Interconnect ED

'Only connect...' E.M Forster

Tag: Minecraft

The art of iMagineering

“It is an awesome thing to comprehend the magnitude of the fact that what a human being dreams and imagines can be realized. The power of that truth needs to be directed toward our creation of a future
that is worthy of true human value and the world civilization.”
~ Vanna Bonta

For some years I have wanted to begin synthesizing the years of material I’ve gathered on approaches to Digital Citizenship. Believe me, I’ve a lot of resources fattening up my Diigo site and Google Drive.

To start I had to erase the whole notion of being a ‘citizen.’ I mean, what ten-year old kid wants to be a ‘good citizen’?  The whole concept of citizenship addressed in most of the resources tends to be about averting problems, establishing polite norms and generally homogenising young people’s online lives so that they fit nicely within safe, controlled and regulated boundaries.  What kids want is something altogether less anodyne – they are generally aware of the problems but its the possibilities that excite them. They want to be powerful and creative. They want to belong but also to be increasingly independent. They seek to connect and explore by themselves or with others of like minds. True, they want to be safe from harm, but not safe from the experience of an online life that includes solving problems.  Basically they want to be awe-some, not the-same.

How do I know this? What report did I get this from? Did I read danah boyd’s book ‘It’s Complicated.“? Well, I just ask them. Most days. ‘What do you want from life?’ is a question to ask kids often, even if they don’t answer. Often I just watch the kids creating in Minecraft and see just how much they revel in being not what school says they should be.

I also asked my ten year old self who, in his infinite wisdom, wanted to be Spider-Man. Despite his superhero status, Peter Parker was not a good normal citizen. Back in the 1970s he had radioactive blood, drove a lurid beach buggy around Manhattan, looked better in tights than I did then (and for that matter, do now) and did ‘whatever a spider can‘. But Spider-Man helped people without conforming to someone else’s idea of how to do it. That’s my ideal of a good citizen.

The challenge for educators is now does one honour the wishes of the young as well as uphold the requirements of curriculum and legislation. Hence, a reinvention of Digital Citizenship as a new area of curriculum that I call iMagineering.

What follows is an outline written for young people as an introduction to an online course called iMagineers – Creating Digital Futures, part of a series blending resources and bringing new ideas into the mix. Going beyond conforming, an iMagineer creates, imagines, solves problems and knows who they are.

Thanks to Wolfberry at Deviant Art for the wonderful images.

What is an iMagineer?

The name of this online course  comes to us by playing with words. Think about the word ‘iMagineer’, what does it conjure up for you? Go on, think about it before you automatically scroll down. Take some time to reflect on the word.

Here are some thoughts about the name iMagineer below. Once you’ve had a good think about it, scroll down.

C

Circuit by Wolfberry

An iMagineer is an engineer

An Engineer is someone who designs and makes things. Dictionary.com defines an engineer as ‘a person trained and skilled in the design, construction, and use of engines or machines, or in any of various branches of engineering’

Engineers usually have a lot of training and have excellent practical skills that they can use to solve problems, create inventions and make life easier or safer for other people. There have been many successful male and female engineers who have made our lives better.

Would you like to be an engineer?

G

Guardian of the Gate by Wolfberry

An iMagineer is a Mage

A Mage is another name for a magician (can you see a bit of the word mage in magician?) or sorcerer or wizard or enchanter or enchantress. These are men or women who use magic to make change in the world.

The word mage is an old one that comes to us from the Latin word magus. A Mage weilds great power and, like an engineer, needs to undergo a lot of training so they get their spells just right. Sometimes magicians go ‘bad’ and do terrible things. Sometimes they use their powers for good and help people.

If you were a mage, would you use your powers to help people or to hurt them?

 

imagemaker

Then and Now by Wolfberry

An iMagineer is an Image maker

An image is harder to explain. An image is a likeness of a person, place or thing. It has the appearance of something or someone but is not actually that thing or person. An image represents something. A photograph of you at Disneyland is neither actually you or is it Disneyland (that would be silly!) but it does represent the fact that you went there and (hopefully) had an awesome time.

