‘Things are about to Get Weird:’ (Re)Imagining the Classroom as a MMORPG


The odd and creative thoughts that arise out of conversation with fellow doc students can be quite surprising. I’ve learned in the past year that I think best when bouncing ideas and thoughts off of others; these conversations allow me to talk through the mist or cloud I’m in when trying to digest new theories or wrap my head around the implications of a study. All that to say, my conversations with others are frequent to say the least. In most cases, the others I speak of are my fellow doc students. Well, as you might imagine, sometimes those conversations get weird, and a conversation I had with my compatriot Nick Thompson of Lassiter High School was no exception. Our dialog centered around creating a language arts classroom built entirely to replicate the feel and focus of a massively mulitplayer online role-playing game or MMORPG. That’s right kids–quests and all! The conversation sprang from a professor utilizing a token system for our reading this semester. We are being asked more and more to find our own literature to read and review, so Dr. Rish’s way of imploring us to navigate our reading is to allow certain readings we choose to be worth particular token values. (i.e. a book is work 6 tokens and a scholarly article is worth 1 token with a goal of reaching 15 tokens.) He admitted the idea seemed even a little silly to him. Not to me and Nick though! We both saw value in allowing voice and choice in the reading selection while also giving us a goal to obtain that wasn’t simply a grade. Research continues to show how fatal grades are to student learning, but we also know grades aren’t going anywhere. A token system helps shift the game a little bit though.

The token system quickly inspired us to ‘nerd-out’ with the possibility of expanding it into an entire all-encompassing world for a language arts classroom where students choose avatars, are given basic skill levels in various categories, and instead of reading, vocabulary, and grammar quizzes there are quests and opportunities to ‘level-up’!

The presumption might be students would increase their engagement level and buy into their learning in a way that they might not have in years. Think specifically about a high school world literature class and how often times that curriculum is defined by archetypes, specifically the archetype of the hero’s journey. (By the way, check out this video I tweeted last week from TED Ed about the hero’s journey; very apt and a cool visual aid in explaining it’s modern day importance.)

Anyway, when you think of a class like a world literature course, the idea of allowing your classroom to become its own role-playing game might have some value. You would have opportunities to allow students to go on their own allegorical heroic journeys while allowing opportunities for students to critically reflect on their real-life journey.

On a day-to-day level students could be ‘questing’ to level up and increase their stats as they approach their ultimate challenge/quest–the objective final or maybe a cumulative project (or both!). The quests could be negotiated to cover various skill sets including writing arguments, understanding words in context, collaborating with other ‘questers,’ developing grammar knowledge, and research (You want to defeat hunger in your local community? What will it take? What resources are available? Who should you talk to? What can be done to practically solve the problem and slay the ‘dragon’?) A student could earn tokens to increase their power indices where various readings, writings, and projects are worth various token levels and once a student masters a power category, he or she could move onto the next quest or level having shown that mastery. (Maybe through traditional tests, quizzes, writing, or less traditional forms including digital media or a multimodal composition.) The goal would be that the student’s avatar is strong enough to compete in that final quest and win the final challenge. If you really wanted to create the massively multiplayer feel, you could get other classrooms in on it at other schools and use Google Hangouts or Skype to connect to those other classes regularly–or even have kids collaborate with those other kids through Google docs.

Cool, right?!

As you can see above, this isn’t well thought out, it isn’t functional yet, and the logistics are off in the distance somewhere, but if you found yourself get just a little excited at the prospect of flipping your classroom into a different world, then you can start to see how this could change engagement and learning in a classroom. Nick and I considered issues of isolation for a student as well. Several kids might find the endeavor far too cheesy or uncomfortable and would either feel forced to participate and disengage or simply refuse to do the activities. Understandably, you can’t make everyone happy, but the goal of a genuine learning space is never to ostracize and isolate a student. I have no clue how you’d get everyone on board or how you might deal with the ridicule you’d receive from your colleagues; however I will say this–you’ll be having a lot more fun learning with your students than they will with theirs.

Truth is this probably won’t work on the scale we imagined it talking one day after class last week, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t nuggets to be chipped of the boulder here. I’m not sure how I’ll use this sort of idea next year, but ideas are percolating, so I imagine I’ll do something nutty. I guess we’ll find out together.

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