Sunday, August 23, 2009

What WoW Can Teach Us Teachers

Something happened over the weekend that really impressed me.

The ‘thing’ was Blizzard Entertainment’s announcement of the next World of Warcraft expansion. On the surface, this might seem like nothing more than a video game promotion. But, when your ‘video game’ consists of an online world inhabited by more real human citizens than New York City, we as folks working with tech on a daily basis should take notice as to what they are up to.

And what they are up to is something phenomenal.

Whereas previous expansions of the adventure game have offered users new quests and new areas to explore, this expansion does one of the most radical things ever attempted in a virtual reality MMOG.

It destroys the world.

Literally. The expansion, called Cataclysm, actually destroys and re-creates the entire multi-continent virtual world that WoW players have come to know over the past few years.

In effect, what the folks at Blizzard Entertainment are banking on is that serious gamers want change.

And what could signal a greater change than actually turning the entire virtual environment on its ear?

Now, in my thinking, there is something to be learned here. For thirty+ years, we’ve treated schools like boardgames. And every few years, we’d announce that the game was changing, but we kept using the same board and the same pieces. We changed the rules, but forced the players to use the same old dice.

Now, we have the opportunity -- as in what Blizzard is doing with WoW -- to dramatically change the environment itself. We can keep the knowledge we've gained through our experiences, but apply it and let it manifest in new ways over a changing and changed world. And we can let that changing and changed world to inform us. To inspire us. And to push us off onto new adventures.

Because our kids are dying to take on new adventures. After all, they live in a world where they expect upheaval and change; they don't understand why so many of us are so afraid of it. Change -- whether in school or in an MMOG -- is a challenge; it's not in and of itself a good thing or a bad thing. In a way, change is worth only what you put into it.

And by destroying the very virtual world so many gamers have come to expect, Blizzard is really putting everything they've got into change.

So here’s the challenge to teachers: be like Blizzard. ‘Destroy’ the world you’ve created for yourself. All of those things you’ve spent years working out -- from seating arrangements to the way you assign homework -- take all those things, crack ‘em like eggs, and see what’s inside.

Try something new at least once a day. Don't let the kids predict you. Mix it up. It's not going to confuse your students (for long...); it's going to intrigue and inspire them.

Don’t be afraid of the cataclysm, embrace it.

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