Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Games Based Learning - The University of Warcraft.

I decided to take a little bit of time out from thinking about my PLE/N and concentrate on something slightly different - Games based learning.

Research has been carried out indicating that students will learn more and for longer through the use of educational games.

Many games are being published in order to teach specific skills to students. As well as arenas such as Second Life being used to run game like simulations.

Another body of research has looked at the pedagogical structures and uses of already developed Massively Multiplayer Role-playing Games (mmorpgs) - i.e. World of Warcraft (WOW). These mmorpgs offer a brilliant scaffolding structure and self paced learning model in order to help individuals learn to play the game, as well as embedded connectivist pedagogy to allow knowledge transfer and construction (these are inherently social games).  Throughout the lower levels a player learns the individual attributes of his character in order to progress upon personally motivated individually completed quests. In middle levels a player will learn about roles which their particular class can play within small quest parties i.e. a paladin learning how to ‘tank’ for the benefit of the rest of the group. Through these quests persons share knowledge and information in a way to benefit the party and to best achieve a positive outcome. In later stages persons will work together in much larger raiding parties in which micro roles are practised and executed over a series of attempts. Persons need to apply knowledge of their specific race and class in a way which benefits many. 

So to recap individual orientation quests about base knowledge leads to small group quests, the sharing of class specific knowledge, and the acquisition of group/class specific roles. Finally persons come together to apply all learnt knowledge in a wider context of a large raiding party. Is it just me or, does this sound at all like a University education?

Games such as Warcraft have been used within University courses in order to illustrate and engage students in: qualitative research methods; geography; economics; and many other diverse disciplines.
However this is not what they were primarily designed for and so the education is a secondary benefit - educators are using already developed non -educational situations and redefining or using them as illustrative options.

This is a brilliantly intuitive and positive application, however what if an mmorpg was developed specifically for educational purposes teaching students specific applicable skills in line with the university curriculum - surely this amalgamation of both schools of thought (developing small scale skill specific games + using the brilliant scaffolding structure of an mmorpg) will offer a very immersive and educational arena.
Taking the example of World of Warcraft - this could be applied to university education. Imagine the different schools and subjects akin to classes and professions within wow.

 A student starts out within their start land - conducting low level quests focusing upon the learning needed to give grounding within that field - for example a psychology student may learn research methods, statistics, cognitive psychology, and social psychology through a series of lower level quests. Students would progress through the lower level areas gaining xp just as they would within WOW.

Once at high enough levels - having completed enough ‘quests’, the student will be able to progress to newer islands within the school - here different members of the same school will have to group together in order to complete educational 'quests' for example a psychologist, sociologist and health student may need to work together to satisfactorily complete a quest.

 The final level will be areas open to all students having 'quested' through zones one and two - this zone opens all students into large project based areas in which they need to apply their knowledge as well as working with persons from different schools in order to complete a common goal - a psychologist, physicist, business student, and graphic designer working together in the same way an elf, human and dwarf may in wow - each will bring different attributes and ways of thinking to the group but only together will they succeed. This final level of quests will teach project organisation and problem solving akin to 'real world' graduate positions. 

I have two schools of thought as to potentially be achieved, firstly in the truest sense of the moniker Games based learning – i.e. a video game looking and feeling similarly to wow or other such multi user virtual worlds – in an extreme this structure would allow for purely distance learning to take place. Imagine achieving a degree by purely ‘playing a game’.... controversial? ;)

The second idea would be to physically ‘play’ through this idea (ideally, I believe a similar progression structure should also be in place through first, second and third years of an undergraduate taught degree anyway.) We are living in a world where more, and more game structures are slipping seamlessly into our everyday lives. Thanks to ‘loyalty’ schemes such as nectar, we are all (gamers or not) now used to collecting points to unlock rewards (see Jesse Schell’s excellent TED talk). New mobile apps such as foursquare are also blurring this line between life and game. Why not then in Education, this is not a new idea and some far more pioneering educationalists than myself have already incorporated alternate reality games within their courses. The idea runs that a person would receive xp for nominal ‘quests’ such as attending lectures and completing readings. They would also compete against classmates on formative assessment quests – the best answers being granted achievements or further XP. Of course this idea of learning within a game structure could be (and has been) applied to motivate a single cohort, and not necessarily ‘fit’ into a wider game structure as suggested previously.

These are just my musings and thoughts and as  a result of which I have chosen not to format academically complete with references.

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