Now, this guy, Elladan, was a breath of fresh air.  He engaged us and played along.  “Are you the Great Wumpus?”  “Indeed!  Gather ’round!”  Yes!

Elladan began to play along with our antics and before long a crowd had gathered about this strange sight:  a lone Night Elf druid surrounded by over 20 jumping and spastic gnomes.  Things went along until some player dropped a campfire.  Now, here’s where our students really shined.  I told them on Ventrilo, “Type ‘Fire Bad!’ and scatter!”  Within seconds, our little swarm responded and onlookers were laughing and even sending me compliments via /tell.  Elladan even offered to tell us a story, to which we responded with simultaneous “Ooohs! Ahhs!”  If you can recall the aliens in the crane game in Toy Story, you’re pretty close.

wump1_sOur time was drawing to an end, so we randomly jumped up and ran to Goldshire.  We had quite a following trailing behind us, now.  From there, we exclaimed, “The evil Hogger must die!” and ran to the Hogger encounter nearby.  The level 80’s who trailed along made short work of Hogger and we realized that we had about five minutes left.  We began saying things like, “The Great Wumpus is calling us home.”  One student said, “I see a light at the end of the great wump,” and we began logging out on the spot.  Elladan, our new steward, pleaded with us not to forget him, and I assured him he’d be immortalized (Here you go, Elladan!).

We had a blast, and the students very quickly filled in their roles, especially once they realized they had an audience.  It was a great way to wrap up our activities.

-Lucas (aka Garwumpus)