• Persist or Die: Learning in World of Warcraft

    Back in March 2011, I gave an invited keynote at the JISC Scotland/Consolarium Game To Learn: Take 2 conference in Dundee, Scotland. The abstract read:

    All you need to understand is everything you know is wrong.
    —Weird Al

    My mother told me cleaning toilets builds character if done repeatedly. The other night five friends spent more than three hours dying over and over again while playing World of Warcraft (WoW). She never said anything about dying. I found cleaning toilets only gets you clean toilets. Dying and playing, however, teaches you important things. Demons, dragons, dwarves, and possibly folklore, you could see, but learning, love, and leadership?

    Sounds crazy, but it’s true: World of Warcraft has something to say about learning. Prepare yourself, because everything you thought you knew is wrong.

    The talk went very well and the slides were available shortly after the talk via SlideShare, but I was somewhat remiss in preparing a version for my blogs. This version was originally posted on my WoW Learning Project site.

    You have a choice of formats:

    1. The original slides (slightly cleaned up) via SlideShare.
    2. The original slides and notes (slightly cleaned up) via SlideShare.
    3. A downloadable PDF version of this blog post (from copy at WoWLearning).
    4. This blog post.

    This post is a written version of the original talk with the more important slide graphics incorporated. It can therefore be read without the original slides. Enjoy! If you have any comments, feel free to leave them.

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  • Connectivism and Affinity Spaces: Some Initial Thoughts

    Photo Composit: All the colours of the rainbow
    Credit: Photograph by Jake Rome (jakerome) under an Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license

    Image: Photograph composited from pieces of many other photographs: a visual affinity.

    James Paul Gee introduced the idea of affinity groups in his seminal What Video Games Have To Teach Us about Language, Learning, and Literacy (Gee, 2007). It is defined as the people associated with a given semiotic domain. That basically is a domain in which people use particular symbols or language to communicate and interact. We’re already well used to the concept, even if we don’t realize it. A given academic discipline, for example, will have its own vocabulary and, in that context, use language in a particular way, even if others use it differently in another context. It’s all about situated cognition and situated meaning. Games and their communities will have their own semiotics and constitute a semiotic domain. Members of an affinity group will have a way to recognize others who belong and to assess what counts as acceptable or recognizable within that semiotic domain.

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  • The OU as the Grandmother of P2P Learning Communities?

    Photo of people interacting together
    Credit: Photo by Thomas Hawk under an Attribution NonCommercial 2.0 Generic license
    Image: People interacting together.

    The other day Howard Rheingold asked me a question that made me stop and think:

    @eingang Would you say Open University UK is the grandmother of today’s emerging p2p learning communities?
    April 11, 2011 @17:20, Howard Rheingold.

    The Open University (OU) started off in distance education, providing accredited university level courses in the United Kingdom starting in 19711. I didn’t join the OU until 2000 when they launched their first online course: T171, You, Your Computer, and The Net. Unlike earlier OU courses, this course required substantial online interaction between students and tutors. Even the assignments were submitted electronically. The whole course, however, was not completely online. It was more of a blended learning approach, as it featured high production quality printed booklets of the study materials, commercial books, and some face-to-face tutorials across the 9-month course, in addition to the forums and course website.

    One thing it did attempt to do, and that is evident still in the design of many of today’s OU courses, is encourage students to form a peer learning community. At the time, it did this through FirstClass forums, not just by providing the previously isolated distance education students with forums they could use for communication, but by setting assignments that required students to engage in dialogue with one another. This is a beautiful example of Brown & Adler’s social view of learning (2008), where understanding is socially constructed by members of the group interacting with one another, to share and build upon their existing knowledge. Vygotsky and Dewey would have approved, as this fits in with a constructivist approach to learning, something that is also often very evident in OU courses.

    Is a peer learning community the same as a peer-to-peer learning community? I am not so sure about that. However, an example of such a community that occurs to me is Livemocha, a language learning website. Livemocha capitalizes on social knowing by bringing together potential teachers (native speakers) with interested learners to facilitate learning practical, conversational language skills (Livemocha 2011). This also leverages social capital, an important component in maintaining social networks. I would say Livemocha is both a peer-to-peer learning community and a peer learning community, because it specifically seeks to make relationships between people as well as providing an overall, larger community sphere where legitimate peripheral participation (c.f. Lave & Wenger 1991) can occur.

    Is the OU a peer-to-peer learning community? I think their “traditional” courses—whether online or offline—probably are not. While we are attempting to form communities, we’re not trying specifically to make them peer-to-peer, although that can occur as a result of people being brought together in a community around a course or a tutor group. To be honest, even after doing this bit of thinking, I’m not sure, so I thought I’d ask for input from other members of the OU community. What do you think? Is the OU the grandmother of peer-to-peer learning communities?

    1: Although the OU was established in 1969, the first students weren’t enrolled until 1971 (The Open University n.d.).


    Brown, J.S. & Adler, R.P. (2008). ‘Minds on Fire: Open Education, the Long Tail, and Learning 2.0’ EDUCAUSE Review, 43 (1), [Online] Available from: http://connect.educause.edu/Library/EDUCAUSE+Review/MindsonFireOpenEducationt/45823 (Accessed April 18, 2011).

    Lave, J. & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. New York, NY, United States, Cambridge University Press.

    Livemocha (2011). Livemocha Language Learning Method, [online]. Available from: http://www.livemocha.com/language-learning-method (Accessed April 18, 2011).

    The Open University (n.d.). History of the OU, [online]. Available from: http://www8.open.ac.uk/about/main/the-ou-explained/history-the-ou (Accessed April 18, 2011).

  • Games, Blurred Boundaries, and Learning

    World of Warcraft screenshot of the blurred boundaries between zones.
    Credit: Screenshot by dyashman under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license

    Image: The blurred boundary between the Stranglethorn Vale, Duskwood, and Deadwind Pass zones in World of Warcraft.

    I posted this entry originally early in November, but somehow an entire paragraph disappeared, so I’ve re-posted it with a new date. — Michelle

    games based learning, i think has potential but learners struggle with transferring the learning & dealing with blurred boundaries #fote10

    @_arien I think you’re right that learners have trouble with learning when boundaries blurred like in GBL, because of context. #fote10

    @Eingang exactly, our minds still work in boxes and takes practice to cross between formal and informal contexts

    @_arien Blurred boundaries & different contexts are particularly problematic for, eg, people w autistic spectrum disorders. #h810 #fote10

    @_arien AR can help overcome the context issue/blurred boundaries of learning we were just discussing, because RL there too. #fote10

    The above is an extract from a Twitter conversation I had on October 1st during the Future of Technology in Education conference (#fote10) with @_arien.   Arien was attending the conference, watching Ollie Bray’s talk, while I was following the conference on Twitter.  Arien, as it happens, is one of my Open University H810 students.  Ollie Bray (@olliebray), of Learning & Teaching Scotland, was discussing the use of computer games in education.

    I think Arien’s hit the nail on the head: it is about context.  One of the reasons game skills don’t transfer to learning well is because learners/players do not see something in a game as being applicable to something academic.  Much learning we do is completely context-based.  Without the context of the “subject”, we do not necessarily think to apply something we have learned or maybe even realize that it is applicable.

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  • Howard Rheingold Interviews Me (Part 1)

    Screen composite of Howard Rheingold and Elsheindra together
    Credit: Remixed by Michelle A. Hoyle from an image of Howard Rheingold by Joi Ito

    Image: Howard Rheingold and Elsheindra, Michelle’s World of Warcraft character, together at last.

    Howard Rheingold contacted me in September to interview me about World of Warcraft and learning, because he knows I’m researching communities and learning in World of Warcraft.  We were finally able to meet up today for the interview.   He is working on a book about the kinds of skills people need for life online.

    His first question was: What kind of collaborative skills have I found to be valuable from World of Warcraft?

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  • Games, Research, and The OU. Notes on a Meeting

    These are some notes I made while at a meeting of Open University people interested in gaming, research, and learning on October 21, 2010.  It was organized by Jo Iacovides (The Institute for Educational Technology) and Marian Petre (Computing).  I received an invitation to attend early last month.

