How World of Warcraft prepared me for facilitating online

Rita Chiu

Rita Chiu has over ten years’ experience as a learning designer across the VET, corporate and government sectors. But guess what? She also has ten years’ experience as a gamer. And it’s through gaming that she developed her online facilitation skills – skills that are crucial to her current role and associated flexible working arrangements.

Since 2004 I have been playing World of Warcraft

I have played since it first came out when it initially only had five player dungeons (an instance where you can play privately). If you’re new to the game you might be surprised by this! The game soon evolved to 40 player raids (a large private instance), then ten players raids which had to be organised prior to even joining the adventure. The ultimate goal of World of Warcraft (WoW) for player vs environment (PvE) (ie when you compete against the game) is to down the final boss (enemy) and to see the cut scene, as there is a strong narrative that you engage with throughout the game (for example the end scene for Mists of Pandaria). For player vs player (PvP) (ie when you combat other players) the goal is to be the best in the arena battles.

In the beginning guilds were where players congregated and helped each other out, and it was important that five players balanced out the class requirements (characters and their skills) in order to complete ‘runs’ or dungeons (quests). It was also fun to play with a group of friends where the ‘run’ could be completed through typing short instructions or hosting LAN (local area network) parties. Communication was key when you had bad gear and players of varying skills. Ultimately it was all about team work and surviving boss (enemy) attacks, and with a group of five people communicating via Skype we could give directions quite quickly.

The World of Warcraft learning curve

World of Warcrafters quickly learn about typing quickly, when running to avoid boss attacks (ie enemy attacks) using emotes (different actions). We also learned – early on – the importance of internet speed and how to time attacks or instructions when dealing with delays. In the beginning period of WoW, the quests were like riddles that you needed to solve and the quest item could be hidden in an obscure place. As a player you also quickly learned about the importance of the WoW wiki to:

  • support your game play
  • work out how to build your character
  • balance out your game play style and gear through your selected in game skill specialisation
  • find professions to support your class (characters with different skills and weapons)
  • figure out where to farm resources
  • determine areas for levelling up
  • find maps for dungeons.

The introduction of 40 men raids

The first two 40 men raids were Molten Core and Onyxia’s Lair. With the need to gather 40 people online at the same time, guilds or partnerships between guilds became essential. This meant networking online and proving one’s worth during five player ‘runs’ (adventures), where your skill and item level is on display. Guilds were merged to form larger guilds and guild management and hierarchy became important, as well as better communication tools during raids.

During the day-to-day management of the guild, guild chats and officer chats were important. To maintain and build guild relationships guild forums were used. The purpose of the forums was to:

  • communicate information to guild members
  • record participation points which would allow players to roll for gear dropped
  • provide a chat service as well as links to videos and recruitment information.

During the raids (attacks) we used Ventrilo, where we can talk as a group of 40 people or break up into teams of five. This depended on the needs of the raid. Sometimes we needed to work in small groups of five as part of a raid and manage our section of the boss. We utilised the chat function in WoW to give direction to the group of 40 and Ventrilo for the mini groups. This was important because we were trying to dodge fire balls, earth quakes, falling shards or random minions attacking our healers. We needed to communicate as each player had his or her own, unique view of what was happening in the raid.

What is it like for raid leaders (online facilitators)?

As an online facilitator you need to take into account different internet speeds. Participants with fast internet speeds will be able to have Ventrilo or Skype running while playing WoW. Other players with slower internet connections will only be able to have WoW running. Internet connection speeds will determine how you communicate – you will need one person to give direction on Ventrilo and one person typing the instructions in raid chat.

As to giving instructions to defeat a boss it is important to use several different methods to communicate to your raid members as everyone learns differently. Some members can follow after listening to instructions, others will need markers and physical demonstrations. When it comes to getting raid members to act out the fighting sequence, you will need to have one person typing out the instructions for people to follow, while others will need to see the fight in action. You might provide a youtube link for a particular role, for example, such as healer or DPS (Damage per Second – Attacker).

What happens when you fail? When things don’t quite go to plan, the raid leaders (usually you have a main leader with several officers supporting the raid) will reflect on the situation with the team. Weaknesses are analysed and suggestions made about ways to improve the fight next time. After retrying the same strategy several times the raid leader may propose a new strategy. The other supporting officers are there to raise morale and to discuss any concerns with raid members. Sometimes people give up after a couple of ‘Wipes’ (when the boss kills all 40 players), so officers will need to recruit additional players. There are also situations when players become abusive – after conversing with them you may find that you need to remove them from your raid.

There are times when all 40 players are not ready for a certain boss. In this situation we might we might go and ‘down’ another boss to ‘gear –up’ in an effort to raise morale. From there we can work on something as a group, such as helping each other improve our gear, and reflect on where we went wrong before we try again next week.

