Games as an Ideal Learning Environment

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Games and simulations are an exciting and frequently debated topic among instructional technologists because of their potential to recreate traditional pedagogical concepts in an exciting way. Learner-centered and learner-driven activities such as collaboration, visualization of complex concepts, and connections of concepts between classes and disciplines are some of the useful effects in many of today’s commercial games, as well as “serious games” and simulations. Taken as a group, these new environments provide educators with opportunities to create a new kind of pedagogy founded on the concept of situated learning. In this method of teaching, students are placed in an environment and are provided with tools and guidance from the game and the professor in order to identify problems and solutions.

This idea of situated learning is a common goal in the foreign language classroom. We are continuously striving to create activities for students within a context of authentic language and culture. As a result, I had begun purchasing games in foreign languages as a source of educational entertainment for our language center. However, most of these games were single-user games that did not allow for communication with other students or the professor from within the game. I never made any real attempt to integrate these stand-alone games into the classroom, opting instead to leave students to find and play them on their own. My hope was to eventually find a game that would combine the built-in goals and motivations of these games with the authentic language and communication of our regular Skype language exchanges with native speakers abroad. An MMORPG would seem to be the ideal solution, allowing our students to play in the same environment and interact with players from other countries.

Unfortunately, the default language of these games is almost always English. This suddenly changed with the enormous success of World of Warcraft, a fantasy MMORPG that grew to such a great size that multiple “worlds” were created based on countries including France, Germany, and Spain. For those not familiar with World of Warcraft, it’s a fantasy game, much in the same vein as the Dungeons and Dragons games played decades ago. Players interact within the 3D environment, find quests within the game, and work with other players to complete the tasks set before them. These quests then form a storyline that governs the environment as a whole. I played the game on my own for most of the summer of 2006 and had very positive experiences interacting with players in the German “worlds.” I joined a guild and communicated frequently in German. Some of the vocabulary was obviously quite specific, but the vast majority of the German I used was of the everyday variety—discussing plans, where to go, etc.—that I thought would be useful to our students. Most importantly, I found the other players to be especially inviting and encouraging when I explained my plan to invite students from my beginning German class to play as part of their homework. With this background, I began planning how to use World of Warcraft in my German 101 class the following fall.


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