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Week 12: MMOs

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A. So what *is* an MMO?

B. MMO is an acronymn for Massively Multiplayer Online game.

A. So we're back to games now?

B. Yes, and we'll be on this particular topic for two weeks.

A. Why? What's so special about MMOs that we should spend two weeks on the topic?

B. [to self] How should I explain it? [back to A] Let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time there was a prestigious university with an exceptional reputation for excelling in both academics and athletics. Even the school’s water polo team had found their way to the conference championship eight of the last ten years, taking home the trophy seven times.

On a cheerful Friday afternoon the university’s athletic director enthusiastically loped into the office of the water polo team’s coach. “Coach,” he blurted out, unable to restrain his excitement, “I’ve got some wonderful news. A fabulous opportunity has opened before for the university. When I first describe the opportunity you’ll probably feel some confusion, but that’s ok. Pioneers must pave their own way, and as Excellent University maintains its leadership position moving in the next century we will all occasionally find ourselves slightly outside our comfort zones.”

The coach listened with interest. “Ok… so what’s the opportunity?,” he asked sincerely. His inclination to skepticism had been temporarily overwhelmed by his genuine wonder at the spectacle of the gushing AD.

“Polo is a great sport coach, and your organization continues to bring pride to Excellent University by demonstrating a commitment to excellence that spans individual recruiting classes, consistently attracts the best talent in the world, and proves season after season that your organization really is among the elite in the world.”

The AD was beside himself with anticipation, despite the fact that he obviously knew the content of the revelation he would make any second now to the coach. As the coach leaned back in his chair, he found himself increasingly amused by the crescendo of the AD ’s vocal and physical animation.

“So what’s the opportunity? How can we help?” the coach asked again, all curiosity. The AD simply stared at the coach, apparently unable to bring himself to speak. “Well?” prompted the coach, impatience winning the now lengthening battle against his wonder.

“There’s a new kind of polo coming to the Conference, coach. You won’t believe this, but they play it on horseback! Apparently it’s all the rage in Asiatic countries…”

As the AD continued the coach’s initial expression of bedazzlement gradually gave way to the empty gaze of utter bewilderment.

“Your polo organization is one of the world’s finest – as polo has traditionally been played in the Conference. That’s why the President and I have every confidence that you will continue that tradition of excellence as your players evolve from the primordial pool of the twentieth century and majestically take the reigns of the modern age.”

“Evolve from the primordial pool of the twentieth century?” bleated the coach, sounding more like a flustered John Cleese than the pride of Excellent University.

“I know!” the AD agreed, mistaking the magnitude of the coach’s reaction for an indication of every emotion but those the coach was actually feeling at the moment. “How often does this grand an opportunity present itself? Think of the additional opportunities that will open to our students! Imagine the pride of the alumni as they watch us lead our peer institutions into this new territory! Envision the new facility!”

“But we don’t know anything about horses!” the coach protested, his unease becoming apparent to the AD.

“That’s why the university has an equestrian staff!” the AD replied in a tone obviously intended to sooth the coach. “All you need focus on doing is playing polo and winning. It’s still polo, you know. You have to score. You have to prevent the other team from scoring. You play offense. You play defense. There’s a ball. Remember coach,” the AD removed the four inch thick binder labeled “Play Book” from the bookshelf against which the coach was leaning before he nearly jumped to his feet, “you and your staff have been studying polo for decades. You know what’s effective and what isn’t. You know how to motivate your team. You know the formations and plays that score or prevent scoring. Do all the things you did before, just do them on horseback instead of in a pool.” The AD ’s voice was thick with a type of condescension that adults use with children who are obviously not sufficiently sophisticated to understand what is happening around them.

The coach couldn't help but remember Singing in the Rain . In his mind the voice of the eternally clueless R. F. Simpson rang out. What was required to make the move from silent films to the newfangled talkies? “It’s a picture. You do what you always did - you just add talking.” The Dueling Cavalier had turned out ok. Perhaps the AD was actually right.

After a pause that was – to both their surprise – not at all uneasy, the coach mustered his courage. “Well, I certainly do feel outside my comfort zone. But with the confidence and support of the administration we will make the move. I promise you, the President, the Regents, and the alumni that Excellent University’s polo program will continue its tradition of excellence.”


A. So in the story, teaching in the classroom = water polo, and teaching online = polo on a horse?

B. Right.

A. [genuinely bewildered] So the point is that moving courses online is a stupid thing to do?

B. Yes and no. Yes simply "moving courses online" without making any changes to them is ridiculous. They're doomed to fail. But what I think you meant to ask was "so is using the internet to provide educational opportunity a stupid thing to do?" The answer to this question is a resounding NO. As I've argued many times before, we have a moral imperative to use technology to improve as many lives as we can through education.

