Posts Tagged ‘Gaming’

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!

 

 

 

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.