So what have I learned?

World of Warcraft has helped me to develop a range of skills that I now apply to my working life as a learning designer. Honestly – it’s not just an excuse to spend my free time gaming! You may already have thought of some of them, or even have your own to add to the list:

  • Using multiple avenues when communicating with other participants (players) – links, wikis, images, online demonstrations, practical experience and so on.
  • The importance of activities (raids) that both stretch our skills and capability and those that are achievable, in order to build confidence and team cohesion.
  • The impact of technology on learning and group work, as well as planning and implementation of activities (raids).
  • The importance of clear, calm verbal commands to reinforce information and instructions. This is a good technique for running raids and online classes with 40+ learners.
  • Managing disruptive behaviour This may occur during an online session, via forums, or outside of the institution on social networking sites.
  • Networking and forming partnerships. I have made a lot of friends and even professional contacts through World of Warcraft.
  • Project management: planning, risk assessment, resourcing and managing resources, lessons learned and so on.
  • Typing at the speed of light, especially when the boss is shooting out beams of light while minions are after you and there is FIRE ON THE GROUND!

Sound like a typical day in the office?

We would love to know your thoughts on all of this.

How can technology support flexible working?

Rita Chiu

Rita Chiu is a Learning Design Coordinator at Box Hill Institute with over ten years’ experience across the VET, corporate and government sectors. Can we encourage innovation and teamwork while also working at different locations? Rita says yes – if we take advantage of the technology available to us. And there might be some extra benefits to this approach too.

The need for flexible working arrangements

My team members are talented, hard-working individuals who are at different stages of their lives and careers. This means different pressures and responsibilities, from family demands to personal priorities. They also have different hours during which they are most productive. Some require a quiet space to do their work, for example, which isn’t easy to achieve when you work in an open office and meeting rooms are in high demand. So we have a flexible arrangement where team members can work from home, and we also have several staff members who work remotely at client sites. But these set-ups require support, both in terms of management and technology.

The challenges of working remotely

Working from home can be an isolating experience, and it can be difficult for both the manager and the team to bounce ideas off each other, share workload and be transparent. In my experience the most effective way is to call each other, but then other team members miss out on the spontaneous problem solving required for innovative projects. In an effort to keep everyone informed of what has occurred, the email trail begins, with the risk of either getting bogged down in words or losing ideas and messages when people get dropped of the CC list.

How technology can support individuals and teams

For adhoc conversation and collaboration we use Yammer. In our case Yammer is a good tool for collaboration across departments within our organisation. We found that having the chat tool embedded in the browser was not useful, however, as we often missed alerts. The file collaboration option is useful when teams are contributing to a single document, but the need for this is rare.

For meetings we use WizIQ, which is accessed through our Moodle. These meetings are often fast-paced as people are able to contribute either through speaking, typing or sharing their screen. The different modes of communication happen simultaneously.

We use Lync 2013 to chat one on one or as a group. When the need arises we invite members from other teams to join our discussion on specific projects. It’s handy to conduct project handovers between teams and to explain concepts and storyboards via screen sharing. This is a better tool for bouncing ideas too. The online meeting space is great, so we don’t need to wait until a room is free to conduct a handover. Projects are never held up because someone isn’t working at the office.

Making our progress transparent

We use Trello to track the development of online resources across teams. The process is:

  1. The project manager divides the project into sub parts (these are usually units of competencies) and creates a card on Trello. A card represents a component of a project. It has a start and end date, and contains the details to complete that component. A project will have many cards.
  2. The project manager allocates a label for the card, and if the card is ready to go and ready for a learning designer, it will be labelled accordingly.
  3. The rest of the team is able to see everything that is in the pipeline at a glance.

Since Trello is cloud based, I can access it on my phone, iPad or at home on a PC and get an accurate snap shot of where my projects are at. It’s particularly handy during client meetings!

It’s also quite easy to allocate quality reviews, online reviews and testing by allocating tasks to team members. They will get an email notification, but the important information is retained on the card. It’s much easier to track, and doesn’t clog your emails.

Example of a Trello board for a kitchen redesign project

Other benefits of online collaboration

Learning designers should have practical experience collaborating online. If we expect teachers and students to collaborate and participate in a blended or fully online course, we should also experience what it’s like, and understand what works and what doesn’t. By connecting online, we learn about the frustrations and challenges, as well as the benefits and potential. If we get annoyed with a lot of emails, surely students and teachers will too! Ultimately by offering a flexible working environment we ‘walk the talk’. If we the learning designers find it painful, we can use this experience to refine the process so that when it is delivered to teachers and students it is an efficient and enjoyable learning experience.

Are you ready to walk the online talk? Contact eWorks to find out how.