David Wiley says that teachers can learn a lot from online video games — the kind where players pretend to be orcs and wizards and work together in teams to slay dragons. So Mr. Wiley, an associate professor of instructional psychology and technology at Brigham Young University, has decided to turn an online course he’s teaching next semester into an online role-playing game.
That’s right, Mr. Wiley will invite students who sign up for his spring course (which is about online teaching methods) to be an artisan, a bard, a merchant, or a monk and go on learning “quests” together.
Although he’s using a game metaphor, Mr. Wiley says that dividing students up into teams and asking them to work on group projects are time-tested teaching techniques — ones that the best video games happen to make use of. “If you reverse-engineer a popular multiplayer game, they’ve somehow encoded all these things about what good learning ought to look like,” he argues. “Instead of just learning how to kill orcs, we can use these really effective techniques for honest-to-goodness educational content.”
And Mr. Wiley is inviting anyone to play along. Although only students at Brigham Young who enroll and pay for the course will get official credit, Mr. Wiley is inviting anyone else to participate informally free. And he’ll send homemade certificates of completion to the unofficial students, just as he did in a previous experiment.
When asked whether the playful approach might somehow dumb down the learning experience, Mr. Wiley defended the course. “I challenge you to find a meatier class in terms of the kind of skills students have to develop and the kind of project they have to pull off in the end,” he said. —Jeffrey R. Young