Digital Structures and the Future of Online Leadership

Digital Structures and the Future of Online Leadership

Moses Wolfenstein (University of Wisconsin – Extension, USA)
Copyright: © 2014 |Pages: 24
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4502-8.ch096
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Abstract

This chapter discusses findings from a study that looked at organizational leadership in the massively multiplayer online game World of Warcraft® in an attempt to inform the future of leadership in schools and other online and blended learning organizations. After offering a general orientation to the game world and the original study, this chapter delineates the ways in which studying virtual worlds of this sort can and cannot inform theory and practice of instructional leadership. It then examines the organizational leadership and learning cycle that emerged in the original study. Finally, it considers implications from the research for instructional and organizational leadership in a data rich environment.
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Introduction

The ongoing advancement of online and blended learning, particularly in secondary and higher education institutions, has resulted in a growing consensus that both practitioners and researchers in the arena of education need new models for looking at professional practices at school and classroom levels (Collins & Halverson, 2009). In particular, the geographically distributed and digitally mediated nature of online learning has highlighted the ways in which traditional models of classroom and school leadership need to be revised in the face of a changing field (NSF Task Force on Cyberlearning, 2008). The research described in this chapter1 was undertaken in an attempt to advance an understanding of some of the issues that may be presented by these infrastructural changes through looking at the nature of organizational leadership practices around one type of learning organization (Senge, 2006) in a contemporary immersive online environment.

The learning organizations in question are known as raiding guilds. Groups of this sort range in size from a dozen to a few hundred in size, and are found in certain types of Massively Multiplayer Online games (MMOs). MMOs are game worlds that allow thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of people to play online together at the same time in a persistent virtual world2. While some of these games are structured to allow all of the players of the game to literally play in the same virtual world, in most instances a game’s developers will host numerous copies of the world, such that the total number of players of the game far exceeds the portion occupying a single version of the online space. This is the case with World of Warcraft®3 by Blizzard Entertainment™, the largest MMO in terms of playership, and the most profitable game in the history of the genre.

World of Warcraft, known to players of the game as WoW, was the virtual world that this research focused on. A video game, and especially a game with the word war in the title, might seem like an odd place to look to when considering the future of instructional leadership. However, there are a number of features of raiding guilds as organizations, including the manner in which they are situated within a larger affinity space (Gee, 2004), that make them particularly promising for looking at how an online learning organization can function, and what the shape of leadership practices within such organizations can look like. Perhaps even more significantly, organizations like WoW raiding guilds exist in extremely data rich environments as a result of the digital structures through which the game functions. By considering the interplay between these structures and the human agents within a space like WoW, it is possible to gain some perspective on how ubiquitous access to data might affect member participation and leadership practices in developing online learning organizations.

Following the provision of some necessary background for understanding the findings from this work and an explanation of the methods utilized in the study, this chapter will proceed by delineating those ways in which WoW raiding guilds provide a useful point of reference for looking at the present and future of education and instructional leadership, and those ways in which leadership in WoW is highly context dependent and less useful outside of the domain of online gaming. The next section will offer an overview of the core model of leadership and learning practices in World of Warcraft that emerged through the study. Finally, this chapter will look specifically at what the implications of this research are for instructional leadership in increasingly data rich ecologies.

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