Monday, July 16, 2012

Minecraft Memories from 2012

This past week was actually kind of busy. I spent two days at the Ontario Library Association to help add content to the Together For Learning website, and on the day this week that my children attend their comic design workshop at Little Island Comics, I had a meeting with amazing educators Denise Colby and Liam O'Donnell to discuss the TDSB Multi-School Minecraft Project.

We met at Snakes and Lattes, an incredible cafe where you can play any board game imaginable while you sip your beverage; it was a testament to how engrossing our conversation was that we never got around to playing any of the board games there! We discussed what worked with the TDSB Multi-School Minecraft Project, what didn't work, our next steps for September, and the future of GamingEdus. Our GamingEdus group will be presenting three times in the next twelve months (Academy of the Impossible = August 2012, Educational Computing Organization of Ontario = October 2012, Ontario Library Association = February 2013) and we'll need to plan for those presentations, but those talks don't stress me out - we've done the TLCafe and TeachersTeachingTeachers webinars together, as well as a Toronto Comic Arts Festival (although that was on comics, not Minecraft, but we definitely squeezed in some Minecraft references).

At one point in the conversation, Denise joked that she remembered griping in teachers' college about all the reflections they forced us to complete; "when will I ever do that when I'm really teaching?" We all laughed at that. This group reflection time was so beneficial to all of us. I know I learned quite a bit as we reminisced and recounted some of the events from this year's club experiment. Here were some of my personal "ahas" during our Minecraft Meeting.

1) Collecting / documenting evidence can be both easy and tricky.

We have a variety of artifacts to demonstrate the authentic learning and the benefits. The students wrote on the wiki, Each educator kept their own journal (I kept two - one on the Minecraft Club Hub and one on the GamingEducators wiki). We took screen shots and photos and made audio and video recordings of the conversations that went on during club get-togethers. Considering that we only really got started playing in March, we have quite a bit of data. The challenging part is how and where to share. Liam, Denise, and I have tried to be as transparent as possible but sometimes there are some anecdotal records that might reveal too much about the students behind the avatars - how do we share that kind of information?  Do we need to code our evidence, to show that sample X demonstrates an increase in literacy skills / numeracy skills / social skills? Is the type of evidence we have collected persuasive, or do we need more quantitative information?

2) Sometimes, disasters are good. 

We had some great moments of inter-school collaboration, like when we all teamed up to defeat a horde of ghasts someone had spawned, or when two individuals from separate schools played with red stone switches together. However, we also had moments of conflict, like when one student asked to share their house with someone from another school and when they agreed, the newcomer hit the home-owner (in-game) and took some of their stuff. Trying to take a group photo of all the players on the last day of the club was another challenging endeavor. These moments of strife were actually just as educational, if not more so. I can't share more details about the first situation, but it led to some good conversations with students at both schools. I learned about myself that I tend to step in immediately (sometimes too soon) to "fix" the problem but there are many reasons for actions and many solutions to problems.We could use our moderator powers to restrict what gets built where and what gets destroyed by whom, but (and thanks Denise for writing this down as a "Diana quote"), although that would be the easy way out, "it's not the learning way out".

3) Never underestimate the impact Minecraft has on players.

I knew the students enjoyed Minecraft Club, but I don't think I realized how important it was to them.
One of my students wrote for his grad comment in the yearbook ""Appreciation to Ms. Mali for starting Minecraft Club - it was fun and helped me develop my teamwork.". Students have written on the wiki that Monday was their favourite day of the week because that's when Minecraft Club was held at their school. A group of students came to see me in June to beg that they be allowed to continue in the Minecraft Club next year and offered me money so they could buy their Minecraft account. Another group made their own server and invited me to visit - a huge privilege, in my books. These are students that I wouldn't normally get to converse with on a level like this. They've taught me so much and they know so much; it's a shame that traditional schooling does not honour this sort of knowledge and skill set.

4) Rather than fight the people who are "doing it wrong", show the route we are taking.

This is a tough lesson for me. Many people are interested in games in education, but to learn more, they are turning to people and groups who are more into gamification (the "Frankensteining" of certain elements of games like badges, levels, and rewards, and applying them to lessons or units, which demeans both games and education). I've tried to dialogue with some of these people in a respectful way, but I either get ignored or indirectly criticized. (Trust me, it's hard not to name some of the culprits here, but I don't want to start a flame war!) Liam suggested Tweet Deck to sort my contacts and lower my blood pressure, and he recommended that my time and energy would be better spent demonstrating how allowing students to take the lead in determining what to do in-game and how to play, rather than micro-managing their activities, provides greater learning opportunities. We'll be having a GamingEdu open house in August so educators can have a chance to play themselves (a key foundation of the Gaming Edu philosophy), so stay tuned.

Thanks again to Liam and Denise - this is a true Professional Learning Community, one that I'm proud to be a part of. I'll play with posting reflections here as well as on Gaming Edus, Minecraft Club Hub, and Family Gaming XP (but I don't want you to get Minecrafted out!).

Yes, I own a Minecraft creeper head. So?

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