EAF 228 MMORPGs and the Future of Education1 Dr. Rodney P. Riegle Illinois State University firstname.lastname@example.org Abstract This essay describes how EAF 228, a teacher education course at Illinois State University, uses a MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) as an educational environment and a bridge to the future of education. You can learn more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation. ~ Plato Introduction MMORPGs are Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games and they are becoming incredibly popular worldwide, attracting millions of players and generating billions of dollars of revenue.2 MMORPGs such as EverQuest II (EQ2),3 one of the most popular MMORPGs in North America, are fully functional virtual worlds and represent a new educational environment. A recent study found that preservice teachers are open to new applications of technology and consider games to be important educational tools. However, most preservice teachers do not play MMORPGs and so are unaware of their educational potential. The study recommends that preservice teachers be provided with the opportunity to experience MMORPGs directly in their training so that they can discover new strategies for effectively implementing MMORPGs in their own classrooms.4 This essay describes a real- life preservice teacher education course which does exactly that. MMORPGs and Instruction A MMORPG is an online computer role-playing game in which a large number of players interact with one another in a virtual world which has many of the characteristics of the real world (e.g., an economy, geography, organizations, etc). Players assume the role of a character and take control over most of that character's actions. MMORPGs feature a persistent world which continues to exist and evolve while the player is away from the game. This results in a virtual world which is dynamic, diverse, and realistic. 2 EverQuest II is the sequel to EverQuest, which was the first MMORPG. EQ2 was developed by Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) and made its debut in November of 2004. It features graphics and gameplay greatly updated from its predecessor as well as NPCs (Non-Player Characters) that use audio for speech. In EQ2, players explore a rich 3D environment set in the fictional, geographically vast world of Norrath. A player can create multiple characters by choosing from a variety of classes (e.g., fighters, healers, scouts, mages) and races (e.g., humans, trolls, dwarves, elves, etc.). They interact with other real players and computer-generated NPCs and embark upon quests for treasure and experience points, which are a measure of a character's advancement and improvement in skills. MMORPGs have begun to attract significant academic attention, particularly in the fields of economics and psychology. Most of this attention, however, has been directed at MMORPGs as research environments. It is as instructional environments, however, that MMORPGs have the potential to make the biggest impact. Everyone from the U.S. military (war games simulators) to commercial aviation (flight simulators) to law enforcement (police simulators) is embracing virtual instruction in a gaming environment. Because MMORPGs marry the complexity of a complex world with the safety of a virtual environment, they represent a new kind of instructional environment which has never before existed. EAF 228 Background The title of EAF 228 is Social Foundations of Education. It is a 3-credit hour undergraduate course designed and taught by Dr. Rod Riegle and offered by the Department of Educational Administration and Foundations at Illinois State University. Its target audience is teacher education majors and its content focuses on history, philosophy, and sociology of education. It is offered every semester and enrolls 100 students per semester. It is a totally online course located at http://www.coe.ilstu.edu/rpriegle/eaf228/. Visitors are encouraged to visit and browse the course. More than 3,000 students have taken EAF 228 online since it was first created in 1994. EAF 228 was the world's first (1994) totally asynchronous (independent of space and time) online course for teachers. It was also the first (2000) course to exclusively utilize the design principles of online video games and the first (2006) course to integrate MMORPGs into its design. 5 The purpose of EAF 228 is to give students an opportunity to experience an educational online gaming environment. They can then make more reasoned decisions about the advantages and disadvantages of such environments and whether, and to what extent, they might like to further pursue this new mode of instruction in their own careers. During the course, students who earn an A or a B create their own fully- functional educational MMORPG focusing on the subject and students they intend to teach when they graduate. EAF 228 Design Features EAF 228 is designed as an online, interactive video game where players (students) must overthrow Status Quo, a mythical figure that represents educators who fear online gaming and resist the future. Players must complete Quests (assignments) in order to earn a final grade (4 Quests for an A, 3 for a B, 2 for a C, 1 for a D). Each Quest requires mastery of increasingly difficult educational concepts and technological skills. Following are some of the more basic design features: Digital: EAF 228 is totally online. It does not use nor require any paper materials or texts. Asynchronous: EAF 228 is independent of space and time. It has no in-person meetings and only one deadline – midnight of the last day of the semester. Students have taken it from many locations around the world and even while traveling. 