First I was considering whether I should tell my students or not. At the time I had five boys who were all slowly sinking deep down into something adults like to describe as gaming addiction. When the second expansion The Burning Crusade was released these five lads were missing from school for a week. It didn't take a rocket scientist to see what was going on. So I logged on and by all means, I understand what WoW is all about now. And I see all the great things about it but also all the bad things. I don't blame the kids anymore, but the lack of parenting. This is a total different discussion that I will talk about another time, though.
It may sound cheesy but I actually did it. If I can't make the lads go to school I had to bring the schools to them. For starters I simply created a character on the same server as them and started to secretly infiltrate them. I felt bad about, that's for sure and it was almost as if I was violating their private life. But I saw them running around with their avatars, communicating with people around them in English and socializing in a way that would never happen in "the real world". This was when I realized that socializing has more than one definition nowadays - not only face to face with friends a Friday evening in the pub, but also when selling items, helping mates out killing evil monsters or role-playing by a pretty pond in the virtual forest. I decided to tell them that I was there and I was watching.
I understood by telling them about my secret mission I could jeopardize a lot, but what happened is a bit of a mystery. The lads were thrilled and excited about their teacher finally made it to where they spend most of the time. I guess the reaction would have been the same if I would turn up at other students' football practice wanting to join their team and it kind of shows that kids indeed enjoy the company of (certain?) teachers. But they were thrilled about it, thrilled about that we could spend lunch breaks discussing the best tactics to kill that evil boss or which dungeon is the best. And so we did. They taught me how WoW works and I tell you, they were the best teachers ever.
The reputation spread fast and soon every kid at school knew that teacher Jesper was playing World of Warcraft. More kids approached me asking questions about my playing and showed genuine interest in me and I was then known as "the coolest teacher at school". Little did they know that my mission slightly changed the longer I played and what was ment to be for an "educational cause" changed into an actual hobby. I liked the game and so I played it when I had the time.
Now, there are things in WoW and virtual worlds like this that school probably never can offer our students. We like to see our 13-14 year olds as children and we like to underestimate their social and mental skills. To us they are children. What happens in WoW and other MMOs (massive multiplayer online games) is that these young boys and girls take on a role as adults. Since you are more or less an anonymous person when you are playing there is little that will give you away (if you act mature) being young. Here 12 year olds socialize with, work together with and often act as adults. Here age doesn't matter. And it is a truly amazing experience to raid a dungeon together with a 14 year old being the raid leader organizing the 40 man big group of players and giving out orders to each and everyone. This he hasn't learned in school and this school will never take advantage of and build on. That is a shame.
After some time in World of Warcraft I wanted to try to actually bring school to my students. I told them about my little project and they were all up for it. One evening we took off our heavy armor and dressed casually, rode away on our horses out in the green forest, sat down by the little lake in Goldshire and talked about how we use and communicate in English. We talked grammar and vocabulary. We talked about how they feel much more confident expressing themselves in English when playing. We talked about how they actually have improved their English skills. Our little 30 minute class by the lake ended with me saying:
- Okay lads, let's talk about this tomorrow again in school.
And we rode off to whatever adventure that awaited us. Next day in school we continued our discussion. In school.