Even words are images. Think about it. The word DOG is not actually a dog, is it? If you say the word even the sound of the word is not the same as the letters DEE OH GEE. The letters are images that represent three separate sounds ‘duh oh guh’. But even those sounds are not what a dog is, are they?

Let’s get back to images and the internet. An image is often used to represent us on the internet. This is usually called an Avatar or an Icon. (More on Avatars in a later sesh.) This picture or GIF is not you, though it may look a bit like you. It is not you, but it is you as far as others are concerned. The image you present to the world on the internet says a lot about you and your interests.

What do your avatars say about you?

calabash_child_by_wolfberry_j-d51nadz

Calabash Child by Wolfberry

An iMagineer is a person first and foremost

Sometimes when we read posts on the internet we can forget that an actual person typed it. That person might be any age, nationality, or gender. They might be a child, teacher or parent. That person may practice the same religion as you or a different one. They may have no religion at all. That person may have hobbies, dreams, pets, family and friends.

That minecraft toon or animate GIF you see online represents a living breathing person who wants to be liked, wants to be creative, wants to connect, has good days and bad days. Sometimes they are at their best. Sometimes they are at their worst. But regardless of what they type on their keyboard and send off into cyberspace, that person is a person with feelings. They are growing up, shaping their character a bit like how a character earns experience points in games. Every little action helps shape our character. They are learning, like you, how to create their identity. They are levelling up in life.

When we put ‘i’ at the front of the word like you see in iTunes and iPad and iPod we are not saying that we all have to like Apple products or copy them. Instead we are using a small ‘i’ a the front of the word to mean that an iMagineer is a person first – a being with feelings, dreams, desires, plans etc like you, even if the details are different. If you think about someone online as being a person not just a pixels, you can begin to imagine a better way to act towards them. We are all people first before we are an engineer or a mage or even an image.

Also, think about this – someone somewhere might be looking at your avatar or icon or profile picture. Would you like them to think of you as an ‘i’ as a thinking, feeling, individual person? I bet you do. If so, how would you like them to treat you?

C

Cables by Wolfberry

An iMagineer imagines

This might seem obvious to you, but imagination is an essential skill for an imagineer. Now, whilst it can be a lot of fun to imagine fluffy pink unicorns dancing on rainbows, other than making us all laugh and feel warm and fuzzy ( good things in themselves, mind you) this kind of imagination does not really help us solve problems and create a better future for ourselves and others.

The kind of imagination an iMagineer uses is a kind of superpower that looks a lot like daydreaming. In using this power iMagineers bring into their minds and hearts a possible future or a solution to a problem. They make it up. It may not work. It may not even be right, but they let it exist just in the mind for a time. This special kind of imagination needs an attitude that says, ‘We can solve this. Nothing is impossible right now in this moment.’

An imagineer is someone who, at least for a time, imagines a place online where we are all about to use our skills well, encourage others to be the best they can be and we always stay true to what is the best in us. Imagineers imagine ways to stop bullies online and offline and provide support to all involved.

iMagineers are prepared for problems because they have imagined them and also imagined possible solutions. (For the record, these solitions might involve fluffy pink unicorns dancing on rainbows.)

Imagineers do not allow unnecessary fear, anxiety, Common Core standards or ICT General Capabilities to stop them exploring and imagining. The greatest enemy to imagination is a ‘YES BUT…’ attitude. Imagineers thrive in a ‘YES AND…’ environment where nothing is blocked – a least at the beginning.

Your thoughts on iMagineering?

Play’s the thing – part three

‘Most men have always wanted as much as they could get;
and possession has always blunted the fine edge of their altruism.’
~Katherine Fullerton Gerould

 

It took longer to make it stronger‘ was a phrase used in the last blog post in this series to indicate the value of engaging students in the construction of a Player Charter for a school Minecraft server. The time to refine the Charter worked to galvanise interest in creating not only a safe space for others to build and play but it also highlighted humanistic ideals of respect and fairness. The lengthy research project my partner teacher and I conducted concluded that game based learning spaces were ideal for developing skills in collaboration, connection, negotiation and creativity. With our school’s executive on board too, we were ready to open the ports to players.

