Turns out making my summary of learning was just as steep of a learning curve as the learning from this course! Well maybe I shouldn’t go quite that far but I did want to document the trials and tribulations I experienced in getting it all to come together.

It all started with seeing Ryan Josephson’s Summary of Learning from the last section of ECI 831. Have a look…

(Be sure to watch the credits! He’s hilarious!)

I was inspired by his work but not sure that was the path I would follow…though as a music teacher it would be a natural fit! At the time I was feeling pretty overwhelmed with all of my class, job and life responsibilities and I was wishing I could have an extra day in the week or at least a few more hours…or maybe a million more?!

Hmmm…If I had a million hours…? Well sure enough, I found a hook and some creative inspiration from one of my favourite bands, The BareNaked Ladies. And so, If I had a million ‘hours’ began playing in my head and the new lyrics started flowing. I sat down with the real lyrics beside me and crafted some new ones to incorporate as much as I could of my EC&I 831 learnings.

Next up? Finding an app for making a video. In a recent post about digital storytelling I had tried VoiceThread but wanted this to be more active, not just pictures accompanied by sound. IMovie would’ve been a great choice (so I’ve heard) but as I was on a PC I had to find something different. I found YouTube Movie Maker, which I chose for its presumed compatibility with YouTube (but learned belatedly has no affiliation) and started to play around. I sang a little acapella and created a secondary video track with harmony to lay on top. My crude trial worked great…but if I showed it to you I’d have to hide my digital presence! There’s some things that don’t need to be posted even in the name of educational reflection!!

What I can show you is my next experiment. I was planning to find a nice karaoke version of the tune, upload it into YouTube Movie Maker and voila, get on with video editing. However, then the discussion of music copyright dampened my spirits. Now what? Around the same time Jenn Stewart Mitchell posted a great blog about creating with GarageBand. In it she referenced Ryan Hicks‘ YouTube ‘how to’ for creating and learning with GarageBand and iPad/iPhone. Here’s his simple and very effective tutorial:

Thanks Ryan! Armed with information I downloaded GarageBand on my mini-iPad and started playing around. This is my test song about bats that I created for my Grade 2 students.

And here’s where I hit the snag. In order to upload it onto YouTube Movie Maker I had to save it on my hard drive but couldn’t get it from my iPad over to my PC. I saved it to the cloud, I tried to email it, I couldn’t access the wave file….BOO! All sorts of difficulties! Though I do play piano, I didn’t really have the time to get my ‘chops’ to par.

Thanks again to Ryan for trying to help me through the process. When I told him my goal and the problems I was having, he suggested the karaoke route that I originally planned was probably the easiest route AND if I couldn’t find it he’d spend about 10 minutes or so to whip off a recording for me. How cool is that?!

So back to my karaoke plan and let the copyright gods smite me down all in the name of higher education…hopefully it won’t come to that! I found and bought a karaoke version (eventually), in the wrong key (of course), then found a free pitch changer (yay!) and uploaded the music I need to start my final project (finally!) Wheeeww!

Let the recording begin! …wait, first I need to practise, and practise…and practise some more.

A couple days later I went back on YouTube Movie Maker to work on recording only to discover a not-so-subtle watermark brand across the screen. Nope, sorry, not upgrading. Next!

I spent a while looking for other video recorders and editing software and dallied a little on youtube looking at other Summary of Learning posts. This was one of my finds and I am inadvertently using the same song:( Can’t a girl catch a break?! Here’s a shout out to the ECMP 455 students who made this for their summary of learning…check theirs out here! They learned a lot! But I digress…

One of the other Summaries I found talked about using a video editor called Camtasia. While waiting for the free trial to download (…it better be good!) I found one of Alec’s favs that he’s shared as a stellar example. Check it out. It’s an amazing example of what video editing can be.

Finally got Camtasia running and did some experimentation. As an old administrator of mine used to say, “Slow is fast”…especially when trying to sync up audio and video tracks I would add! After about 4 hours I’ve got an experimental 60 seconds or so…ARGH!!! But, on the upside, now I know what I’m doing. I think.

I really liked working with Camtasia but did have a few hiccups in the process. It was great to be able to lay different tracks down though I think a good mic would’ve helped. I also wasn’t sure how to sing along without having the music dubbed over again with each singing track thus the earbuds you see in the final product. The call-out option was awesome and if I had had more time I would’ve figured out the transition feature to make them a little more interesting…pretty sure I could do that easily on PowerPoint;)! Another thing that would’ve made editing easier would be if the time sequencer could display in beats rather than seconds. Despite zooming in it was really hard to sync up the background vocals when I split them so it was just easier to leave it in place on the screen throughout though it wasn’t as visually appealing. If I were to do it again I would spend a LOT more time planning and mapping out the video so it would be a more seamless end product. I am well aware of the not-quite synced up audio and uncertain ‘acting’ as far as the placement of the back-up singer goes, not to mention a few sour notes! Ouch! And finally, I was really disappointed that I didn’t get a chance to add in the alternate endings I had planned!

Let’s see..

“When I have a few more hours…

…I’d ‘Share More’! (a la Ryan Josephson!)

…I’d get an ‘A’!

…but I don’t!

…I’d be rich!

…I’d get some sleep! (possibly my favourite)

Ah, well, the moment has passed. Here it is in case you missed it on my final summary of learning post.

Thanks for taking part in my learning journey this semester and thanks for reading!


This semester I have been very busy learning online about learning online…

That is, I’ve been taking ECI 831 Social Media and Open Education with Alec Couros and Katia Hildebrant as part of my Masters in Education in Curriculum and Instruction. I have never been a student of a class with so much freedom as this one. I loved having the opportunity to reflect on my online experiences and our weekly course topics.

Photo Credit: JaulaDeArdilla via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: JaulaDeArdilla via Compfight cc

As a child of the ’80s I’ve experience a lot of technological shifts that have had such an impact on our society. When I was young my dad used to say the phone was a communication device, not for visiting. To him it was still technology, to me it was part of daily life. I remember our first (expensive) VCR, loading game tapes on a Commodore64, using floppy discs and typing essays on an electronic typewriter. I learned how to email at university and once owned a clunky flip phone.

