Teaching in World of Warcraft

I'm teaching an on-line course for San Jose State University's School of Library & Information Science on "Games & Libraries." Last Friday, I tried something that I think might have been a first (though I'm not sure about that): having a class session not in Second Life (easy) but in World of Warcraft (crazy). The rationale was that many of the thirteen students are not hard-core gamers, yet they are going to be looking closely at the role digital games and game worlds can play in library programs and library services (academic, public, and school), as well as the building and preservation of collections (mostly academic and special libraries). So I felt it was necessary to expose the students to the excitement, trials, tribulations and limitations of popular digital game worlds. It is too easy given all the promise and hype around serious games, simulations, Second Life, and related topics to build expectations that do not match realities.

Here is a screenshot that documents our group in-world, Friday, 21 Sept. 2007. Here is another in a different location. You'll note that we all belong to the same guild, which we created for the class. We did this so that we would have our own chat channel. Most of the students are using trial 10-day accounts and have very low-level characters, so another issue was keeping everyone alive. My son's level 37 Warrior and my own 69 Paladin took care of that issue, but we still managed to keep losing students, either because they got lost or were taken out by critters or by falling off elevators. Luckily, Paladins can resurrect the dead, which I belive is a first in terms of faculty-student relations. But you'll notice in the screenshot, we still had lost several students by the end of the 90-minute session (they were wandering around in fascination, lost, or disconnected).

Interestingly, we received inquiries from other players in-world about what we were up to. An hour into class, I was already hearing from players asking if I was that guy teaching that class, or even "that teacher from Stanford." I met the son (a 70-Priest) of a prominent Stanford alumnus, who told me that he wished Stanford had taught such courses when he (the son) had attended. Clearly, word had spread around our WoW server (Windrunner) that something like this was happening, and players came by to have a look. Indeed, the Priest offered to duel me so that my students could see what PVP fighting was like, and he eked out a narrow victory (my version).

My verdict: I found it very challenging to teach about a commercially-produced on-line world while actually being in one. However, it was easily worth the difficulty, as I believe it gave the students a much needed feel for the mix of vast potential and throttling limits involved with the use of such environments, say, by libraries. I would love to hear from anyone else who has done something like this.