Thesis final


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The information age has brought with it new educational challenges never before seen. As educators fight to stay current and meet the needs of a new generation there seems to be a plethora of "new and improved" educational techniques, practices, and mediums all claiming to meet the needs of 21st Century students. This study takes a closer look at one such medium; a popular video game genre that has achieved wide commercial success, Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG, MMOG, or MMO). Is there any evidence that suggests MMO video game technology possesses the key elements needed to meet the educational demands of today's youth?

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Thesis final

  2. 2. i ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS I would like to thank the staff at Foothill High School for an outstanding 90% participation rate in this research. Foremost of those being John Watters whose help was indispensable both in project development and encouraging the participation of other staff members. I would also like to thank to thank Larry Porta, Bill Moran, Victoria Rendes, Matt Clark, and Eric Levy who gave me project feedback, allowed me to survey their classes, or both. I would like to thank members of the gaming community who helped me develop and fine tune my research. Particularly I would like to recognize the members of the Cognitive Dissonance, a group educators dedicated to meeting the demands of a changing world. People who are now forebears to a new kind of educational medium. Finally I would like to thank my wife who has been a constant source of encouragement and support throughout the entire process. However well intentioned, this single page of acknowledgments fails to bring due recognition to all who have been involved in the creation of this document. There are many beyond those listed here that are forever deserving of my thanks and gratitude.
  3. 3. ii ABSTRACT The information age has brought with it new educational challenges never before seen. As educators fight to stay current and meet the needs of a new generation there seems to be a plethora of "new and improved" educational techniques, practices, and mediums all claiming to meet the needs of 21st Century students. This study takes a closer look at one such medium; a popular video game genre that has achieved wide commercial success, Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG, MMOG, or MMO). Is there any evidence that suggests MMO video game technology possesses the key elements needed to meet the educational demands of today's youth? This study will attempt to evaluate the potential benefit as well as difficulties presented by the use of an MMO video game within a public high school in Redding California. The study contains over 561 survey responses from school staff and students who were willing to share their perceptions in regards to this medium being used in a public education setting. After evaluating academic potential, possible barriers to entry, and survey responses the researcher will present several conclusions and suggestions in regards to the future educational use of MMO games.
  4. 4. iii TABLE OF CONTENTS CHAPTER I INTRODUCTION……………………………………………….................1 Brox's Story (The Nature of the Problem)...................................................................3 Statement of the Problem…………………………………………………….............10 Research Question…...………………………………………………………............10 CHAPTER II REVIEW OF LITERATURE……………………………...........................11 Introduction………………………………………………………………….............11 The Educational Potential of MMOs………………………………..………............12 MMOs in 21st Century Literacy…………………………………….............15 MMOs in Problem Solving and Scientific Reasoning…..….………............22 MMOs and 21st Century Skills………………………………………..........26 Summary of Potential……………………………………………….............35 Inhibiting Factors of MMO use in Public Education……………………….............36 Challenge Area One: Safety Concern and Fears ........……………...............36 Challenge Area Two: Financial and Practical Considerations……...............42 Challenge Area Three: A Need for Continued Research and Development ..45 Challenge Area Four: A Largely Unrecognized Educational Potential……..46 Summary…………………………………………………………………….............48
  5. 5. iv CHAPTER III METHODOLOGY……………………………………………..................49 Introduction…………………………………………………………………............49 The Survey……………………………………………………………….................50 Survey Section One ...........................................…………………...............50 Survey Section Two ...........................................…………………...............51 Survey Section Three ...........................................………………….............51 Survey Section Four ...........................................…………………..............52 Survey Section Five ...........................................…………………...............52 Foothill High School Information and Statistics...................…………..…..............53 Survey Participants....................................................................................................54 Students.........................................................................................................55 Teachers and Administrators.........................................................................55 Summary……………………………………………………………………............56 CHAPTER IV RESULTS…………………………...…………………………................57 Introduction…………………………………………………………………...........57 Student Survey………………………………………………..………...................58 Student Survey Procedure ..…………………………..………...................58 Findings From The Student Survey....………………..………....................61 Student Comments and Other Data....………………..………....................74
  6. 6. v Teacher, Administrator, and Counselor Survey…………..…………...................79 Teacher, Administrator, and Counselor Survey Procedure..…..................79 Findings From The Teacher Survey....………………..……….................81 Findings From The Administration Survey....………..………..................91 Findings From The Counselor Survey...........………..………..................93 Teacher, Administrator, and Counselor Comments and Other Data..........95 Overview of Results………………………………………………………….......99 CHAPTER V INTERPRETATION OF DATA, CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS.................................................................................................102 Introduction………..………………………………………………………........102 Interpretation of Data……………………………..…………………...……......103 Students Data……………………………….………..………................103 Teacher Data……………………………….………..……….................107 Administrator Data………………….......….………..………................110 Counselor Data……………………………….………..……….............110 Overview of All Data..……………………….………..………..............111 Conclusions…………………………………………………………………......112 Conclusions Regarding Student Data…….………..………...................113 Conclusions Regarding Teacher Data…….………..………...................113
  7. 7. vi Conclusions Regarding Administrator Data…….………..……….........114 Conclusions Regarding Counselor Data…….………..………...............114 General Conclusions………………………….………..……….............115 Recommendations…………………………………………………………........115 General Recommendations………………………….………..…….......116 Recommendations for the Survey Site.……….………..………….........116 Recommendations for Future Research/Development…..…………......117 Final Thoughts…...………………………………………………………….......118 SOURCES…………………………………………………………………………........119 APPENDIX A: Survey Drafts...………………………...………………………………125 APPENDIX B: Sample Surveys………………………………………………………...129 APPENDIX C: Surveys……………………………………………………….......…….135 APPENDIX D: Survey Scripts Used for Student Survey Group……………………….141 APPENDIX E: Student Survey Data……………………………………………………146 APPENDIX F: Teacher, Administrator, Counselor Survey Data…………….......……..163 APPENDIX G: Staff Quotes……………………………………………………………..166 APPENDIX H: Teacher/Administrator/Counselor Participation Request………………169 APPENDIX I: Index of Data by Table Number, Title, and Page Number………………171 APPENDIX J: Example of a Possible Educational MMO Experience Form a Student's Perspective…………………………………………………………….......…….............172
  8. 8. 1 CHAPTER I INTRODUCTION Nature of the Problem The world of an educator is changing. New technology along with a new generation of "tech savvy" students has lead to a set of problems and difficulties never before seen in the education world. Since the beginning of formal education, until only a few decades ago, access to new learning was largely dependent on a teacher, someone who possessed vast stores of information yet unknown to the student. As a result of technological advancement, 21st Century teachers face the task of educating students who live in an information saturated culture. Most students carry around a small device in their pocket that provides access to more information than any one person could ever hope to know, and most of these students are more proficient with these devices than their teachers. 21st Century students need teachers who can help them navigate not only these new and emerging technologies, but also help them navigate the information that becomes available to them through these technologies. As technology continues to advance and information continues to saturated culture, many teachers remain technological neophytes. (, 2012) As educators fight to stay current and meet the needs of a new generation of learners there seems to be a plethora of "new and improved" educational techniques, practices, and mediums
  9. 9. 2 all claiming to meet the needs of 21st Century students. One such medium, which has achieved commercial success in the video game market, is Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG, MMOG, or MMO). Various educational experts have sited MMO games as having particularly high academic potential: “MMORPG’s are highly social in nature and encourage collaborative play, they promote good communication skills and require well-thought-out coordinated strategies in order for players to be successful. Ultimately, MMORPGs have the potential to serve as an excellent medium for educational purposes.” (Anderson, 2010) “The real advantage is using the [MMO] platform to do innovative things that could not otherwise be done in a classroom that reach into the pupil’s imaginations.” (de Fritas & Griffiths, 2009) “…affordances of gaming and digital technologies provides increasing evidence that these technologies may sponsor the development of key literacies.” (King, 2011. p. i) “Interactions in these virtual, synthetic worlds can mirror those in the ‘real’ world and outside society in terms of rules, laws, economic interaction, and civic engagement, thus providing a potential teaching tool by which to develop citizens…” (VanFossen, Friedman, Hartshorne, 2009) “In terms of research, the new literacy skills necessary for productive citizenship in the 21st Century are already visible in MMOGs.” (Schrader, Lawless, McCreery, 2009) “Whether in communities of practice or through games and simulations, online environments can be an effective means for obtaining essential 21st competencies” (Galarneau & Zibit, 2009)
  10. 10. 3 “The knowledge and skills that constitute successful participation in massively multiplayer online games places these games squarely among the most promising new digital technologies to date” (Steinkuehler, 2008). Despite recent research and claims made by experts, the researcher has found an extremely limited number of incidences where public schools are utilizing MMO games as an educational medium. It is very likely that most educators do not even know what an MMO game is or what it involves. Before the educational potential of an MMO game can be understood a basic knowledge of what an MMO game involves must be understood. Brox, who many would consider to be a typical high school student, has a story that will help inform anyone unfamiliar with what playing an MMO game may involve. Brox's Story When Brox started high school he was worried about fitting in with other students. He was not athletic or smart, nor was he particularly funny or good looking. He felt like he didn't have much that would get him noticed or help him make friends. His home life wasn't horrible but his parents didn't seem to care what he was doing (in school or otherwise) as long as he was staying out of trouble. Brox felt invisible, although he had a bit of a short temper. One of the first things that happened to Brox in high school was he got the nickname 'Red' for the color his face would turn when he got angry, upset, or embarrassed. All things considered however, Brox feels like the year and a half he has spent in high school has gone pretty well. He has found a circle of friends and, even though he still feels very average, Brox has found an inward confidence.