As far as teaching goes I’ve recorded (first with mic and tape then with digital recorders), copied (dubbing tapes then burning cds) and shared music parts via wiki (or tried to!) I’ve set up email groups to communicate with twelve schools about our joint band program and purchased music notation software licensing for my school. I have seen the change from overhead projector to data projector and used laptops, a document camera, Skype and iPads in the classroom. And I’ve only been teaching since 2000.

My online presence began when I started FaceBook around 2006 so I could ‘hang out around the water cooler’ while on maternity leave. It was nice to feel connected to friends and family from home. I got my first iPhone a few years ago (so I could text with the real world) and now feel a little lost without the easy access to information, my contacts, my email and even work projects. Technology and being connected has changed how I do business–from checking in with my spouse and making babysitting arrangements to collaborating with other teachers and reconnecting with old friends.

It has even changed our language and social rules. Last week our prof and guest speaker, Alec Couros noted his son’s use of ‘buffering’ to describe his siblings confused pause and I hear it in my son’s use of ‘pause’ (as in video games) rather than ‘just a second, mom!’ I’ve sat at gatherings watching friends socialize on their phones and simultaneously curate events with Snapchat or Instagram.

As Marshall McLuhan discovered, “We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.”

Photo Credit: ePublicist via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: ePublicist via Compfight cc


Participating in ECI 831 has definitely shaped me. As part of this class we were required to develop our Professional Learning Network through Blogging, Twitter and Google+….not to mention complete a major digital project through the course of the semester.

Here’s my recap on my networking experiences:




why i blogThen – I had started blogging about a year and a half ago when an accident left me off work for a few months. I took that opportunity for some professional development, namely trying some new digital tools I hoped one day I could implement in my classroom. I spent a lot of time setting up my blog and loved writing about my recovery, career aspirations and parenthood. I set my publishing settings to automatically publish to my facebook and twitter accounts but my few posts were read mostly by my facebook friends.

Now – I have really enjoyed all the writing I have done for my blog this semester and I’m excited to have a wider audience by nature of our class blog hub. I’ve also extended my publishing messages to Google+ and include different hashtags that relate to my post and consequently have gotten an even wider audience than before. I’ve made a few tweaks to my blog layout by including category tabs at the top of my home page and my twitter feed but what I’m most proud of is the richness of my blog posts now compared to back when I started. I’m using lots of hyperlinks (to articles or people) and pingbacks when I remember which colleague’s blog I read that inspired me! I’m including lots of images and videos that I’ve found on copyright free sources like compfight and learned how to embed them and their source seamlessly into my text. And, finally last night I figured out how to add sources as captions and align pictures on either side of the text. YES! I think my titles and writing engage my audience and I’m really excited about getting the occasional comment from people outside our class community. I was also really stoked to discover I have over 400 followers! What?! When did that happen!

Next Steps – I’m still debating about whether or not I need an About.Me page since Twitter and my blog are the main sites I want public. I guess Google+ would be another though I’m not sure how many identities I can manage! (I intend to keep my Facebook account private for now though it is becoming a great space to connect with teachers and find teacher resources.) I do however, need to do a few updates on my About me section in my blog as well as the Ed Tech section now that I have so much new learning to add to it. I’d also like to tweak the category tabs at the top of my page into drop down menus so visitors can more easily see what I’m writing about.

I’m also really excited about starting a classroom blog sometime in the new year and I’ve spoken with our tech consultant about getting my grade 2 students on their own blogs as well. It is such a motivational platform for writing and I know they would be really excited to publish their work on their own site. I’m looking forward to connecting with +Lisa K and +Justine Stephanson who have implemented student blogs this fall and will serve as my model. Sue Waters also put me on to a fabulous teacher’s blog that’s another great example of blogging in the classroom. I already have a list to check out and am excited to add mine to the fray!


Then – I started my twitter account around the same time as my blog when I had some time on my hands to experiment. I searched for topics of interest and followed lots of people that Twitter suggested based on those interests. I asked a few colleagues about the use of hashtags and started to group the people I follow into lists. But, mostly it just seemed like work filtering through all the noise so I didn’t make much use of it. I locked my account so people had to request to follow me and was a little weirded out that everyone can see my thoughts online!

Now – I’m really excited about how my use of Twitter has changed this semester. A shout out to Kelly Christopherson for his Tweetdeck tutorial that revolutionized my use of Twitter! Now I have hashtags of interest set up in columns so I can see at a glance what is happening in the communities I am interested in. I am using hashtags in my bio and posts with much better fluency and with more purpose in order to reach out to the communities I am interested in (like #gamification or #dgbl…digital game based learning) or communities I am a part of (#saskedchat, #regteach or #yqrlearn).

tweetdeck capture

I have taken part in some twitter chats (#saskedchat, #moedchat, and one about gifted learning) and I’m really excited about having connected with new people who have liked my blogposts or responded via twitter. It’s pretty cool that someone I don’t know has taken enough interest in what I’ve contributed to reply with a comment.

At the same time as developing my professional twitter account, I have also been using a classroom account (set up by my job share partner, Amy Lawson). I am tweeting out the happenings in our classroom and even started a twitter measurement challenge with my grade 2 students. Still waiting for takers but at least we put it out there!

Next Steps – I plan to continue reaching out! There’s a whole list of hashtags I’d like to explore as well as chats I’d like to take in. I’m also wondering if it’s worth it to take a second look at the ‘list’ function to see how that can help me further develop my PLN.  Though I’m not sure how much stock to put in the follows vs. followed by ratio, I’m sure my ‘follows’ list could stand some weeding! As far as using twitter in the classroom, I would like to get my students more involved in the actual writing and posting of the tweets and in using hashtags to find information and communities that would benefit our learning.


Then – I few years ago one of my young colleagues was trying to connect our isolated community of band directors via google docs. Though she even set up a common google user name and password it never really took off and we were back to the email circus! Around the same time I was introduced to DropBox as a way to share student account information. Because I didn’t have to use it often I was nervous and clumsy each time I logged in….what’s that password again?! My next Google doc sharing experiences were about the same.

