Games-Based Learning: Massively MineCraft Open Day (in which I learn to fly)

I recently attended an online Open Day on Massively Minecraft. It was probably the steepest learning curve I’ve encountered in a while, perhaps since primary school, honest! And here is what I learned.

Massively Minecraft (MM) is a guild or ‘ learning community  for kids and their parents – exploring how to live, work and play in MineCraft.'(MM site)  It had been recommended to me by several colleagues in my PLN as an excellent working model of an educational  private-server community for Minecraft. I was very impressed with MM’s website as I had a look around before the big day. My colleagues were right MM is an excellent model. Here are some things I hadn’t thought of but will definitely adopt:

  1. Their server is a white-listed site. This means they have a set of conditions that users must agree to before they can join and they must fill out an application form.
  2. They have a community charter which was developed by the users (kids) and outlines the community’s rules of engagement. They set the culture and tone of the site and are mostly digital citizenship rules.
  3. The site uses a subtle incentive scheme called Ranks. As MM users demonstrate their willingness to be good citizens online and improve their skills and real estate, they can level-up or climb the ranks. Levelling up gives access to further powers, resources and other areas or worlds.
  4. The site offers forums for users to discuss, share their achievements, and ask questions. These all looked very positive in nature and you get a real sense of community happening from reading them. I also liked that the administrators include and seek input from the users on how the community runs.

So after reading all of this I am excited but starting to realize the size of the commitment in starting up a private server group. (I’m going to definitely need more teacher interest in order to share the love! and the moderation).

As the day/time for the Open Day draws near, I open an account with MineCraft and my older son and Miner Extraordinaire tries to give me a primer on the commands. I find I can’t even walk around properly. Oh dear, this is like kindergarten! Besides just the regular WASD commands (apparently similar in most games) MM has a commands list for their ranks.

When the Open Day starts, I log-in and I am assigned a tour guide to show me around. I did feel sorry for him as I was completely overwhelmed by having to walk, look, read and talk at the same time. There were so many other people on as well that I had a hard time keeping track of my guide in both the dialogue box and in the world. He took me to his mine, past some giant statues, showed me how to chop down trees, go through portals, and how to fly! After all that he got the admin to give me my own temporary spot in the world and permission to try building something then left me to experiment. I tried building a little house (pretty sad effort) and then decided just to wander/wonder around, play tourist. The part that impressed me most? Probably the big hall you first land in with the charter up on all the walls, but there were lots creative efforts happening out in the general community – castles, gardens, fountains, parks …

The experience was truly one of being on the border of a new frontier, a settler in a foreign land. My skills were low, my motivation high and the possibilities (from what I’d seen) endless. I now understand the attraction of playing this game, am in awe of the dedication and effort some of these kids put into their guild. the richness of it is obvious – MM even spells out the educational advantages of it (scroll down the link page to find Massively EdVentures – The 12 Challenges Learning Framework). I am now even more determined to offer this opportunity to students in our school community.


Games-based Learning: Hunting and Planning


After talking with my boss (Head of Learning Resources) and with one of the school IT staff who is very supportive of games-based learning, we have decided to pursue setting up a Minecraft private server and beginning a small after-school group in the library next term. The MinecraftEDU wiki has been an invaluable source of information about getting started with this. We plan to purchase a few seats and find a few reliable students who are already keen Minecrafters to mentor a select group of interested teachers and students. 

MineCraft has a fantastic YouTube channel with how-to videos as well as promotional ones. I’ve embedded their official trailer below – I am always amazed at the creative/design possibilities; I know I’m about to hit a steep learning curve and don’t know how much time I want to devote to skilling up in this game but I do want to get good enough to gain a real appreciation for what can be done with MineCraft. 


SimCity (Urban Planning elective)

One of the younger teachers at the school recently approached me wanting some help with finding resources for her Urban Planning class. She wondered about the possibilities of using SimCity so this is a second game we are looking to use in teaching and learning. The biggest problem so far is finding a legal version to purchase and download – there is no shortage of sites selling illegal ones! We had originally wanted one of the older SimCitys that didn’t have so many bells and whistles — the older versions concentrate more on the actual principals of design, but the hunt is proving difficult. We found out that the code for the original SimCity was released into the public domain a few years back and that some schools were using this free option. It sounded good!.