  11. 11. 4 Brox has always liked video games. Early on during his freshmen year Brox heard some other students talking about a game he had not played before but wanted to, World of Warcraft (WoW). He used some of the money he saved up to purchase the game and started playing with several of the students he had meet. Brox loved the huge expansive world where he could ride horses, fly on the backs of Wyverns, find hidden treasures, go on endless quests, and become a hero. While Brox felt insignificant and invisible in the real world, in the virtual world he felt like he was someone important and that his decisions mattered. As Brox continued playing he joined a guild (a group of people who adventure together as a team). Brox traveled all throughout the virtual world with his guild members. Together they sought out the biggest, meanest, and most dangerous creatures to kill. Brox and his guild had the noble intent to keep their virtual world safe from all forms of menacing monsters. Everything didn't go well at first for Brox when he joined the guild. His guild would compete against other guilds. This meant there was pressure for Brox to perform his characters abilities at the right time in the right way to ensure group success. Brox would often be in a guild group of 25 adventures called a "raid". All the members of the raid had to pull their wait. When Brox made mistakes several of his guild mates would make sure to let him know what he had done wrong. Some of his guild mates even had the nerve to tell him he was wearing the wrong gear on his character. Brox started to get very frustrated. He almost got kicked out of his guild twice as a result of his short temper. He even thought about quitting the game all together. Then Brox experienced something that gave him a different perspective. After his guild spent several days trying to kill a particular monster (or boss), they were finally able to defeat it. Brox felt a rush of pride in what he had helped his guild accomplish. Brox realized that even though he got angry when people corrected him, he was part of a team effort. That was why his guild mates had to keep correcting him. Even though he had never been on a sports team, Brox knew everyone had to work together on a team. If Brox wanted his team to win it required an strong individual effort from each person, including him. Brox decided he was going to put in the effort to help his guild be the highest
  12. 12. 5 ranking guild on the server. The guild Brox was in had been talking about being the highest ranking guild on the server. However, there were thousands of players on the server and dozens of guilds. There was a lot of competition to kill bosses first. He decided the best place to start was to build a new character. He named his new character 'Red', then he started to go online and read various guides about how to develop his new character. Brox became an expert. He learned how to maximize Red's stats. He learned how to augment each new piece of gear Red got while out questing. He learned which of Red's abilities to use and when. When Brox reached a high enough level with Red, he started to once again to play in his guild's 25 person "raid" group. Only this time he listened to everything his guild members told him very carefully. Brox found out that he was a quick learner. At first some people in the guild were apprehensive about Brox bringing his new character to their main monster killing group, but he played well enough now to silence his critics. As the months passed Brox's guild learned how to work together. When the school year was over Red had some of the best gear (armor worn by an avatar) available. His guild had moved up considerably and was now ranked 4th on the server. When the summer came Brox found he had more time to play than ever before. He also started learning about Warcraft lore. He didn't pay attention to his summer reading for school but read multiple graphical novels, even a few books set in the Warcraft universe. Almost every night over the summer, Brox would get together with his guild mates, who he now considered to be friends. They adventured together, always attempting to kill new bosses. As the summer progressed Red's guild started to kill more and more 'heroic mode' bosses; the hardest boss mode setting in the game. Brox also was social outside of the gaming world during the summer. He hung out with his school friends (the ones that introduced him to WoW) every week over the summer. Many of Brox's friends didn't have as much time to play WoW, and none were in a guild as successful as Red's. Brox got a rush hearing, "You killed that boss on heroic already!" He would precede to tell any friend who would listen all about all the skill and strategy involved. Brox didn't do anything academic over his summer break but still worked hard. By the end of the summer Red had all the best gear available in the game. Red even notice that some of the guild
  13. 13. 6 members who used to point out his many flaws were now coming to him for advice. Red's hard work paid off. About the time school started back up, the guild master asked Red to become a recruitment officer. Red was now responsible to find and train new recruits to the guild. It wasn't hard to find new recruits with the success the guild had over the summer. They were now ranked 2nd on the server. A new patch was coming and that meant new monsters to kill. Red's guild would have a chance to take the first place mantle. Red found himself sleeping less and less. He did his best to keep his grades up in school but training new recruits wore him out. He worked patiently with the new recruits but he often found himself wondering, "Was I really ever this naive?" When the new patch was announced to be coming in two weeks, Red redoubled his efforts. The two new recruits who had joined the 25 man team had to be ready for that patch if Red's guild was going to capture the server first ranking. Red would stay up late into the night. He stopped doing any homework, except the most important assignments. When the patch hit Red's guild was ready! There was a back and forth struggle between his guild and one other, with several other guilds following close behind. Each guild raced to vanquish the end boss first and claim the server first rank. Every day at school Red would update his friends on how his guild was doing. Some were disinterested but others loved to hear about the crazy antics they were using to get bosses vanquished as quickly as possible. Over the next several months Red's school grades slid from B's to C's. His teachers asked him what was going on. Red tried to explain to his teachers but none of them understood the importance of his guilds mission. Besides he knew he would eventually bring his grades back up. Red blinked his eyes. He could feel the exhaustion but didn't know it was already 2 A.M. He couldn't quite not now. It all came down to this. His guild had to kill "Garrosh Hellscream." They had to do it now. After being transported to a graveyard, Red ran as a ghost back to retrieve his body. On the way he thought about the all that was at stake. Garrosh was once a noble leader but his arrogance and pride had lead him down an evil, destructive path. The history was all there, the world depended on Red and his
  14. 14. 7 companions, they had to stop their former leader before he released more evil into the world. Slowly they had overthrown Garrosh's capital.... NO! They had taken back THEIR capital. One by one Garrosh's champions had fallen before them. Now it was only Garrosh who stood in the way of Red's guild reaching server first. Red's ghost got to his body, his thoughts swirled as his body sprang back to life. "What could he have done differently to have kept from dying last time? Wait didn't he have a history final tomorrow? How late was it anyway?" These brief thoughts were extinguished when he heard the raid leader queue his microphone (mic) "ready check coming out". Red checked to make sure he had everything he needed for another attempt at bringing down Garrosh. He was ready. Red queued his mic to speak to his guild "come on guys, we were so close last time, let's do this". "5, 4, 3, 2, 1... Pulling". Red and his compatriots charged in once again leveling everything they had at their foe. As the minutes pass everyone performed flawlessly. Red knew they could do it, for the past 10 days they had assaulted Garrosh trying to bring him down, every day getting closer, every day racing against their arch rival guild. Red listened and watched as the raid team worked, it was harmonious, like a performing orchestra. Each of Red's guild members pressing finger to keyboard at precisely the right time. Red heard someone queue their mic, "Transition phase soon. Get ready." Red checked a few of his abilities. Everything was ready. They were doing well, very well. As Red moved between transitions what he did now came almost without thought. He executed all of his maneuvers flawlessly, as did the other 24 people in the group. A few more minutes passed and Red could feel the intensity in the atmosphere building. But he was so tired, he felt perspiration building on his forehead. He was about to wipe it off when once again the raid leader queued his mic, "Final phase incoming MAXIMUM FOCUS!" Garrosh grew in size to a hulking 25 foot behemoth. This was it! Victory or death! Everything hit them harder. Everything was more dangerous. Everything required more focus. Mics queued up one after the other. Communication was critical. This "dance" had to be flawless. Then, just as Red was about to wipe off that irritating tickle on the end of his nose, he saw it. One of his now seasoned recruits was out of step! If this recruit didn't move it meant certain death for them all. Instincts took over. It all happened
  15. 15. 8 in a blink of an eye. Red used several of his special abilities in rapid succession, and queued his mic, "Move now, move now!" The few extra seconds Red had bought for the recruit was all that was needed. The recruit quickly moved back into step and the dance continued. Somebody queued a mic and a barely audible, "Thank you." was heard. If they could only keep it together for another minute they would be victorious. With renewed purpose, Red was back to his job tapping at his keyboard as if playing a piano sonata. A small damp puddle under Red's keyboard gave testimony to his unwavering focus. Seconds slowly passed. Red's nerves all stood on end. He watched Garrosh's health diminished 8% …. 5%. "Were they actually going to do it?" BONG! An audible warning. One of Red's guild mates had missed a step. Their avatar now lay dead at the feet of Garrosh, 24 others fought on. They didn't need everyone alive anymore. They were so close. “USE EVERYTHING, BRING HIM DOWN, BRING HIM DOWN!!!” BONG! BONG! Two more avatars fell lifeless. Red used every ability he could: 3%, 2%, BONG! Red was now holding his breath. No one was queuing their mic anymore. They were all watching, hoping. As Red's headphones went silent, time seemed to freeze. Garrosh was at 1%. Then all of a sudden Garrosh stumbled and with a moan toppled face first in a massive defeated hulk. The achievement, Realm First: Garrosh Hellscream, flashed on the bottom of Red's computer screen. A few seconds passed as the reality of the moment set in. Then all the mics seemed to queue at once... and everyone was screaming. Shouts of victory echoed in Reds ears, Red had enough self control to not queue his mic and scream (he didn't want to wake his parents) but he stood up pumping his fist into the air several times before sitting back down. The whole guild rejoiced as they waited to find out what epic rewards were waiting to be looted from the body of this vanquished traitor. After all the loot had been distributed there was one last thing to decide, who got Garrosh Hellscreams mount? The guild always voted on such matters. Red casts his ballot for the guild master, thinking there was really no other viable choice. As the name of the winner was announced Red was stunned and humbled to find out he had received
  16. 16. 9 the most votes. Red queued his mic with his quivering voice "Why me?" Red's guild master responded, "Who did you think it was going to be? You have been at us for months helping us all get ready for this, besides on the kill your quick thinking saved us, we all saw it." Red was speechless. The combination of adrenaline and gratitude staved off his exhaustion, he profusely thanks his guild members, jokingly reminding them of when they almost removed him from the guild. Then Red headed to all the most populated cities in the game. He slowly road his mount around allowing all the other players to gawk in awe and cheer for him. One last thing Red had to do before going to bed, all his social media accounts needed to be updated. Facebook, Google+, and Instagram all had pictures of Red, his guilds kill, and his new mount. As Red finally fell into bed he noticed it was already 4 A.M. He didn't notice the thin film of dust covering his history book. Brox has a history final in the morning, one he had promised himself he was going to study for, but the game was far more important to him. Brox will fail his history final but tomorrow he is still going to have one of the best days he has ever been able to remember. ~end Brox's story is told not to cast MMO games in either a negative or positive light. The story is fictional, and most likely not something a typical high school student will ever experience. However, there are probably many students who could relate in some way to Brox. The story is meant to help educators understand what an MMO is, what it involves, and also elude to how it could affect a student's ethos, pathos, and logos. This story may also help some educators understand why a 'meaningless game', can become so profoundly important and impactful to a student. The focus of this study is on the potential benefits and hindrances of using the technology described in Brox's story within a public school setting for educational purposes.