Jump ahead to last winter when in my first grad class my group, including our current classmate, Krista Gates, worked together via Google Presentation for our major project. I loved it! So, when my job share partner and I were setting up our partnership I immediately suggested it as a way to communicate and plan. She was onboard as she had already been using google docs with her collaborative projects.

Photo Credit: Marc_Smith via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Marc_Smith via Compfight cc

Now – Being a Google Plus member didn’t mean much to me then but now I see what a great platform Google Communities can be for collaboration and sharing. Our ECI 831 community site has been a great way to not only navigate the course but also to connect with fellow learners, ask questions, and share ideas and resources.  I’ve enjoyed being a part of a group of like-minded individuals and know that if I throw a question out there someone is bound to know the answer or have a similar situation. I’ve really appreciated the collegial relationships and learning that has developed on Google+ over the semester and look forward to continuing them beyond the confines of this class.

Next Steps – Michael Wacker reinforced my belief that Google docs is a great way to collaborate and I’m looking forward to further exploring all that it has to offer including the Add-ons that I’m recently learning about. I’m also looking forward to doing more sharing through Google+. For example, I have a couple of students will be away on extended trips and we’re looking at the possibility of sharing some assignments through a google doc. No more stressing about trying to put together a package of 1-2 months’ worth of learning!

I’m not sure how much I will pursue my Google+ identity (in terms of circles, communities, etc.) unless the need arises. I have yet to explore those other aspects so I guess I don’t know what I’m missing!


As Alec Couros stated in his presentation, Living and Learning in the Digital Age, we truly are in a new culture of learning. Digital learning and connected literacies (like Twitter and blogging) need to be central pieces in our classroom learning. More than ever we need to help our students become critical and creative thinkers and consumers. We are preparing them for a job and society that likely doesn’t even exist yet. That’s a daunting task. As Tagore said,

Don’t limit a child to your own learning, for he was born in another time.”

We need to not only give them the digital skills to participate in the digital age but also teach them to curate a positive digital identity right from the start. No more teaching in little boxes anymore. We need to encourage rhizomatic learning and teaching since now, more than ever before, we are so interconnected. So…

spirt of open ed Embrace change.

“If technology is an event at your school you’re doing it wrong.”

Let go and be the lead learner.

Thanks for supporting my learning this semester during EC&I 831. I learned a LOT!



For my major digital project this semester I’ve been exploring MOOCs–Massive Open Online Courses. I think it’s pretty amazing that you can learn just about anything online and a lot of it for FREE!

Photo Credit: snowpup5 via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: snowpup5 via Compfight cc

My plan was to learn about engaging primary students through the use of games, technology and infusing other forms of play like song and movement. I discovered applicable MOOC course options after lengthy searches through MOOC lists. There’s so many choices out there it’s difficult to narrow it down but I appreciated being able to search by topic, date or other criteria (like cost! Free is good!)

My first MOOC was a self-paced course offered by OpenLearning called, Gamification in Education taught by Dr. Tom Benjamin from Australia. The content offered lots of game theory which was fascinating but not always easy to apply. The content delivery was well-sequenced, if a bit cheesy and the fact that the instructor noted limitations of gaming rather than just touting its benefits helped to establish credibility with me as a user. Benjamin’s credentials, affiliations and links to his other research also helped to secure the MOOC’s credibility especially since the course itself wasn’t affiliated with a traditional university.

I thought that the technical component provided by OpenLearning was mostly seamless though sometimes a little cumbersome. The links weren’t always laid out in the best way to navigate back and forth between modules, assignments, resources, etc. but I did manage to get where I had to go without too much backtracking!

I really appreciated the self-directed pace but missed the opportunity to connect with other learners. Though the MOOC provided the structure wanted, I found having little accountability for deadlines a challenge. I also found it difficult to stay motivated when the course theory wasn’t supported with contextual examples that resonated with me. Why am I taking this again? I also wasn’t sure how in depth my assignment responses were supposed to be as there was little said about criteria. I tried to complete them in a manner that would be most useful for me in my teaching practice but I also found that I was wanting assignments to more closely correlate with what I’m doing professionally so I could more directly apply my learning.

Photo Credit: bernat... via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: bernat… via Compfight cc

Despite these hurdles, I learned a lot! In a previous post, Games in Education, I outlined the basics of the gamification principles that I gleaned from the course. I learned that adding unknowns (like dice or a spinner) can level the playing field, that intermittent rewards are the most effective, and that the size or quality of the prize is mostly irrelevant! I took some of my learning back to my classroom with me and describe a few of the games I created in a post entitled, Morphing My MOOC Project. Since then I’ve been working on game elements to aid in classroom management. The jury’s still out on whether it has been a success or not!

In the end I was pleased with my first MOOC experience but thought that “learning with a cohort would be more valuable for me as it would help further my learning and provide more accountability for assessment purposes.”

Next up was the iPads in the Classroom MOOC but unfortunately that plan took a nose dive when what was advertised as a free course turned out to be not so free. Now what? Who’s in charge of course descriptions and how did that error happen? Hmmm…perhaps appealing to the masses means skimming over the details?

Minecraft launch screen

Minecraft launch screen

Ok, Plan B…or was that C? Many of my young students are very  engaged with playing Minecraft and though I dabbled with it a bit last year I wanted to learn more about how it could be used in the classroom. I was excited to find, Getting Started with MinecraftEdu (link no longer available) on Canvas Net and equally excited that this MOOC experience would provide the opportunity to learn alongside a cohort.

The MOOC immediately started out with a hiccup in that the ‘free’ MOOC required software that was not free. Foiled again! Lesson learned–read the fine print. I decided to begin anyway and see if I could figure out the software requirements (maybe even buy it?) in the mean time.

The Minecraft MOOC started in much the same way as far as content delivery. I appreciated that it too provided some of the principles of game theory but it also took it a step further to explore gaming in our digital culture. This along with some of the great resources really gave this MOOC credibility. I particularly liked Jane McGonigal’s Tedtalks (see one of them below), Marc Prensky’s Computer Games and Learning: Digital Game-Based Learning, and the extensive list of Teaching with MinecraftEdu resources.