After a few days though, I got this note from Dion, my IT Guy:

I had a good look at Micropolis (the free version of SimCity) on the weekend, and no matter what I did, I couldn’t get it working on Windows, and I couldn’t get it working through the web.  None of the code has been updated since 2008, so it may be that our computers and version of Windows are ‘too new’ to run it (I also had to install a bunch of stuff to support it).  I did get it working on Linux, but I don’t think we’d be able to get connections to a Linux server working in time to be useful.

We may end up having to buy one of the newer versions after all. In the meantime I found that there was a relatively cheap iPad app, SimCity DLX so Caroline (the Urban Planning teacher) and I loaded it up and had an explore. She is really pleased with what it can do. Our iPad program begins next year and only for Year 7’s so this is not an option for the Year 10 classes, but if worse comes to worse, Caroline could use her iPad and play the game a few times using whole class decision-making sessions. Students then have the option to play at home on their own as reinforcement.

In my surfing travels I also ran across this resource which looked worthwhile: SimCity and Urban Planning 

This is a WikiBook and is a guide for ‘ the casual learner about how Will Wright’s popular game SimCity relates to urban planning and how concepts were utilized in the game.’ (WikiBooks). 

Given the challenges so far, I think I’m going to limit my pursuits to these two games.



Games-based Learning: My PD goal for 2012

Video games by Caitlan Monahan

Video Games courtesy Caitlan Monahan Flickrcc

I’m a big fan of play – it is one of the most authentic, engaging, rewarding modes of learning.

My old school (primary) was heavily into play-based learning but now I work in a high school. We have rules banning students from many online games and I understand some of the reasons why (time/task management issues, IT issues), but I want to bust through that rule and claim gaming as a tool for students and teachers.

I’m not a gamer; I don’t even know a lot about the world of online games except what I’ve watched (and ok, played a bit) as my sons grew up – they loved Runescape, WofW, Sims etc. and what I saw was good (apart from the odd blood splatter). They had to deal with online social issues sure, but even those were worthy learning experiences.

So this year I’ve made investigating and implementing some online games-based learning activities as my Professional Learning goal for 2012.

Step 1 has been about building knowledge and exploring the topic. Here’s a quick look at what I’ve been looking at:

What is Games-based Learning?

This great blog piece (click on the title above) helped me understand the different ways games can be applied to education/learning:

  1. Educational games apps to teach skills
  2. non-educational games to use in conjunction with a topic
  3. non education games that inspire or engage in a learning project

Favourite quote from the piece:

I see a great potential in what I call non-educational games becoming a learning experience for young children. When I explain this to others, I start by explaining all of those other events we plan for our early years children such as going on a walk, visiting the post office, hanging the washing out to dry… When we are performing these tasks, they are not educational. It is what we do as educationalists before, during and after the event that makes it educational.

Pedagogy always comes first!

Victorian PLN: Unit 11: Gaming in Education

The State Library of Victoria’s Learning Services put together a very comprehensive introduction to gaming in education as part of their PLN program. It’s definitely worth working your way through it even though the program is finished. It covers all the 5W’s. It also includes  a wonderful webinar that was put on by Paul Callaghan, games developer and the organizer of FreePlay Independent Games Festival. The webinar is available to watch and really filled some gaps in my knowledge

“Games in Education” Webinar

Paul covered the opic of how games of all sorts have shaped us, and talked about:

  • games as tools
  • games as culture
  • how games create a space for learning
  • games literacy (and how important it is)

I also subscribe to a stream called, Are You Game, curated by Judith Way (thanks Judith!). Judith is great at including all the current trends, research, news and educator’s blogs out there.

One of the articles I ran across has given me some real insight on directions and interests of the large players in the educational games arena.

For the Win: Serious Gamification: Gaming as an educational Tool

My favourite quote from this article:

Anthony Salcito (Vice President of Worldwide Education, Microsoft):

Anthony wants to lift the way in which technology makes a difference in the classrooms by looking at the motivation of the learner or player of the game. He says there has to be a platform of optimism making students feel they have an impact in their world and community so that learning becomes relevant to what they hope to achieve. Students who get an “F” on their papers conclude they can’t understand that subject whereas with a “Game Over” screen, gamers come back and try harder while learning from their mistakes. So the assessment models in schools are often not motivating while the language of games has an incentive for students to learn from their mistakes and move on.

However, I disagree with Mr. Salcito when he says teachers are saying students learn better by teachers teaching to the test. This is a system that is being forced on teachers, not chosen by them.

Step 2: is all about talking to members of the school community and strategic planning. I’ll blog about that in my next post.