  17. 17. 10 Statement of the Problem Many educational experts have cited Massive Multiplayer Online games (MMORPGs/MMOGs /MMOs) as having highly effective educational applications however MMOs are not widely used in public education. Research Question What factors may prevent or hinder MMO games from being used more widely in public education as perceived by administrators, teachers, and students at Foothill High School in Shasta County, California?
  18. 18. 11 CHAPTER II REVIEW OF LITERATURE Introduction Student activities outside of the classroom have drastically changed from even just 10 years ago. Yet the traditional classroom setting has changed little in the past 500 years. Today's students are immersed in technology. Much of this technology is highly engaging and centered around social experiences (online video games, Facebook, Instagram etc...). It is little wonder many students no longer want to sit quietly in classrooms, reading textbooks, and filling out worksheets. Recent research and several educational experts have lauded the benefits/potential of using Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG, MMOP, or MMO) in an educational setting. However, despite recent research and claims made by experts, the researcher has found an extremely limited number of incidences where public schools are utilizing MMO games as an educational medium. The purpose of this study is to understand: What factors may prevent or hinder MMO games from being used more widely in public education as perceived by administrators, teachers, and students at Foothill High School in Shasta County, California?
  19. 19. 12 The Educational Potential of MMOs In his book Rewired Dr. Larry Rosen claims that a technology saturated lifestyle has lead to a fundamental change in the way today’s students learn. “Literally, their minds have changed – they have been ‘rewired.’ With all the technology they consume, they need more from education….” (Rosen, 2010) It is not educational content that is the problem Rosen contends, rather the delivery method and setting that needs to change. Educators must develop teaching strategies and methodologies to address the technically immersed learning style of today’s students. “This is our challenge as parents and educators: to create a match between students’ technological interests and skills, their sociological –often virtual – environments, and the educational system that propels their performance to higher levels and is, at the same time, engaging enough to rekindle the love of school learning.” (Rosen, 2010) The question is what type of education methodology or strategy should educators spend their precious time and resources implementing? A simple internet search yields dozens of articles in which various industry experts tout the educational benefits of video games. “Recent research demonstrates that videogames enhance literacy, attention, reaction time, and higher- level thinking” (Delwiche, 2006). Jane McGonigal a game designer and New Your Times bestselling author, argues "computer games can make people smarter and help humanity".
  20. 20. 13 (, 2011) McGonigal presents her findings with educators and other industry leaders arguing that the problem solving seen in some games like World of Warcraft can be harnessed to solve real world problems. (, 2010) Constance Steinkuehler Senior Policy Analyst at the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the Executive Office of the President is one of the leading experts in the field of merging gaming and education (Steinkuehler, 2008). She states the following. “The knowledge and skills that constitute successful participation in massively multiplayer online games places these games squarely among the most promising new digital technologies to date” (Steinkuehler, 2008). Research seems to indicate that computer gaming, particularly massive multiplayer online games (MMORPGs, MMOGs or just MMOs) may be a partial answer to Rosen’s call for new strategies and delivery methods to meet the needs of today's “rewired” students. The perspective of merging this type of experience with educational purpose, as Steinkuehler and others have pointed out, seems to have enormous potential. Indeed MMOs have set themselves apart from other single player educational video games for several reasons: “An MMORPG might help students develop difficult-to-teach 21st Century skills….MMORPGs may be motivating and engaging for students while providing a context for learning and a framework for social learning. Also… these games might have the ability to inspire players to effect positive social change.” (Wagner 2008) Wagner points out what is unique to MMO games compared to a typical video game and that is a very noticeable social element. MMO games connect the user to other users; this in turn
  21. 21. 14 creates a simulated social reality. Educational benefits go far beyond basic academic skills that one could develop through individual game play. “Modern communication technologies, and the knowledge economy, have brought unprecedented change requiring both new skills and competencies. For over a decade, young people have been increasing their socio-cultural literacy through their participation in online digital worlds.” (Galarneau & Zibit, 2009) These are some of the “difficult-to-teach 21st Century skills” to which Wager makes reference. Today’s students do not want to learn in isolation. Today's student is constantly and continually connected, Twitter, Facebook, Google +, Video chat/blogging, sharing photos, endless texting, they sleep by a vibrating cell phone. The thought of silently reading a textbook, completing a worksheet, or even playing a video game in isolation does not fit into their world of constant social stimulation. “Their Cyberworld is a place for them to explore their identity, figure out who and what they want to be when they grow up, and connect, connect, connect.” (Rosen, 2010). Within the virtual world of an MMO game students are provided with the social connectedness they crave, while at the same time participating in an environment with seemingly limitless education potential. It is the educators’ task then to take the potential this environment holds and infuse it with meaningful educational encounters that can be eagerly (and in some cases even unknowingly) embraced by today’s students. Acknowledging the potential educational applications of MMOs, several pioneers have already begun implementing MMOs into a school setting. Three areas in which MMOs games
  22. 22. 15 can be evaluated in order to gauge their effectiveness in meeting the needs of today's students are literacy, problem solving/scientific reasoning, and 21st Century skills (leadership, intrinsic motivation, social aptitude, etc…). Determining the effectiveness of MMO use in education will help educators understand the steps to take in order to utilize this relatively new technology as a future educational tool. Progression in any new field is almost assuredly going to reveal obstacles, setbacks, difficulties, and challenges to overcome. As educators seek to utilize MMO games to greater effect it is import to consider the gains that have already been taken as well as the existing challenges for future integration. MMOs in 21st Century Literacy One does not need to cite the importance of literacy in education, for literacy is overtly inherent to the nature of education. Kofi Annan, a 2001 Nobel Peace Prize winner, put it eloquently enough. “Literacy unlocks the door to learning throughout life, is essential to development and health, and opens the way for democratic participation and active citizenship”. (, 2003). If MMO games are to be an effective tool for future education they must advance this all important basic element of knowledge acquisition. A program called “WoWinSchool” (WoW is an acronym for World of Warcraft) set out to test if literacy could be improved through modifying curriculum to utilize a popular MMO game already found in the
  23. 23. 16 commercial market. This modified curriculum was developed with district wide ELA (English Language Arts) standards (, 2013). The program took 16 “at risk” 8th grade students and guided them as they participated in this commercial MMO. When the project started these students were “barely stringing together two sentences.” (Hsu, 2008) One might ask, "How would playing a video game help improve their literacy?" MMOs being social in nature require the participant to communicate and “…the primary mode of communication within the game is through written conversations in the chat channel. Practice problem solving in game elements with students using expository and persuasive writing. In addition, MMOs have rich story lines.” (Dunn, 2012). As a result students were becoming more literate through their online interaction. When these “at risk” students had completed the year long literacy course they were given a district wide test and scored an average of 61%, six percentage points ahead of the district average. (, 2010) Constance Steinkuehler commented on the program, "It has worked ridiculously well.” Going on to say, "It shouldn't be working as well as it is." (Hsu, 2008) Implications from this study suggest that using existing MMO games in public education, with curriculum modified to address ELA standards, will lead to increased literacy in at risk male students. The country of North Korea has piloted a program using MMOs to teach students the English language, a requirement for all North Korean students. The study involved 220 students; 102 used a typical classroom setting and 118 were given instruction through the use of a
  24. 24. 17 specifically designed educational MMO. The 118 students who received instruction through the use of the MMO scored higher in areas of listening, reading, writing, and matched the other group in speaking ability. (Suh, S. Kim, S. Kim, N, 2011) This group consisted of mixed gender 5th and 6th grade student in a country known for its great stress on academics. The socio economic status of these students coupled with a strong intrinsic motivation to learn found in North Korean culture would likely put them in stark contrast with the students who participated in the WoWinSchool program. The study concluded, “These findings suggest that MMORPGs can play an important role in improving English communicative skills.” (Suh, S. Kim, S. Kim, N, 2011) It appears that the use of MMOs have proven to be effective in promoting literacy and language acquisition in a broad range of students. The above cited research is promising but will most likely to do little to curb a culture that perceives video games as a threat to literacy. This perception most likely comes from years of students becoming increasing less interested in textbooks (perceived culturally as time well spent) and more interested in video games (perceived culturally as a waste of time). Reading media headlines it seems almost trendy to blame video games for any number of societal ills. One such article from The Sun speaks about claims of how “KIDS hooked on video games have sent England plummeting down world league tables for reading.” (Wooding, 2007) A long list of similar claims/articles could be cited. But do these perceptions mirror reality? More specifically do MMO games present a threat to literacy? Some would surely argue, "Yes". The addictive