3 Student-controlled: Students control the pace of their own learning and the amount they choose to learn. Only about twenty percent of students choose to do the work required to earn a final grade of A. Non-coercive Collaboration: EAF 228 rewards collaboration, but students control the amount of collaboration they engage in and no collaboration is required. Sharing information and assisting each other is mutually beneficial, so collaboration is natural rather than forced. Interactive: EAF 228 uses interactive ASP programming for students to interact with materials and provides tools for students to interact with each other (e.g., message board, in-game chat). Media rich: EAF 228 maximizes images, sound, and video. The use of text is minimized. Game metaphor: EAF 228 has a storyline, quests, characters, a player’s guide, and other elements essential to video games. Every opportunity is used to advance the metaphor of a game. Automated: EAF 228 has automated online record keeping for the instructor via ASP programming and a Microsoft Access database. In addition, students receive automated online feedback and progress reports (both individual and collective so that students can compare their individual progress to other students in the class). This allows the instructor to spend more time interacting with students Virtual Immersion: EAF 228 immerses students in the fully functional virtual world of EQ2. Students go on quests, battle monsters, craft items, explore the world, buy, sell, trade, and much more. EAF 228 Backstory and Quests MMORPGs, such as EQ2, are fully formed and fully functional worlds, albeit virtual ones. To utilize them as educational environments requires the instructional designer to create an online portal, an entryway controlled by the instructor. Such a portal must contain a backstory or explanation of who the student is and the role he or she will play within the course and within the MMORPG. In order to maximize the benefits of MMORPGs, it is extremely important to maintain the metaphor of the game and to create explanations and roles that are consistent with the backstory and the roles embedded in the MMORPG. In addition to the backstory and roles, the instructional designer must create quests (assignments) that are consistent with the MMORPG. Below are the backstory and quests for EAF 228. Introduction It is the dawn of a new millennium. The number of Online Gamers grows daily. But the forces of the Dark Lord Status Quo, trained in the arcane arts of Lecturing, dismiss online gaming as a fad. Because the forces of Status Quo control access to the Credential, Online Gamers resent their power and their allegiance to the Book. Tension is high. Rebellion is in the air. A secret training facility has been constructed and disguised as EAF 228. Complete the training and join us. You have nothing to lose but your Lecture Notes… Quest 1 Ever since the Gutenberg revolution over five centuries ago, the armies of the Dark Lord Status Quo have reigned supreme and Education has remained unchanged. But the ancient prophecies of The Oracle foretold of a time when students would embrace Change and overthrow the forces of Status Quo. A new era of freedom and prosperity would then ensue. Now the time of reckoning has finally arrived. You are an aspiring Change Novice whose mission is to master the Secrets of the Future and provide the leadership that the students so desperately need in their battle against the tyranny of Status Quo. Create an EQ2 character. Join the Change Guild. Attain Level 5 as an adventurer with your character. 4 Pass the four Tests of the Future. Quest 2 The ascendance of the Change Novices which had been foretold by the ancient prophecies of The Oracle has occurred. Their power is unparalleled and they have freed many students from the armies of Status Quo. But the battle is not over. The forces of Status Quo have retreated to their last bastion of power located on ByGone, a planet hidden somewhere in the Education Galaxy. There, using the mysterious powers of the Lecture and the Textbook, Dark Drones cruelly train unsuspecting students for a world that no longer exists. You are an aspiring Change Apprentice whose mission is to master the Secrets of the RPG and free the remaining students from the Dark Drones. Attain Level 10 as an adventurer with your EQ2 character. Create an outline of an educational online role-playing game (RPG). Quest 3 The Change Apprentices have defeated the forces of Status Quo and banished him to the Land without Students. There, surrounded only by his musty Textbooks and yellowed Lecture Notes, he grows weaker every day. Students everywhere eagerly anticipate the long-awaited reforms to the moribund Education System. However, in anticipation of his imprisonment Status Quo secretly released a powerful Virus that has deleted an untold number of educational websites. Status Quo plans on using the ensuing chaos to regain his power and once again enslave students worldwide. You are an aspiring Change Agent whose mission is to master the Secrets of the Web and replace the deleted educational websites before Status Quo regains his power. Attain Level 15 as an adventurer with your EQ2 character. Create an online educational RPG using the outline you developed for Quest 2. Quest 4 The damage inflicted on the Internet by the Status Quo Virus was quickly repaired thanks to the heroic efforts of the Change Agents. Students looked forward to large scale change, but it was not to be. Impatient students demanded the utilization of Online Gaming learning environments, but their demands were ignored by the Education Establishment who feared the return of Status Quo. You are an aspiring Change Master whose mission is to master the Secrets of the Video and change forever the nature of education. Though he is terribly weakened and near death, the specter of the return of the Dark Lord Status Quo still looms. Attain Level 20 as an adventurer with your EQ2 character. Create a video preview or trailer for the online RPG you created for Quest 3. Conclusion As they approached the Portal to the Future, Change Leader came forth to greet them. Very old he was, gray and thin, save that his eyes were as bright as stars. And he looked at them and bowed and said, “All is now ready. Here, at the deathbed of Status Quo, our quests conclude. I will not say goodbye, for the Game never ends.” Filled with pride that was without conceit, the Future Teachers turned toward the Portal. Never again looking back, they moved forward without Books or Lectures or Classrooms, embracing their destiny on the long, dark trip into the Future of Education. MMORPGs and the Future of Education 5 More and more students shop for courses that best accommodate their schedules and learning styles, and then transfer the credit to the university where they will earn their degrees. Nearly 60% of all students graduating with a baccalaureate degree