What was different with this MOOC experience was learning with a cohort…all 900 of us! At the outset of the course we were to introduce ourselves then peer assess three introductions. Though the assignment criteria was spelled out, the evaluation scheme wasn’t and whether our peer reviews would be assessed was uncertain. In her article, The Problems with Coursera’s Peer Assessments Audrey Watters states that though peers are better than ‘robot graders’, peer assessment in large classes like MOOCs are difficult because of the variability of feedback, lack of feedback on feedback, anonymity of feedback, and lack of community (‘Are they really peers?’). I would add that the technical aspects of giving and receiving that feedback can also be troublesome as was my experience.

Students were also asked to join small learning groups of about 20-25 students within the course. Though I eventually found my way through the maze of links to join a group it didn’t feel like we ever developed a sense of community as there didn’t seem to be any structure or assignment in place to use that community. Did I miss something?

As the MOOC progressed, my software issues loomed. I discovered that even if I wanted to buy MinecraftEdu I couldn’t because it requires a bulk purchase through an educational institution and was again disappointed to learn my division did not have licensing. Realizing the issue, our instructor made arrangements for all of us to ‘borrow’ a client version that would run off his school’s server courtesy of the software developers. Cool! Problem solved…except that it wouldn’t launch on my computer and despite reaching out to our instructor online I didn’t get my issues resolved and had to find another way to accomplish what I wanted to learn. I bought the commercial version and completed the assignments as much as I was able to. (Not sure I would’ve been as committed if it hadn’t been required for my digital learning project for this class!) Aside from the community builds, I did accomplish most of the Minecraft tasks using online tutorials as my guide. Here’s the culmination of my Minecraft learning:

This appeared in my post, Spawning Ideas for Gaming in the Classroom, which I tweeted to the MOOC instructor to say thanks. He replied back to me to offer a second opportunity to try the MOOC activities. He helped me resolve my software issues (Java Runtime NOT Java) and dropboxed the tutorial world file for me to try. Who knew that you could do extra credit assignments to complete a MOOC?! Now there’s a great teacher.

I’m not sure I’m any closer to using Minecraft in the classroom but I have gotten over the initial hump of learning how to play and I have a much better understanding of the possibilities that gaming can offer in the classroom.

MOOC meme

Photo Credit: mathplourde via Compfight cc

As for MOOCs, I’ve learned a lot about them too. There are benefits and pitfalls to the MOOC experience and I’ve experienced them both. In this article posted by my colleague Brittany BandurTony Bates  outlines some of the strengths and weaknesses of MOOCs.

  1. MOOCs offer open and free education but it isn’t always accessible and appropriate to those that need it.
  2.  MOOCs have the potential to reach a wide demographic but typical MOOC students “are already well-educated and employed.” Hollands and Tirthali (2014), researchers at Columbia University Teachers’ College
  3. MOOC participation is flexible-from the casual observer to the full participant. Unfortunately few participate fully or complete the course.

Ho et al. (p.13) produced this diagram to show the different levels of commitment to xMOOCs


The weaknesses are echoed in Mindshift’s How to build a better Mooc (posted by my colleague Jaylene Brass) which cites Konnikova’s, Will Moocs be flukes? published in the New Yorker.

The premise of the MOOC movement is as commendable as it is democratic: quality education should not be a luxury good.”

She goes on to suggest that using control theory–formative assessment to inform individualized curriculum–would help to build a better MOOC. If it’s too easy or learner’s aren’t accountable enough the learning won’t be effective. She calls on Bjork’s theory of desirable difficulties  in saying MOOCs would likely be more effective if they didn’t shy away from challenging students, rather than presenting a fluid experience which gives the false impression of the learning and retention.”

I would have to agree. Throughout my MOOC experiences I was looking for assignments that would help me learn the content rather than just go through the motions.

Despite having trouble with timely facilitator feedback, access to resources, and a lack of learner community, I loved the easy access to learning something new. And while I loved the self-paced flexibility, as a student I needed more accountability. I think students would thrive in a learning environment that allowed them to explore their interests and needs at their own pace and level while at the same time providing some structure and rigor in their learning tasks.

Now, how to leverage these principles in my grade 2 classroom? Hmmm…there’s probably a MOOC out there to help me figure that one out! Always learning.

Thanks for reading. I welcome your feedback.



My MOOC officially ended well over a week ago but I’ve been busy working on an extra credit assignment. Well…not really, but it is part of my MOOC learning. Here’s what happened…

I enrolled in my second MOOC, Getting Started With MinecraftEdu, over a month ago in hopes of learning how Minecraft (and games in general) could be used in the classroom. Halfway through the course I ran into software problems that stalled my participation. Despite my many efforts, I wasn’t able to download the client version of MinecraftEdu that our instructor so kindly provided and consequently, I couldn’t try the Tutorial World and building assignment. I described my difficulties and plan B solution (buying the commercial version) in an earlier post and tagged my instructor to say thanks when I published it.

Who’d have thought he’d tweet back with this…

Jason's tweet

How cool is that? Now that’s a true teacher! After a few tweets back and forth I got my software issues resolved and a second shot at trying the MinecraftEdu Tutorial World!

The first part of the tutorial works through basic movement (forward, backward, jumping, climbing, swimming, navigating the environment and using levers to open doors.) The video below was spliced using Camtasia from about 20-30 minutes of play so real play is less choppy than this appears.

I had to go to the Minecraft Wiki to figure out how to use levers but I did eventually get out and through the maze on the other side. On to digging and building!

This second video shows the next part of the tutorial world where you learn to dig and build. This part of the tutorial takes you through a number of the shape building challenges that teach the player about the properties of different materials (gravel, sand, cobblestone, etc.) and how to manipulate them to build structures. The video below shows some of those challenges.

For me, the Tutorial World was a much easier way to learn the basics of the game than going it alone (as you saw in my earlier post above). If I were to implement MinecraftEdu into my classroom this would be the best way to get students started for a variety of reasons:

1) It would help level the playing field between students who have played before and those who hadn’t.

2) It would minimize the frustration of beginning players since it provides instructions on the basics (compared to starting out alone.)

3) It would alleviate concerns of inappropriate content in online tutorials.

4) It would ensure that all students got instruction on the same concepts.