  25. 25. 18 nature of MMO games keep students from textbooks and school work while they spend hours upon hour memorizing completely useless information. One author who catalogued his experience talks about the meaningless information that is acquired as MMO gamers… “spend thousands of hours looking up how to perform quest, where to find certain items, when to assault castles, the meaning of cryptic inscriptions, the weaknesses of particular monsters, the proper protocols for forming an allegiance, the background and powers of certain objects, and the kind of exchange goods necessary for the purchase of cottages. But all that information is useless outside the game world.” (Kelly2, 2004, p182) Kelly2 concludes that in the future this problem will be addressed: “To preserve the spirit of the MMORPGs but resolve the disposable knowledge problem, developers will build games that introduce useful information into MMORPGS. In this way, the addictive power of the game will be harnessed for genuine education.” (Kelly2, 2004, p182) Many in today’s society likely share similar thoughts. Computer games are a waste of time, nothing is learned, and the best one can hope for is that future developers will take mercy on the masses connecting this ‘addictive power’ to ‘genuine education’. It is understandable that so many ‘wasted’ hours playing video games are perceived as a threat to literacy, not just to in society but also among educators. These video games that dispense nothing but ‘disposable knowledge’ steal from valuable reading time, or time that could otherwise be spent more wisely in educational/intellectual pursuits. (Kelly2, 2004) Perhaps a closer look at what it means to be literate in the 21st Century will shed some
  26. 26. 19 light on the place of MMOs in literacy. With the advent of the internet, along with social media, the proliferation of cell phones, and other technology developments literacy is not what it was 100 or even 10 years ago. The information age has lead to a rise in a new sort of literacy, according to the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) literacy in the 21st Century includes six key features: 1. Develop proficiency and fluency with the tools of technology; 2. Build intentional cross-cultural connections and relationships with others so to pose and solve problems collaboratively and strengthen independent thought; 3. Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes; 4. Manage, analyze, and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information; 5. Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multimedia texts; 6. Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments. (, 2013) Technology has lead to an unprecedented proliferation of available information. Literacy in the 21st Century requires an individual to sift through a plethora of available information and make judgment calls on which information is more reliable. The information must then be used to make reasonable decisions, develop informed opinions, etc…. Experts have recently begun taking a closer look at Kelly2’s list of ‘useless’ gamer knowledge. Not because this game knowledge itself has suddenly become valuable but because researchers are highly interested in the literacy skills that are developed in the acquisition of this ‘useless knowledge’. Researchers have found that to successfully participate in a MMO game, players are
  27. 27. 20 required to have an incredible amount of intertextuality. Meaning literacy skills acquired through participation in MMO games exemplifies the list of 21st Century literacy competencies called for by the NCTE. “With respect to WoW, resources take the form of databases, strategy forums, guild forums, and a wide range of media (e.g., Video, artwork, etc.). From a social perspective guild forums and official game forums function as collaborative spaces and support the public exchange of ideas, information and strategy or non-information focused socialization.” (Schrader, P.G., Lawless, K.A., McCreery, M. 2009). The information and knowledge gamers possess may still be useless, but the skills by which that knowledge is acquired seem to make MMO gamers highly literate. The citation above is research involving a case study that poled literacy in 745 willing participants recruited from the official World of Warcraft (WoW) MMO game forums. These participants were not involved in a program like WoWinSchool or coached beforehand. The demographics of this sampling were ‘nearly identical’ to other research findings in which 30,000 MMO game participants were polled. (Yee, 2006: Schrader, P.G., Lawless, K.A., McCreery, M. 2009) The 745 participants responded to a forum post and completed a survey. Researchers, in this case study, believe the evidence to be conclusive, “In terms of research, the new literacy skills necessary for productive citizenship in the 21st Century are already visible in MMOGs.” (Schrader, Lawless, McCreery, 2009) This research sheds new light on why educational programs like WoWinSchool have ‘worked ridiculously well’, and it seems to provide good
  28. 28. 21 reason to expect other programs utilizing MMO games to produce similar results. Constance Strienkuehler is another researcher who has worked extensively in the field of evaluating literacies shown by those participating in MMO games. Her article Massively multiplayer online gaming as a constellation of literacy practices probes the literacy skills shown by game play within an MMO environment. According to the data collected participants in MMO games are actively engaged in literacy development “as recommended by the National Council of Teachers of English (n.d.) standards”. (Strienkuehler, 2007) In her closing remarks Strienkuehler referencing another set of NCTE standards concludes: “MMOGamers: “read a wide range of print and non-print texts” to build an understanding of texts and of themselves (Standard #1); use a wide range of strategies to “comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts,” including “[drawing] on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers” (Standard #3); use an equally wide range of strategies to author texts of their own (Standard #5); use their understanding of “language structure, language conventions… media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print” (Standard #6); “gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources” in order to conduct research on issues of interest to them (Standard #7); and, perhaps most of all, “use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes [italics added]” (Standard #12). If we compare what such standards require to what MMOGs, in practice, exact from those who play, it turns out that videogames are not a threat to literacy in contemporary culture but rather one important (albeit novel) part of it.” (Strienkuehler, 2007) Claims of a literacy crisis as a result of video games, seeming perpetuated by the media,
  29. 29. 22 are perhaps unfounded. Strinkuehler is clear in her dissention of this cultural paradigm proclaiming it is likely, “a long-standing fear of technology, an equally long-standing fear of youth culture, and a fear of what kids are reading and writing” that has lead to this ‘literacy crisis’. (Strienkuehler, 2007) Resent research (limited as it is) and theory seem to both align, MMO games increase literacy. Based on the literature presented here it is perhaps both insightful and alarming to consider the possibility that successful participation in an MMO game may teach 21st Century literacy skills more proficiently than the public education system. MMOs in Problem Solving and Scientific Reasoning The educational gains in literacy seem inherent to the dynamic participation required by MMOs, but what about subjects like math and science? NASA started developing its own MMO game for educational purposes and presents an answer to this question “NASA expects that a NASA-based MMO will enhance STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education efforts….” (, 2013) Based on research NASA argues using "immersive synthetic environments" found in MMO games will enhance learning. (, 2008) While parts of the game are playable, at the time of this writing the game is still in development. NASA is specific with the audience this game will target, “Teens both in high school and college”. (, 2013) Plans to commercialize the product and sell it to public schools are in the works. NASA provides the following reasons that this MMO game in development will be
  30. 30. 23 successful. “Virtual worlds with scientifically accurate simulations could permit learners to tinker with chemical reactions in living cells, practice operating and repairing expensive equipment, and experience microgravity, making it easier to grasp complex concepts and transfer this understanding quickly to practical problems. MMOs help players develop and exercise a skill set closely matching the thinking, planning, learning, and technical skills increasingly in demand by employers. These skills include strategic thinking, interpretative analysis, problem solving, plan formulation and execution, team-building and cooperation, and adaptation to rapid change.” (, 2013) While NASA continues to develop an MMO game for public education, another project called Quest Atlantis has pioneered MMO use in education for the past five years. According to the Quest Atlantis Wiki page “more than 65,000 children on five continents have participated in the project. Quest Atlantis has demonstrated learning gains in science, language arts, and social studies….” (Atlantis Remixed, 2013). The project has garnered the attention of the Bill and Malinda Gates foundation, which gave the project a 2.6 million dollar grant. (Gates, 2011) The Gates foundation believes this educational tool supports Common Core State Standards. The foundation provided the grant in order to, “examine whether and how we might successfully invite students who normally opt out of traditional forms of academic engagement to engage deeply with key forms of literacy in mathematics, science, and language arts”. (Atlantis Remixed, 2013) According to the projects website this money has been well placed, “We've carried out
