Week 13 – World of Warcraft… A Learning Experience?

What do you think the future of educational games are? Can we actual study them sufficiently to determine if they can actually impact learning? Why or why not? Are these things you feel are going to be beneficial or will there be a backlash?

Reflect on your experience in WoW. What was it as a learning experience? Good? Bad? What did you learn? How? Why? Be specific.

First off, I believe there is a place for educational games in classrooms.  Am I going to base my thoughts on my own experiences… and then tie in some research or deeper thoughts by others.

What I know:  I needed more.  Plain and Simple.  I could not get past some of the basic foundational principals of the game to think about how WoW could be used in a classroom.  I had to experience it and then think about it.  Sure, there is probably nothing wrong with this.  I am now reflecting on my experience… that is what this blog is about.  But here are the facts:  I needed…purpose, objectives, processes… these are all important or they should be — or maybe it is because I am an adult who doesn’t get these games?

Having not ever even gone into a World of Warcraft area, my first challenge:  what was my objective to the game.  Sure I knew it was virtual world, but that was it.  Doing what I think any good student would do — turned to my own resources:  I looked online for hints as to how to get started, what was a world, what is an avatar, quests and more… and then well I used my best resource – my son!  He doesn’t play World of Warcraft, but other online environments so we just talked and he transferred some of his own knowledge and we talked and well… I got it!  Sort of….

It is funny watching him play these games — I think this goes back to the initial question.  Can they impact learning?  I do think in some aspects it can – let me explain.  In “normal” day to day exchanges, my son is a very quiet learner.  He takes it all in.  He watches everything.  He won’t raise his hand in classes.  He is brilliant.  He does very well on tests without studying.  These worlds provide him a way to express his views without anyone “seeing” him.  I listen though… he is conducting very deep conversations, strategizing about his next move, working together to achieve a level, collaborating.  Is this learning… sure.   Will he best “tested” on this subject – never, but will these skills be important for a worker in the next phase of his life?  Absolutely.  He is very inquisitive, but on his terms.   Does the learning transfer?  Is my son a good problem solver… sure.  Does this make him a better student?  I am not so sure… I think he had the skills already.  He has always thought deeper, but never verbalized them unless in a small group setting.  Does this present a problem?  Only if the instructor allows it to become a problem.  Has it ever been a problem… sure it has.  I am sure the particular instructor who didn’t allow the type of learning that happens in a regular classroom setting, discussions, deeper thinking, would never venture into this type of learning experience.

Now transfer to me… I am a very different learner and these worlds… well here are some of my own observations.  I like a challenge.  I like the “social” aspect of these worlds, but as a learning experience… I was “challenged”.  From a constructivist learning theory, this article, An exploratory review of design principles in constructivist gaming learning environments (Rosario & Widmeyer, 2009) discusses “MMOGs would become an instrument to offer meaningful knowledge where students can learn, in a fun way, by doing. Additionally, constructivism can foster participation and collaboration among people through feedback from knowledge and experiences. Thus, a MMOG is the perfect place to create a visually interesting and appealing interface that supports both participation and collaboration.”

This is where I stand with learning with MMOGs.  It was interesting during the quests, as I didn’t really collaborate with anyone until I started achieving higher levels.  I guess my fighting expertise was found to be acceptable.  I was asked to join realm by another player.  If I didn’t have this assignment, I might have joined, but was warned that I would be moved into a new realm – personally, that scared me.  To this point, I knew what I was doing, could complete the quests, that appealed to me.  Another key piece to this and one that the article points out – learning principals that are prevalent and important to learning – as detailed in the designed principals for a Constructivist Gaming Learning Environment – as a few examples:

Principal 1 – Probing Principal:  Learners should be encouraged to engage in cycles of action, hypothesis building, and inquiry.  Related to my experiences of WoW – the specific quests had me engage and think about a specific direction to go and the outcome.  I am sure that at these initial levels, the hypothesis building is very basic.  My level of inquiry was very limited.

Principle 2 – Distributed Principle: Learners should find growth and knowledge in their interactions with other learners, technology, context, objects, and tools.  I think this goes back to the idea of collaboration.  As a learner when we collaborate, there should be some sense of accomplishment.  I don’t think it has to be a completed project, but the process of the learning is a valuable piece of the whole picture.  

There are others, but I am skipping to

Principle 11 – On-Demand and Just-in-Time Tutorial Principle: Game tutorials should aid players in learning the game mechanics and user interface while they are playing, exploring or interacting with the environment. This way, players will learn the game mechanics as well as the user interface while they are playing the game. 

I wonder if as adults, we are programmed to have the directions and not know how to learn while “playing”?  Have we been programmed to wait for directions as that is the way we were taught as obedient students?  I think back to me as a student and I can’t remember anything even remotely close to gaming – I know we didn’t have video games or even computers, but could the same principals have been used in face-to face type of scenarios.  Students have always developed hypotheses about things, explored and interacted with environments, and well love rewards.  I think that is a key piece of WoW.  I can’t deny it, but I loved the feeling of accomplishment when I completed a quest and was challenged to go to the next level.  As I reflect, I wish that a little more direction was given, maybe not the game itself, but I wish that I knew or could have known who my classmates were so that a little more collaboration could have taken place.  Could I have worked with someone I didn’t know?  Sure.  Is that scary to me.  YES.  How can I transfer that fear into something good?  Are these type of learning environments good for learning.  I think so.  In doing some research – there are those that disagree.  I think that it is fear.  Fear of the unknown.  Does fear interfere with learning?  Absolutely.  Do educators make choices about these types of environments because of their own fear?  I think so.  I am intrigued.  Take for example this blog…

http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2013/03/world-of-warcraft-finds-its-way-into-class/

There are some positive comments, but then there are the backlash comments.  An interesting point noted in the blog – “When I bring these to their other teachers, I am consistently told, ‘I don’t get anything like this from them,’” Sheehy said in reference to the writing her students produce. They write complex arguments because they are passionate about the game, the storyline, and the class. “When there is no passion you get dutiful, for the grade work,” she said.

“Assessment and gaming are so contradictory,” Sheehy said. “Gaming is almost like the scientific method. You get your quest, you form a hypothesis, you try it out, you encounter challenges and you draw conclusions.” She thinks that’s assessment enough and is wary that formally assessing students will take the fun and the passion out of what she considers to be a very effective education tool.

Another article linked within this article:

http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2013/01/money-time-and-tactics-can-games-be-effective-in-schools/

This is an interesting topic.  I wonder what my PLN thinks about these type of games as educational learning.  I am of the camp, that they do have a place.  I would love to explore this topic further.

Back to my original thoughts about this learning experience… Constructivism… making sense of my environment to construct deeper meaning.  Socially, do these experiences support a richer and deeper sense of learning?  There is another thought to games… drill and kill.  Do these support a deeper or richer experience?  I think there are probably teachers who agree with using games, but I am wondering if it really isn’t the game itself, but the elements of the game which is important to the learning experience?  What kinds of qualities do good game developers focus on?  Also, now there is that idea of gamification, but when I think about this term, I see leaderboards and that badge or reward at the end, plus there is that element of competition to be at the top of the board or receive the badge upon completion… do these badges cause one to forget about the intrinsic rewards?  What about the sense of completion based on motivation.  In my own experience, in World of Warcraft, I received weapons, copper, things that I could use to battle or escape.  Are they rewards… I think so, but not in the same sense as a leaderboard or badges.

Rosario, R. A. M., & Widmeyer, G. R. (2009). An exploratory review of design principles in constructivist gaming learning environments. Journal of Information Systems Education, 20(3), 289-300.

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