Indigenous Online Teaching

Many individuals and institutions are now teaching online. Many instructors have tried to do “the responsible thing” and use “proven, battle-tested” classroom teaching methods in their online courses. And at first this seems the only ethical, responsible thing to do…

However, while teaching in the classroom and teaching online are both teaching, this does not mean that they are the same. Imagine an Athletic Director telling the water polo team that beginning next semester they would be playing on horseback. “Don’t worry,” he tells them, “it’s still polo. You still need to score goals and keep the other team from scoring in order to win. Just use the same offensive and defensive strategies you’ve been using for years. I’m sure you’ll still be conferences champs at the end of the season.”

The recommendation is, of course, ludicrous. And so is the suggestion that we should simply continue doing the things we do in the classroom online. Pondering this polo metaphor has led me to ask, “Is there a form of teaching which is indigenous to the online environment, which would be native to horseback?”

Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) provide an interesting opportunity to research this question. These games frequently include Guilds and other organizations which allow players to group and cooperate. One of the primary functions of these groups is to train new players, including enculturation, how to slay certain types of beasts, operate certain types of weapons or spacecraft, etc. In informal conversations, it has been my experience that people playing these games have never belonged to guilds in the “real” world, never killed dragons in the “real” world, never flown an X-Wing in the “real” world, etc. They were taught these skills and continue to teach these skills to newcomers online. They have never taught these skills to another person in the “real” world, they have learned to teach these skills online. I would argue, therefore, that the type of teaching and learning occurring in MMORPG guilds is one example of the type of native online teaching we want to find.

The OSLO Group has, therefore, begun a new research program called “Indigenous Online Teaching” in which we are carrying out grounded theory research in MMORPGs to attempt to discover patterns and structures in the teaching methods that have grown up online. We would love to cooperate with others on the research. Please contact me for more information if you are interested.