  31. 31. 24 numerous studies demonstrating significant learning gains in science, social studies, and language arts, even when using standardized test items”. (Atlantis Remixed, 2013) The website for the Quest Atlantis supports this statement by citing dozen of research projects that have detailed these gains. One such study was conducted by Anne Arici who completed her dissertation by evaluating a two week project. Arici compared students learning in a traditional classroom environment to those using the Quest Atlantis MMO. Arici’s research was conclusive: “Pretests showed no significant differences between instructional conditions. Posttest data indicated that both groups had significant learning gains, though the gain for the QA [Quest Atlantis] group was significantly higher than the traditional group. A delayed posttest showed the QA group retained significantly more information from the unit than the traditional instruction group.” (Arici. A, 2008) Educational Leadership has also published an article that speaks about Quest Atlantis detailing the numerous quest's (tasks that participants are given to complete within the virtual work) and what is available within the virtual world. Within the game students can become “environmental scientists, investigative reporters, statistical consultants, and historians” in alignment with standards based learning. (Barab, Gresalfi, Arici, 2009) Sasha Barab one of the leading researchers behind Quest Atlantis worked with several other constituents to conduct an experiment in which four different instructional design conditions were used to help students learn content. Barab states that his research shows, "The immersive-world dyad condition [multiplayer virtual world].... performed significantly better than the expository textbook
  32. 32. 25 condition on standardized test items." (Barab et. All, 2009) The closer the learning experience resembled what is found in MMO games, the greater the achievement gains became, and the lowest gains were in the group of students learning by traditional textbook methods. Barab concludes this research by stating, " Implications for science education... are that immersive game based learning environments provide a powerful new form of curriculum for teaching and learning science." (Barab et. All, 2009) This, and dozens of other documented research projects cited on the Quest Atlantis web site, seems to indicate the use of an educational MMO could address various academic standards in a way that is often more effective than traditional classroom instruction. Another possible indicator of successful gains is the international interest that has been generated by the project. The Quest Atlantis website boasts, “the number of schools asking to participate grows daily”. (Atlantis Remixed, 2013) NASA's MMO game and Quest Atlantis provide evidence that an educational MMO could provide education gains in problem solving and scientific reasoning. Creating a virtual environment where students work together to solve problems provides a depth of understanding that may not be available to students who merely read about procedures rather than virtually participating in them. (See appendix J for an example of what an educational MMO game may involve from a student perspective). Both of the MMO games sited above are in their infancy and while initial results look promising more research is needed. The positive gains shown in these programs would likely not silence critiques, who may argue the demographics and scope of
  33. 33. 26 these programs fall short when compared to the broad range of students represented in the public education system. While it may be within reason to assert that the gains shown in these programs would appear in other public school demographics, continued research will likely be the only means to provide a more definitive answer. All evidence available to the researcher suggests the use of MMO games, as an educational medium, has increase achievement gains in problem solving and scientific reasoning. However research is limited, and it may take years of continued research before educational MMO games are seen as a viable alternative to core curriculum classes within a public school setting. MMOs and “21st Century Skills” What is the purpose of education in this ever changing world? Will moving students through an assembly line of Math, Science, and literature make them successful in the 21st Century? In his New York Times best seller Daniel Pink argues that the, “SAT-ocracy is now in its dying days.” (Pink, 2006) According to Pink, the “knowledge age” where the education system would teach students test answers through logic and analysis is giving way to a “conceptual age” one in which creativity and innovation will be required. Pink warns that our education structure is often geared towards the needs of a dying age, teaching students to look for a single verifiable answer to a multifaceted problem. While this may meet the “assembly line production” standards of the education system it does little to prepare a student for the
  34. 34. 27 complexities presented in the 21st Century. (Pink, 2006) Traditional education focusing on information is no longer enough. “Today, a successful member of society must bring something different to the table. Individuals are valued for their unique contribution and their ability to think creatively, take initiative and incorporate a global perspective into their decisions.” (Gaudiosi, 2012) Research has already shown that MMOs help develop intertextuality, a key literacy skill in the 21st Century (Schrader, P.G., Lawless, K.A., McCreery, M. 2009). MMOs also appear to help develop some other notable 21st Century skills that will likely be of chief importance for education in the future. ATCS (Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century skills) is an international community sponsored by Cisco, Intel, and Microsoft. The community includes 250 researchers involved in 60 institutions. The group has categorized 21st Century skills into 4 broad categories: Ways of thinking. Creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, decision-making and learning Ways of working. Communication and collaboration Tools for working. Information and communications technology (ICT) and information literacy Skills for living in the world. Citizenship, life and career, and personal and social responsibility (, 2013) They have also described two practical skills that span all 4 categories: Collaborative problem-solving. Working together to solve a common challenge, which involves the contribution and exchange of ideas, knowledge or resources to achieve the goal.
  35. 35. 28 ICT literacy — learning in digital networks. Learning through digital means, such as social networking, ICT literacy, technological awareness and simulation. Each of these elements enables individuals to function in social networks and contribute to the development of social and intellectual capital. (, 2013) ATCS argues that education must be transformed to meets the needs of the 21st Century. The goal of ATCS is to help governments, educators, and industrialist work together in order to develop these skills mentioned to ensure a vibrant and healthy future society. (, 2013) American Management Association (AMA) is a corporate training institute that host seminars around the world teaching businesses, governments, and individuals 21st Century skills in order to help them achieve success. According to AMA success is all about collaboration: “Collaboration is not the same today as it was 20 years ago. In today's global economy, high-speed communications allow virtual teams to take on projects from locations spread out across the globe. To keep up with this rapidly growing trend, employees are expected to have both traditional team-building skills, and the self-direction to effectively collaborate from afar.” (, 2013) In order to achieve collaborative success AMA designates four areas that must be developed within an individual, they must be able to: develop trust, lead with influence, work fluidly across boundaries, and demonstrate a global awareness. (, 2013) If the current education system does not teach 21st Century skills then what must be done? Will integrating MMOs into the public education system meet the needs and demands of
  36. 36. 29 developing hard to teach 21st Century skills? Some believe they do, “IBM and Seriosity published a report this week comparing what it takes to succeed in MMORPGs to being a corporate executive.” (, 2007). After “extensive research” IBM and Seriosity have concluded that MMOs “…allow leaders, managers and anyone with good ideas to collaborate in organizations that are distributed, global, hyper-competitive and virtual.” (, 2010) IBM and Seriosity see MMOs as training ground for future CEO’s. In fact there is a proliferation of books, articles, websites etc… that recognize the capacity for an MMO to develop some of the “hard to teach” 21st Century skills mentioned previously. Wired magazine describes a process in which a candidate for senior management position at Yahoo gave himself a “decisive edge” over his competition because he managed a guild in World of Warcraft. (Brown & Thomas, 2006) The article goes on to explain exactly why this candidate had an edge over his competition “The process of becoming an effective World of Warcraft (sic) guild master amount to a total immersion course in leadership…. To run a large one, a guild master must be adept at many skills: attracting, evaluating, and recruiting… creating apprenticeship programs; orchestrating group strategy; and adjudication disputes.” (Brown & Thomas, 2006) For this candidate, who was subsequently offered the job at Yahoo, the cost of developing these skills was a dedication to entertainment. While many MMOs “look and feel of ancient imaginary kingdoms, they promote some very modern collaborative learning and problem solving.” (Galagan, 2009) Often gamers in MMO worlds are engaged in accidental learning.
