Monday, 5 March 2012


An interesting discussion broke out on twitter today, I probably should have kept my mouth shut, about the 'control' options included in MinecraftEdu. I was saying that they are handy to have, and that it is better to have them and not use them than to want to use them and not have them. The people 'arguing' the other side were of the opinion that it would be better if they weren't so handy, as this is what takes the power away from kids.

I do, on occasion, use the 'freeze student' command to get the students attention, is this taking away their power and making the learning less? I am not sure, it gives me the reassurance that the students are focused on 'me' or what I am saying and not on running around the world doing what they want. So for teaching a concept I don't think it lessens the learning. As for the relationship the student and I have it doesn't seem to have a negative affect their either, I think they understand why I do it and that I don't do it just because I want to, but because I want to make sure they are listening to my instructions.

I used the 'mute students' once in a class when the chat was going silly, does this bring the focus back to the learning, or does it take the power away from students to freely express themselves and therefore damage the learning? I think it brings the focus back.

As the discussion progressed it seems to me that perhaps I have the game based learning thing all wrong. The reason I am using games is to engage students in learning, to make it more interesting and more memorable so that perhaps they will remember it when needed. This does not seem to be what game based learning is all about. One tweet sticks in my mind.

“@Vormamim: @Tickleme_elfman not teacher/facilitator/mentor/instructor - in #gbl you're the play-maker. You are a non-playing character at most.”

Now this intrigues me. If I am not the teacher in my virtual 'classroom' and I am a 'play maker' as Dean suggests then the game is the teacher, what am I getting paid for? This is a massive shift in my 'teacher' self from someone who is 'in charge' of a group of students learning, to someone who, it appears, has no charge over students learning, other than creating the world that is in front of the students.

If this is the case how can I tie these two teachers together, remembering that not all of my class time is spent in a virtual world. Do I set up missions in which the students wander the virtual world gathering knowledge (how do I make this fun?) and then use real world time in class for them to demonstrate that they gained the supplied knowledge from the game?

I also need to take into account that it can not be just random knowledge gained (although incidental learning is great) it needs to be knowledge specific to what I am supposed to be teaching them according to my curriculum.

So where do I go from here. No idea at all. Do I keep creating concept specific maps like neurotransmitter map? Do I find a middle ground like my 3d cell map, where students have the learning already and use Minecraft to demonstrate knowledge gained? Or do I head into completely uncharted territory, for me at least, and make some more 'freeform' maps that do something?

My issue is that the impression I get is that if am going to use game based learning properly it needs to be the third option, but the reason that ends in 'something' is because I have no idea how to get there, I have no idea what it is, how it looks or how to go about building a map that suits it.

So as always I am opening up the floor to you, my loyal readers. Is what I am doing currently great work, or just a mediocre attempt to combine games and curriculum? Don't get me wrong, I am enjoying what I am doing too much to stop, but if people who have been doing this longer than I are saying that what I am doing is not quite right, or not the best for the students, then I need to change what I am doing so it is better for the students.


  1. I really don't think there is a right or wrong answer, personally. I've tried both approaches with different groups of students. Meaning, one group I provide a lot of structure and impose rules to direct them towards a learning goal. And in other groups I just "shut up and get out to the way". I have had successes and failures with both strategies.

    The more experience I get (and the more opinions I hear from other GBL teachers) brings me to this conclusion: It's a very personal decision on the part of the teacher which approach to take. It depends on their own teaching style, the content of the material, the philosophy of the school, the age(s) and dynamics of the students. And probably also that undefinable quality of being able to flexibly decide what will work best at a particular moment and running with it.

