Our kids have grown up with video games that are far more complex than those we were familiar with as children. They love games and understand online gaming environments. It makes sense to get creative and use games to help students learn important skills.
I wasn't always a proponent of gaming, in fact it has taken me quite a few years to really understand the positive impact that gaming can have on student learning. This changed when I started an after school WoW club. (There are other elements to this club besides the game, such as reading, reflecting and blogging.) It has proven to be a powerful experience for both myself and my students. Upon reflection of the work they have done in in WoW and our journey together (I play along with them), I am impressed at what we have accomplished.
By the end of our first lesson, we were all teaching, supporting and sharing our experiences, guiding each other, as we engaged in discovery through exploration and role play. Students began guiding their own learning, through discussions and quests with others in our class and other players in the game. They used all the resources at their disposal, game wikis, YouTube tutorials and more, without prompting, and became part of a larger learning community as they sought out connections with others. This in itself is a huge leap forward. The kids were driving their learning experiences, determining their own paths, resourcing their support and extension and building learning networks.
There is a lot learning that goes on in an online game. I made a point of taking a few minutes each week to reflect on my own learning experiences. I wanted to better understand what learning processes the students were going through during those experiences. They were reading, following instructions, building strategies, seeking solutions, collaborating with others, and learning from mistakes, while utilising online safety strategies. Aren't these skills we want to help our students develop?
The strategies the students developed throughout their journeys were often a result of the conditions and obstacles they encountered. Their quests, dungeons and group work, required not only travel strategies, but strategies to aid them in coping with other adversities along the route, recognition of obstacles, their locations and how best to deal with them. They had to employ good communication, netiquette and internet safety skills in dealing with other players within the game, while traveling and participating in team based activities. Students had to use their number skills to collect and trade goods, work with experience points while finding ways to level up as well as deal with training requirements. In-world reading was a major focus of the game, as students read through quest descriptions and followed instructions. Students applied their mapping and compass skills, determined routes and means of transportation, depending on topography. These were not skills directly taught in the club, instead students were supported in navigating the virtual world.
It is an eye opening experience for a teacher, who has spent many years, devoted to planning, resourcing and teaching lessons, to realise that with the right venue, students are capable of and motivated to drive their own learning in these ways. I think it only reconfirms that we need to get more creative and take risks, offer more options, give the kids a say, loosen up the reigns a bit, and embrace our roles as facilitators of learning.