MMORPGs in Education

I mentioned one of my research interests of the past year, my professor was interested, and I wrote this in response. I thought it would also make a good early entry on this new blog…

I would be interested in knowing what were the results (briefly) of this study.

Dr. Hazari,

I am considering using my KAM and Dissertation research to more formally study the potential of Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games to serve as constructivist learning environments. So far this year, I have done a good deal of reading, have completed a related formal study for EDUC-8437, and have spent a good deal of time exploring the games myself. (It may surprise you to learn I was not at all a video gamer myself before becoming interest in the project, and I had never played a multiplayer online game… though I did grow up playing traditional role playing games.)

I started in with my reading on what I consider to be the three primary books on the subject, which I mentioned in our week 1 forum as well… Marc Prensky’s Digital Game-Based Learning (2001), James Gee’s What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy (2003), and Clark Aldrich’s Simulations and the Future of Learning (2004). I am also reading Justine Cassell and Henry Jenkin’s From Barbie to Mortal Kombat: Gender and Computer Games.

Surpisingly, though Prensky seemed open to the potential of Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs), he spent little time exploring and discussing them. Aldrich, even more surprisingly, is actually opposed to their use as teaching and learning environments, due to the lack of teacher control available. This smacks of twentieth-century thinking to me. :)

James Gee included some very inspirational passages about his own experiences with MMORPGs and projections about their future in education. However, it may be my readings and interpretations of Seymour Papert, actually, that have given me the most hope for MMORPGs as context-rich, inquiry-facilitating, and socially negotiated learning spaces.

It is worth noting that I began my investigation with a focus on Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs), but have since focused more narrowly on simply multiplayer games, which tend not to require a persistent game-world, and which do allow a great deal more control for the game-master/teacher. This is in part due to the validity of some of Aldrich’s concerns, and in part because of my recent personal experience with the games.

I found exploring the worlds of Everquest, Star Wars Galaxies, and Final Fantasy XI to be exciting and powerful learning experiences, but only for a short while. Very soon I came to feel the lack of a coherent story… and the lack of any serious role playing on the part of the players. In contrast, a game like Neverwinter Nights, which still allows up to 64 players (enough for most classes), and which is not-persistent, can allow a game-master/teacher to taylor a scenario for his or her students, to adjust as the students play, and to maintain both the quality of the experience and the participation of the students by starting and stopping the game world any time (or at pre-determined “class” times.) It is also highly customizable. The folks over at at MIT have created a Revolutionary War game out of what was originally very dungeons and dragons oriented material. :)

As for the formal study I did for EDUC-8437, I studied teachers perceptions of the potential of MMORPGs as constructivist learning environments, with an eye for their comfort level with computers, constructivism, video games, and MMORPGs. The study compared the perceptions of teachers of different ages. While their comfort levels with computers and video games were predictably varied by age, their comfort with constructivism was in no way related to age, and their confort with MMORPGs was related only to their knowledge of them. It was an interesting place to start in terms of the relationship of these games to the educational world, but was limited in many ways by the need to complete the project for 8847… as I suspect my KAMs and Dissertation will be similarly limited.

By the way, see the Daedalus Project to read a good deal of great research into social aspects of MMORPGs.

I hope that was brief enough for something I’ve investigated for almost a year. ;)

I’d be happy to chat with anyone about it more… here or via email, IM (AV if possible… I have an iSight), or by phone. Come to think of it… anyone interested in doing a related project for this class?