A. Lest we lose sight of the context of the question, why are we spending two weeks on MMOs?

B. Well, if the coach really knew what he was doing, how would he prepare his team to win on horseback?

A. Forget about the pool and talk to someone who knew something about horses! [general laughter]

B. So the teacher who has to teach online should...

A. [doubtfully] Forget about the classroom and find someone who knows something about the internet? I don't think you can just forget about the classroom!

B. And therein lies the problem - no one does. It's true that in the pool you must score points and play defense to win. You have to do the same on horseback. But think for a minute - offense and defense have nothing to do with the pool. Scoring and defending are very general activities, and the pool is an environment in which players perform those general activities in highly specific ways. The problem is that many people mistake the highly specialized ways of doing things in a particular environment with the things themselves.

A. I'm not sure I follow you.

B. What if polo were played on ice skates? Would you still have to play offense and defense? Of course. Would you do things the same as in the pool? Or on horseback? Definitely not. Offense and defense are general activities whose performance must be optimized to whatever environment the polo player finds himself in. Offense and defense are so general, in fact, that they apply to a wide range of activities others than polo -- basketball, football, soccer, volleyball, baseball...

A. So what are the equivalents of offense and defense in teaching?

B. If you'll allow me to substitute "facilitating learning" for teaching [A nods], you have arrived at one of the most fundamental questions in education. What activities are truly fundamental to facilitating learning? Dave Merrill answered the question this way:

  • Learning is facilitated when learners are engaged in solving real-world problems.
  • Learning is facilitated when existing knowledge is activated as a foundation for new knowledge.
  • Learning is facilitated when new knowledge is demonstrated to the learner.
  • Learning is facilitated when new knowledge is applied by the learner
  • Learning is facilitated when new knowledge is integrated into the learner's world.

Merrill has a longer explanation of his First Principles of Instructional Design if you care (i.e., no this is not required reading).

A. So these five things are the offense and defense of learning?

B. Merrill says they are, but the jury is still out.

A. [restlessly] So what about MMOs? Why MMOs?

B. You said the first thing the coach should do is go find someone who knows something about horses. We're going to go find some people who know something about the internet.

A. Huh?

B. Classroom teachers spend *long* hours trying to undestand how to effectively do the things Merrill was talking about. They spend so much time trying to figure out how to do these in the classroom that it would never occur to them that Merrill's things might be done in different ways in different places. They're like the proverbial fish who can't see the water.

A. [stares blankly, completely lost]

B. Have you ever used a lightsaber or killed a dragon ?

A. Of course not - those things only happen in games.

B. Ok. Have you ever done them in a game?

A. No.

B. And how would you learn to do them in a game?

A. I don't know. Probably ask one of my friends who knew something about the game to show me how.

B. Imagine a computer game with tens of thousands of people, all in various states of trying to learn to play the game. If they could all talk to each other over the network somehow, what do you think would happen?

A. I guess they would start asking each other for help figuring out how to play the game.

B. Precisely! Lots of teaching and learning would start happening. MMOs let people talk to each other and play together. And the best part? Few of the players are classroom teachers carrying around preconceptions about instruction. (Even the ones who are teachers frequently fail to connect MMOs with teaching and learning.) Which means they... [waits]

A. Have to figure out how to help each other learn to play the game from scratch?

B. Right, without thinking "how did we do this in the classroom?" In fact I'm pretty certain the classroom is the furthest thing from most players' minds.

A. So we're playing MMOs to see how people who have probably never taught in the classroom will teach online?

B. And the *how* is key. We're looking for the methods, mechanisms, and techniques by which teaching and learning happen online. And we're looking for indigenous methods - techniques that were devised, refined, and perfected on the internet for use on the internet.

A. I think I'm starting to see why you're so interested in this stuff.

B. Then it's time for this week's assignment!

Assignment: Lineage

  • Go to and learn a little about the game.
  • Download the game for either Windows or Mac. The software is free; if you have bandwidth concerns and would like a physical CD from me, let me know.
  • Create an account . Using the game server to connect with other people costs $15/month (you'll need to subscribe for one month). Since there were no textbook costs for the class, I am assigning you to sign up with a completely clean conscience. If the cost is a concern, let me know and I may be able to help.
  • While you're waiting for the game to download, read the only assigned article this week - Learning in Massively Multiplayer Online Games
  • Play the game as much as possible this week. There is only one article to read, and the writing assignment is the shortest yet, so seven (7) hours of game play is the *minimum*.
  • Remember, it's a game. *Have fun!* If you play the game "as a researcher" you won't have a real first-hand experience. Just play the game!
  • Post a description of your character's name, race, class, weapons, appearance, etc. to your blog. Also, which creature was your favorite? Did you die frequently this week? What was the most embarassing way you died?

And, of course, don't forget to post these things on time! See you next week.

Copyright 2008, by the Contributing Authors. Cite/attribute Resource . admin. (2008, May 20). Week 12: MMOs. Retrieved January 07, 2011, from Free Online Course Materials — USU OpenCourseWare Web site: This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License Creative Commons License
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