Sunday, March 3, 2013

WoW in Schools: Authentic Game Based Learning

I am taking a graduate course in Leadership in Educational Technology, and the following question was raised for discussion:

You may notice some strong opinions about WoW across the scholarly, professional, and public arenas. We have seen similar issues in the past with controversies over online education or the long-running media effects debate. As a leader in the field of educational technology, how do you respond to conflicting opinions and beliefs when introducing a new technology in your school or organization or when engaging in research with "controversial" new technologies?
Below is my response related to the wonderful WoW in Schools project:

This is a great question. For me, it is important to be mindful of the opinions of others. I am a techie and a gamer, so my desire and motivation to integrate innovative technology might differ from other educators. It is important to get the buy in of educators in order to move forward. It is important to value their skepticism and not push a project on them.

I would like to use WoWinSchools ( as an example of an ambitious project that pushes the envelope. I am a fan of the work of Lucas Gillispe, Peggy Sheehey, and Craig Lawton and their dedication to the importance of true learning to be the goal of game based learning. It is easy to get excited about technology and integrating a game based learning approach, but it is also easy for such an endeavor to lack true direction and lack learning outcomes. I especially appreciate that the project aims to provide educators with a full curriculum that is rich in content and clearly engaging. I take a bit of caution in using the term engaging as I realize that it is difficult to sell engaging when we are so focused on 'achievement'. However, I believe in the value of engagement, and when it is coupled so carefully with good instructional design I believe it is especially effective.

The WoWinSchools project is aligned with the Language Arts standards (p. 13 - 16) in a very authentic manner. Through the journey, students are engaged in parallel reading (The Hobbit) and comparing the journey of their WoW character with that of Bilbo Baggins. Students engage in activities around the book including Literature Circles and other more traditional academic endeavors. Writing is a big component of the program and is at the core of the evaluation of student diary entries and other related writing activities. In fact the grading rubric provides students with experience points based on their writing. In order to receive the highest level of experience for the content portion of the rubric (400 - 500 XP), the writing is evaluated based on the following:

"This diary entry shows evidence of deep reflection and transference of class material and lessons to real life events. It shows higher orderthinking and problem solving skills. In addition, it clearly relates to topics and themes within the book study." (Cape Fear Middle School, 2011)

I could go on and on, but I am trying to illustrate the point that this project is not an excuse to bring games into the classroom, but rather an opportunity to engage students (often those at risk) in an opportunity to own their learning and embrace the connection between in-game content and academics.

WoWinSchools is just one example of effective game based learning. I believe that I would use it as an example for other projects that might involve game based learning in order to provide naysayers with a solid example of what is possible and how we can capitalize on student engagement without sacrificing content.


P.S. After writing this it occurred to me that a lot of opposition relates to violence in this and other games. I believe that much of the literature students read (including their history text) deals with violence. Taking on the role of the 'hero' in World of WarCraft provides an immersive experience when relating to the characters in the literature.

Gillispe, Lucas, Lawson, Craig (2011). WoWinSchool - A hero's journy: A middle grades Language Arts adventure. Retrieved from: