Friday, May 25, 2018

The Enduring Spirit of Webheads in Action

In March of this year I attended the International TESOL Conference in Chicago, where at the Wiley publishers' booth I was able to lay my hands, literally, on a copy of my chapter in the TESOL Encyclopedia of English Language Teaching.

Vanessa Vaile. who shared on my timeline the picture I had posted to Facebook earlier, has been a participant in many MOOCs I have participated in myself, including the one I founded in 1998, before the term was coined, Writing for Webheads, and after 2002, Webheads in Action,

Here was the byline of my original post:

There were numerous replies on my post. Here is a sampling taken off the top of the feed:

Communications with the publisher suggest that I am permitted to post a pdf of my chapter on my personal website, so here it is: Stevens, V. (2018). Webheads. In Liontas, J. (Ed.). The TESOL Encyclopedia of English Language Teaching. Wiley-Blackwell. 5824 pages. This work is also available as an online resource at Pdf available:

The posts and book chapter make great testimonials to the impact that Webheads in Action has had on hundreds if not thousands of colleagues, associates, and acquaintances in language learning and educational technology, many of whom have become good friends over the years.

I imagine my virtual work and social networking with Webheads in Action will continue for some time to come. However, the face-to-face teaching and CALL coordinating I have done in UAE for the past 20 years is coming to an end shortly.

I've been clearing out the papers I have accumulated here, making pdfs (now that the technology is not only available but ubiquitous, not the case when many of these were produced), and posting as much as I can at my papers repository at

This has led me to relate a story. This one starts when Curt Bonk gave a talk at Abu Dhabi Women's College early this century. I was a fan of his due to his writings on learner-centered, constructivist, and sociocultural components of collaborative educational learning tools (e.g. Bonk and Cunningham, 1998, available on Curt's page, one of his many web pages where he shares whatever he can of everything he produces). I made it a point to attend the talk, which was inspirational, and at the end of it he asked those in the room to share how they would make changes in their practice as a result of what they had learned in his talk. He went around the room drawing effusive promises from participants, and when it came my turn I stood up and said I was going to invite him to come online and speak to colleagues virtually in the group that I had been interacting with, Webheads in Action. He looked at me oddly, nodded, and quickly moved on to the next person.

When Dr. Bonk was next in Abu Dhabi I sat near him in the audience between presentations and told him more about Webheads and he took enough of an interest that when we put on our first Webheads in Action Online Convergence in 2005, he agreed to give not one, but two keynotes. All of our keynote speakers at that seminal event are listed here:

Curt has kept in touch over the years, and when Curt's friend Jay Cross came to Abu Dhabi, Curt encouraged him to get in touch with me. On the afternoon of the last day of the conference Jay was involved in, not one to which I had been invited, he called my mobile cell phone, and I agreed to come and get him at the Abu Dhabi Hilton and show him the town. His first request was to visit a beach, so I took him to the nearby stretch of sand where the Emirates Palace Hotel now stands and he got out of the car, took his shoes off, and walked on the beach happy as a kid, squishing the sand in his toes. I don't recall where else we went but we had a delightful time, ending at a fish souq on the piers where the dhows used to moor, and I picked up a kilo of shrimp and I brought him up to our apartment with its night view of the Abu Dhabi corniche where my wife Bobbi fixed it for dinner. When I returned Jay to the Hilton late that night he was well refreshed.

I stayed in touch with Jay through his Internetime Ning. Fast forward a bit to 2007, and Jay had been invited to speak at a conference on "New Learning for Sustainability in the Arab Region" taking place 30 August - 1 September 2007 at the famous library in Alexandria, Egypt (actually the famous one burned down; the modern reconstruction is engaged in making digital copies of as many books as possible). The event was subtitled "Motivating Change: New Learning in Formal Education for Sustainable Development", and the conference was hosting regionally-based experts working in informal learning, web 2.0, active bloggers, etc. I hardly considered myself an expert on sustainability, but Jay could not attend and was asked to recommend someone else in the region who might fill in for him. I would imagine Jay was planning to talk about informal learning, since he wrote a book on that topic, but I agreed to come and address Web 2.0. I wrote out everything I intended to say on that topic here:

In my notes of the event, on my web page here,
I noted that there was a conference blog. The blog address is still good, but I had to search on the term 'sustainability' to find that the posts pertaining to the event in Alexandria were still online:

The chronologically earlier post,, mentions that I gave a "very interesting presentation" and promises a post about it "later" (still waiting :-). But it also mentions that Buthaina Al Othman was one of the speakers at this conference. And as this post is about the spirit of Webheads, this requires another aside.

Buthaina, whom we knew as Buth, was one of our original Webheads in Action participants in 2002, but we did not meet until Sunday, November 16, 2003, when Michael Coghlan and I were scheduled to be presenters at the annual and entirely online Global Learn Day VII event. Michael was one of the co-founders of Writing for Webheads, and our presentation was on "Meet the Webheads: An experiment in world friendship through online language learning." Our presentation was unusual in that Michael happened to be in Abu Dhabi, so we had arranged to cybercast our presentation live from the Lecture Hall where I worked at the Petroleum Institute, Abu Dhabi.

I had invited my colleagues at PI to come and witness the event, but it was late in our working day, and I was told later that we were competing with a rugby test on the telly, so only 5 or 6 of my real-life colleagues were there to occupy a few of the 100 some odd available seats. But Buthaina flew from nearby Kuwait to Abu Dhabi especially to be on hand to join us in the live presentation. Buthaina posted pictures and archived the event at her website:, which amazingly remains online.

Michael became the Webheads community troubadour after composing and recording our theme song, "Webheads all over the World", available on Wikispaces until July 31, 2018.
Listen soon! (or maybe Michael will post it elsewhere for us :-)

To bring this aside to a close, I next met Buth in person at the 9th EFL Conference at the American University of Cairo, where I had been invited to deliver a plenary address (Stevens, 2004) and a few workshops. As a guest of the conference organizers, including the US Embassy in Cairo, I was invited to many events in the course of my stay, and as Buth and I were often seen together at the conference, she was usually included in the invitations. To the many people we met, I was introduced by my proper credentials and as one of the speakers at the conference, and Buth was introduced as "a Webhead." Buth was first to notice this pattern, which we interpreted as a sign that Webheads had taken on a stature in the context of this conference whereby it was as natural to introduce someone as a Webhead as to give their affiliation in the normal way, and it seemed to be accepted on as equal a par by the professors at the event as with any other identity.

Buth and I both met again in Alexandria a few years later at the conference in 2007 on New Learning for Sustainability in the Arab Region, again by coincidence, and both of us were mentioned in the same blog post as the conference got under way. That part of the story continues on the web page where I record my papers and presentations:

In addition to my formal presentation, I had been offered an opportunity to mount a poster session at an event called the New Marketplace at New Learning for Sustainability exhibition (with wireless available), so I was able to illustrate some of the concepts I'd brought up in my talk by demonstrating some of the tools we use in Webheads and Worldbridges Webcast Academy, The computer-mediated communications tools I was using at the time would have been similar to those described in Stevens (2005), and presented at the METSMaC conference in Abu Dhabi that year. The Alexandria presentation worked well, the conference delegates were interested, and I was offered an additional slot for a workshop on Saturday Sept 1, the last day of the conference, from 9 a.m to 11:30 a.m. in Egypt

This would be an extemporaneous event. I dubbed it "F.U.N. Fare - UnWorkshop on Computer Mediated Communications Tools for Distributed Social Learning Networks." F.U.N. was an acronym I had coined standing for Frivolous Unanticipated Nonsense, which I was arguing in those days that teachers should tolerate, even encourage, in their teaching in order to push their lessons toward the bleeding edge of the envelope of what was possible in engaging their students (and each other) with the newly emerging enabling Web 2.0 technologies.

At the TESOL conference in 2004 I had given a presentation entitled "Voices heard having F.U.N. in online communities of practice" as part of a Colloquium on “Multiple perspectives on the on-line conversation class” organized by David Nunan:

Buth appears in the picture at the top of that web page, taken at the conclusion of the colloquium; she used to often attend TESOL conferences in that era. David Nunan appeared on the program (with Curt Bonk) at our Webheads in Action Online Convergence the following year. The gentleman on the right is another Webheads participant, Jeong Bae Son, president of APACALL.

I introduced that final, unplanned and unanticipated, unWorkshop event in Alexandria as a concatenation of two convergent communities of practice, Webheads in Action and, who were constantly together exploring new computer-mediated communications (CMC) tools for percolating knowledge through their overlapping distributed learning networks, and leveraging many properties of social networking (Lebow, 2006). I promised that members of those communities would be invited to join us online, and the (un)workshop would take place informally, without fixed agenda, and in response to the direction suggested by the online participants and those present in Alexandria.

Among the spaces we would explore were:
  • Slideshare, Bubbleshare, Webshots, Voicethread, Flickr
  • Facebook, Moodle, Pageflakes
What ensued was a definitive display of the Spirit of Webheads

The BrightGreenLearning blogger observed the following

Vance Stevens, of the Petroleum Institute (Abu Dhabi) and founder of Webheads in 1998, gave a two hour Un-Workshop this morning at our Arab Region New Learning for Sustainable Development Workshop that he titled F.U.N. * Fair: Computer Mediated Communications Tools for Distributed Social Learning Networks. This was a face-to-face un-workshop, a veritable souk of activity, connectivity and interaction both in our training room at the Library of Alexandria, where we are now in Egypt, and with his online colleagues from Barcelona, the West Coast of the US, and so on, who joined us in Second Life, on skype and on

The Un-workshop had an open door policy, people were popping in and out. Laptops and terminals all on different pages, the clattering of keypads, exploring and trying out the URLs that Vance was introducing to us, talking us through, answering ten questions simultaneously. There were plenty of technical challenges, and at the same time lots of patient people who were excited by the possibilities, mystified by Second Life (one Egyptian participant said it should be called “Second Wife” instead), and eagerly starting their journey in the technology-mediated environment. It was great to have Vance as a guide. What you can learn from seeing it, trying it, and being able to query it in real time is so valuable, plus his enthusiasm is catching. You could tell that we weren’t the only ones having F.U.N.*
* Frivilous Unanticipated Nonsense


I wrote a report on the plane on my way back to UAE and sent it out to the Webheads Yahoo Group list so everyone could see what fun Buth and I had had in Alexandria running this particular session.
The report can be found online here:

Today was a case of if anything can go wrong it will. The Alexandria Library is about a ten min walk from my hotel. There was no point in arriving at the conference hall too early because the rooms would all be locked until just before the start time of my session, though once I got into the center, wireless Internet would available from anywhere inside. So I left my hotel 45 min before I was due to present, carrying two laptops, wires, a USB mic, webcam, adapters, etc. Though the presentation room was locked when I got there, I got out my computer and booted it, and waited for someone to open the door to let me in.

At 20 min before the start of my session, someone came around with keys, so I got into the room, plugged the laptop into the mains, the one with webcast software installed and ready to go, and discovered my first problem of the day. My a/c adaptor had not been working well, I was having to massage it over the past week to get the charge light to hold, but today it didn't want to charge at all. I worked with it for a couple of minutes, decided to leave it for a while, and started Skype to keep my appointment with Jose Rodriguez who had kindly offered to backup my stream at

Jose was online and on task. He informed me that he was streaming at that moment on Sandbox B. I was expected to take A since I'd been planning to demonstrate streaming at my unWorkshop but working with the charger required two hands and was taking valuable time. Nevertheless I managed to keep up some kind of chatter in the Skype stream, and Jose reassured me that all was well there. Meanwhile I turned on my second computer, which I planned to use for Second Life.

A technician arrived and helped get the projector on my webcasting laptop projecting onto the wall. I looked for Nick Noakes in Second Life but didn't see him, so I left it and went to the Webcast Academy chat room and texted to the people there. Sasa (one of my Webheads collaborators on the Writingmatrix project, and Stevens et al. 2008) and someone else were listening to the stream but unable to Skype in, so no voices were joining Jose and I. Graham Stanley meanwhile offered me a teleport to a space called Egypt in SL. I completely forgot about Twitter.

With battery depleting on my laptop, I worked the charger every chance I got, trying to find the magic fit for plug in socket that would get it working. My battery was a quarter low when participants started showing up fifteen minutes into start time. They had been delayed by a previous event that had run overtime. I asked the first person to arrive at the un-workshop in Alexandria Egypt, Ule from Germany, to take over talking with Graham in Second Life Egypt. Three or four others followed and I tried to explain to them what I was doing while also addressing participants online in the stream.

It was clear that the on-site participants in Alexandria were most interested in SL and they came around behind that computer, while the EdTechTalk chat (Worldbridges) displayed on the big screen. There wasn't much Graham could show us in Second Life Egypt so he moved to Boracay and teleported us over. Ule passed the chat to the next person, and so on as newcomers arrived, and Graham was very welcoming to each newcomer. My wife Bobbi, from her computer in the UAE, arrived in World and we teleported her to Boracay. Graham was by now speaking to us, voice having started working by magic in SL, and we started voice-chatting with Graham there.

I moved the USB mic connected to the Worldbridges stream to the speakers of the SL computer and the face-to-face participants were able to talk to Graham in such a way that the conversation was
clearly audible in the Webcast Academy stream being maintained by Jose, according to feedback from Jose.

The SL computer now had the attention of the face-to-face audience so we switched the one monitor projector to that computer which was configured for hi res. This caused the projection screen to split down the middle but I didn't notice at first. I was still text chatting in the EdTechTalk chat room, working out who could and who couldn't join us in SL, and trying to talk to those who could access SL and help them reach the location where we were in SL by offering friendship, and then extending a teleport. This took us up to the top of the hour, 10 a.m. in Alexandria.

At about that time Buth and several others arrived from elsewhere at the conference in Alexandria, and we had to explain to the on-site newcomers what was going on. At about that time the mic on my Skype chat simply stopped working. I became aware of it when one of the distant participants, Jason, kept dropping out and trying to reach me. He would call, I would answer, but he couldn't hear me. I called him, he answered, hello? Hello? And then he would ring off. I tried troubleshooting, but couldn't find the problem without being able to drop everything else and focus on it. I was also trying to give the newcomers some clue of what we were doing, and prevailing on Buth to get into Skype on her laptop and tell Jose what was happening. Meanwhile the battery on my Skype computer was getting worryingly low. I still couldn't fix the power supply, and I decided to just switch that computer off so I could do a controlled shutdown rather than lose power and not be able to retrieve my most recent files later. This removed me from the stream and EdTechTalk text chat.

Meanwhile Graham was taking the conference delegates around Better World, a water conservation simulation, and they were greatly interested. At one point Graham suggested they fly to another part of the island and the delegate at that moment on the keyboard held down the up button and soared into space. We didn't realize what he was doing till he was well out of earshot of Graham (in SL you can only hear people talking when you are near to them in-world). He was very much enjoying the sensation of flying but I had to take control and get teleported back to where Graham was.

Meanwhile there was a request in the face-to-face audience that we show them Elluminate so I decided to start it on my Second Life computer. I launched Mozilla and was surprised when I typed in the URL that an IE window was launched separately. At the same time a McAfee notice came up demanding action. This was a month-old computer and McAfee had been bundled with it free for one month (but with a debilitating Catch-22). In fact, this was Bobbi's computer and she had noticed before I borrowed it for my trip that McAfee was about to expire. She had installed Avast on it but had not removed McAfee. Now McAfee was informing me that it was no longer protecting my computer and that another program (Yahoo Messenger) had wanted to visit the Internet and I would need to type in my credit card details right there and then in the middle of my unWorkshop. This being a very unwanted distraction at that point I tried to dismiss it and close the IE window but that window froze and the browsers ceased to function.

I discovered later when I had a chance to look at it that McAfee had basically blocked my browsers from accessing the Internet (though SL and IM chats continued to work) and only when I removed the program completely was I able to browse the Internet again. But at this moment in my presentation I went to the Task Manager and tried to find IE in order to kill it. It was open and frozen on my computer screen but it wasn't listed under applications running, so I switched to processes, found explorer listed there, and zapped it. This turned out to be windows explorer so I lost my task bar. At that point there was nothing to do but reboot, goodbye to Second Life. I informed the SL crowd of that. Graham had gone to breakfast by that time anyway, having taken everyone to Camp Dharfur, on our way to what I had wanted to show them: Meteora.

We were now at the top of the second hour, and had half an hour to go in the unWorkshop. We still had Buth's computer in Skype and the Webcastacademy text chat. So while my computer was rebooting I decided to make Buth's computer display to the room via the projector, and meantime to run Elluminate from one of the 6 other computers in the room. One of the participants was talking to Jose, who was still doggedly streaming the proceedings via Worldbridges. We hooked up Buth's computer to the projector and hit the key combo that should have toggled screen modes. However we got an error at the projector, illegal resolution (not just a 'no signal') and Buth's screen display disappeared! We toggled over and over, no projector display, with Buth's screen now unusable. Our on-site participant was still chatting with Jose, Skype sound being unaffected by the problem, however we had to explain to the stream that we were going to have to go off the air for yet another reboot.