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  • Open University Meet for Games Researchers

    Screenshot of a recent typical One guild meeting
    Credit: Michelle A. Hoyle Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 License

    Image: A recent guild meeting where Irana (left) was initiated into The One. As always, there was dancing, but things got a little “hot.”

    Colleagues from the Institute of Educational Technology (IET) and Maths, Computing and Technology at The Open University (OU) are inviting other OU staff interested in gaming research to a meeting next week in Milton Keynes. Here’s part of the blurb from the DigiLab post describing the event:

    On Thursday, 21st October, Jo Iacovides (IET) and Marian Petre (Computing) are hosting an informal discussion on gaming research, with the aim of getting people from the OU who are interested in the area to meet up. Whether it’s using games for learning, considering game design, using gaming as a medium for understanding strategy or interaction, or anything else game-related, it would be great to hear from you.

    As I’m interested in motivation, learning, and communities of practice formation within World of Warcraft, this is right up my alley. I know Jo Iacovides, one of the organizers, is also interested in some similar topics, as we’ve corresponded previously, but I’m eager to make some other connections.  I doubt it will get as “heated” as some of my guild meetings, but it should be interesting.

    PS: If anyone knows of cheap ways to get from Milton Keynes Central to The Open University, please let me know! I currently use the Raffles taxi service and it’s about £5.00 each way; the taxi fare is almost as much as my rail fare from London. Thanks.

  • MOOCs versus MMORPGs: A PLENK2010 Idea

    I signed up today for the new George Siemens and Stephen Downes connectivism course Personal Learning Environments Networks and Knowledge 2010 (PLENK2010).  This is a follow-on from last year’s massive online open course CCK09.  I didn’t have much time last year for CCK09, but I did attend a few Elluminate sessions.  In fact, that’s where I originated the concept of “Big OER” and “little OER” based on Martin Weller’s Pedagogy of Abundance presentation I attended as part of that course.  I thought it would be interesting to lurk around the edges of the new course. The course’s description is:

    In the last five years, the twin concepts of the personal learning environment (PLE) and personal learning network (PLN) have been offered as alternatives to more traditional environments such as the learning management system (LMS) and institutionally-based courses.

    During that time, a substantial body of research has been produced by thinkers, technologists and practitioners in the field. Dozens of studies, reviews, conference presentations, concept papers and diagrams are now available.

    The purpose of this course will be to clarify and substantiate, from the context of this new research, the concepts of personal learning environments and networks. Course facilitators and participants will analyze the research literature and evaluate it against their own experience with the intent of developing a comprehensive understanding of personal learning environments and networks.
    Downes, Siemens, and Cormier (2010)

    The course just kicked off this week and the first topic involves social networks, personal learning networks, and personal learning environments.  While I was reading through some of the postings on PLEs versus PLNs, it suddenly occurred to me that a massively online open course, especially one with this kind of structure, is not too dissimilar to the learning that occurs in MMORPGs.  In fact, I’d argue that good game players need to construct their own personal learning networks in order to understand the game and improve their playing. They’re both about social construction of knowledge.

    I think a great idea for a paper is contrasting the formal and informal learning networks people build in an MOOC like PLENK2010 and in  MMORPGs.  It could even be fleshed out with some interviews with 4 or 5 players about how/what they use during the course of game playing.  I envision it should be possible to construct some GPLN (game player learning network) diagrams similar to the PLN diagrams that Scott Leslie collected.  Here, for example, is Martin Weller’s PLN:

    Martin Weller's personal learning network

    I could make a similar diagram for myself, but with a specific game-playing focus.  I’m sure I could easily entice some other, more hard-core players, to make similar diagrams, if not as actual graphics at least as a list.  I really think there is something here.  The key point though is, even if there is, what does it mean if there is a similarity?  That I don’t know.  Any ideas?

    Downes, S., Siemens, G. & Cormier, D. (2010) Personal Learning Environments Networks and Knowledge ~ PLENK 2010, [online] web site. Available from: http://connect.downes.ca/