  2. Joel, I completely agree that it's a personal choice and one that is tied into your teaching style. Elfie, I'm happy to have been part of the inspiration for your reflection and post. I don't know what's the "right way" or the "wrong way", I just, as Joel pointed out, have made my own personal decision. I'm a new teacher and that, coupled with my own life experiences, has led me to view teaching from the constructivist point of view. I believe that students and teachers build their knowledge together, rather than have the teacher pour it out as the students listen. It's the whole "Sage on the Stage" vs "Guide on the Side" argument. With learning in general, and games based learning in particular, I usually fall on the Guide on the Side. Video games are a great way to engage learners, but the moment we try to cram an institutionalized curriculum in there, we kill that engagement. For me, using games and minecraft isn't about teaching a specific part of the curriculum. It's about engaging reluctant learners to spark enthusiasm and then help "guide" them through that learning. That's why minecraft is an amazing tool for teachers. It will open learning to even the most reluctant learner. What that learning is, I don't know until it happens. I've had kids suddenly get interested in (and then research and write about) volcanoes because of experiments with lava and water in game. During that process, they became a scientist asking a "What if . ." question. In this case "What if I mix water and lava?" From there, they wrote down their predictions and theories. Then they researched about lava and volcanoes and then they went in came and carried out their experiment (hacking away at a lava lake until it hit a river - they died a lot and learned not to fall in lava.) There was so much learning in that one experience. But all I could put on the report card was that their writing improved (and that they actually wrote!) The point is, I had no idea what this student was going to learn when I introduced him to minecraft. I was working to improve his literacy skills, so that's why I encouraged he document his thinking. The learning comes from the students. It must or video games become just another boring thing teachers make you suffer through until recess. We are at a very special time in education when kids get excited at the very thought of playing a video game in school. They will play the worst edutainment game over anything else a teacher can offer. That won't last. The group of kids who grow up with "video games at school" as the norm, won't bat an eye when the teacher pulls out the PS3. It'll be the game of school as usual.

    All this leads me to reiterate, I don't know the "right way". No one does. It's a personal choice that is very much in line with one's general view of teaching and the role of education.

    Hope this helps. Thanks again for sparking this very important discussion.


  3. Thank you both for sharing your thoughts. I am beginning to clarify my own thoughts about the discussion that happened. There are many issues that I need to consider, but paramount at the moment is really "Is what I am doing working for me and the students?" I think the answer is a definite yes. So where to from here, will it continue to work, who knows, will my teaching change, probably and it is only when these sorts of discussions happen that we can learn from one another, reflect on our current practice and move forward into a world that lies in the future. So I thank you again for adding to the pool of knowledge I have access to and for helping me on my journey.

  4. Hi! I just discovered that I had a reply written on my iphone to this discussion, that I never got around to posting. But the issue luckily never gets outdated...

    I would say with my current experiences in mind, if a teacher wants a certain outcome of a session of play he is going to have to define some boundaries.
    This is a kind of tightrope to be balanced by the teacher, since what you can be doing is hijacking the game. Its like saying " lets go out onto the soccerfield and do maths, but we're not going to take the ball with..." . A lesson like this could be fun depending on what the teacher has up his sleeve, but one can imagine some might feel slightly dissapointed about entering a soccerfield without a ball.
    So this makes me feel obliged to make it clear to students what the game environment is being used for. If the lesson just utilizes the game environment - and the elements of play, and not to mention fun, blur away - whats the point of using a game? I also think the initial fascination of working in a game will be short lived unless the students feel that they are having fun and not being dissapointed by a teacher who has invaded their playground and "confiscated their ball".
    With that said, I believe that when teaching, the teacher should be practising some form of leadership. Most importantly setting goals and aims up for the activities in the games. Evaluating a session of play can also become vague if criteria for success haven't been established. So to answer the question on whether teachers should practise control - I say yes!
    Still, teachers should keep in mind that some of the most valuable learning can take place "out of the box". Most learners with a curious nature will seek out boundaries, to break the rules and thrive in an environment that gives them freedom to roam, discover and create. So teachers should keep this in mind and maybe facilitate a kind of "controlled non control", to see which directions their students take in the environment.