I attended the Games for Change conference in NYC last month and heard James Gee speak about embedded assessment within World of Warcraft (WoW), a massively multiplayer, online, role-playing game. I hadn’t really thought about WoW as a potential learning environment, let alone it’s capacity to assess learning. What Gee argues is that success within the game indicates mastery. WoW wasn’t designed to be used as an educational tool, but teachers see the learning that is taking place and are seeking to leverage it.
Gee explained WoW is a problem-solving space where players analyze copious amounts of data with multiple variables. Players are building and designing their characters and guilds (teams) and are continually acquiring facts that are used as tools in the world. In WoW, players are learning facts and applying them resulting in increased memory and analytical skills. Gee drew the connection to the relationship between acquiring facts (information) and their frequency of use…that is students quickly forget facts unless they are used. He suggests traditional assessment would be unnecessary if instructors build curricula that let the student theorize about concepts. Winning the game or reaching a certain level would then demonstrate mastery.
During the conference, I met a high school teacher who is well versed in WoW and actually uses it to teach. Peggy Sheehy is the ITF/Media Specialist at Suffern Middle School in NYC. She received a grant that allowed her to fund 13 accounts in World of Warcraft (WoW). It went so well that this year she’ll have 25 accounts. It may sound like edutainment, but in the hands of an educator, WOW can be a virtual classroom space.
She created classroom spaces in teen Second Life called Ramapo Islands. She networked with over 180 different schools in the WoW guild for teachers called Cognitive Dissonance. She and global colleagues discuss effective WoW teaching practice. “With a raid in progress, we have a side discussion on the learning that is taking place,” said Sheehy. It was her experience with teachers in WoW that led her to create a guild for students. If you go into WoW, you might find them!
Sheehy worked with a guidance counselor to select the “fringe kids with no tribe,” many of whom had a learning disorder. After school, the students gathered for 2 hours to play WoW. Through the process they wrote character descriptions. She said the students’ writing improved, as was confirmed by the school’s English teacher. WoW served as a narrative space, making learning relevant. In other activities, the students negotiated naming the guild. They had to write campaign speeches for themselves or someone they nominated for guild positions. After the elections, they had an induction ceremony. The students were invested, as a group, in WoW. Their guild name, Legacy, is a testament for future WoW students. The best part is that these students’ school behavior improved and grades improved and they are probably no longer at risk for dropping out of school. As part of WOW, Sheehy’s students became part of something bigger than themselves, learned social skills, and became motivated to do their classwork.
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How would you use WoW and other virtual environments to better connect students to each other and course content?