Fun is a great motivator for learning – but you knew that, didn't you, World of Warcraft player? Think of all the math you've used poring over DPS charts and gear stats, all the reading you've done deciphering terse quest instructions ... the research you've put in to decode what you need to know and then where to find it ... the tactical analyses you've ground out figuring out how to get that last boss to fall ...
Peggy Sheehy and Lucas Gillispie came to our attention in the comments of a previous 15 Minutes of Fame about a player who teaches a college course inside the World of Warcraft. "My middle school will be starting with an after-school club (always the gateway)," wrote Peggy, "but others joining us will be implementing it with the 'at-risk' student population, the 'gifted' student group, as well as mainstream classes for specific content-area projects." This is no upstart project; Peggy established the first middle school on the Teen Grid in Second Life three years ago, while Lucas has established an online wiki where educators all over the world can collaborate on a standard-aligned curriculum for using WoW in the schools.
As Darkmaster Gandling would say, "School is in session!" 15 Minutes of Fame pulled up a chair to chat with Peggy and Lucas on using WoW as a platform for teaching.
15 Minutes of Fame: So how does an educator and teacher with no gaming background to speak of get into raiding with a guild full of other educators in World of Warcraft?
Peggy Sheehy: I've been playing about a year and a half. I entered into the World of Warcraft because a couple of my colleagues and I were talking about the fact that we'd been very successful implementing Second Life and virtual worlds and we thought, "Let's investigate game engines. We keep hearing about all these possible educational applications, so let's go learn to game, to game to learn." That's really our motto.
So Cognitive Dissonance guild was formed. What Cog Diss basically did was say, "This is your safe haven where you can ask questions that you might not want to ask in game to the general public because, you know, you feel like a noob." Our role was really to learn to play – to learn to play well – to really understand the finer nuances of the game, to be involved with the backstory, with the narrative, because so much of what we're trying to tout with education is based on narrative and metaphor.
(We also want to) really understand what existing curriculum is already in there. We understand that Blizzard's not exactly eager to turn around and wrap their multi-billion-dollar game engine around our social studies curriculum. But we do see so much of what we're trying to teach these kids, in terms of not just the problem solving and the critical thinking and the working in a group and the responsibility ...
So much of that is such dry content when you're trying to teach it via the traditional methodology. But when you wrap it around something that's engaging, that has them on the edge of comfortability, that gives them chances to try again (maybe with a little more information), in a well scaffolded game -- something that's as graphically beautiful and intense and rich as WoW is -- your engagement problem is solved. That is such a huge part of learning.
You currently work with middle-schoolers. What would you consider WoW's target age range?
Peggy: I look at it from the reading level. My kids, who are 13 years old, are reading on a sixth-grade or a fourth-grade level in school when tested, but ... if you test them with the same methodology that you would test reading a John Steinbeck novel in school ... on World of Warcraft content, all of a sudden their scores are higher.
How much or how little does your gaming intersect with that of your students?
Lucas Gillispie: I'm gonna blame my addiction on students. I got started about nine years ago with EverQuest. I had a student in my physical science class when I taught high school who said, "Mr. Gillispie, don't you like fantasy-type stuff? Don't you play video games? Why don't you try this game?" So I rolled a character on the server this guy was playing on, and thus began my great journey into the world of MMORPGs. Some of the educational value began to dawn on me even then -- at the very minimum, just as a connectivity tool. As we would doing lots of running, which was a part of EverQuest (to get) from one place to another, we use to review physical science in chat as we ran.
For a long time, it was me playing with my students in a totally non-educational context -- though certainly, I'm still their teacher, and though I certainly took on that role and say, "Hey guys, it's late. You need to go to bed," or "Have you studied for my physical science test?" I never hesitated to invite students into the guild. There were times when I removed one for behavioral reasons and things like that, because we prided ourselves on reputation. I was always the forgiving type and would always bring them back, as long as I could try to get them reformed.
These days, Lucas, you play both on your original server as well as in the Cognitive Dissonance guild of educator colleagues. Do you segregate your professional and recreational play?
Lucas: I do in the sense that – well, you know what? Actually, no. I can't say that. It's a very blurred thing, and I'm comfortable with that. We always keep things professional, regardless.
Peggy: I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that both Cenarion Circle and the Sisters of Elune have pretty much established a code of conduct. We would not be embarrassed if the school board saw our chats or heard our discourse.