On the flipside, students who are experienced Minecraft players might get bored with going through the basics they likely already know. It would be interesting if the Tutorial World could provide some way for players to challenge the tasks before having everyone set out at the beginning.

Though this wasn’t exactly the way my MOOC was supposed to unfold, I do feel like I have a much better grasp of Minecraft and of how it could be used in the classroom. It’s definitely a way to engage students though it would likely require more time to fully explore curriculum concepts in the Minecraft arena compared to other ways of learning.

Aside from the technology, I think the biggest factor for classroom success is the teacher’s comfort with the game, Minecraft or otherwise. Have you used MinecraftEdu or other digital games in your classrooms? How steep was the learning curve for you to begin and how did your students respond? Did it require extra classtime and if so, was it worth it in your estimation?

Thanks for reading!




This semester I have been learning a lot about gamification in education and the pros and cons of using gaming in the classroom. Just to be clear…though I’ve played a few games in my time (as a kid and more recently with my young sons), I do not consider myself a gamer! Assuredly, my views in this post will amplify my ‘beginner’ lens for those of you who have occupied the gamer space for some time!

As a teacher, I’m interested in harnessing my students’ interest by tapping into their love of video games but admit I’m a bit of a skeptic. They get enough screen time already…do they really need more? I’ve seen and tempered enough ‘too-much-video-game’ storms from my own kids to believe the negative hype that’s out there. But is it just hype? (It sounds a little like the ‘Tv will rot your brain’ sentiments that prevailed when I was a kid!)

After watching some of Jane McGonigal’s Ted Talks and reading some of Marc Presley’s work, I retracted some of my reservations in my post Turns out Gaming is Good for You.


In Phillip Kollar’s article, Jane McGonigal on the good and bad of video game escapism in March 2013,

McGonigal cited studies showing that violent gameplay is okay, and co-op violent gameplay can be great, but competitive violent gameplay — especially against strangers — raises aggression.”

Here’s another article that presents both the positive and negative sides of the video game equation.

So, having established there’s good and bad in gaming…what about the culture that exists in the gaming world? The title of this post is purposefully provocative but after I wrote it I thought, to be fair I really should have a clear understanding of what ‘gamer culture’ is rather than throw something out there based on my uninformed impressions.

After a quick search it turns out the gamer culture isn’t necessarily the stereotypical misogynistic teenage boys playing violent games on their consoles through the night…though no doubt, it can be. According to the latest ESA study, the average age of video game players is 30 and check out the break down by gender.

Gamer demographics

That surprised me until I read that the study includes all forms of games–from Wii games on a household console to online games on a mobile device. (Even my mother-in-law has a soduko app!) It’s clear that new players are entering the gaming spaces but what about the ones who are well-entrenched there?

In our last class discussion, Audrey Watters reminded me of the dark side of gaming culture, and to the online space in general, particularly for women and other marginalized groups. Much like Bonnie Stewart‘s presentation about networked identity, Audrey’s was not only a cautionary tale of what can happen when you share your opinions with the world, but also a frightening one.

Her presentation was so timely for me as I explore the possibilities of including gaming in the classroom. I am learning to play Minecraft and to use it as a tool for teaching but, as I searched out tutorials to learn how to play I got a glimpse of how the gamer culture might not be the best influence for our students. Specifically, the language used in several tutorials would not be acceptable for my young sons to be hearing. So does YouTube having content warnings? How can we encourage our students’ interests without unwittingly support inappropriate conduct online. Get online parents and teachers! You need to know what’s out there.

And that was just minecraft tutorials…what about the other games and spaces where gamers interact online? I have no idea really…except that my husband occasionally plays Medal of Honor and I have a 12 year old nephew who’s apparently hooked on Call of Duty. In a digital world designed and controlled by men, what about the women who are not only participating in these spaces but also raising their voices against the mainstream. I don’t mean to paint all gamers with the same brush but given the recent events in the gaming world (ie. Gamergate ) one can’t be too careful.

But the gaming world isn’t the only online space where behaviour can be invasive, threatening and abusive. Our class was stunned into silence by the sheer number of names Audrey Watters listed off the top of her head of who she knew who had experienced online abuse. Here are a few more examples off the top of my head:

– Ann Rice explores both positive and negative experiences online in her latest interview with CBC. Check out 7:55 (experiences on Facebook) and 12:50 (tormenting book reviewers on Amazon).

– Audrey Watters noted concerns about ethics and privacy issues with MOOCs.

– Last spring, Saskatchewan news reported on a controversy surrounding the girl from Balcares who wore a sweater reading, ‘Got Land, Thank an Indian’ that escalated to online bullying on her Facebook page.

– and the many other stories like Amanda Todd’s where online abuse moves into real world violence.

So with the online space filled with these minefields should we be encouraging gaming in the classroom? What’s the big deal? Kids love minecraft…but are we inviting real world ‘mobs’ into our classrooms as well? Do our kids get enough positive messages to compensate for the potentially negative ones they may be finding in the gaming world or other online spaces? In his article, ‘Gamers don’t have to be your audience. Gamers are over’, Leigh Alexander wrote:

When you decline to create or to curate a culture in your spaces, you’re responsible for what spawns in the vacuum.”

As teachers, we can’t turn a blind eye on who our students are and the world they are growing up in. However, it is so important to tread carefully and thoughtfully when we bring our students online. We are responsible for the culture that spawns in our spaces. We need to educate students to avoid and not perpetrate the nastiness that can lurk online and in the real world. As Julie Nilsson Smith commented in a recent #moedchat, “Many Ps give phones w/o guidance. Like giving a Ferrari w/o Driver’s Ed.” Like driver’s ed, cyber ed cannot be left to parents alone–our students’ online safety and education needs to be a joint effort.

If your class takes students into online spaces how do you protect them and what things do you do to educate them about online safety? How do you get parents on board and educate them as well? Is an online presence in classrooms worth the risk?

Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear your comments.

As part of my digital project I have been taking a MOOC called ‘Getting Started with MinecraftEdu’. I wanted to explore gaming and other ways to engage my primary learners and this looked like it would be a hit. Unfortunately, I hit a lot of snags with the MinecraftEdu download provided in the course and so I was unable to complete the module as it was designed.

