Interconnect ED

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Tag: virtual worlds (page 1 of 2)

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

‘You Can Be a Hero’

 “Play of the only way the highest intelligence of humankind can unfold.’
~ Joseph Chilton Pearce

 
Over the past five years, Quest Atlantis has become a significant part of the learning pathway of our Middle School students at MLC School. For some students it is a social network to make and hang out with friends, for others a rich investigation of subject matter that intrigues them. Some students are driven to compete against their own limitations or against the strengths of others. Some pursue the creative opportunities to build in virtual spaces whilst some discover in it a way to find their voice.

Above the authentic learning experiences and immersive worlds rich with curriculum is the potential QA has to inform character and to construct identities. These three short videos, generated over the past two years with one cohort of Middle School students, shows how Quest Atlantis experiences can be an opportunity to shape yourself and the world.

PART 1 

PART 2

PART 3

 

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.

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!

 

Fear Itself – a Churchill Chat

This is a Vimeo video of the recent Churchill Chat for the NSW Fellows.

Fear Itself – a Churchill Chat from Steven Caldwell on Vimeo.

Virtual World’s Best Practice in Education conference – reflections

Below you will find a brief overview of some sessions I attended at the VWBPE 2011 conference. One highlight not mentioned in the Voicethread was Botgirl’s discussion of how we construct identity in online spaces. Whilst I found the cheesy ‘reveal’ that Botgirl was actually a man, ‘hir’ comments were extremely intriguing and I hope to look into that in more detail later.

So, below you will find a brief summation of some of the conference including an audio of a pre-presentation discussion I had with Marianne Malmstrom (aka Knowclue) about our session together. Whilst I was not altogether pleased with how our sessions went, I think this conversation captured the essential elements we wished to convey.

Voicethread postcard from America

This is a Voicethread that looks at both the work and the play I experienced during the Churchill Fellowship.

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