With 15 minutes left in our presentation our face to face participants had nothing to see except as they were milling about behind us watching us try to recover. When my computer came back on I adjusted screen resolution down so that it now synched with the projector and no longer gave a split screen and I returned to SL. Richard, another distant participant, was there, having found us via the Worldbridges stream. His voice in SL was working well but he was hearing his echo because I had no headphone on my SL computer, so I decided to plug in the USB mic there because there is an on-off switch on it which would allow us to mute our mic while he was talking. This new computer had the new Vista, and of course Microsoft in its wisdom has changed the interfaces for configuring sound from the familiar XP way, so I was having to figure out how to get at my mic controls and disable the onboard one and configure my computer to accept the USB one.

This took another pregnant couple of minutes but meanwhile Buth had restored our presence in the Skype event and in the EdTechTalk text chat, and technicians were working on getting the third computer into Elluminate and projecting that onto the screen. They left when that was done but we discovered that whereas we could now text chat in Elluminate we could neither hear nor speak there. We had Elluminate on our overhead projector, text only, we were in the Skype stream, and we were talking to Richard in Second Life at Camp Dharfur, and to Graham who had by then returned.

We were at the end of our allotted time but the master of ceremonies for the plenary coming up in Alexandria was with us and enjoying the show. The technicians had by then returned and got us speaking in Elluminate, and we could hear what was being said. Since the master of ceremonies was the one who had requested that demo, she was in no hurry to make us stop. So, something interesting happened.

We were talking to Graham and Richard in Second Life and to Jose, Sasa, and Moira (who had participated in our Webheads in Action Online Convergence in 2005; see Hunter, 2006) in Elluminate (Hala, a Webhead participant from Sudan, had just left). Graham was in no space other than SL, and as these were separate spaces, I was going to my SL mic to talk to him and to the Elluminate computer to talk to the others. But Richard noted that when I spoke in Elluminate, he could hear what I said on his computer. It clicked that Jose was streaming Elluminate into the Webcast and Richard was hearing that. So I could talk to Richard as well as everyone else in Elluminate and he could respond to us in SL voice. It occurred to me then to include Graham in the conversation by talking into the tethered USB and Elluminate mics at the same time. This caused Richard to hear my SL chat (and then get the delayed rendition in the stream so he had to turn that off) but we had successfully patched a conversation taking place in SL into one going on in Elluminate, and for those in the unWorkshop it was one of those WOW moments.

I'm not quite sure how we got there. In the past three hours we had had almost every conceivable meltdown. Starting with equipment failure, power adaptor failing to function, relegating the prime presentation laptop to limited use -- we had moved on to browser crash brought on by McAfee crapware, that sort of design being the reason I had declined to purchase the program in the first place, and subsequent reboot. We had lost Buth's display at about the same time, and had been working with split screen projection up to then where my computer video signal was incompatible with the projector resolution (easily resolvable, but when you are juggling so many balls that some are bouncing on the floor, what would be more obvious at a calmer moment remains ellusive). With two computers down we had fought through technical problems with a third computer and managed to get all computers running in the end and bring the unWorkshop to a close on an epiphany moment.

Later in a plenary recap session, feedback on our unWorkshop was positive, with all concerned saying they had learned a lot from Webheads. The only criticism was that SL appeared to be perhaps too addictive, potentially could take time away from family, and of course that it would be perhaps inaccessible to a majority of stakeholders the sustainable ecologies people were trying to reach in places where the pinch of limited resources is being felt most. Other than that the participants seemed to be quite taken with the potential, and spoke of having eyes wide opened.

Many thanks to Buthaina for her competent and timely support! Amazing dedication Rita (Zeinstejer, another Writingmatrix collaborator, Stevens et al. 2008). Thanks John for your kind encouraging words (John Hibbs perhaps, founder of the Global Learn Day movement), and Graham you were the star of the show, taking everyone on voice tours of eco simulations in Second Life.  As this was for a conference on environmental sustainability, the conference delegates were really putting the twos and twos together as a result of their encounter with Webheads in Action.


And that, dear children, is the true spirit of Webheads.