So, to salvage something from the MOOC and still reach my goal of understanding Minecraft a little better, I bought the commercial version and gave it a try…

This is what the screen looks like when it first opens up. No objective, no instructions, this is it!

Minecraft launch screen

I clicked Singleplayer, created a new world with the click of a button and spawned in my first solo attempt at playing Minecraft. As the instructions were sketchy on how to move, where to go and what to do I promptly got killed by a zombie! I respawned and tried again, and again, and again, each time meeting with some ill-fate by way of zombie, skeleton crossbow, creeper, falling off a cliff…I think I even drowned once! Apparently I am not an intuitive Minecraft player!

So much for experiential learning! I decided to get some instruction. A search for Minecraft tutorials brings up tons of hits so I found one for beginners and learned a lot. This one was especially helpful. It highlights the importance of finding coal quickly, how to build a crafting table to build tools like a pick-axe and how to light torches and find shelter to keep the bad guys at bay!

Progress. Though I figured out what I was looking for it was evident I’m not adept enough at finding it before the zombies kill me off! Time to switch to ‘Peaceful’ mode. Yup, that’s right! It’s a wimpy way to play but given that I’m pretty green I’m allowing myself the cushy road for now!

My next hurdle was to actually find coal. Hmmm, the first tutorial never mentioned anything about what to do if you CAN’T find it…luckily, this one did!

Ok, so this is me playing Minecraft. I was trying to shoot a video that captured me freshly spawned in a new world but after a few failed attempts I’m taking you back to one where I actually found some success!

As you can see I’m no expert! I would have definitely benefited from being able to access the Tutorial World in my MinecraftEdu MOOC. The tutorial takes you through basic movement, picking things up, putting them down, the basics of digging and building and much more I’m sure! After exploring the tutorial world we were supposed to consider the following questions:

  1. What purpose does the tutorial world serve?
  2. Would you use the tutorial world to introduce MinecraftEDU to your students? Why or why not?
  3. What was the most challenging part of navigating through the tutorial world?

It’s obvious that the tutorial world would have helped me understand the objectives and basics of the game. I’d rather learn that way than spending hours and getting frustrated! However, the tutorials that I found independently were very useful. A word of warning though…like any teacher, the personalities of the gamers giving tutorials shines through and colors the presentation of the content (coarse language and all!) Another vote for using the tutorial world if you’re planning to implement this in class!

…Hmmm, perhaps my students shouldn’t be watching Minecraft videos at recess!

After the tutorial, the MOOC presented some considerations for classroom management. It stressed the importance of guidelines in the Minecraft classroom especially since behaviours are less observable on screen. Just like real world unkindness, online unkindness can pervade unless teachers promote a sense of community in the game. “Building and survival are easier with community mindfulness and a helpful mentality.”

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to access the next assignment where I’d have seen that community in action building a castle. I’m looking forward to checking out all the cool things you can build in ‘create’ mode and attempting a multiplayer game in my next forays into the Minecraft world.

5702068334_ccc14b31a0Photo Credit: kenming_wang via Compfight cc

The end of the MOOC encouraged us to consider how we would use Minecraft in the classroom. Here’s what I came up with:


Understand and describe how the land affects how we live (community development, resource management, socialization, social systems). Work with a team to problem solve and think critically. Understanding needs and wants. Understanding the value of diversity among community members.

Plans for Implementation

Minecraft Assignment – Carefully choose a spot within the given world. Build your shelter and feed yourself, and look after your needs/wants using resources from the land. *Remember: Besides our physical needs (food, water, shelter), we also have social and emotional needs. Incorporate some form of socialization and/or entertainment in your development. Consider how you can involve new members to your community.

Questions to Consider Before Implementation

  1. How would I set up this world for use with young students? (easy access to resources, examples of what socialization and entertainment would look like in Minecraft)
  2. How could I set up the assignment so students make connections to the real world?
  3. What kind of custom blocks would they require? What about placement of special blocks and resources? What about timing of gifts?
  4. How do you deal with social difficulties in virtual play? (assuming the real world relationships will extend to the virtual world)
  5. How much structure should be provided with regard to creating student groups?

Click here for tons more lesson ideas from the MinecraftEdu MOOC!

I’m not sure I’m any closer to trying Minecraft in my classroom. Besides my lack of skill there is the other matter of convincing my school board to purchase bulk licenses…though I think there is some interest. For now, I will continue looking into the world of digital gaming and seeking out games that are already tried and true in the classroom…and I may just build myself a castle!

What about you? Are you using gaming in the classroom?

If you are using games in the classroom which games have you found most successful? Any ‘must-have’s for primary students?

Thanks for sharing your ideas!




Inspiration struck!

“I know!”,

she thought,

“I’ll show them instead of tell them.”

And so it was that she began to tell stories through digital media.

She started with Animoto – a short video with a preset template. How could she go wrong really?

A handy little tool.  Hmmm, most Animoto videos she’d seen were much longer. “Are they paying or am I missing something?” she thought.

Bolstered by her success she forged ahead and bravely tried Pixton. After all, what kid could resist a comic?

The night wore on into the wee hours when the sky is emptiness and all is quiet (except for the clicking of the keys on the keyboard at the kitchen table.) She toiled and toiled. The mic worked, then it didn’t, then it did, then it didn’t, then…you get the picture. And finally, finally she saved the last changes and embedded the link…(a few times.)

And despite the fact that no self-respecting farm-girl would ever wear dress pants and heels in a barn she declared…

“This is how our next unit will begin.”

Her story was not done but the witching hour had long passed and beauty sleep alluded her yet again. She’d have to find another voice tomorrow. She closed her laptop and laid her weary head down only to take up the tale again another day.

This time she weaved her story with…Audacity

[ummm…so apparently Audacity is more about audio which IS digital but she thought the visual element was important so she thought she’d try something else.]

Here’s the puppet software she used called AnMish that she found on  50 Sites and Apps for Digital Storytelling.

They’re short and ridiculous but she could see kids having fun making them! For whatever reason the AnMish creations wouldn’t embed on their own so, like the Pixton comic above, she had to screen capture them and upload to YouTube first. She had tried EzVid but had quite a bit of trouble getting it to do what she wanted it to do. “Not so easy,” she sighed and decided to use Screencast-O-Matic instead.