We were all set to open the server to a core  trial group of 10 plus our senior school mentors who had worked with us for 18 months. The wider Minecraft Community at school were excited. Our enthusiasm was electric. The spawn point was ready to welcome the new year 5 students into its light filled hall. The orientation dungeon was filled with traps and treasure. The parent and student signed copies of the Charter were speedily returned to us. We opened the Server…and it all went ‘wrong’.

This blog post recounts some painful lessons on how our idealism came to grief as well as how we are building the community , block by block and quest by quest through employing Acronyms, highlighting Altruism and opening up to Adventure.


Lesson 1: The need for Acronyms

What follows is a simulated, but accurate in tone, transcript of our first few sessions with the girls. Imagine players dispersed about the room, engaged solely with their screens. When reading the script, please adopt a nasal righteously indignant whining voice – the kind that often is used when reciting the pre (and post) teen mantra of ‘It’s not fair!’. Alternate that with a frustrated shouting and you have the general sense of these early sessions.

PLAYERS run to a table, ignoring each other and login.
A few minutes later...
PLAYER 1: Who took my emerald! I stole that from an NPC village! Give it back!
PLAYER 2: I need food. Fooood!
PLAYER 3: builds a house quietly by herself
PLAYER 4: Zombie! Zombie! Zombie!
PLAYER 1: Don't go into my house. That's for me and (name omitted) only!
PLAYER 2: Food! Food! Who has beef? Gimme food!I'm on one health!
PLAYER 3: crafts tools by herself and hides them in a buried chest.
PLAYER 4: Aaah! Creeper! 

Creeper explodes *Boom*

What were we expecting – immediate harmonious collaboration? Recalling the words of a Head of School I respected and valued deeply, this was an important F.A.I.L – a First Attempt In Learning how to create an effective play space. Rather than become dispirited: or worse, authoritarian, we employed two techniques that also involved acronyms to shift the discourse and encourage connection.

Acronym 1 : AAA or Triple A

To encourage connection with each other before connecting with the play space, we established a quick but effective protocol before logging in. Students, mentors and staff sit together in a circle and we go around responding to three brief prompts.

  • What’s been AVERAGE today? (by that we mean ‘dull’, ‘irritating’, ‘boring’ or ‘meh‘ over the course of the school day.) Curiously, this often prompts comments of agreement, clarification or even elaboration. Sometimes laughter.
  • What’s been AWESOME? (Usually they say ‘Coming to Minecraft!’ so we allow elaborations and brief comments on the successes and joys of the day.)
  • What’s on the AGENDA? (By this we mean what do you want to achieve today? Build? Explore? Collaborate? Craft?) WE’ve seen this inspire others who might lack an idea on how to proceed or even instigate a cooperative build.

Acronym 2: T.H.I.N.K

THINK

To encourage rather than enforce more ‘connecting’ or compassionate communication, we have another acronym that we are beginning to share more widely in the school context as a means of shifting the way we talk, type and text.

By referring to THINK before, during and after positive and problematic communication to draw attention to how the communication ‘feels’. How did you know that person griefed your build? What evidence do you have? How does it feel when someone inspires us to be better at something? How does it feel to hear kind words about your builds? Did someone help you to craft something and how was that for you? How was that for the helper? By highlighting our communication with meta-language, we are experiencing a significant tonal shift in our communication whilst we are playing. Also, drawing attention back to the Chat feature really reduces some of the more problematic discourse.

This is the sort of communication we are getting now.

PLAYER 1: Does anyone have any spare iron?
PLAYER 4: Sure, I've got some. How much?
PLAYER 2: I've been farming. Anyone want wheat?
PLAYER 3: Hey, you dropped your boots. Here they are. drops boots
PLAYER 4: Zombie! Zombie Zombie!
PLAYER 3: uses bow and arrow to kill the zombie for PLAYER 4
PLAYER 4: Thanks!
PLAYER 1: Let's start making shops. Who wants a cake?
ALL PLAYERS: ENDERMAN! Aaargh!


Lesson 2: Valuing Altruism

Screen Shot 2013-09-01 at 3.14.33 PM

We build connections with sharing our stories as well as sharing our resources but the fact is, do most Minecraft players value sharing? Do they build for the common good or for their own sense of achievement? Are these mutually exclusive?

To encourage greater interconnection and foster a community spirit we have our Schoology Group where images of our builds, discussions about potential design challenges and the posting of entertaining Youtube videos occurs. But we also have the fantastic customisable Game Engine, 3D Gamelab in which we have crafted a series of quests that celebrates individuals efforts but pays even greater emphasis on actions for the good of others.

Got Your BackPlayers level up by completing community quests and personal ones, though the points awarded are clearly skewed towards altruistic endeavours. As a rule of thumb – if it helps more people its worth more points.  As students progress from DREAMER through multiple levels including CREATOR, MASTER CRAFTER, SUPER HERO and eventually SOURCE OF ALL KNOWLEDGE they gain in-world gear and increased abilities. (We are still ironing out the rewards at each level but I’m sure all the Super Heroes want to be able to fly!)

By adding value to altruism we are hearing very different ideas from the players – Can we earn points for creating shops? She saved me from that skeleton, she should be rewarded. Have you seen the farm we made, its awesome!  (Badges from symb.ly)

 

Lesson 3: Opening up to Adventure

Screen Shot 2013-09-01 at 3.44.43 PM

The players by this point had structures in place for them to choose their own direction  and work alongside others. We had protocols to assist in refining our communication, yet they lacked a common goal. As it turned out, their excursion to the 1850s Gold Mines of Ballarat, Victoria prompted an interaction between myself and one of the year 5 girls who wondered if she could use Minecraft to make a model of something she saw. This prompted our first design challenge.

Chaos reigned again until the design teams met with the senior mentors armed with large sticky notes and pens. Designs were drawn up and discussions were had. IT was fascinating to watch the shoddily unsymmetrical builds get revamped after only twenty minutes of face-to-face discussion and drawing.

After three weeks and multiple sessions, including some lunchtimes, the students constructed a number of intriguing designs. Again it must be noted that our Minecraft server is set to Survival (at their request) in order to provide greater challenge and reflect the reality that not all resources are infinitely available.  They needed to survive the nights, go on scouting parties to gather resources and keep each other live during that time. At the end of this period the students walked us through the designs, some of which were incomplete. This video (sadly unedited, so if you have a spare 23 minutes you may find them well spent by watching this) was recorded to show to the Year 5 teachers who were unable to attend but were keen to see what was possible.

The winning design recreated the aptly named Victory archway in Ballarat (shown below) which they constructed in sandstone. The team who constructed this was rewarded with 50 XP each and a full set of diamond armour.

Victory Arch, Ballarat.

Victory Arch, Ballarat.


Play’s the Thing – Endgame

We are still learning what is possible with Minecraft. We continue to explore the shifting boundaries of freedom and control when creating play spaces for young people. Thankfully we have the experience and insight of our senior school mentors to assist with not only the technical aspects of running a server, but also the broader vision for its implementation.  Thanks to them we have a Player Charter to guide the members towards forging a creative and collaborative community that values altruistic endeavour as well as self-expression. By sharing protocols such as the AAA and THINK acronyms, we are bringing awareness to the very building blocks of community – the content and tone of communication. Through inventing contexts for play in consultation with the players, we ensure their commitment provide opportunties to celebrate their ingenuity.

What is ahead for us? Look out for some pixel art galleries or our Machinema challenge where teams are given generic dialogue and select a genre of film to recreate – props, sets, skins and all! Or the UN-tervention challenge where rather than being raided, an NPC village needs to be repaired, maintained and defended from hordes of zombies.

Postscript

This series has drawn its title from Hamlet’s words ‘The play’s the thing/ Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King.”  from Act II, Scene 2. Perhaps we can be permitted a slight modification of this quote for use in the context of Minecraft. For in this kind of creative, reflective ‘play’ we may in fact, ‘build’ the conscience – the altruistic, self-reflective faculty – of the kings, queens and leaders of the future.

Or we could just go to the Nether and hack into some zombie pigmen. Up to them I suppose.

 

Play’s the thing – part two

“It is not enough to have a good pickaxe; the main thing is to use it well.” ~ Rene Minecartes

 

The quote above, posted by ChowderBowl on the Minecraft Forums, is a reminder that its not just tools that make us effective agents in the world, we need to develop skills in any particular field, be it in the social domain, academic arena or crafting Minecraft Redstone into complex circuits (or deadly traps) that is truly of greater value. We can extrapolate from this that no matter what educational technology tools your school invests in – one to one iPads, IWBs or access to applications like Prezi – its not having them that makes the learning significant but the way in which they are employed that is important. But even more than this, we need to use these skills within authentic contexts for specific purposes for specific audiences. And who better to set those than the students themselves?

In the first part of the ‘Play’s the Thing’ post you read summaries of research about the value of games and a personal recount of how we got our Minecraft server off the ground. In this post, you’ll see the firm foundation we built by constructing a student lead ‘Player Charter’ that firmly places the centre of activity (and the pickaxes) in the hands of the students.

Building the Charter

One of the attractions of Minecraft is that you can build and unbuild things. The relative anonymity that playing on a shared server means that one could be tempted to destroy other people’s constructions. From experience of interventions with students who have had their hard work damaged, it is clear that guidelines were needed – not rules per se, because anyone who has been a child knows that rules engender fleeting bouts of both fear and rebellion in sometimes equal measure – no, we needed something more than a list of commandments to which to adhere. What we needed was a Charter. Being a signatory on the Charter for Compassion gave insights into the structure and purpose behind such documents. A Charter is “…a document, issued by a sovereign or state, outlining the conditions under which a corporation, colony, city, or other corporate body is organized, and defining its rights and privileges.” (Dictionary.com) Our Minecraft server was to be, in essence, a ‘colony’ of the school. The students made it abundantly clear that our server was not something that exists outside and therefore had separate codes of conduct, yet neither was it a tool for school work alone. It was its own entity yet informed by the best aspects of our school community – respect being our only school rule. Therefore, seeing the Minecraft group as a colony served us well in defining further aspects of our Charter.

2012-12-11_16.38.08

The spawnpoint designed by students before we opened the world

 

To start it all off we shared the definition of a Charter with the students and broke it down into its components. The Charter needed to –

  • outline what our group believes is its purpose for existing – what we aim to do or be
  • state what are our structures and roles eg – jobs and leadership positions. Who can join?
  • describe our rights and responsibilities as members (this might include the sorts of acceptable and awesome behaviours)
  • define what sorts of behaviours are not acceptable and what happens should they occur?
  • explain how we govern ourselves and make decisions including how we change the Charter.

From this we began over several months (yes months! It took longer to make it stronger) to build our shared understanding of our purpose and core reasons for existing before we would make the server open to younger students and the wider school community. (We wrote drafts on Primary Pad and published them on our Schoology Group – an online community for our students.) We knew that if we were to lay these foundations with a shared sense of ownership, we had the potential to circumvent the difficulties we had observed on other Minecraft servers. We took the premise of Minecraft as the source and the students experience of navigating the tricky waters of interactions, ownership and compliance in external servers.

The Finished Charter

Firstly, Minecraft is a permissive space that encourages you to find things out for yourself – it does not come with a handy volume of Do’s and Don’ts to constrain behaviour. This permissiveness and openness if reflected in the details of the Charter.

Our Minecraft Community exists to

  • provide its members with a space to create, collaborate and innovate.
  • play and enjoy social time together
  • provide opportunities for students to design personal and collaborative projects
  • provide opportunities for leadership and mentoring

The group is not about leveraging Minecraft for educational outcomes UNLESS the students choose so to do. Our seniors were particularly clear that this was to be a safe space not solely an educational space. A lot of trust was gained in agreeing to this and it has been interesting to see the commitment our young leaders have shown to supporting the younger players as a result. From the outset the leaders understand that Minecraft is both social and private – it is about creating but also about engaging in discussion.

The members in our community are

  • ONLY students and teachers

This was unanimously agreed to though the students were intrigued by the opportunity of engaging in shared projects with other schools at some point. We have potential links to schools in Tasmania and New Jersey but would be keen to establish further links.

I agree to

  • Contribute to collaborative projects
  • work together when necessary and also play alone when required
  • encourage players to be the best they can be
  • be respectful at all times
  • participate in face-to-face meetings to make decisions
  • be imaginative with solving problems
  • share resources with other players

Our Charter recognises the need for opportunities to be together but also to pursue personal projects. Already, in the time we have been playing (only a handful of weeks) we have seen students design their own personal ‘houses’ whilst collaborating on farms, storehouses, resource gathering and construction of a historically accurate village based on the Victorian Gold Rush of the 1860s. Playing in Survival mode means that if there is no food, there is no hope of fulfilling your desires. More people farming means more food for all which, in turn, means more time for creating either together or alone. They are still learning that kind words while playing encourage others to come to your aid when in need.

And one thing we have learned is that players need to have facetime in order to connect with each other. These essential meetings to check in on the day begin with three questions – What’s been average? What’s been awesome? What’s on your agenda? These are the 3As that briefly allow is to meet, share and plan for what we are to achieve in that session.

I will not-

  • Demolish other people’s builds (Grief) without expressed permission. I understand that if this occurs I will need to explain my actions to senior members of the group and make necessary repairs.
  • Share the server address to any non-school players including family and friends outside of the school community.
  • let participating interfere with my friendships, classwork or homework.

The first two points are obvious, dealing as they do wit respect and safety. This last point has been particularly important and was inserted by teachers only after discussion with parents and the students. Curiously enough, the students understood that Minecraft was a distraction from other requirements that needed to be managed carefully.

I understand

  • That I may gain status and privileges if I engage positively with the activities set out within the Minecraft Community.
  • That I may be removed from the Community if I am seriously in breach of the Player Charter

It is here that the conversation with the players continues. What, for them, would constitute status, rewards and privileges? They set the boundaries and the prizes too with imaginative input from teachers.

Conclusion

It’s taken nearly two years but it has been worth it as the beginning builds have shown. More than that, the way plays share and encourage others is reward enough for us as educators.

It is at this point that we enter the realm of game mechanics. The Charter sets up the purposes and community values but what we needed is some way to encourage further interdependence and collaboration. How were we to engender and support the Minecraft players, the community, to galvanise itself around student lead projects and reward them appropriately? This is where we turned to 3D Gamelab and the next blog in this series.

Our 3D Gamelab game engine

Our 3D Gamelab game engine

The Great Wall of Minecraft

“Play is the exultation of the possible.” Martin Buber

 

What follows is a short video shot on my iPhone that is less than 10 minutes in duration. It celebrates the passion, ingenuity, creativity, dedication and determination of a student who, when offered any way to present her findings in an integrated unit on the legacies of ancient civilisations, selected Minecraft as her method. She can see what is possible in such games. Pleas view to the end to hear her final remarks about what she likes about the game.

She built a huge section of the walll, did the research and learned an incredible amount about her topic. Then, feeling unfulfilled, went on to create traditional Chinese dwellings and then start construction of the Forbidden City. Her sources? Google Earth of course! One virtual model inspiring another. Why not books? She couldn’t get inside and work out all the proportions!

My role in this endeavor was just to encourage her to pursue her passion and question historical accuracy as you can hear in the video.

I’m downloading Minecraft even as I type this. There is so much to learn about play, dedication and creativity from these young experts.

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