Friday, July 4, 2014

Playing Student Esme Builds a Sand "Castle" in Minecraft

During this module of my Games and Simulations class (sometimes called Teaching and Learning in Virtual Worlds), my students entered the Marlboro MinecraftEdu Server for the first time. We met synchronously on the college server to explore the training world that TeacherGaming offers. After the class ended I moved the Spawn block to The Neighborhood and created an assignment that students receive on logging into the server.

The assignment. Respawn in The Neighborhood. Visit Esme's home and pick up supplies. Explore the area and build a structure to serve as home.

Today I logged in as a student and completed the assignment. I went to Esme's (my) home and picked up only tools. I admit that I took advantage of my prior knowledge and chose two each of Iron tools (eschewing the wooden and stone tools). My home is positioned at the corner of three biomes.

The sand dune will serve as the back wall of my "castle."
Since my goals was to build something new for me I headed to the desert to build a sand castle. With my shovel I dug and leveled a sandy area. I began to build my castle with one wall being the dug out side of a sand dune.

A good sand castle has windows. I have plenty of sand to make glass, but I need wood for a crafting table, rock for a furnace and coal to cook the sand. In a nearby biome I found trees. Using my Axe I chopped some wood, made wood panels, then built a crafting table. Pick axe in hand I located some rock with which to make a furnace.

Once I mine this coal I will be able to make Glass blocks
for windows
I located some exposed coal near my sand castle. Sand plus Coal in a furnace makes Glass blocks. Because sand falls, I could not leave open windows.

Who's there? Pansy has arrived to work on her beautiful home. It's always a good time to take a break and get inspiration from another builder.
Pansy's home is built of cobble stone and wood. I love her
inlaid wood panel flooring.
After a nice visit, I return to my labors and complete my castle. A little more mining was necessary. It is not possible to make a sand roof - again because sand falls. Under packed sand a careful miner can dislodge compressed sandstone - an excellent building material. I actually found some under the floor of my castle. After filling in my floor with pure sand I positioned the sandstone roofing.
Here you can see my sand, sandstone and glass structure.
A welcome sign finishes the job.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Family Movement Demonstration with Mapalist and Google Forms

Ever need to create an interactive map? In this case I mean that not only does the map interact with the viewer, but the viewer can change or contribute to the map. I prepared the following for the OSU extended campus to demonstrate this function.
The students in this class are charting the movement of generations. You can participate. Use the form below the map to pin where your family members were born. You can choose to enter details or just city state and country.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

XP and ME

XP, or experience points, are touted as one of the innovations possible when gamifying instruction. It isn't a new concept. Systems of reward are a hallmark of shaping learned behavior in the behaviorist approach to teaching and training. Many of us raise our eyebrows at the notion of handing out M&Ms every time a learner takes a tiny step toward our learning goals. And from the learner's point of view what good is an XP? It isn't even made of chocolate.

But there is something to this XP thing that I want to explore.

For many of us seeing our XP stack up and our rank change is compelling for no apparent reason. Especially when the accumulation of XP can lead to better virtual (non-existent) equipment, access to virtual (non-existent) places to perform virtually harder (non-existent) missions. I quip but when we are in a game or a virtual world the virtual (non-existent) becomes very important and real.

Aside from our pleasure at receiving virtual tokens for our successes, there are more pedagogically significant reasons for employing XP meaningfully. Sure, engagement is important, but XP can also causes us to think radically about assessment and risk taking. XP turns our usual approach to both Assessment and Risk taking upside down.

Assessment and motivation.
Ordinarily a learner begins class with an A, 100. Everything she does from that first day on has the chance of maintaining her A or reducing this starting grade to 99, then 98, then 97.  Alternatively, a learner who receives XP for her work, starts with 0 xp. Everything she does from that first day on has the chance of either maintaining her 0 or increasing her XP to 1, then 2, then 3. In other words in the traditional model there is no where to go but down. Who came up with that?

Assessment and risk taking.
When everything you do has the chance of reducing your 100, the safest course of action is to, err, play it safe. This assessment approach encourages learners to figure out what won't cause them to lose. Thinking creatively is risky. On the other hand when XP are at stake, trying anything is better than doing nothing. Failure doesn't take away points. So risk taking is valued in an XP system.

What's in a name?
It is not important that this upside down approach occur within the context of "gamification" strategies or even that one uses the words experience points or XP. The value of XP as it is used in games is that it reminds us that assessment doesn't have to take the traditional form. The significant change occurs when we base our assessments on learners successes rather than on their failures. And this isn't a new idea either. Just as rewards in learning have their earliest appearance in BF Skinners work, the idea of assessing success is a hallmark of mastery learning introduced to us by Benjamin Bloom in 1971.

_Bloom, B. S. (1971). Mastery learning. In J. H. Block (Ed.), Mastery learning: Theory and practice(pp. 47–63). New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
_Skinner, B.F. (1953). Science and Human Behavior. New York: Macmillan

Friday, January 31, 2014

Teaching and Learning in Immersive Environments Redeux

The Spring semester has begun and I have a new group of virtual travel companions. 15 Graduate students from UAlbany have blasted off into the Metaverse with me as their guide. Last night ten of us got together in Jokaydia for a fireside chat and a visit to North Country Island.

These intrepid adventurers have been on board for little over a week. Yet the conversation has already included embodied "feelings" (like modesty, clumsiness, disappointment); norms of behavior; and educational affordances. And of course we have already experienced the challenges of technology when it doesn't work - see the embodied cloud in the image.

In our exploration of the educational application of games, gaming theory, and constructive virtual worlds, I like to wrap our work in gamification features. A narrative storyline, discreet tasks that are rife with failure and success, collaborative missions and of course leveling. Management of all of this is always the challenge to me the game master/instructor. Upfront planning saves a lot on day to day upkeep to be sure. And though I intended to build the course in 3-D Gamelab, I just have not wrapped my mind around how to do it. So I stayed in [Argghhh] Blackboard with lots of pieces in Google docs. I am very pleased with my massively formulated Google spreadsheet documentation strategy. XP and levels are calculated immediately when travelers check off missions they've done. And of course their artifacts are dropped in their inworld portfolio for me to see. But "it ain't pretty." Every year I tweak and expand and learn. Mostly I learn. Let's see what I learn most this time around.

Take Aways from Vermont Fest 2013

Vermont Fest is the annual fall Educational Technology workshop sponsored by VITA-Learn, Vermont's ISTE affiliate.

Thursday was Minecraft day for me. Sally Bisaccio, Mike Beardsley, William and I gave a collaborative presentation to a standing room only, spilling into the hall, crowd. Called "Minecraft: This will Blow Your Mind," our talk was very well received and led to the making of many connections with fellow educators and fellow gamers. The big take away for me is that "kid" perspective is powerful.

Thanks to our older kid, Mike, for our theme and for the video of him blowing stuff up in Minecraft. Thanks to our chronological kid, William, for being charming, enthusiastic, and easy with answers and demonstrations! [The crowd had a great experience because of you.] Links to our presentation material is here.