Posts Tagged ‘Edtech’

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.

 

 

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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!

 

 

 

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!”
“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!