Thursday, November 11, 2010

Educational Games

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.


  1. Jim,
    I'm not a gamer (yet) but from what there is out there to read it feels like in a game a person can be appreciated for what they contribute or support rather than simply by all the qualifiers we apply in school to keep people perpetually incomplete and sub-worthy.

    The game itself is secondary to the human interactions that enable players to inhabit the space and to "belong." We dangle belonging in front of students but it's never delivered because school is actually a less real construct than the virtual space of a game. Strange.

    Sorry this is so abstract sounding. Been trying to understand the lure of games and the whole popular media landscape for quite a while. Not from the theoretical level but from the human interaction level. That makes me think how smart it is for instructors to play the games to learn the "language" and values their students conduct their lives in. Not the phony pretending to be hip crap but completely dropping the distance.

    Thanks for this blog, see you at the site.


  2. Strange how games keep coming up in my general browsing. I retrained as a Maths teacher in 2002 after an interview in which I said that I wanted to make maths lessons more about games than about theory. I have still yet to achieve that goal, and it bothers me that I have yet to work out a way to do it effectively.
    I mentioned Tom Chatfield's TED video in my blog but forgot to include the link ( I love the analysis that occurs in WOW to gauge how to motivate the players and feel that this is really the key to encouraging students to participate in education, hence my 'experience points' suggestion about the PLENK MOOC.
    My peers within my staffroom often complain about the fact that our students shouldn't have to be entertained in the classroom, but I feel that maybe we should be endeavouring to do just that. How do we get back to the idea that life is a game? You learn the rules, you practice the skills necessary to particpate, you get better and so face tougher and more rewarding challenges.

  3. Life can be regarded as a game albeit one with high, even sometimes deadly stakes. Entertaining students is one way of keeping them motivated and attentive. Teaching has moved far beyond using a chalkboard as a motivational tool. I don't believe educators will remain relevant unless we can play the games our students demand rather than playing our own game which holds no relevance for them. "Bring on the games" I say.
    Susan O'G