World of Warcraft in the Classroom

by Caleb Gillis

(Third in a 3-part series on Games Based Learning written for GamingEdus)

In my last post, I discussed how I used the video game “Portal 2” to enhance students’ ability to problem solve. After using the program for over a week, students showed improvement in their ability to take multiple steps to solve complex problems that were previously difficult. The idea to use “Portal” in the classroom was inspired from the successes of other teachers who have not only enhanced student learning, but also redefined how education could be taught to students.

My main inspiration for using Portal in my placement came from Peggy Sheehy, a teacher from the United States, who developed an after-school program for students at risk of dropping out of school. The program she used was the Massively Multiplayer Online game (MMO), World of Warcraft (WoW).

The way WoW works is players begin by creating an avatar. They pick a race (human, dwarf, orc, etc.), class (warrior, mage, priest, etc.), and name for their avatar. Once that has been finished, players are placed in the virtual fantasy world of Azeroth. This world can be fully explored by the player on day 1 (though it’s not recommended). They can go to numerous towns and cities, forests, deserts, valleys, entire continents and oceans, which is populated by real players. Azeroth has its own economy, politics, professions, climatic regions, biodiversity, conflict, organizations, and culture that the players are free to explore and choose what they want to do. Overtime, players earn experience points for their character, and as they level up and gain in power and knowledge, so too would the player up their understanding of how the world they were playing in worked.

In the program that Peggy Sheehy developed in her school, students were given quests to complete in the game that required them to research, problem solve, and contribute within a social community (classroom). Using the students’ motivation, Peggy then had them make connections between their experiences in the game and the novel, The Hobbit, as well as to their own life. To assess students, she created an experience point system where students would earn experience when they completed the required tasks and the tally would result in the final grade, similar to how the game provided experience points. Originally this program was designed as an after-school program for students who were at risk of dropping out of school. The result of this program was improved behaviour, increased attendance, and better grades in school, which then led to the program becoming an elective course during school hours where students who wished to take this program instead of their normal class could do so. Peggy saw the potential in her students, students who otherwise would have disappeared from the school system. By trying a new approach, Peggy unlocked those student’s ability to learn and the motivation to apply what they’ve learned to the real world.

The successes of this program has been shared on a database for any educator or school board who wish to use it and apply to their own classroom. On this database, the entire curriculum that was used to teach the students is available in the form of a book providing detailed lesson plans, rubrics, instructions, and resources for the educators.

Make schools exciting and fun

Motivation is the key to a student’s development and success. If students are not motivated to do work, then there is little hope that they will learn anything except how much they dislike learning. Video game developers know how to hook their players. Many of the video games out there have the incredible potential of facilitating student learning, not just Minecraft, Portal, or World of Warcraft. These games are rich and full of content that can be adapted in cross-curricular teaching and in multiple grades where students will be working but will hardly ever look at it that way. We know game based learning works; it has been proven that it engages students and makes them want to work, so let’s take some chances and bring in a new system to the education community.


World of Warcraft in the Classroom:

Ontario Ministry of Education on Video Games:

Portal 2:

About Me: Caleb Gillis

I am currently finishing my Bachelor’s of Education at Queen’s University and specialize in utilizing educational technology to enhance student learning. If you have questions about my background, research, or anything else, feel free to contact me: