Interconnect ED

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Tag: MMORPGs

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.

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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

Are computer games better than life? a reflection

 Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.
Michael Jordan

 

Like many growing up in the late 70s and early 80s bright boxy video games were a favourite way to escape from the tribulations of adolescence. They shaped my view of the world. But so did the novels I read, the late night deep and meaningful conversations, the big ideas raised in school, the ubiquitous hormone induced arguments I had with my parents and the hours daydreaming in my treehouse . David Perry in his TED talk elevates the role of video games to the status of some god-like omniscient being that has shaped the generations since Pong and space invaders landed in our lounge rooms. And created what?…

Before I say any more you might like to view the whole talk here…

Before you think me a techno-luddite, I confess to being a gamer myself who recently has joined World of Warcraft after starting with its far superior younger cousin, Lego Universe. I agree with Perry that games have (or will have) the power to move us creatively and emotionally. They do have the potential to engage us fully in increasigly real-world issues in ways that model consequentiality, reflection, community and imagination. A potential. Not a consistent reality. Also. it’s impossible to ignore the economic statistics Perry revisits – computer/video games are a growing force in the world’s economy that, contrary to public opinion, appeals to women and young adults far more than we think.

Yet I am troubled by his talk.

Well, its not the self-confessed ‘addict’ whose powerful life-story evokes the pain/joy of gaming that upsets me – I can relate to so much of it. If anything the honest addictive aspects drew me in to reflect more deeply. My issue is with the field of games her drew on, the examples, the content of the presentation. All the games that he presented were combative, aggressive and violent. (Yes, he remarks about not many games having adult content, but what did me mean by that?) Games, for whatever reason, seem stuck in this ‘Defeat something, get something’ model. Richer stories that dabble in character and cinematography seems to make this more palatable. Whilst the graphics and cinematic qualities are phenomenal, why is it that the discourse of this pinnacle of art is all about me and my mates getting things? If games are so creative, so powerful, so god-like why are they so stuck?

Now, again, remember I play games and enjoy them but am questioning about the values they present. For me, games are at their best when they allow people to connect and forge friendships. They are awesome when they are strong allegories. They are epic when the skills and perspectives gained within them transfer to the outside world. (Do driving games make you a better driver? Do basketball games make you a better gamer? Do ‘Gangsta’ games make you a better abuser of women?! WTF?!) This is why the new generation of games needs to evoke our emotions and cause us to question our fundamental self-cherishing notions. Games like Quest Atlantis remove combat altogether, choosing the conflict to be in the arena of ignorance vs wisdom. But how many do that?

So, as this blog post was part of my training in 3D Gamelab, it might be prudent to reflect on how this TED talk might impact on my use of this new methodology. Here’s the thing, when I discovered Gamelab, I was so excited. Racing through the initial quests there was early success and, proud of my achievements, I posted my scorecard on Facebook, tagging my fellow Facebooking Gamelabbers in it to roar of my XP and slap their faces playfully with my virtual glove.

Finding myself waking at 4am to complete more quests and stay ahead of my colleagues was an alarm that something was a but askew. Later I would sneak away at lunch time to squeeze in more questing time. Meanwhile morning teas and conversations happened around me. People sought help for various personal crises and I was barely there to hear. What began as a means of exploring game-based learning became a full on assault on beating the game.  Thus Competition wrestled with Curiosity for control. (By the way, this blog was written at 7am on a Saturday morning so I’m not out of the woods yet…)

Where in game-based learning is a recognition of a space to stop and get perspective. Why the constant rush to move on? Can the games reward pressing STOP or even PAUSE rather than having the thumb on PLAY all of the time? Or even worse, SHOOT. Is there more to be learned in not playing for a time?

Anyway, big questions aside. It’s 8am. I’m off to work out my frustration in WoW with Milarepa my 13th level Dranei Shaman. or I could meditate…

*sigh* Choices, choices. This time, I’ll press STOP.

3D ‘Gee’-lab

“It is paradoxical that many educators and parents
still differentiate between a time for learning
and a time for play without seeing
the vital connection between them.”

~ Leo F. Buscaglia

 

You might not think it but I’m at Summer Camp right now. Amidst the usual daily activities a teacher engages in – enthusing, encouraging, counseling, creating, critiquing, cleaning, scheduling and caffeinating I’m also playing computer games alongside some friends old and new and learning about game-based learning through Boise State University’s 3D Gamelab initiative.

I’m not new to game-based learning thanks to Indiana University’s Quest Atlantis and some dabbling with Second Life. This Summer Camp is an opportunity to Beta test Boise’s CMS that has some striking features. In the image below you will see my scorecard which charts my progress though the course. I earn experience points in learning the design tools, understanding the pedagogical approach of game-based learning whilst also gaining points in my stumbling forays into World of Warcraft for schools and other online games.

Milarepa's 3D Gamelab score card

One of the key champions of Game-based learning is the visionary James Paul Gee. A task on the Mechanics of  game-based learning asked me to view an interview he gave to Edutopia and comment on three key areas. But first I’d like to share four of the salient points from the interview.

  • Future focused education needs to allow students to solve problems, think creatively, create collaboratively and innovate rather than churn through standardised tests.
  • video games are one significant way that young people develop skills in problem solving
  • video games are a continuous assessment that provides immediate feedback and a sense of progress
  • School textbooks are really game manuals that need to be used to support game ‘play’ but we tend to implement them as if they were the games themselves –

Clearly, Boise has listened to Gee’s passionate call for game-based learning to be taken seriously.

These are the three questions I was asked to reflect upon.

1. How might a teacher apply even ONE characteristic of games and game environments (choice, progress bars, etc.)  to a typical unit or module of instruction?

Choice is essential, particularly when working with adolescents. They crave ownership of their own lives. Also, choice can pertain to choice of one might learn a concept of skill, so we can cater for different learning styles here. For example, when teaching about figurative language one could write clear instructions or provide diagrams or embed Youtube videos or even ask students to create their own understanding to be shared with others.

2. What reflections or thoughts do you have about Jim Gee’s notion of the paradigm shift?  How will it change your school or institution?

I am an early adopter of game-based approaches. The greatest challenge is to have teachers see the value of games as means of sharing content as so many teachers are sadly content driven. Games also require flexible completion times given that one can play and replay to achieve mastery. Schools that have set hours for curriculum might struggle with this notion. It would certainly change the school if we were asked to make time for games across the board.

3. What unique insight can you take away from this discussion?

The consideration that text books are game manuals was a radical notion. Having just started playing World of Warcraft for this course I completely agree with Gee’s ideas on this. I baulked at the game-manual when presented with it despite its glossy appearance and reading it was a nightmare of technical language that bored me. Playing the game gave me a reason to refer to the book when I got stuck which caused a wonderful shift in my thinking.

The 3D Gamelab has a lot of offer. More on this later. But right now, having completed this Blog post I’m off to submit it and claim my prize of

a) knowledge

b) enthusiasm for the methodology and

c) 50 experience points!

 

The Legacy

‘Words have a great deal of power. They have a power to lift people up, to give people courage and strength, to make it a better world and they have the power to break down, be hurtful and destroy.

We want our words to build and lift and bring up to the light.’

Peggy Sheehy, spoken to a Grade 7 class during a ‘teachable moment’

Why Suffern Middle School?

Suffern Middle School is a pleasant hour’s train ride from New York City. It is a co-education public school that caters to just over 1000 students. Students at Suffern have access to both a diverse sporting and musical curriculum and are clearly successful in both as well as in academic pursuits.

Suffern is proud of its Full Value program which consists of seven core values. These are proudly displayed and were frequently referred to during my visit. These values are not school rules to be obeyed but rather qualities to enact which will enhance their experience of learning and assist in building positive experiences for others. The seven Full Values are –

  • Be Here
  • Be Safe
  • Be Honest
  • Have Fun
  • Care for Self and Others
  • Let Go and Move On
  • Set Goals.

Like many Middle Schools, there are numerous clubs, societies and other affiliations to stimulate student engagement.  Regarding clubs, Suffern was the first school to begin a learning presence in Teen Second Life and is presently championing the role of World of Warcraft in learning.

I came to Suffern with a big question – do massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) promote positive values and build connections between young people and the world? And who better than to ask that question of than the one who first brought virtual worlds to Suffern than Peggy Sheehy.

Who is Peggy Sheehy?

Peggy is more than a teacher. She is an inspiration and an educational force of nature.

IMG_0466

Following 25 years as a professional vocalist, Peggy pursued further learning in education that led her to receiving multiple Teacher of the Year awards in multiple counties. In her role as a ITF/Media Specialist at Suffern, she is dedicated to integrating technology in the curriculum in meaningful ways. This commitment led to the creation of the first learning space for middle aged students in Teen Second Life. Peggy is a popular presenter at national technology in education conventions and district wide teacher training. Her clear, informed, no nonsense approach on the future of education is sought out by educators around the world.

Peggy Sheehy is a notorious figure in the American Computers in Education community. I use the word notorious affectionately and with respect for her fierce defense of freedom, of inquiry and the rights of young people to negotiate their own learning. She is an inspiring leader who is now leading the field in using the commercial World of Warcraft as a learning tool.

What is World of Warcraft?

WoW (as it is most commonly called by players), is a multiperson online fantasy role playing game in which individuals and groups (Guilds) complete quests in order to gain skills, equipment and points. Their trajectory through the complex narratives is dependent upon their success with this individual and group tasks. It is an engaging allegorical vehicle for young people to explore a number of issues and concepts in a relatively safe environment.

‘Relatively safe?’ Online role playing is violent. Doesn’t it inspire violence?

In the US alone, Peggy cites research from the US Department of Justice and the Bureau of Statistics that indicates juvenile violent crime is at a 30 year low. The graph she shares in presentations which is copied below shows the advent of some signficant consoles and games that have at one time or another been used to link gaming to violence. But the facts just don’t add up as you can see.

videoviolence

Kids have played violent games of one sort or another prior to the creation of computers and adult fears of growing violent streaks in young people are constantly raised but frequently unfounded. They are more likely to be exposed to real violence on television, cartoons, fairy tales and in sporting competitions.

