I believe it was Maria Anderson who said that many educational computer games are done badly. I've been wondering if any educational game could ever be done well enough to hold students' attention the way wildly popular role-playing games do. Perhaps we've been looking in the wrong direction. What if we could find ways to leverage the huge appeal of well executed games for educational purposes?
Kay Novak's PLENK introduction mentions a Second Life Unsymposium, which lead me to Rockliffe University's "World of Teachcraft". Using World of Warcraft (WOW) as a focus for collaboration, a half dozen teachers are meeting in Second Life to plan and support each other in learning how to use the world's most popular Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG). Within WOW they will collaborate as a team to complete quests and build up the level of their characters. Asynchronous discussion takes place in the course Moodle.
WOW is much more than just combat. Defeat is not final. Players learn through repeated attempts to complete complex tasks which then allow them to advance to higher levels. Characters have different abilities (such as healing, superior strength, damage at a distance, and magic) that complement each other in battle, making cooperation the key to advancement. A wide array of virtual goods that give an advantage to one character or another are bought and sold on open markets, making economics an important part of the game as well. Within the game, players communicate with each other by text and voice to coordinate attacks, tutor newcomers, barter for assistance, and share information about hidden dangers. There is an active community on the web that further supports players with information for solving difficult quests through forums and FAQs as well as facebook groups and twitter. There is even an in-game twitter client called "Tweetcraft"
This combination of multiple channels for learning to play a game, that itself includes multiple levels of learning, with the need for cooperation and collaboration makes this project one of the more intriguing ones I have seen. It's not quite enough to get me playing WOW, but it's mellowed my condescending attitude toward gaming. In the Unsymposium, several of the professors told how they used WOW in their real life classes on economics and other subjects that meshed with the themes of the game. Now they are taking it a step farther, bringing in teachers new to WOW to see if they can discover other ways this highly engaging MMORPG can complement educational goals in and out of the classroom.