There are lots of good reasons why an assistant superintendent of schools would start a guild in World of Warcraft (WoW) – all laid out in a fascinating profile of the Cognitive Dissonance Guild and its educator members in The Journal this month. But the reason why Catherine Parsons, assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction, and pupil personnel services for Pine Plains Central School District, N.Y., started the guild was “to uncover education’s brass ring: student engagement.” A lot of teachers’ professional development happens in the guild as well (the name reflects the seeming disconnect between several pairs: public perceptions of videogames on the one hand and on the other hand: 1) what videogames can teach teachers about learning; 2) what massively multiplayer online games can teach teachers about education worldwide when they’re all playing a game together; 3) the members’ professional development and networking; and 4) traditional or formal learning.
But the members simply aren’t feeling any such cognitive dissonance, and their ranks are growing. The guild now has 100 active members around the world – all in the field of education. Here are some things they’ve learned about learning in WoW: The game “draws on multiple skills across multiple disciplines,” higher-order thinking, and problem-solving. Players have to be able to read, communicate, and use analytical and statistical skills (e.g., a statistical comparison of one weapon vs. another). They learn economic concepts such as supply and demand and budgeting. Parsons told The Journal that the four wars going on in WoW pattern conflicts in world history. So players learn concepts involved in social studies and history and “writing and lore.” She says players even use a form of statistical analysis in building their characters – what sort of talents to use, what weapons to use. She said 13-, 14-, and 15-year-old students whom teachers can’t get to do “those kinds of computations” in class have no problem doing them in World of Warcraft. Tech coordinator Lucas Gillispie, who runs the WoW in School site, “took inspiration from observing that a particular herb [in the game] that allowed his avatar to go invisible was always growing in a thick clump of weeds.” He thought of a lesson plan for comparing WoW ecology to real-world ecology.