“What’s next?” she thought, “I should try one more.”

She had heard about VoiceThread through her colleague, Kelly Christopherson so she thought she’d give it a try.

She uploaded some old photos, found some on Compfight and a video on Vimeo and voila, hours (and hours and many redos) later, she had her story. Here’s the short tribute to her family’s Remembrance Day Connections. Lest we forget.

It’s a little rough around the edges as far as production goes but she deemed the project a successful experiment. Here are the sources she used along with her family photos and archives.

poppy video – https://vimeo.com/32027057 via Michael Szefer

poppy photo – Photo Credit: jenny downing via Compfight cc

plane photo – Photo Credit: Jez B via Compfight cc

wheat field photo – Photo Credit: waferboard via Compfight cc

The midnight oil was spent yet again but she went to bed happy with her first attempts at the amazing world of digital storytelling.

The End.


In an effort to learn more about game-based learning to engage primary students I am presently pursuing a second gaming MOOC, ‘Getting Started with MinecraftEdu‘ from Canvas Network. Though I think I might enjoy playing Minecraft, I can’t see developing any sense of commitment or addiction for it. I confess…I am no gamer! I chose this MOOC for the potential to effect my teaching practice and so far it has been filled with lots of ups and downs on the path to learning.

minecraft guysPhoto Credit: Dunechaser via Compfight cc


Though the MOOC was advertised as a free course it requires the purchase of some software in order to participate fully. Had I read the fine print I would have noticed that earlier but as I hadn’t, I was stuck and deadlines were looming! The first mountain to climb.

alarm clockPhoto Credit: Alan Cleaver via Compfight cc

I decided to go ahead with the MOOC and do as much as I could while I was figuring out my software woes.  I took a stab at the commercial demo version of Minecraft which offered little to no explanation of what to do, why nor how to move so, for a newbie, it was not all that helpful. Thank goodness I had the help of a friend’s son who showed me around the software a little last spring. Honestly, if the demo is supposed to entice parents to buy it for their kids I think the marketing team needs to reevaluate.

With higher hopes for the MOOC, I got started. The beginning module provided some thought-provoking resources about the role and use of gaming in the classroom. My previous posts, ‘Turns out Gaming  is Good for You’ and ‘Digital Native or Immigrant?’, explore some of the viewpoints and research presented in those resources. Jane McGonigal’s TedTalk below was one of several gems I found.


I may just might spend the $41 on software to buy in…

After looking at gaming in general, the MOOC moved on to using Minecraft, specifically MinecraftEdu, in the classroom. Many of my young elementary students LOVE Minecraft and it would be awesome to leverage that motivation for learning curricular outcomes.


Ok, I’m in! Unfortunately, after deciding I’d go ahead and purchase the software I discovered that it is only available to educational institutions and they must buy client licenses in bulk along with the server version. Sigh, another mountain to climb. I checked in with our division tech consultants just in case we had access to the software but unfortunately ran into another roadblock. Now what? Keep climbing!

Not long after, I was excited to hear that our facilitator, Jason Schmidt, a techie in a Nebraska school division, got approval to allow us access to his MinecraftEdu server. This would allow the MOOC participants to try the tutorial world and some other minecraft adventures for the purpose of the course. Score! Things with my MOOC seemed to be on a smoother path!

But then, another mountain loomed before me.

mountainsPhoto Credit: Mr. Physics via Compfight cc

Despite the free access to the download my computer wouldn’t connect the dots to let me in. ARGH!!! I quickly posted to our instructor in the facilitator forum but given there are nearly 900 participants, his ability to reply in a timely manner is not very realistic. A fellow MOOC participant stepped in to help as did my school tech consultant but still no dice. The problem might be related to java blocking the software to protect the student data on my school laptop so I tried on my home computer. I figured I’d have better luck with Firefox than Explorer and had to update my adobe flash and in the process of downloading the browser (and who knows what else) ran into security troubles. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing especially when it comes to me and technology! Not sure what I did or what malware I downloaded but now my home computer is NOT happy. Sigh, keep climbing…

Despite the technology glitches, I’m determined to get as much as I can from this MOOC experience and my persistence was finally rewarded with the mother load of gems!

treasure chestPhoto Credit: Ro9.flickr via Compfight cc

In module 3 the MOOC goes in to how exactly to use Minecraft in the classroom. The Teaching with Minecraft section is a rich, resource page for all things Minecraft in education. You name it; it’s there…the motherload!

Need help getting started? Click here. Want to check out other worlds created by educators?  Click there. Examples by subject, Teacher cheat sheets, worksheets (everything from basic controls to farming guides and smelting guides), even how Minecraft can line up with curriculum standards. If you still need help there’s Minechat, a Google community for teachers, and a video for what it looks like in schools.

The resource rich page wraps up with over 20 links to articles, videos, research, websites, books and podcasts that explore game-based learning and advocate for its inclusion in mainstream education.

A few more that I pulled out…

Massively Misunderstood Minecraft – blog on purpose of minecraft in the classroom

Minecraft in education Scoop-it – even more resources

 Unorthodox uses of games in education

Podcast – games in learning

I’m not sure I’ll reach the top of the mountain that is my technology woes with this MOOC but even if I can’t complete all of it I have already mined lots of gems to polish and keep. If I can’t get my download to run I may just break down and buy the commercial version to play around with…I’m sure my sons can teach me how to use it! If not, there’s always the Minecraft Wiki and a zillion Minecraft YouTube tutorials to check out.

Are you using Minecraft or other digital game-based learning in your classroom? Please share your experiences with me!

And where to go from here? Keep climbing and keep mining!



I grew up in the 80s…there I said it. I had big hair, stretch jeans, LA Gears and a love for Def Leopard! I didn’t have a cell phone, facebook or instagram account (thank goodness!) but I did have floppy discs in my binder and went to a computer lab for class. We played Asteroids on a Commodore 64 (after waiting forever for the tape to load…surely some of you know what I’m talking about!) and Donkey Kong on the neighbour’s Playstation. Ah, good times!

80s rockerPhoto Credit: Rik Goldman via Compfight cc

(For the music aficionados this is actually Billy Sheehan from Mr. Big…and yes, I liked them too!)

