Posts Tagged ‘Gamification’

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.




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!




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: 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!



My major digital project for ECI 831 has morphed a little since its inception. I originally planned to work on student blogging for my project but given my half-time nature and the unsettled classroom dynamic I postponed that plan until later in the year. That left me looking for another project direction…

481541343_35d3b46710 (2)
Photo Credit: MC =) via Compfight cc

As a teacher new to the primary world I wanted to learn more about how to incorporate game-based learning into my teaching practice and so I set out to craft my project around that. I planned to look at how to engage young learners through games, technology and other play based methods and I thought the MOOC project option would be a great way to do it. I found three related MOOCs–Gamification in Education, iPads in the classroom and Getting Started with Minecraftedu–and got started.

As I completed the six module self-paced Gamification MOOC I was anxious to put my learning into practice before starting the iPad MOOC. Here are some of the game-based activities I’ve implemented thus far with my Grade 2s:

1. Rural or Urban – Students wrote rural and urban on opposite sides of a mini-whiteboard. I showed pictures on the board via the data projector and they had to guess rural or urban using their whiteboard ‘paddles’ as markers.

2. Compass Directions – Each student received a coloured paper arrow. I called out north, south, east or west and students had to point their arrow in the right direction. The last student pointing to the correct direction had to sit down until the round was over.

3. Scout Patrol Community Walk – Rather than simply go for a neighbourhood walk to learn about our community I staged the activity as an ordered scout patrol of this new planet to determine what the life forms were like and how they lived. The students loved being ‘Privates’ on patrol and the cross curricular hits (Drama, Phys. Ed and Social) were a bonus.

4. Survey Researcher – This was another staged learning activity where students were researchers for fictitious companies collecting data on favourite things, for example. In our next lesson they will create a bar graph to present their findings at a company meeting. We added a couple props-a company name tag, and clipboard-to make it more official!

Company Researcher pic

5. Helping the Hogwarts Owlery – Today (with the help of a couple of co-conspirators) our next adventure (and owl unit) began! An ‘owl’ delivered a letter from Professor Dumbledore requesting our help with the owls in the Hogwarts Owlery while Hagrid recovered from illness. The students at Hogwarts will do the actual work but require us to provide the information since they are busy studying for their OWLS;)! Should we require any prompting I bet we may just see another letter from the esteemed Professor Dumbledore! While the Harry Potter reference didn’t click with all of my young students, the excitement and number of reports of owl sightings went up tenfold:)! Again I’m excited to see the cross-curricular outcomes addressed in this staged adventure-from learning non-fiction text features to classifying and presenting information and of course, the obvious life science outcomes.

Letter from Dumbledore

In the midst of my game based learning I discovered that the free iPad MOOC I planned to take was unfortunately NOT free. (sad trombone…) Though it felt like I had too much lag time in between the next MOOC it did provide me the time to create the gaming experiences I described above.

At this point I was thinking I might just throw it all in and create one metagame for a local history unit I plan to introduce after Christmas. I want to again incorporate the drama element but include more technological features like having them solve puzzles or riddles on apps to earn clues or research online.

While I contemplate the metagame project the third MOOC begins! My young students, particularly the boys, are enthralled with Minecraft. Last spring I spent some time with a friend’s son getting familiar with the game but at the time I didn’t think it addressed enough curriculum outcomes to make it worth the hassle of attempting it with my grade threes given the short amount of time we had.

I’m hoping this Getting Started with Minecraftedu MOOC will push me over that threshold to attempting it with my students.

Onward and upward!

If you have any great game resources or ideas for my students please send them my way!





The sixth and last module of my Gamification MOOC brought the concept of games in the classroom full circle for me. The most basic reason to use games with students is to make learning fun by adding a special element to grab their attention and engage them in the experience. The last module focused on that ‘active ingredient’ that tweaks a student’s attention. The MOOC likened it to selling snake oil…the buyer must only BELIEVE in the experience.


His very enthusiasm caused people to buy.”

The MOOC author, Dr. Tom Benjamin, discussed the pedagogical impact of a number of innovative methods including novelty, fortune teller (feedback likely to be true for anyone), John Henry (outperform a machine or standard), placebo, Hawthorne (social response to the ‘experiment’), and intermittent reinforcement.

With the novelty, placebo effects and others, there is a decay effect wherein the effect will wear off. Yet, just like in medicine the benefits of the placebo cannot be undervalued. Patients need to believe in the treatment just like students need to be engaged in the game.

Dr. Benjamin challenged us with the following task:

How would you level the playing the field for a traditional method

by adding placebo effects to make it fashionable and esoteric?

Here’s what I came up with:

  • Traditional method – Lecture & answer questions
  • Level the playing field – team element, roll dice, draw for questions,
  • Placebo effects – earn points, earn levels (esoteric)
  • Fashionable – submit answers by video/pic using iPad; tweet answers

The second of three videos addressed tailoring games to the particular audience using their interests and personalities rather than abilities as direction. He suggested Holland’s RIASEC model as a framework for tapping all of those areas of interest. Once you target a task for game development teachers should look at the opposite RIASEC spectrum as well. A gamelet (mini-game) could be developed for each component and could help students with their weaker aspects. For example, someone strong in hands-on (Realistic) skills would benefit from a game to help with the opposite component like role playing to strengthen Social skills.

