WoW and other authentic places for learning

Who says playing an MMORPG in the classroom is a bad thing?  Not the authors of “A Pedagogy of Play: Integrating Computer Games into the Writing Classroom“, that’s for sure.

Colby and Colby’s article discusses how composition teachers might design a class centered around playing (and most crucially writing about) World of Warcraft.  They offer a discussion of how and why students and educators have usually resisted crossover between class and videogames, including the traditional barrier dividing “work” from “play”, various stigmas associated with videogames in general, but also discuss the potential payoffs of bringing something like videogames into writing classrooms.   They say “ideally, writing teachers encourage students to become immersed in their writing and research”, and videogames provide an intensely immersive experience for gamers.  They also say that videogames offer opportunities for “emergent learning” in an authentic and accessible discourse, giving students the feeling that “they have expertise to move beyond what others have written because they are writing for those who are invested in reading the material they produce.”

This, I think is at the heart of what’s different about Colby and Colby’s approach compared to others who see videogames as another kind of “text” students can engage with.  Instead of asking students to think of the game like a novel in a literature class (turning the game into the subject of their analytical essays), they ask students to participate in the very real and established written discourse communities that already exist surrounding the game.   Their writing assignments ask them to create real documents, guides, or other writings for real audiences, and publish them in the appropriate places online.  Whether those documents are in-depth guides to completing a section of the content, or proposals to the game’s developers regarding a missing feature for the game, students know that their writing means something to a wide audience beyond the class.

So, in a nutshell, the classroom becomes a kind of support and staging area for students who then go out and contribute to the conversations happening all around them, as well as a place for them to reflect on their activities and develop meta-knowledge of  their learning and experiences. Pretty cool. 🙂

But WoW isn’t the only way I think teachers could transform their classrooms into authentic learning communities, or give students opportunities to engage in real discourse. Some would argue that this is exactly what most academic classrooms have been trying to get students to do all along: engage in discourse (albeit academic discourse), and contribute to existing real conversations and communities through their writing.   However, the barrier to true entry into academic discourse may seem much too high for students to feel like their contributions matter.  Using something that has a lower barrier to entry (such as video game communities) allows students to practice essentially the same skills scholars use but in a more accessible context.

Classrooms could be designed around a variety of different real and authentic discourses that are student-accessible besides World of Warcraft gamers.  A class could be designed around a specific hobby with a rich online community, or an area of interest or a profession.  Popular culture and media drive the creation of hundreds of active and vibrant discourse communities across the internet (e.g. Breaking Bad fan sites and discussion forums during the airing of the show), any of which could be just as rich in terms of the kinds of conversations and writing practices students could engage in for a class.  A class could even be designed to allow students to select the discourse they plan to participate in during a class and share their assignments with the rest of the class as a way to introduce each other to what they’re focusing on and learn from each other.

In the end, I see Colby and Colby’s article as an example of a classroom whose goal isn’t simply to find a cool way to bring videogames into a classroom. It’s a way to make the classroom real and authentic, and blur the traditional boundaries between “work” and “play”,  “classroom” and “real life”,  and give students a safe place to experiment with writing that actually matters.

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4 comments on “WoW and other authentic places for learning

  1. You touch on a number of very salient features of this article that encourages engagement within various academic writing contexts that Composition teachers can use to motivate students while constructing bridges between ‘their’ world and academic thinking. I agree that video games are not the only method that can be used to engage students to translate their home literacies to academic contexts. One of features that might be employed pedagogically would be to offer any number of new media/alternative media options for students to engage with for a single unit and to construct the unit as a choice-driven, inquiry-based, processional pedagogy unit (i.e. a workshop based approach). Necessarily, this would require a lot of curricular planning for the teacher’s part to provide the appropriate amount of choice in order to represent various emergent literacies in the virtual sphere for students from different walks of life to engage with. However, I feel as though this could create a lively atmosphere and put the various modes of digital literacy within student reach without dominating the entire course.

  2. I like your discussion of video games serving as a low stakes entry point into a discourse community, but I would argue that some students would view this with just as much trepidation as they would a more academic discourse community. For those that lack familiarity with the conventions of the gaming community, they are just as much an outsider as they are in the more academic setting. However, I wonder if the anonymity of cyber world would be less intimidating and could possibly dispel some of the anxiety tied to their lack of knowledge of conventions? I feel like this returns to discussions we’ve had in class about public and private audiences, and if students consider academic discourse communities to be private and video game communities to be public?

  3. As you may recall, I’m writing my research paper on wiki’s. When I read the Colby & Colby piece I was a bit dismissive of it, and how it could apply to my goals and research focus. I agree when Nashife (I know that’s not your real name) points out that Colby and Colby’s goal isn’t to find a cool way to bring video games in the classroom, but to make a more “real and authentic” space to write. Clearly, I need to go back and reread the article with this in mind. I want to bring wiki’s into my pedagogy, but I do not want to have anything to do with video games (which is probably why I was so resistant to the article in the first place). I don’t like video games, I’m not good at them, and I don’t want to learn how to play them. That’s not to say I don’t see value in the literacy practices they require and employ; I do. I can also see the benefit of having a class such as Colby and Colby’s; it just needs the right teacher (and that teacher isn’t me).

  4. I appreciated your perspective and take-aways from these articles. When I was reading these articles, I was looking at them from a completely foreign lens, so it was difficult for me to see most of the benefits of implementing video games in the classroom could offer. Your perspective is more practical, and your analysis of the articles does make it a little easier to see this being integrated in the classroom…the classroom becoming “a kind of support and staging area for students who then go out and contribute to the conversations happening all around them, as well as a place for them to reflect on their activities and develop meta-knowledge of their learning and experiences”. This practice can get students in the habit of questioning what is happening around them, and then going out and engaging in dialogues about their unique perspectives and analyses.

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