have “attended” two or more institutions.6 Online course offerings are becoming increasingly more common in education. More than three million college students are currently taking courses online.7 The competition for online students continues to escalate as more and more institutions realize that online education is a fast-growing, multi-billion dollar market.8 Clearly, education is becoming a commodity and many educational institutions are looking to online education to improve their revenue stream. Courses that utilize MMORPGs are appealing to the target demographic: seventy percent of college students play video games.9 In the past, EAF 228 would perhaps be viewed as a mildly amusing course that had no real application to other settings. However, with the advent of the Internet students from all over the world can and do enroll in EAF 228. Furthermore, EAF 228 could easily be repackaged and offered by other organizations. The advantages of utilizing MMORPGs as educational environments are numerous: Scalability: MMORPGs are designed to accommodate millions of players. Maintenance: MMORPGs are maintained and updated by professional developers. Engaging: Only the most interesting and fun MMORPGs survive. Availability: MMORPGs are available 24-7-365. Automated: Numerous statistics regarding player performance are automatically recorded in MMORPGs. Immersive Learning: In MMORPGs students can play the role, and engage in the actual activities, of economists, geographers, historians, sociologists, physicists, politicians, and so on in a virtual environment that mirrors many of the salient characteristics of the real world (instead of just passively studying those subjects in a classroom divorced from the real world). Previous essays in this series have also detailed the advantages of MMORPGs for instructional design, student motivation, collaborative learning, educational assessment, curricular reform, and collaborative critical thinking.10 Due to the confluence of the ascendance of online education, the growing popularity of gaming, and the economic and educational advantages just described, MMORPGs represent the future of education. EAF 228 is a bridge to that future. If that bridge is to be used by others, then it is necessary to identify and ameliorate existing barriers to the use of commercial MMORPGs for educational purposes. For example: The historic denigration of gaming within the academic community The historic resistance to technological change within the academic community The reliance on traditional face-to-face instructional models within accreditation guidelines and faculty evaluation policies The steep learning curve required to function within an MMORPG for instructors and students The lack of MMORPG experience by instructors and instructional designers The lack of awareness of the educational potential of MMORPGs by instructors, designers, and administrators Note that amelioration of these barriers requires cultural, technical, and political change. The good news is that none of the barriers are insurmountable; the bad news is that there are no quick fixes. Conclusion 6 Albert Einstein once remarked, “I never teach my pupils; I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.” It is clear that today’s college age students preferred medium is online gaming. Recent research reveals that game-playing makes people better surgeons, better soldiers, and better business people. 11 It is my belief that it also makes better teachers. MMORPGs are not just games. They are an important tool in the creation of effective learning environments and they are a powerful marketing device. EAF 228 is a harbinger of a new educational paradigm. Every year, 300 more of my students enter the teaching profession armed with their own educational MMORPG websites. I invite all educators to join me in building a future where students learn as much from MMORPGs as they do from books and lectures. It is their destiny and our responsibility. Notes 1 This is the seventh in a series of essays on the implications of MMORPGs for education. See http://coe.ilstu.edu/rpriegle/mmorpg/ for other essays on this topic. 2 See Woodcock, Bruce. “An Analysis of MMOG Subscription Rates.” 1 September 2006 < http://www.mmogchart.com/>. For more information on MMORPGs, see “MMORPG.” Wikipedia. 1 September 2006 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MMORPG>. 3 “EverQuest II.” Sony. 1 September 2006 < http://everquest2.station.sony.com/ >. 4 Schrader, P.G., Zheng, Dongping, and Young, Michael. “Teachers' Perceptions of Video Games: MMOGs and the Future of Preservice Teacher Education.” Journal of Online Education. February/March 2006. 1 September 2006 <http://innovateonline.info/index.php?view=article&id=125>. 5 EAF 228 was featured in the November 3, 2003 AACTE Briefs available online at http://www.aacte.org/Publications/brf110303.pdf (see page 5). 6 Peter, Katharin and Cataldi, Emily. “The Road Less Traveled? Students Who Enroll in Multiple Institutions.” National Center for Education Statisitics. May 2005. 1 September 2006 <http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2005157>. 7 Allen, I. Elaine and Seaman, Jeff. “Making the Grade: Online Education in the United States, 2006.” The Sloan Consortium. November 2006. 1 November 2006 <http://www.sloan- c.org/publications/survey/pdf/making_the_grade.pdf>. 8 Greenspan, Robyn. “Reading, Writing, Pointing-and-Clicking.” ClickZStats. 18 July 2003. 1 November 2004 <http://cyberatlas.internet.com/markets/education/article/0,,5951_2237481,00.html>. 9 Jones, Steve. “Let the games begin: Gaming technology and entertainment among college students.” Pew Internet & American Life Project, 6 July 2003. 1 November 2004 <http://www.pewinternet.org/reports/toc.asp?Report=93>. 10 See Riegle, Rodney P. “MMORPG University” <http://coe.ilstu.edu/rpriegle/mmorpg/>. 11 See Dobnik, Verena. “Sugeons May Err Less by Playing Video Games.” 1 July 2006 <http://msnbc.msn.com/id/4685909/>; Silberman, Steve. “The War Room.” Wired. September 2004. 1 July 2006 <http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/12.09/warroom.html>; Beck, John, and Wade, Mitchell. “The Kids Are Alright: How the Gamer Generation Is Changing the Workplace.” 1 July 2006 <http://www.gotgamebook.com/>.
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