RIASEC model


Here is a metagame (unit) I sketched out about Owls using the RIASEC model:

Gr. 2 Life science Animal Unit – Owls

  • Realistic – Look at images of owls, Outdoor Ed Owl presentation, Burrowing Owl exhibit
  • Investigative – What kind of owls live in Saskatchewan? Find out data about owls
  • Artistic – Create a visual art project in conjunction with a creative writing story about owls
  • Social – Work in teams on the investigative portion
  • Enterprising – Raise awareness about owl habitat and the owl’s role in our ecosystem
  • Conventional – put together a report of your findings; complete a unit quiz

What I thought was very interesting and gave a lot of credibility to the MOOC was that Dr. Benjamin did not tout games as the only answer to education nor did he suggest a list of ‘must-have’ software or apps. He said educators shouldn’t waste games on things that are already popular and easy to learn but rather start with the resources we already have and gamify when necessary. Creating those gamelets is the opportunity to add the flash that software and apps can offer. However, the true power of the game for education lies in the gamemaster’s ability to set up the structure of the game and set the scene to motivate and engage our young learners. 


Isn’t it every kid’s dream to don a cape and save the world? How can we implement the element of the Hero’s Journey or Superhero Stages into educational games? How can we tap every kid’s ‘super power’ or, alternatively, bestow a ‘super power’ upon them?



Photo Credit:  Malabooboo via Compfight cc

Module 5 of my gamification MOOC looked at these questions and outlined how to use the structure of the hero’s journey or Superhero Stages (below) to create hero scenarios for learning.

Hero’s Journey / Superhero Stages

  • Common Day
  • Call to Adventure / Discover their superpower in small daily activities
  • Exraordinary Trials
  • Help from a Wise Mentor / Decision to use their powers daily OR Save them for the greater good
  • Achieving the Goal/Boon
  • Self-Knowledge Gained in the Process / Develop an ambiguous relationship with their powers and the responsibilities that come with them
  • Return to the Ordinary World
  • Application of the Boon

Students are encouraged to identify with the main character or hero in the metagame (such as a unit of study or cross-curricular challenge). The hero then faces trials in the form of puzzles, clues, tasks, and competitions (gamelets within the larger metagame). The reward or boon is the prize or intrinsic value of completing the mission.

Students can display special powers within small group tasks or classroom jobs. Each can be given a special role. They can obtain new powers by being given the new job (and a physical token ie. a hat), by completing a certain number of tasks, by trading up, by chance (roll/draw), or by being assigned by the gamemaster (teacher).

Kids are definitely motivated when they are the expert or the helper. Giving kids special roles within groups can help them take ownership of the task. When they can see themselves in these positive roles they are motivated to do amazing things!

This MOOC was initially run with a cohort of students well over a year ago and now remains online as a self-paced MOOC. In this module I took more advantage of checking back through the student chat area to get further explanation and more ideas of how to use the concepts. The chat offered reinforcement and also additional ways to think about the concepts. I would appreciate having that group of students to bounce ideas off and to be accountable to. I can see that when the cohort originally took the course, they posted their homework answers in the chat but no where in the self-paced version do you have to submit your work until the module quizzes. I think 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. 

I’m back in the saddle of my Gamification MOOC! Here are my thoughts on modules 3 & 4 discussing the applications of gamification in education–the motivation for enrolling in this MOOC in the first place.

Why gamify?

Points to Ponder . . .

1. Games don’t necessarily enhance the learning results. However, they can provide the motivation to learn in the first place.

This surprised me. I thought games would guarantee better learning. Apparently not so!

2. The status of the prizes doesn’t necessarily enhance motivation. Students will covet the ‘prize’, whatever it is, simply because it’s difficult to obtain. It’s all about changing the perception of the activity. Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer had it all figured out when he turned his ‘whitewashing job’ into a coveted and marketable activity:

via Games in Education-Gamification MOOC by Dr. Tom Benjamin

This makes complete sense. Mention the word ‘game’ in a primary classroom (probably any classroom!) and eyes light up like a dog’s seeing its owner grab the leash!

3. Although a game isn’t standardized like a test it can be used as assessment.  However, assessing using games requires students to complete enough rounds or attempts. It’s all in the statistical analysis.

Hmmm…Ok, at this point in the MOOC I’m beginning to feel a little inundated by theory and sorely lacking a background in statistical analysis! 

4. Games can’t always make it easy to learn something difficult but maybe they can make us feel better about ourselves as we try! There are a myriad of ways to level the playing field in a game from the inclusion of a set number of rounds (like a 3 period game) or abrupt changes in conditions (like ‘trump’) to different weightings (like a 3 point shot) or an unseen but finite pool (like the ‘crib’ hand).

Chance generators or levelers provide the unpredictability necessary in a game and are easy enough to understand until I try to apply them in a classroom game situation. More contextual examples please!

5.  A game design providing a scenario can help level the playing field. A scenario or other meta-activity (project) can incorporate a number of ‘boring’ or ‘difficult’ objectives that are turned into mini-games or gamelets. Including cross-curricular outcomes can expand the connections for students and make for a richer, more diverse game environment.

Hey! I’ve even used this one before! My grade 3 students were a team journalists discovering Iqualuit last year.

6. Intermittent rewards are the most motivating. It’s the reason gamblers get addicted to the slots!

Ok, how can I incorporate Skinner’s intermittent reward theory into classroom games? Right now we have a ‘golden broom award’ for the cleanest tables at the end of our school day. Is this an example of prize status or intermittent rewards? My son’s music teacher has a vending machine for student practise. Some weeks it’s open; some weeks it’s not. Bingo!

7. Students will employ the ‘Grasshopper Effect’ to balance out any cognitive dissonance they experience. If you ate a grasshopper at the request of a respected peer you could admit you didn’t like it; if you did it for someone you didn’t respect you’d need to find another reason for complying in order to rid yourself of the inner conflict.

So, by offering all the bells and whistles are we denying our students from learning the intrinsic value of education? Should we be gamifying in education or not?

More questions than answers generally means there’s a lot more to learn. On to module 5!