Times sure have changed! Our learners have too.

When I read Marc Prensky’s Computer Games and Learning: Digital Game-Based Learning as part of the requirements for my MinecraftEdu MOOC, I was immediately taken with his idea of digital natives vs. digital immigrants. I was hopeful that I could classify myself in the former category–I don’t transfer from paper to computer; I collaborate online with colleagues; I’m active on social media–but alas, despite these savy digital behaviours, I fear I am an immigrant!

In his article, Prensky outlines ten ways digital natives are different and how we as teachers need to keep pace with their new learning style. Here’s his summary of how digital natives are different (though I encourage to check out the full article–a lengthy but fascinating read):

 Digital natives summaryp. 5

Ouch! That’s a damning indictment for many of today’s educators. So, can you teach an old dog new tricks or at least use their new tricks to our purposes? Prensky says we can. He purports that kids are already learning real life skills from playing video games. This is what he says they’re learning:

1. How – Game specific skills (useful or not depending on the game) and non-specific skills (ex. multi-tasking, perception)

2. What – The nature of rules and comparing rules in real life

3. Why – Game strategy and the nature of consequences

4. Where – Cultural context and ideology like good vs. evil and other messages within the game that become part of their schema or filter

5. When & Whether – Making moral judgments; comparing what the game is teaching them to their experiences in real life

There’s no question that there are both positive and negative aspects to the skills they are learning from gaming. (I’m pretty sure the old folks said the same thing about what my generation was learning from TV, right?!) It’s all about perspective, isn’t it?

7629235266_635ccdc570 (1)Photo Credit: JD Hancock via Compfight cc

“One wonders whether there’s any limit to what can be done in merging the addictive elements of computer games with effective instruction.”  Bob Filipczak

Prensky goes on to detail how to create games that are both fun and educational, a fine line to walk especially when educational designers typically “suck the fun out of” the game! (p. 13) His words, not mine! Despite the digital native’s desire for eye candy (ie. great visual imagery) it is the gameplay that makes or breaks a game. This is tough for instructional designers who are bound by curriculum. The other tough paradigm to shift is that for an educational game to fly it’s got to put fun first and learning second. (Read that again teachers! Not an easy task in this age of standardized testing and outcome accountability. Nevertheless, it is the task set before us.)

I sat in my staff room the other day and heard one of my colleagues mention how she had told her students she wasn’t here to put on a show for them. Hmmmm…perhaps we need to start?? It’s clear that many of us need some help and some resources at hand to begin. Here’s one place to start. Reaching digital natives (aka my young students!) is the very reason I’m researching game-based learning and taking the MinecraftEdu MOOC to begin with.

Prensky’s predicts that like the rise of the auto industry in the industrial world, digital game-based learning will become the norm in our digital world. With this new learning paradigm, educational DGBL has a lot of promise:

  • Increased learner motivation
  • Improved learning, competence and behaviour (and thus economy)
  • Increased rate of learning
  • Talent will out / easy access to successful, effective instruction
  • Game industry will focus on authors and style rather than publishers
  • Will gain worldwide exposure (like the movie industry)
  • Internet will be a competitive forum for best learning games
  • Gamers will enjoy classic educational games and look forward to new releases

With so much promise of digital game-based learning being the future, what’s a digital immigrant to do?

What every other immigrant does…

Learn the language, venture out, ask for help, and immerse yourself in their digital world…And yes, play a few video games too!

Digital natives vs Immigrants tagxedo

Learn more about Marc Prensky’s vision for educators to become ‘future-cators’ rather than ‘pastecators’.

Or check out his website.

If you have a moment to weigh in please add to my google doc Pros & Cons of Video Games in the Classroom.

Thanks for reading!



I have recently started a MinecraftEdu MOOC and have discovered some surprising things about gaming in the first module…it turns out gaming might just be good for you! Who knew! Haven’t we all been programmed (Did you catch the ironic turn of phrase there?) to immediately shun gaming as a time-waster and evil-doer especially among our youth?

kids playing video games

Photo Credit: inneedofhelp08 via Compfight cc

As a mom of two young boys I immediately notice when my kids are getting too much game time (whether it’s Angry Birds, Mario, Lego Star Wars…whatever!) In fact, not long ago, I declared a video game detox in our house, much to their chagrin, and at week’s end had a calmer, happier household. So, you can imagine my surprise when I watched Jane McGonigal’s TedTalk on how Gaming Can Make a Better World.

I initially found this talk on my colleague, Jenn Stewart Mitchell’s blog and had it on the ‘to view’ pile. Check out her post for more resources. Definitely worth the view! 

In her TedTalk, McGonigal says that if we could harness the power of gaming to real world rather than virtual problems our world could be a better place. To get good at anything one needs to spend a lot of time practising. Gamers collectively spend billions of hours gaming so what is it they are getting good at?

McGonigal outlines the following skills developed through gaming:

  1. Urgent Optimism – It takes extreme self motivation to tackle an obstacle and to believe in a chance of success.
  2. Social Fabric – We like people better after we’ve played a game with them! Playing together takes trust.
  3. Blissful Productivity – Humans are happier working hard than relaxing. We are optimized to do hard, meaningful work.
  4. Epic Meaning – Games provide awe inspiring missions! For example, the World of Warcraft wiki is the second largest wiki in the world! Talk about motivated gamers!!

This makes sense to me. When I listen to our youth you can hear the gaming culture resonate. They speak in terms of ‘power ups’ and ‘leveling up’ and I’ve seen them work forever just to try to master a level. Talk about determination!

McGonigal says gamers are “super-empowered, hopeful individuals. They believe they can change the world…the only problem is, it’s a virtual world.” To harness that power she suggests that we have to make our real world more like a game. Or, make real world problems into a game for people to solve. She shared the following examples:

World without oil 2


Superstruct game 2




The idea that gaming can make a better future gives me hope that our world can become a better place especially given the amount of time people are spending on video games! (Did I just say that?!)

I am also hopeful that my MinecraftEdu MOOC, despite my difficulties with software requirments and tech vs. teacher focus (Note to self: Always read the fineprint!), may just provide some gems for my teaching practice.