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Game-Based Learning in Action

How an Expert Affinity Group Teaches With Games


Matthew Farber

How are expert educators using games in their classrooms to give students agency, while also teaching twenty-first century skills, like empathy, systems thinking, and design thinking? This question has motivated Matthew Farber’s Game-Based Learning in Action: How an Expert Affinity Group Teaches With Games showcasing how one affinity group of K12 educators—known as "The Tribe"—teaches with games. They are transformational leaders outside the classroom, in communities of practice. They mentor and lead newcomers to game-based learning, as well as advise game developers, academics, and policymakers.

Teachers in "The Tribe" do not teach in isolation—they share, support, and mentor each other in a community of practice. Farber shares his findings about the social practices of these educators. Game-Based Learning in Action details how the classrooms of expert game-based learning teachers function, from how they rollout games to how they assess learning outcomes.

There are plenty of lessons to be learned from the best practices of expert educators. These teachers use games to provide a shared meaningful experience for students. Games are often the focal point of instruction. Featuring a foreword from James Paul Gee (Mary Lou Fulton Presidential Professor of Literacy Studies, and Regents’ Professor), this book comments on promises and challenges of game-based learning in twenty-first century classrooms. If you are looking to innovate your classroom with playful and gameful learning practices, then Game-Based Learning in Action is for you!

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Chapter 4: “The Godmother of Educational Gaming”


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Peggy Sheehy is the cofounder of the WoWinSchool Project, which integrates the MMO game World of Warcraft into a classroom experience. Her 6th grade humanities lessons are a “massive series of ‘quests,’ each built around key skills and ideas” (Toppo, 2015, p. 133). Sheehy is “in demand at teacher’s conferences, having laid out her vision before adoring crowds in Mumbai, San Francisco, and Sydney, among many others” (Toppo, 2015, p. 129). In August 2015, she served as a Teacher Fellow at Filament Games, an educational game company in Madison, Wisconsin.

Beginning the last week in September, students in Sheehy’s classroom play World of Warcraft. It is then played for the duration of the school year. Only a few students have played it at all prior to my observation of her in 2015. She explained that several students wind up purchasing a subscription to the game after they are promoted from her room to 7th grade.

Sheehy takes in-game experiences and asks students to compare and contrast decisions to her course text (The Hobbit), as well as to their personal quests in adolescent life. This can take the form of whole class discussions or written assessments (e.g., reflection papers and prompts). Sheehy does not test her students, nor does she grade their reflections from playing games. Instead, she uses the XPs earned in World of Warcraft and in 3D GameLab (rebranded as Rezzly,...

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