I keep coming back to Kelsey’s response when I asked the class, “Why would educators be interested in experiencing World of Warcraft?” His hand shot up, and with a big smile he said, “To know what your students are doing when they should be doing their homework.” We all laughed. That was last April while I was taking my first open online course on and in virtual worlds. What I didn’t know then was how compelling virtual games can be.
Kelsey is a gamer who loves doing dungeons and raids with others in his World of Warcraft guild. Now, months later, after spending many hours gaming and picking up ideas here and there about possible educational uses, I would ask him, “What if homework included virtual gaming – and classwork too? How do you think that would look? How might it work?” I have no idea what Kelsey would say, but I found one possible answer yesterday when I followed some webcrumbs that began with a MindShift post called “How to Use Video Game Tactics in the Classroom,” a TED talk by Paul Andersen. That post referenced an earlier post which led me to yet another post called “Video Showing Video Games in Action at School,” and that New York Times video prompted me to find and explore the Quest to Learn website (I recommend looking at all three).
Quest to Learn is a public school created in response “to the growing evidence that digital media and games offer powerful models for reconsidering how and where young people learn.” It’s “a place where digital media meets books and students learn to think like designers, inventors, mathematicians, writers, and more.” (The quotes in this post are from the Q2L website, unless otherwise noted.) Quest, managed by the New York City Department of Education, opened in 2009 with a 6th grade class; each fall it has added another class, with the 9th grade starting this fall and with plans to serve 6th– 12th grades in a few more years.
Research on game theory and its educational value and application is ongoing at a number of universities. K-12 and college instructors here and there are experimenting with gaming techniques. Meanwhile, Quest has put a curriculum that focuses on digital media and gaming methodology into full-blown practice. However, as its website states in the Learning Model overview, “It’s important to note that Quest is not a school whose curriculum is made up of the play of commercial videogames, but rather a school that uses the underlying design principles of games to create highly immersive, game-like learning experiences. Games and other forms of digital media serve another useful purpose at Quest: they serve to model the complexity and promise of ‘systems.’ Understanding and accounting for this complexity is a fundamental literacy of the 21st century.”
Quest students are game designers and systems analysts working in teams. They are serious role-players as well, adopting “the identities and behaviors of explorers, mathematicians, historians, writers, and evolutionary biologists as they work through a dynamic, challenge-based curriculum with content-rich questing to learn at its core.” When they do play commercial games, they “do it for inspiration,” or so one student said in the New York Times video, a comment that fits nicely with such Quest Core Principles as “Learning for design and innovation,” “Learning for complexity (systematic reasoning),” and “Learning with technology and smart tools.”
I’m delighted to learn about Quest; it affirms my recent passion for translating aspects of World of Warcraft (WoW) into aspects of teaching and learning. Quest’s curriculum is similar to WoW in that it has “challenge-based units with a bit of narrative flair” that it calls “Missions.” Each Mission involves “a series of smaller quests” that pose “a problem students have to learn to solve, either by gathering relevant resources, doing mathematical calculations, reading and analyzing texts, designing tools, repairing broken systems, creating models, doing scientific experiments, building games, or a host of other activities.” Missions last about 10 weeks and “culminate in a special unit called the Boss level,” during which “students are given a challenge the whole school works on together to solve, drawing on the knowledge and resources generated during the just-completed Missions.” Narrative flair, quests, and skill levels are the stuff of WoW; they are inextricably woven into WoW’s design and are crucial to player motivation.
Because Quest is experimental, I expect that reports on the school’s response to growing pains, changing technology, and the like and especially on longitudinal data regarding student learning and attitudes will come down the pike. In any case, at this time I don’t know of any other school, public or private in any country, that bases its curriculum on game-like learning. If you know of any, please let me know. Thanks!
*I took the screenshots in this post in the Outlands of World of Warcraft during May and June 2012.