Education in Virtual Worlds

Gaming/MMOs and Education: A Natural Fit

Two separate blog entries that we came across point out similar conclusions: that video games and massive multiplayer online role-playing games (MMPORPGs) have very real applications in the education realm.

Over at the Cisco Systems’ Virtual Worlds blog, Steve Hall, a Network Consulting Engineer, writes about a Fox News story that reports on the MMORPG World of Warcraft (WoW) being used to get school kids more engaged in their work.

Hall notes that, rather than games being a distraction and a way to avoid homework and social interactions, the can be used to expand the learning skills of students. The original story talks about an after-school program where underachieving boys get together and play WoW, and in the process learn writing and math skills as well socializing with one another.

Hall breaks the learning down into three segments: math, social skills, and scientific progress. He figures that WoW has math “under the hood” of the game, and that the equations a player uses to figure out things like weapon damage, for example, expands a mathematic mind. Social skills are improved as “players must interact with each other to progress.” This has helped these boys develop a sense of etiquette: “Being polite and social is rewarded with help when needed,” he writes. As well, because the WoW players cover a wide range of skills and roles, “there is something to interaction with others who are there for a wide variety of reasons.”

As for science, Hall figures that “players often start entire web sites dedicated to providing information and discussing the finer points of gameplay,” and that thinking scientifically is another overlooked part of the game.

On the Wall Street Journal’s business tech blog, Ben Worthen writes about the new trend of using ‘video-game like technology’ to attract information-technology students.

Worthen cites the example of San Fransisco State University, where a class that is teaching business-process management now uses a virtual world to study a fictional business (in the past, the class would have gone to McDonalds - a step up, I would say.)

The main advantage is that “the students learn more when they use the virtual world because they get to ask questions of the business’s executives.” While they are missing real-life interaction, Worthen cites the advantage as being “better than watching a fry cook flip burgers.”

But people of the student age are also more intrinsically drawn to video games.

“Students today are not like me,” says the 66-years old course instructor. “Gaming is a big thing to them. Students can relate better to material if I’m not standing in front of them.” Worthen also notes that once the novelty of teaching with gaming tools has worn off, “you’re left with a more engaging way to study problems.”

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