World of Warcraft in School? Crazy or Brilliant?

World of Warcraft in School? Crazy or Brilliant?
by Lesley Winfield
I’d like you to take a moment to reflect on the typical day of a high school student.
The gentle hum of the lights overhead mingled with the shuffle of papers as the students check their cell phones to see how many minutes until the bell rings. In the hallways we can see the invisible lines drawn between groups of friends. The previous lesson is neatly filed into the far reaches of their minds, if not forgotten promptly after exiting the previous classroom. When the final bell rings, there is much anticipation about getting onto with their ‘real lives’.
This picture it is very close to reality for most students in today’s high schools, and is not due to lack of dedication by any of our school officials, teachers, or even students. In fact, many teachers try very hard to come up with new ways to make the material interesting and relevant for each learner. However, there is an inherent lack of connection between schools of thought in our educational institutions. This lack of interconnection leads to a compartmentalized view of learning, teaching, and understanding. Alternately, by encouraging the use of video games in the classroom, specifically World of Warcraft in this example, students will become more engaged, experience better retention of material, and create new and exciting relationships with peers and teachers. This open-ended role-playing game combines group work, storytelling, and an intricate web of economics and professions to complete quests and progress in a virtual medieval based world.
While not all video games are created equal, this Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) is a perfect testing ground for including video games as part of the school curricula. This tool will give students the opportunity to experience and enjoy their lessons across multiple subjects while playing a game. In this twice a week elective class, English, Math, and Social Studies can all be discussed with the context of the game in mind. This can be done in the game and while sitting in the classroom. Students would have time to play the game with specific goals in mind and direction from their instructor. They would then have the opportunity to discuss with their teacher how their time in the game connects with their other lessons. The fact is, when students are having fun they often don’t realize they’re learning. In fact, leading professionals, including Dr. Susan Ambrose, agree, “this is motivational because we can quickly see and understand the connection between the learning experience and our real-life work.” (Jessica Trybus. n.d. Game-Based Learning: What it is, Why it Works, and Where it’s Going. New Media Institute . July 13, 2012. http://www.newmedia.org/game-based-learning–what-it-is-why-it-works-and-where-its-going.html.) Also, video games, like World of Warcraft, can allow students the opportunity to learn about teamwork, leadership and cooperation. These skills are hard to teach through lectures alone and must be experienced. Problem solving skills, the spirit of competition, interpersonal problem solving, and unexpected positive social interactions are all outcomes that can be achieved by using this game in schools.
I recognize there is a negative perception about video games. Some parents and school officials will undoubtedly have the perceptions that video games in school are a waste of time. However, I’m not proposing we cancel English class all together. I’m suggesting that we use them in close relationship with the excellent learning objectives already in place. This project can be offered as a new elective class; allowing students the opportunity to, with their teacher, discuss further and experiment with the material learned in their other classes. Inside this simulated world, common threads can be discussed and connections can be made in a fun interactive environment.
It’s not often that we have the opportunity to discuss English and Math in the same class. I can give countless examples of how this game could be used to reinforce curriculum objectives. The most obvious examples would be in English. Not only is World of Warcraft a vastly lore based, story driven game with immense amounts of reading, there are opportunities for character creation and development. Students could be given an assignment to explore and write the back-story to their character. Another less obvious connection can be made when discussing history. Guilds are built around the concept of a monarchal hierarchy. This could be paired with a discussion on various social ideologies and even a paper about the differences between the Horde and Alliance ruling systems in the games lore. The economics in the game are run by an auction house, professions, and trade between characters. The laws of supply and demand are a natural fit for experimentation inside the world.
There is a risk that some teachers may not be familiar with the game and there may be some apprehension to start a project of this nature. Resistance is always difficult to deal with. I’ll admit, it’s easier to stick with what you’ve done for years. However, this type of program wouldn’t have to be created from scratch. There are a number of schools across North America who have already incorporated this approach. Lesson plans and examples have been created by education professionals. I would invite you to visit the following website for further examples; http://wowinschool.pbworks.com/w/page/5268731/FrontPage. In fact, it may be a great opportunity for students to be involved in creating their own lessons!
Further, the guild dynamic is a perfect place for students to experience teamwork, leadership, and cooperation. Much the same as the class president idea, there are guild leaders. There is definitely a risk of this becoming a popularity contest. However, much like a student council election, if this was monitored and students had to campaign it could simply be used as yet another curriculum tie in! As and added bonus, students that might be apprehensive to run for student body president may not be as scared to run for the guild leader position. Further, you can have more than one guild giving more people the opportunity for leadership experience. In a dungeon, (group questing area), there are various problems that can only be solved by having the right combination of skills, gear, and people in your group. This encourages planning and preparation as well as teamwork to complete the objectives. Actually, you can’t complete a dungeon without joining a team with four other players. Each player has a role and a function to complete and one can’t succeed without the support of the other players in the group. This is, in fact, a superior form of group work because no one in the group can sit back and let the others pick up the slack. The game dictates that everyone must do his or her part to succeed. Also, students will even make connections outside of their regular friendship circles in order to create the perfect team. Finally, since World of Warcraft is an MMO, there can be connections made with people all over the world. According to WOW insider there are over 11 million subscribers worldwide. (Michael Gray. October 28, 2008. World of Warcraft hits 11 million subscribers worldwide. WoW Insider. July 13, 2012. http://wow.joystiq.com/2008/10/28/world-of-warcraft-hits-11-million-subscribers-worldwide/.) I am already thinking of the wonderful spin this would give to the traditional pen-pal program!
There is an added interpersonal and social aspect of the game that can do wonders for the students in school who just don’t seem to fit in on the football field. Connections in game will almost always trickle down and show up in the hallways as well. While there are always risks of negative interactions in any endeavor, by encouraging or requiring students to play together on the same server you give them the opportunity to interact without the traditional social pressures. Students who have a natural aptitude for computers now have the possibility of being picked first for a team! Social interactions in game may even translate into conversations and friendships in the hallway simply because you’ve offered them a completely non-traditional way to make a connection. We can’t prevent negative interaction here any more than we can on the football field, but we can give a different medium for students to explore relationships in.
Student relationships will not be the only ones to benefit from a program like this. Student/Teacher relationships can also be fostered. Imagine the joy a student can get when the roles are reversed and he or she is now helping the teacher learn something new about the game. I’ve seen first hand how a simple connection like playing the same video game can foster a different relationship. As an avid World of Warcraft player and gamer myself, I’ve had many opportunities to talk to high school students about gaming after school. These relationships have grown over the past few years. Some of the students even come in and ask me fore advise on job searching, research, and applying for college or university. I attribute this to the trust that was built by making a connection on a different level.
Finally, I understand the accountability and pressure school officials feel by the perception that students will be encouraged to ‘play’ instead of ‘learn’. However, I would counter that by learning in this format the concepts will no longer be filed in the far reaches of a students mind after they walk out the door. Of course students shouldn’t be left to sit in the classroom with no direction and simply be told to play the game. However, coupled with lessons and experimentation, the game can take learning to the next level. When students return home and turn on their own computer some of them may even enter the World again. With lessons already engrained, it will be natural for them to think about what they’ve learned as they enjoy their afterschool activities. This brings learning out of the classroom and reinforces it using something they are already engaging in anyway!

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