The Barriers May not be So Great

MMORPG in the Classroom?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. ]

Blogged with the Flock Browser

Tags: , , , , ,

12 thoughts on “The Barriers May not be So Great”

  1. Even though our current pedagogies are largely based out of behaviorist thought and behaviorist thought is shaped largely by B.F. Skinner, I don’t think the idea of game based education or game based learning was outside the realm of his thinking. The following is an excerpt from the lit review for my capstone paper on using virtual worlds to design 3d WebQuests:

    Skinner notes that studies have shown that the time it takes for a teacher to correct a traditional test and get it back to a student, sometimes days later, is too long for behavior to be appreciably modified (Skinner, 1968a, p. 30). Teaching machines can give immediate feedback. These machines must allow students to pass through a sequence of steps scaffolding understanding (pp. 33-34). Consequences for not acquiring desired understanding must be built in to supply motivation (p. 5). The programmer of such machines will most certainly need to have knowledge of how students learn and how behavior is modified (p. 50). Skinner (1968b) believes the programmer is better positioned to excite students about learning than the traditional teacher. He argues that our traditional school system’s aversive techniques have not turned out appreciable numbers of self motivated life-long learners. Therefore, teachers need to be more like programmers.

    Skinner, B. F. (1968a). The technology of teaching. the century psychology series. Retrieved April 12, 2007, from ERIC database.

    Skinner, B. F. (1968b). Development of methods of preparing materials for teaching machines. The George Washington University Human Resources Research Office: Alexandria, Virginia.

  2. what becomes of school, of the classroom, of the teacher

    Cringely wrote some words about this recently. His conclusion:

    we’ve reached the point in our (disparate) cultural adaptation to computing and communication technology that the younger technical generations are so empowered they are impatient and ready to jettison institutions most of the rest of us tend to think of as essential, central, even immortal. They are ready to dump our schools.

    War of the Worlds: The Human Side of Moore’s Law

  3. Many commercial video games are already scaffolded: skills you learn early in the game allow you to advance. Not a good enough jumper? You’ll need to repeat level 1 again. In some games, you’ll be given a tool and taught one way to use it, and then to advance you need to experiment with new ways of use (Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess has elements of this).

    Your female Tauren and Nightelf both look strange in that classroom. Might you have done it the other way around? Photoshop-ing some desks and laptops into Shattrath would have been pretty striking as well.

    In my opinion the role of the teacher in an MMORPG is to help learners make sense of what they’re seeing. I like the example of the Auction House in World of Warcraft (WoW). Players can buy and sell items that they find and make within the game world. The AH is susceptible to economic principles such as inflation, supply and demand, and monopolies. Do WoW players realize this? Do they use it to their advantage? Some do. Many more have no idea. A good teacher can take something like this that kids find exciting and turn it into a great correlation between game and reality. Teachers are necessary to help students build connections, recognize patterns, and to bring experience and deep understanding to the table.

  4. Although I still believe that the widespread use of high-quality “educational games” (MMORPG) is a distracting fantasy, at least Wagner defines the type of game he’s talking about. (see

    It is also possible, and indeed probable, that kids learn all sorts of things while playing computer games that have little relevance to the goals of school.

    Sloppy logic leads one to therefore declare that school is out-of-step. I criticize “School” plenty and have all sorts of practical advice for institutions interested in progress, but worrying about the integration of fantasy computer games remains very low on my priority list.

    Twenty years ago, Nintendo gave Dr. Papert’s Epistemology & Learning Group at the MIT Media Lab $9million to investigate learning and video games. Papert taught them a lot about the types of learning demonstrated by children playing games, but none of that wisdom resulted in a viable product.

    Sylvia Martinez, makes definitive arguments, based on years of software and education industry experience as to why “educational gaming” remains the holy grail. I HIGHLY recommend her work linked below.

    Incidentally, it is precisely the synergy between computer games and Skinner’s theories that makes the use of “educational games” questionable as a context for learning.

    Edugaming, a Bad Idea for All Ages –

  5. I think that MMORPG’s (or just RPG) have enormous potential in the English classroom. As an English teacher, I could see students enjoying a deeper experience of literature studied in class, or a study of the game itself as literature.

    Problem is, it seems like education is being completely ignored by the video game industry. Where are the Oregon Trail’s of 2008? The district I work in is out of touch, but I read relatively widely and haven’t seen anything, aside from Second Life (which, to me, is awkward, not to mention the fact it has such a large learning cave that it would take the relatively above average tech savvy teacher eons to develop classroom materials).

    As an English teacher and long time gamer I would look for the following elements in a game for my classroom:

    * immersive world
    * online interaction with peers (who would be controlling a player from another computer)
    * goal oriented task driven game which mirrors some type of content (or be “literary” enough to merit study in its own right)
    * explorative rather than level by level (not sure of the right way to say this…but more Mario Galaxy than original Super Mario Brothers

    Where is that game?

  6. This idea is such a exciting one for me, it seems the best of all worlds, allowing students to feel much more involved in their learning, that’s it’s connected and relevant, while also allowing students to the have more control with the speed that they learn…no longer being held back by others in the class!

    I can see the biggest hindrance for this fantastic view of the future being the lack of imagination for our own kind. I love teachers, but they do seem to resist change, they quite often revert back to teaching as they were taught. Changes are coming through, however slowly, and I really hope this view for the future is part of it.

  7. Dear David,
    I think the idea of video games you have raised is very crucial. All the issues raised in Wagner’s dissertation are very important and should be considered thoughtfully if educators and the policy makers would want games to be used effectively in the education system. I think if games could be designed with sound theories of learning and socially conscious educational practices, that would help a lot in convincing those teachers (mainly those who did their training before the video game era) who battle with finding a place for games in the classroom. I think transfer of power is the best way to go in the 21st century. However, I do not see many teachers willing to let go of power in fear of total loss of control. Most teachers can’t fathom the fact that students today can lead a class and can learn without the guidance of the teacher. More than two decades ago Paulo Freire in Pedagogy of The Oppressed had a vision of a liberated teacher who is a facilitator of learning. Today we still talk about the need for teachers to let go of power. My question is: Is it practical for teachers to transfer power or will technology force teachers to let go of power unwillingly?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *