The Barriers May not be So Great

MMORPG in the Classroom?
A Mashup between three (cc) photos from Flickr using Photoshop Elements
Last night, Mark Wagner posted part of his dissertation in his blog, Educational Technology and Life.  He’s asked for comments from readers and here are excerpts of my responses to MMORPGs in Schools: The Shift Ahead.  Wagner writes:

They urged that games be designed with “sound theories of learning and socially conscious educational practices” (p. 111). However, they also noted that the theories of learning embedded in videogames as a medium run counter to the presiding theories of learning in schools. Squire and Gee (2003) explained that games may be viewed as suspect in an era when the value of instruction is measured by standardized tests (p. 30).

I think it’s a good point that the learning theories that align and will likely rise out of video game experiences run counter in an era of standardized testing.  However, I think it also runs counter to currently accepted pedagogies, which are based in part on behaviorism (Skinner’s pecking pigeons) and information-scarce landscapes.  In learning environments based on biology (brain-research) and information-abundant information landscapes, video games may likely prevail and become a dominant mode of formal learning.

Mark continues to describe the potential of a fairly “revolutionary” shift in what formal learning looks like.

A century of artificially linear and context-free book learning may be replaced by a system in which students learn by doing. Traditional academic content might be learned by visiting a virtual world in which the content is situated and relevant. For instance, students of history might play a role in a simulation of the American revolution; a role that might just as likely be focused on drafting the constitution as it might be related to the war. Twenty-first century skills might be easier to teach because students are exercising them while working together in a game, and assessment will be authentic; either students will be able to apply their knowledge and skills successfully in the game, or not. Students might, for example, work together to launch a business in a simulated (or fictional) world.

I agree with this statement, especially in light of the 21st century skills in ISTE’s refreshed NETS and the work of The New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce (see Readiness Crisis, by Susan McLester) and many others.  However, I guess it’s the romantic in me, as someone who started teaching before the personal computer was invented, that asks, what becomes of school, of the classroom, of the teacher.  Are video games too good?

But, I’m still reading.  Mark starts to describe the paradyme shifts that must happen before MMORPGs might start to have an impact:

First, schools would need to embrace the tenets of constructivist pedagogy. Schools would have to come to value such things as Twenty-First Century skills, reflection, engagement and motivation, context-embedded learning, and social learning.

I think that there is substantial momentum behind this shift, right now.  It could easily be brought to a halt, or accelerated, depending on what happens in Washington.

Second, schools would need to overcome broader cultural resistance to using videogames in schools. Educational MMORPGs will need to be seen as learning worlds, not as a waste of time, and certainly not as violent or sexist in anyway.

There are certainly many people, educators among them, who see video games and “sex and violence” as almost synonymous.

The third change, though, may be the most difficult. Schools will need to accept a significant transfer of power. As with two-way web tools such as blogs, wikis, and social networks, MMORPGs allow students to interact with each other and create content without necessarily being moderated by teachers or other adult authority figures.

I agree that this seems an enormous barrier, especially in light of how this shift in power goes counter to our very definition of teacher, our years of experience, and the education that we received, and that many education students are still receiving.  However, I suspect that this wall, when boldly scaled, may well be easier to pass by than we imagine, because learner directed education simply makes more sense, as it is the way that we all learn “after-school.”

I believe that if we were to see courageous and visionary leadership in the right places, this kind of change could happen and far more quickly than we might imagine.  I believe that it is within our power to do it.  We’ve seen nearly as much change in recent years that go against our intuition as educators and as parents.  It could turn around.

My 2¢ Worth!

[Images ((Dans, Enrique. “Skype x 2.” Edans’ Photostream. 23 June 2006. 31 Mar 2008. ((Lee, Candice. “World of Warcraft! 2006.” Elunne’s Photostream. 27 Sep 2007. 31 Mar 2008. ((Lee, Candice. “World of Warcraft! 2005.” Elunne’s Photostream. 27 Sep 2007. 31 Mar 2008. ]

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Author: David Warlick

David Warlick has been an educator for the past 40+ years. He continues to do some writing, but is mostly seeking his next intersect between play, passion and purpose, dabbling in photography, drone videography and music production.