Surprise! WoW may be good for you (or rather, good for kids): LiveScience has a nice little piece up on the myriad uses of WoW in educational settings, from getting kids to up their reading and writing ability to parents who use it as part of homeschooling. Constance Steinkuehler of Pop Cosmopolitanism organized a group of middle school-aged boys to play WoW after school (for educational purposes, natch), and the benefits derived from the social community that sprung up were obvious:
Some of the eighth graders and high school freshmen who signed up for the group couldn't have cared less about writing or reading in school. Yet those students have gone from barely stringing together two sentences to writing lengthy posts in their group's Web site forum, where they discuss detailed strategies for gearing up their virtual characters and figuring out tough quests.
"It has worked ridiculously well," Steinkuehler said. "It shouldn't be working as well as it is."
Video games are also being embraced by some advocates of "unschooling," a type of home schooling that puts kids more in charge of the curricula. Guess what — the kids want to play video games. But they also learn everything from math skills to social skills along the way.
The unschoolers' experiences, along with the early success of Steinkuehler's program, suggest that playing a video game set in a virtual online world can encourage students to learn valuable real-world skills. Steinkuehler's goal is to figure out when and how learning takes place in online games, and how popular games made for entertainment might become educational tools.
The article goes on to talk with 'unschooling' homeschooling parents and spends more time on Steinkuehler's research. It's an interesting, reasonably mainstreamed piece on the educational uses of popular games.