  37. 37. 30 “Virtual environments are safe platforms for trial and error. The chance of failure is high, but the cost is low and the lessons learned are immediate.” (Brown & Thomas, 2006) This type of learning environment creates a high self efficacy, as students are not afraid to try out something new or creative in attempts to solve a virtual problem. An ideal educational MMO would not only teach Core Curriculum Standards but provide intrinsic motivation for the learner to lead, cooperate with others, and use creativity to problem solve. (See appendix J for an example of what an educational MMO game may involve from a student perspective). The Quest Atlantis sites provides research claiming the program does just that. Teachers and students report “increased levels of engagement and interest in pursuing the [core] curricular issues outside of school…. and at the same time develop pro-social attitudes regarding significant environmental and social issues.” (, 2013) For many educators it may seem to be an elusive goal to create a learning environment that fosters a culture of life-long learning. William Glasser points out students in today’s educational system are forced to learn “useless” and “throw away” information (Glasser, 2007). Beyond giving them the ability to pass a test, students often see information they learn as pointless, and rightly so as much of the information students spend hours memorizing can be accessed in seconds through the use of a cell phone. Students have started to view education as a hoop to jump through not an experience that leads to life-long enrichment (Glasser, 1992). The creators of the Quest Atlantis project hope to curtail this devastating trend, in which motivating students to learn, has
  38. 38. 31 become increasingly difficult. Instead the Quest Atlantis project “strives to make learning fun and to show kids they can make a difference.” (, 2013) Research suggests that allowing students to cooperate and problem solve with others in a virtual world increases their motivation to learn. Arici in her research comparing core curriculum being taught to students through the Quest Atlantis MMO and other students using traditional classroom verified these claims: “Results also indicated the QA [Quest Atlantis] group also scored significantly higher in their ratings of engagement in the curricula than the traditional delivery mode. Further evidence of engagement was demonstrated by free choice activities, where approximately 75% of the QA students chose to complete optional activities for no credit, while in the Traditional group only 4% did a similar optional assignment despite the benefit of 'extra credit'.” (Arici. A, 2008) The effect MMO game play has on a student motivation appear to be nothing less than astounding. Arici’s research indicates using the immersive virtual world of an MMO increased desire to engage in optional learning nearly 2000%. A public education setting were three quarters of the students participate in extra work because they enjoy learning would likely seem fanciful. Yet after only two weeks of engaging in the educational MMO, Quest Atlantis, students were doing just that. When compared to the control group in a traditional classroom setting, even with “extra credit” as an incentive, only 4% of students chose to extend learning. It is research results like these that lead educational experts like Steinkuehler to conclude MMOs have unparalleled educational potential. (Steinkuehler, 2008)
  39. 39. 32 Other studies have been conducted suggesting that an educational MMO would have the ability to engage students in a way that goes far beyond what is already seen in conventional education games. One such study was conducted by Joshua Smyth at Syracuse Department of Psychology. The research involved 100 college students who were randomly placed into one of four groups: arcade players, console players, computer games players, and MMORPG players. Participants were encouraged to play as often as they choose. The study lasted for a month and a number of statistics were tracked. After data collection it was revealed that those who had played MMORPG games had the most pronounced characteristics of the four groups (more play time, more enjoyment, more meaningful relationships developed, more disruption to their life etc...). During the final week, hours of game play were as follows: arcade players 2.1 hours, console players 3.4 hours, computer game players 6.2 hours and MMORPG players at 14.4 hours. Those who played the MMORPG reported higher game enjoyment, had a higher likelihood to continue playing the game after the study was completed, and were more likely to have made friends (though these friends were virtual not face-to-face). (Smyth, 2007) What seems to set MMORPG apart is a distinct social element. Researchers have commented on this study: “Online social interactions… add to the complexity of MMORPGs because the human element is the most complex and mysterious of all gaming components. Thus, increased complexity leads to higher engagement, and higher satisfaction with the game. This is certainly an important piece of knowledge educational game makers should take from the
  40. 40. 33 research.” (Rice, 2007) A researcher who would not be surprised at these finding is Larry Rosen who would refer to an MMO as a multi-user virtual environment, the teaching tool most likely to simulate a real world event, “More realism leads to more interconnected brain areas, which results in more strongly formed memories, which leads to more effective transfer to real-world situations.” (Rosen, 2010) Rosen argues that we need to start using these tools that “are already being actively embraced by students”. (Rosen, 2010) Rosen describes how the more realistic the educational encounter the more education will appeal to today’s tech savvy students. Rosen describes how the virtual world’s found in MMOs will help develop 21st Century skills, “They are more authentic, and promote more investigation and exploration. Further, they encourage more social interaction and more student-to-student collaboration….” (Rosen, 2010) Kathy Sanford a education professor at the University of Victoria has done research for half a decade and concludes much the same: “What we found was that what they were learning was a whole lot deeper and more profound than we had imagined, or that you can see from watching them. They are doing a lot of problem solving and strategizing. They are learning collaboration and leadership skills. In online games, they don’t necessarily choose their teammates, so they have to negotiate whose strengths are used at what time, who takes up a leadership role, how to move forward with taking on the enemy. These are not one-off strategies. Some of the participants have talked about the usefulness of their leadership skills in running a guild in
  41. 41. 34 a game, and then going into a high-school classroom and navigating that structure. ” (, 2013) Kathy Sanford is not by any means a gaming enthusiastic and laughs at herself for not playing video games in even though she has interacted extensively with those who do. After spending five years closely observing "gamers" 13-17 years old she is convinced there are many benefits unknown to most educators. Kathy Sanford is hoping that her research helps educators and parents see the "upside" to gaming. She argues for balance, claiming educators/parents have for far too long focused only on the negatives of gaming while ignoring the literacy gains and other benefits they provide. She says the key is moving past the notion of "how do we get them to stop" instead asking "how can we help them navigate life" she has concluded that video games are not a hindrance to this process as some would believe: "the most profound thing that got me really thinking about their civic engagement is that they are actively making ethical and moral decisions all the time. They are trying out roles through the characters in the stories. If they act badly, if they choose to be evil, they see the significant results of each of the decisions they make." (, 2013) Video games certainly have negative aspects but to ignore the good or potential benefits provided by gaming (specifically MMO games) may only increase the rate at which current teaching methods become antiquated. Kathy Sanford states, "(Schools) have relied traditionally on outmoded, 20th century technologies that we have moved way beyond." (, 2013)
  42. 42. 35 These finding suggest that it is perhaps time for educators to take a more open minded approach towards using MMO games as a means to teach students key 21st Century skills. The research and findings detailed above suggest that MMO games meet the demands students have to be connected with others in real and meaningful ways. Furthermore these finding support the notion that MMO games help students develop 21st Century skills as they are defined by leading educational and industrial experts. (Rosen, 2010: Rice, 2007: Wagerner, 2008: Brown & Thomas, 2006: Galagan, 2009:, 2010:, 2013:, 2013) Summary of Potential Current research and theory suggests MMOs are incredibly powerful educational tools, perhaps unparalleled by any other technology available today. MMOs seem to have a place in public education “as a focal point for exploring Writing/Literacy, Mathematics, Digital Citizenship, Online Safety, and would have numerous projects/lessons intended to develop 21st – century skills.” (, 2010) Educational MMOs tap into student motivational levels, show achievement gains in literacy and other core subject matter greater than those seen in traditional classroom instruction. Furthermore, MMOs show enormous potential and in some cases already are helping students develop hard to teach 21st Century skills. (Anderson, 2010: Arici, 2008: Wagner, 2008). Yet despite what has been mentioned above, the researcher has found extremely limited use of MMO games within public education.
