While working in World of Warcraft, I’ve learned a few things about teaching and myself – and I’m learning a new language, including lots of acronyms. Yes, I did something I never imagined doing: I got deeply involved in a violent MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game). A MOOC (massively open online course) made me do it :^).
About a month ago I signed up for a 4-week MOOC called A Virtual Worlds, Games and Education Tour run through P2PU (Peer 2 Peer University). A session at the 2012 VWBPE (Virtual Worlds – Best Practices in Education conference) spawned this course, which was populated mostly with educators. All the meetings/events I attended began in SL (Second Life), and each week featured a different kind of “tour.” The weeks devoted to machinima and WoW (World of Warcraft) engaged me the most. I focus on the latter in this post.
This post’s title includes the word “working.” Learning any new technology does, of course, take work (thus the phrase “steep learning curve” often used by SL newbies, like me not so long ago). As for WoW, I’ve been at it for about two weeks, most intensely this past week. I’ve learned a lot, but the main thing I’ve learned is that I still know next to nothing about how to be an effective player.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been killed. Just this morning, for example, while searching on Google, I learned why I kept getting killed so many times last night: I’d reached a level at which a “toon” (cartoon character) has “resurrection sickness” for 10 minutes after its ghost reclaims its body. I’d dash back, resurrect, start fighting again, get attacked by mobs, and die again and again. Now I know to find a safe spot to rest or click the hearthstone to return to my current inn or perhaps abandon the quest if I’m not heavily invested in it – besides that, I think need better equipment and weapons.
Right now for me, as a Blood Elf priest, questing is what WoW is mostly about: I’m trying to level up so I’ll have more power and can be of use to my guild during dungeon runs. If you bother to click the hyperlinks in the last sentence and paragraph above, you’ll catch a glimpse of how complex and jargon-filled this game is. Indeed, it’s going to take me a while just to learn WoW-speak.
So what, you may well ask, are the educational benefits of such a violent fantasy game? If you google “world of warcraft in education,” you’ll find some of the ways it’s used in the schools. For instance, the first one that popped up for me is geared for at-risk students in a middle-school after-school program. This site says the game is used “as a focal point for exploring Writing/Literacy, Mathematics, Digital Citizenship, Online Safety” and is “intended to develop 21st-Century skills.” Cool!
When I began WoW, I told one of my classes what I was up to and asked, “Why would educators be interested in WoW?” A college sophomore quickly responded, “To know what your students are doing when they should be doing their homework.” LOL! About half of that class have engaged or are currently engaged in the game. So the student makes a good point – not as much about homework distraction as about relating to students, as knowing “where they live,” so to speak.
For me the deeper question, one that I haven’t yet ask students, is “What makes this game (and other virtual world games) so engaging, so immersive?” I can attest to WoW’s immersiveness. How, then, can I immerse students in their course work in similar ways? I don’t have the answers, at least not yet; but I do think that questing, i.e., posing assignments as quests aimed at skill/talent/professional development through challenges that are rewarded in more meaningful ways than grades and that increase in difficulty and complexity as each student is equipped (like “leveling”), holds promise.
Another aspect of the game is learning cooperation. The solo toon, as I mostly am now, is not going to be as successful against mobs, on quests, or on leveling up quickly as toons who work in groups and guilds. I learned this from the only dungeon run I’ve participated in so far – with other guild members. As a noob, they took care of me, gave me advice, gave me loot that improved my equipment, and increased my level; moreover, it was fun!
As a WoW noob, I’ve been so busy trying to learn the game and, at the same time, so immersed in it that I haven’t taken the time to take serious note of the few teaching and learning insights I’ve had. I’ve got to get more disciplined, to be more reflective about this experience. But first I’ve got to get back in and continue leveling up :^).