So why are these spaces only ‘relatively safe’? These spaces can be unpredictable and as such are hard to completely control. It is the open possibilities that attract young people and encourage exploration and experimentation. It should also be argued that, as Helen Keller remarked in a quote I have used earlier ‘safety does not exist in nature.’ Our streets are only ‘relatively safe. That meal on our plate is only ‘relatively safe’ depending upon, for example, your relationships to nuts or shellfish. Even one’s opinions are only ‘relatively safe’ depending with whom you share them. Relatively safe is utterly normal.

Ok, not violence inducing then, but it sure is socially isolating!

Sorry, but once again the research does not back up that assumption. Peggy cites data from a number of researchers which states –

‘Almost 60 percent of frequent gamers play with friends. Thirty-three percent play with siblings and 25 percent play with spouses or parents. Even games designed for single players are often played socially, with one person giving advice to another holding a joystick.‘ Peggy Sheehy, World of Warcraft in Schools ppt

She goes on to cite those games in which young people pit themselves against each other in combat, attempted to destroy the other and in the process forge stronger friendships in the real world.  Gaming is simply not the individual opportunity for personal point collection that many of us first experienced in the 1980s with Galaga, Frogger and the ubiquitous Space Invaders. Games are social but challenge our definition of what socialising looks, sounds and feels like. Games like WoW build into their game-play the opportunity to form groups or Guilds that can function in a number of ways.

What exactly is a Guild?

Peggy argues that Guilds are the Bowling teams of the 21st century (not to suggest that ten pin bowling is an outmoded form of social interaction by any means.) A Guild is a Community of like-minded yet diverse individuals who meet for a common purpose. They form relationships with the Guild as a whole and with individuals within the guild. Guilds also become a collective, a library of stories and remembrances where favourite and not-so-favourite moments are recalled and shared.

Guild Case study: ‘The Legacy’

Although I had the opportunity of sitting in on several classes during the day and speaking with teachers, the highlight came after school when I met members of The Legacy. These five students were experienced WoW players and were the subject of a trial carried out last year. Whilst in some respects they matched my preconceived expectations of ‘Gamers’ that don’t bear repeating, they completely floored me with their level of self knowledge, their ability to articulate and their sound understanding of that it means to be part of a community.

I took a ‘Devils Advocate’ approach with ‘The Legacy’ and asked them, ostensibly, to defend this program on educational grounds only. It must be said that they were not coached or prompted by Peggy. Their responses were delivered with honest conviction and passion. I’ve adapted their responses below.

Mr Caldwell: So, guys, this is it… Just five of you?

Legacy: Oh no, more are joining the Guild next week. We have some trouble with time zones so its hard to get us all together.

Mr Caldwell: Sorry, time zones? What do you mean?

Legacy: Well, we’re just part of the Guild. There’s a school in North Carolina and a new one just starting up in Florida. It’s gonna be a busy time training and supporting them so they can join us on quests.

Mr Caldwell: Train them? So you’re the leaders, then?

Legacy: No, we had elections but decided against having one leader to boss us around, rather we are all we have office bearers in each of the states. We talk in chat and on Skype to make decisions for the Guild.

Peggy has supported these young people to reflect on leadership and to reach out to other schools to join the guild. The students manage a Guild Wiki and share their adventures – often writing narratives based on their avatars or sharing game tips. The game itself has a number of structures that support community. Besides the narrative in which one sides with one of two groups striving collectively against foes, there are opportunities to trade and store communal items.

Watching them play and talk was a lot of fun. Yes, they were defeating monsters but they were also engaging in narrative and helping others to succeed. They have learned some useful groups management skills and grown familiar with the tools that make long distance team work possible. But what have they taken away from the game that has been applied to their daily life?

This Youtube video made my members of the Guild from another school and, indeed, another State says more than I could about the value of their time in WoW.

The legacy of ‘The Legacy’

The skills WoW exposes students to are the skills we need in the twenty first century. Teamwork, communication, social responsibility, map reading/orienteering, goal setting, resource and time management, new media literacies and traditional text-based literacies are all developed within the game platform. Employers are acknowledging the team skills consolidated in gaming environments to the point of asking if prospective employees are gamers.

But it goes deeper than this. Peggy is unequivocal about this next point – this is a program for character development. It’s not just character point development, as in ‘I have more strength points than you’, but moral development and values formulation. Our avatars allow us to, in her words, ‘Put our best faces, our best thoughts, our best ideas, our best dream and our best honour forward’ into the world. As a reinforcement, she addresses the Guild not as students, not as kids but as Heroes – affirming them with agency and noble ideals.

Members of the Legacy who may once have been social isolates are now effective, collaborative team members communicating purposefully between state lines in an attempt to make their communal fantasy world a better place by contacting that which is noblest within them. In so doing, they are learning skills and life-affirming qualities that, in the future, just might save ours.

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