  43. 43. 36 Inhibiting Factors of MMO Use in Public Education According to there are an estimated 55 million “K-12” students in the US. (, 2012) Yet Quest Atlantis perhaps the most noticeable educational MMO in the U.S. has a mere 65,000 students, many of whom do not live in the U.S. (, 2013) It would appear safe to say less than 1% of school age children in the U.S. have access to MMOs in a public school setting. The research and theories already stated seem to imply MMOs are a powerful educational tool, why then are MMO's games not more widely used for educational purposes within a public school setting? There appear to be many challenges that must be addressed before MMOs games come to wide use and adaptation in a public school setting. Most of these challenges can be grouped into one of four overarching categories. First: Safety concerns/fears having to do with the possible adverse affects “gaming” may have on students. Second: Financial and practical limitations associated with technology. Third: The need for continued research and development. Fourth: The benefits/educational potential of MMOs games are largely unknown to educators or to the public. While there may be challenges beyond these, certainly these four categories must be address before MMOs games will be welcomed into a public school setting. Challenge Area One: Safety Concern and Fears The first and likely foremost concern that would need to be address before MMO games
  44. 44. 37 would receive acceptance, as a educational medium in a public school setting, involves understanding the effects 'gaming' would have on students. Mental and physical health ramifications would both need to be considered as well as the short, medium, and long term effects in each of these areas. Would MMOs games in public education lead to increased health issues by promoting a sedentary lifestyle, or would psychological issues arise such as addiction and escapism arise? What about protecting students from online bullies or predators? Could educators adequately protect students from these threats? According to University of Michigan Health System in its annual poll of the top health concerns voiced by parents the number one concern is not enough exercise. The number two concern is childhood obesity. (University of Michigan Health System, 2012) A concern that playing educational MMOs in favor of a virtual experience over an outdoors experience must be addressed. If MMOs encourage a sedentary lifestyle it would put students at risk. Some studies have found “no significant negative health correlates of video game use in boys, modest correlations with higher aggression and reduced depression in girls” (, 2010). However, in the March 22nd, 2010 issue of The Journal of Pediatrics, video games were identified as one of the leading causes of global childhood obesity. (, 2010) If the public perceives teenagers spending too much time playing video games as a societal problem, introducing MMO games into a public school setting would be seen with large amounts of apprehension. Fear that MMO games would encourage a
  45. 45. 38 sedentary lifestyle or contribute to the "obesity epidemic" would most likely need to be address before 'gaming' could be accepted as a safe and legitimate means of education. One of the key mental health concerns noticed by researchers in regards to MMO play is gaming addiction. In evaluation of Smyth’s research at Syracuse University researchers commented, “The most striking result of this study is that playing online multiplayer games had much greater positive and negative effects on people than playing traditional single-player video games.” (Syracuse University, 2012) Smyth observers that every student assigned to the MMO group “reported decreased health and sleep and interference with real-life socializing and academic work.” (Smyth, 2007) Game addiction is treated as a serious psychological condition and a Google search will yield numerous gaming addiction rehab centers where individuals can seek treatment. It is perhaps not coincidence that a rise in the awareness of gaming addiction has coincided with a rise in the MMO gaming market. Top Google hits for video game addiction are quick to label MMOs as a chief culprit when it comes to video game addiction, “One of the most addictive genres of video games is certainly those belonging to the MMO genre.” (Video-game-, 2013) one of the oldest web-based video game news and review websites recently ranked a popular MMO (WoW) as the most addictive game of the last decade, "Despite being over eight years old, some gamers have never escaped the powerful clench..." (, 2013) Video game addiction has even garnered national media attention with shows like 20/20 and Good Morning America covering the topic. Research has
  46. 46. 39 been done suggesting that video games can be as addictive as gambling. (McLingtock, 2012) a site dedicated to help gamers overcome gaming addiction elaborates on the addictive nature of MMO games: “With more than 10 million registered players all over the world, Blizzard Entertainment's ‘World of Warcraft’ (WOW) is often called ‘World of Warcrack’ in reference to its addictiveness…. In blog after blog, gamers say the addictive nature of these games comes not just from the variety of game play, but from the ever-changing nature of the game.” (, 2013) Blizzard Entertainment the developers behind the game World of Warcraft (WoW) have made strides to address the issue of gaming addiction. “You can easily set daily or weekly limits on the hours your child is allowed to play our games”. (, 2013) Blizzard also allows parents to receive detailed email reports of game play “reports contain details of your child’s play time, including login and logout times, the duration of each play session, and more.” (, 2013) Educators would need to be prepared to put similar steps in place to protect students. Parents would likely not approve of such a game until concerns regarding additions, over gaming etc... were adequately addressed. The potential of an educational MMO becoming addictive must be perceived as a real threat to student health. Particularly if students are allowed to do “homework” and participate in the game away from school without supervision it could lead to serious mental and physical health repercussions. The addictive nature of MMOs if not adequately addressed by educators it may lead to a slowing or even to a preclusion of educational
  47. 47. 40 MMO integration into the public school setting. Another area that educators would need to understand in order to protect students using an educational MMO is the vulnerability, impressionability, and naivety many adolescences would have while interacting in the online virtual world. The University of Michigan Health System poll of top parental concerns ranked bulling as the number five concern and internet safety as the number nine concern. Both very pertinent concerns for those considering the safety of a student while playing an educational MMO. (University of Michigan Health System, 2012). A commercial MMO being used for educational purposes would need to be highly monitored and/or have precautionary measures put in place to protect students from online predators and or bullies etc. While MMO games that are purely educational, such as Quest Atlantis, would eliminate potential outside threats they would still need to protect students from internal threats. There have been multiple cases of cyber bulling resulting in suicide and death. Cyber bulling is seen as a growing threat, one that would need to be thoroughly addressed if educators hope to protect students participating in an educational MMO. (, 2011) In order for MMO games to be successful educators would need to teach students online etiquette in a way that would minimize these and other threats. Educators would also need to guard their students against some of the inappropriate influences that are commonly found in video game cultures. A list of ills found in commercial video games could be extensive but two of the seemingly most noticeable concerns is a provocation of violence. In addition, “Women are often portrayed as
  48. 48. 41 weaker characters that are helpless or sexually provocative.” (Sabella, 2008) Wagner, in his dissertation, notes one of the main reasons there is resistance to video game use in schools is the perception that video games promote both violent and sexist themes. (Wagner, 2008) Keeping a student’s young, impressionable mind safe from cyber bullying, potential predators, sexism, violence, and other perceived negative influences is likely a requirement that will need to be addressed before educational MMO games would be seen as a safe educational option. There is little doubt that these areas of concern in regards to student safety could be vastly expanded upon beyond what has been mentioned above. Addressing the safety concerns introduced by an educational MMO will likely require educators to educate themselves as well as collaborating with psychologist, technical experts, heath experts etc... In 2011 research showed that 91 percent of kids are playing video games, a 13 percent increase from 2009, a trend unlikely to reverse. (, 2011) Educators can conclude then with a large amount of certainty that many students are already submersed in these addictive, influential, and potential dangerous online virtual worlds with little or no education on how to conduct themselves. However severe and/or complex the risks of an educational MMO may be, they are surely not as severe as the risks involved in doing nothing. Educators may never be able to create 100% safe virtual world, but it seems unrealistic and implausible to ask the tech industry to wait while teachers catch up. It seems apparent that students will continue to plunge head first into turbulent waters of cyberspace regardless of what is being presented to them in school. Is it
  49. 49. 42 possible that the induction of educational MMOs is one of the best options available to educators if they hope to make technology in the 21st Century more safely navigable for their students? Challenge Area Two: Financial and Practical Considerations A second area of concern is financial and practical. Development and implementation of an educational MMO would likely cost tens of millions of dollars. Even if millions of dollars are spent, the game might not be well received by students. Experts have commented that educators are not game developers. Wagner quotes one such expert as saying “--> EDUCATORS SHOULD NOT TRY TO MAKE GAMES <-- We basically suck at it, and the people who make games are really good at it” (Wagner, 2008). Based on this feedback (and what may be seen as a long list of poorly developed educational games) it is reasonable to conclude that for an educational game to be positively received it may require the input/aid of actual game publishers during development. Game developers pay big money to develop games. Take for instance the MMO Star Wars the Old Republic (or SWTOR) which was in development for years and released in 2012. The New York Times reported that the game publishers who worked on this project (Bioware and Electronic Arts) spent between $125 million to $200 million USD1 developing the game according their financial experts (, 2011). The LA Times claims the price tag for SWTOR development to be over $200 million (, 2012). And finally Drug Cruetz a 1 All dollar amounts mentioned are in 2012 USD.
  50. 50. 43 media financial analyst for the Cowen Group stated, “I think it’s safe to say that the total all-in investment in ‘Star Wars’ [SWTOR] is probably approaching half a billion dollars”. (, 2012) How will educational MMO games like the one being developed by MIT and FilamentGames (with $3 million in funding) compare to games like SWTOR? (, 2012) A $2.6 million donation to Quest Atlantis by The Bill and Malinda Gates Foundation is not inconsequential, but how will a game developed by educators spending several million compare to the hundreds of millions being spent by an extremely lucrative, successful, and established gaming studios? Predictions for the global video game market will move from “$67 billion in 2012 to $82 billion in 2017.” (Gaudiosi, 2012) To put this in perspective with other forms of entertainment, Hollywood set ticket sales records in 2012 reaching $10.8 billion within the United States and Canada, and $34.7 billion globally. (, 2013) Not only does the video game industry nearly double Hollywood global ticket sales it also nearly surpasses the entire U.S. department of education budget which was just over $68 billion, in 2012. (, 2012) These numbers seem to create dim prospects for any educators hoping to develop a visually engaging, high quality, educational MMO (or any video game) that would be comparable to what is found in the homes of students.
  51. 51. 44 Figure 2.1: On the left a screen capture from Quest Atlantis in 2009 compared to Aion a commercially released MMO that same year. Cost for implementing an educational MMO would not stop after development. Hardware must be purchased in order to run the games. Educators as well as technical staff must be trained. Research has shown that students’ frustration with game play when using MMO games in an educational setting is one of the most impeding factors to knowledge acquisition. (Suh, S. Kim, S. Kim, N, 2011) What students play at home are well developed, finely tuned, visually appealing, entertaining games that have costs tens of millions of dollars to develop (see figure 2.1). Educational MMO games may have an adverse effect if they do more to frustrate students than they do to educate them. It appears that in order educational MMOs to be implemented with their full desired effect it could be a monumental undertaking, extremely expensive, take
  52. 52. 45 years to develop, and educators would likely need to enlist the expertise of game developers if they hoped to succeed. Challenge Area Three: A Need for Continued Research and Development While many educators have acknowledged the potential for learning present in MMOs, others have noted the lack of empirical data “the application of MMOGs to educational tasks is certainly compelling…. This research is in its infancy, however, and has been largely theoretical rather than empirical.” (Bowers, Smith, & Cannon-Bowers, 2009). Indeed calls for more empirical research appear frequently in much of the literature that also lauds the potential of MMOs. Educational applications of MMOs are broad and some areas have been less researched than others. One such area to consider is the social interactions that are made available to students participating MMOs. “Although there is a lot of interest in the social aspects of line games, our understating of this remains limited.” (Oliver, 2009) While the social interactions available in MMOs can teach 21st Century skills, increase literacy etc… researchers have commented this is not always the case. Concluding that all MMO games will lead to the desired educational effects would likely be erroneous in absence of continued research. Citing multiple sources Bowers, Smith, and Cannon-Bowers conclude: “Many of these systems have been less than fully effective. Indeed, although it is tempting to assume that connecting people with computer networks will facilitate collaborative learning, the data is clear that obtaining the benefits of these technologies requires far
  53. 53. 46 more planning and thought than merely enabling the behaviors. For example, it has been demonstrated that poorly designed online learning environments can lead to feelings of isolation which in turn lead to poor motivation to continue.” (Bowers, Smith, & Cannon- Bowers, 2009). Educators will most likely not be able to just “plug” students in to a hastily developed educational MMO and hope to reap all the theoretical benefits of this technology. It would seem to reason that continued research must be undertaken in order to merge good educational theory and practice into game development. Educators must address the known perils in this educational medium (and discover those that are unknown) a demand that creates a need for excessive and careful research. A continual collaborative effort between researchers and developers will likely be required for educational MMOs to actualize their full theoretical potential. Challenge Area Four: A Largely Unrecognized Educational Potential The unrecognized potential of educational MMOs is perhaps the most immediate restraint preventing MMOs from being used in public education. It is hard to comprehend how educational MMOs could ever gain traction in an educational setting if those who govern that setting do not see educational potential in the technology. (See appendix J for an example of what an educational MMO game may involve from a student perspective). While much of the previously mentioned research lauds the benefits of introducing an educational MMO into a
  54. 54. 47 public school setting there is an anti gaming social stigma that sets itself against the very concept of educational games (MMO or otherwise). Wagner states that, “Educational MMORPGs will need to be seen as learning worlds, not as a waste of time….” before educational MMOs can hope to be successful “Educators, administrators, parents, and society at large would need to believe in the concept of hard fun” (Wagner, 2008). It is possible that a generational disconnect has occurred, and those in the older generation are out of touch with the needs of the younger? The ills of gaming are often referenced by the media on a national level. The thought of introducing something like an MMO game for wide use in public education would likely incite fear in educators, parents, administrators, and society. Perhaps many educators have written video games off as having too many pitfalls to become a serious educational medium. Kathy Sanford mentions, "Some of the characters [in video games] are problematic to me, there is a lot of sexism, but we need to talk to kids about them, not just ban them." (, 2013) If educators are unaware of the educational potential of an MMO then they are also perhaps unaware that students as early as age six are accessing porn and start flirting with others on the internet as early as age eight. (Dima, 2013) Ignorance may be a key factor that prevents MMO games from finding acceptance in education but should it also be an excuse that allows educators to jeopardize the well being of their students? If society hopes to adequately prepare a future generation it seems unconscionable to allow the fear and ignorance of educators to dictate the needs of 21st Century students. In order for MMOs games to find their way into public
  55. 55. 48 schools the older generation, those holding the reins of education, must be made aware of their benefits. MMO games being used as educational tools may stand little chance in education if their benefits are unable to override the perceived fears and apprehensions of altering an educational methodology that has been present for half a millennium. Summary This review of recent literature in the area of MMOs has presented the perhaps unparalleled educational potential of MMOs along with some of the most challenging obstacles that much be overcome to reach that potential. Available research suggest using MMO games as an educational medium will teach students literacy, core subject matter, and 21st Century skills. Available research, while limited, suggests that using MMO technology could be more effective than a traditional classroom setting in meeting the needs of 21st century students. However, there are serious challenges that must be addressed before this technology will find wide acceptance in public education. This review of literature has evaluated four challenge areas:1) Safety concerns and fears, 2) Financial and Practical Considerations, 3) A need for continued research and development, and 4) A largely unrecognized educational potential. Regardless of these very noticeable challenge areas, the review of literature has presented educational research and theory which suggests MMO games are very unique and very powerful learning tools.
  56. 56. 49 CHAPTER III METHODOLOGY Introduction Student activities outside of the classroom have drastically changed from even just 10 years ago. Yet the traditional classroom setting has changed little in the past 500 years. Today's students are immersed in technology. Much of this technology is highly engaging and centered around social experiences (online video games, Facebook, Instagram etc...). It is little wonder many students no longer want to sit quietly in classrooms, reading textbooks, and filling out worksheets. Recent research and several educational experts have lauded the benefits/potential of using Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG, MMOP, or MMO) in an educational setting. However, despite recent research and claims made by experts, the researcher has found an extremely limited number of incidences where public schools are utilizing MMO games as an educational medium. The purpose of this study is to understand: What factors may prevent or hinder MMO games from being used more widely in public education as perceived by administrators, teachers, and students at Foothill High School in Shasta County, California?
  57. 57. 50 The Survey A survey will be given to students, teachers, and Administrators at Foothill High School in Shasta County, California. The survey will be given at the end of the 2012 spring semester, after students have completed state standardized tests. The survey will be given to students, teachers, and administrators at approximately the same time. The researcher will obtain data in as unobtrusive manner as possible and the survey should take no more than five minutes to complete. Surveys will provide the researcher data as a means to gauge perceptions and pinpoint key understandings regarding the use of MMO games as an educational medium within a public school setting. Each group listed above will be given a similar survey and each survey will consist of five sections. Survey Section One The first section of the survey will serve as an introduction and be primarily informational; it will succinctly explain what type of game is being asked about in the survey. Section one will not ask for any participant input. The purpose of this section is to provide a background and a basis for participants to understand the questions in the survey. An analogy will be used describing what a typical educational MMO may look like and several examples of commercial MMO's will be given.
  58. 58. 51 Survey Section Two The second section of the survey will ask the participants to provide biographical information. The questions asked in this section will be slightly different for each group of participants. Questions will seek input from participants in regards to their experience with MMO games, if participants do have experience with the MMO genre there will be a space on the survey to list several of the titles with which they have experience. Participants will also be asked to provide their gender along with several other biographical questions. The purpose of this section is to help differentiate between survey participants in order to establish trends and preferences that may immerge in the survey data. Survey Section Three Survey section three will contain five questions asking participants to share their opinions on educational MMO games. Participants will be asked to mark a response to each question as strongly agree, agree, unsure, disagree, or strongly disagree. Question one will reveal participants willingness to be involved with an educational MMO. Question two will ask if participation in an education MMO would increase willingness to participate in extra academic tasks. Question three will ask if an educational MMO would generate more interest in general academia. Question four will ask if an educational MMO would teach as effectively as a traditional classroom setting. Question five will ask if an educational MMO would develop key
  59. 59. 52 21st Century skills as they relate to technical proficiency, communication, teamwork, and leadership skills. The purpose of this section is to reveal the participants perceptions and opinions regarding the use of an educational MMO within a public school setting. Survey Section Four Survey section four will contain a list of five concern areas regarding the use of MMO games in public education. The list of concerns will change slightly for each of the three participating groups. The list of concerns are those denoted in the literature review and will place emphasis on such things as the risk of sedentary lifestyles, inappropriate games themes, game play, game knowledge, budget concerns etc.... Participants will be asked to share their opinions by checking any of the listed concerns they feel are merited. This purpose of this section to gauge concerns participants have regarding the use of an educational MMO in a public school setting. Survey Section Five Survey section five will contain an area for participants to record any additional comments they have regarding topics discussed on the survey. There will be multiple blank lines in this section for participants to write out their concerns, reservations, opinions etc... on the topic. The purpose of this section is to give participants an opportunity to share with the researcher any
  60. 60. 53 information they feel is relevant to the survey. Foothill High School Information and Statistics The focus of this study will involve participation from Foothill High School, one of ten schools, within the Shasta Union High District of Shasta County, California. Foothill High is considered a "Fringe Rural" school located in Palo Cedro California. (, 2013) According to USNews and World Report, data from the 2010-2011 school year, Foothill has received a silver ranking designating it as a "High-performing school with lower college readiness". (, 2013) Foothill was ranked 2,174 out of 21,000 schools evaluated nationally and ranked 483 out of 2,039 schools evaluated within the state of California. In the 2010-2011 school year Foothill High Schools academic performance index was 831 with 16% of students passing an advanced placement exam. Foothill High School's 2012 academic performance index was 847 giving it a 9 out of 10 state score (1 being worst and 10 being the highest) and 8 out of 10 score when compared to similar schools. (, 2013). According to Foothill has 1745 students, 431 freshmen, 522 sophomores, 447 juniors, and 345 seniors. (, 2013) The male to female ratio at Foothill is approximately 52% and 48% respectively. Of these students 16% of them qualify for free or reduced lunch. According to in 2012 Foothill was comprised of 77% white, 11% Latino or Hispanic, 7% two or more races, 3% American Indian, and 1% African American.
  61. 61. 54 (, 2013). The student to teacher ratio at Foothill is 26 : 1 below the national average (14.2 : 1) and the state average (17.8 : 1). (, 2013) Surveys will be given randomly and may not match over all school statics however, no surveys will be conducted outside the Foothill High School demographic. Survey Participants Students, teachers, and administrators at Foothill High School in Palo Cedro California will be asked to participate in this survey. The researcher will obtain permission and administer the surveys as is approved by Foothill administration. Surveys will be given with consent of the participants. The researcher will conduct three waves of surveys in order to refine and enhance survey. Below is the desired survey response rate: Survey Type Sampling #1 Sampling #2 Main Survey Student 20+ 50+ 500+ Administrator 2-3 0 3 Teacher 2-3 0 50+