Hunter, M. (2006). Are You on the PD Cybertrain or Still Hesitating? IATEFL Poland Computer Special Interest Group Teaching English with Technology A Journal for Teachers of English ISSN 1642-1027 Vol. 6, Issue 3 (August 2006). Available:

Lebow, Jeff. (2006). Worldbridges: The Potential of Live, Interactive Webcasting. TESL-EJ 10, 1.

Stevens, V. (2005). Computer-mediated communications tools used with teachers and students in virtual communities of practice, in S. M. Stewart and J. E. Olearski (Eds), Proceedings of the First Annual Conference for Middle East Teachers of Science, Mathematics and Computing (pp. 204-218). Middle East Teachers of Science, Mathematics and Computing: Abu Dhabi.
The PDF file of the paper as it appears in the conference proceeds is here

Stevens, Vance. (2004). The Skill of Communication: Technology brought to bear on the art of language learning. TESL-EJ 7, 4 (On the Internet).

Stevens, Vance, Nelba Quintana, Rita Zeinstejer, Saša Sirk, Doris Molero & Carla Arena. (2008). Writingmatrix: Connecting Students with Blogs, Tags, and Social Networking. In Stevens, Vance & Elizabeth Hanson-Smith, Co-editors. (2008). Special Feature: Proceedings of the Webheads in Action Online Convergence, 2007. TESL-EJ, Volume 11, Number 4:

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Implementing teacher training in gamification through Minecraft: Putting the forces in motion

The following is a rationale for using Minecraft with students where I work teaching EFL in a military academy setting. I thought I would post it here and perhaps develop it further (and I in fact have updated this slightly in April, 2018).

What is Minecraft?
Minecraft is a game involving critical thinking, collaboration and cooperation, strategic analysis, creative engineering, and architectural skill that is extremely popular in its own right. In 2016 50,000 copies a month were purchased and 40 million players a month logged into the game (according to Jeff Kuhn in Kuhn and Stevens, 2017, see reference at end of this post). It is particularly being utilized in education where teachers wish to promote the skills listed above in their work with students. As evidence of how seriously this has impacted education, Microsoft has bought the game from its creators Mojang and is marketing it at huge conferences such as ISTE where their workshops on Minecraft are attracting lines out the doors of educators eager to learn more and use it in their classrooms.

Why in a military academy context?
I think it would be of particular use in my context because the game is designed with fascinating depth to suggest seemingly endless possibility. It emulates military skills such as strategic thinking, establishing a base in a wilderness, protecting it from threats arising in the game, and teaming with others to develop their base through finding resources that can be put to use in creating objects to further team goals. Use of Minecraft would introduce elements of gamification in our coursework (as opposed to using ‘games’ in class, which is not the same as gamification). Students could communicate with us in various ways about their experiences playing the game.

The things you can do in Minecraft are limited only by your imagination. You can find coal and iron and create metal objects, such as railroads, where mine carts you can ride in are powered through redstone, so you can build machines that work on wiring you devise. You can set logic gates, and program in the game. You can build and fortify, set up farms so you can feed yourself and others, raise animals, and grow your own trees so you have an endless supply of wood. You have to employ strategies and carry out advanced planning to thrive in the game. Often players will work in teams.

I created this set of Minecraft challenges for my students in the military college where I work. The challenges are designed to get them to take the tutorial that comes with the Minecraft Edu version, cross the ravine at the end of the tutorial and explore the world on the other side, and eventually parachute into a wilderness where they have to establish a perimeter, defend it, and sustain and develop it in cooperation with other players in their platoon / team.

Who enjoys Minecraft?
Children and adults of all ages enjoy it. It is played by kids as young as 4, e.g. pre-literate, so it relies more on intuition than on language. However there is much evidence of children in foreign countries becoming fluent in English through explaining in that lingua franca what they are doing in Minecraft to others around the world. This article gives an example of one such person, a ten year old Croatian boy who achieved fluency in English through Minecraft
Minecraft can form the basis of writing and multimedia projects where students are highly motivated to show what they are building and doing. They also will research how to do things on Minecraft. One teacher in Turkey reported how his students went out and bought an advanced Minecraft guidebook in English, and helped each other read it, because it wasn’t available in Turkish. Dave Dodgson has recently joined the moderating team of EVO Minecraft MOOC to help teachers understand the dynamics of gamified learning:

What is needed to get Minecraft working where you teach?
Any individual who plays Minecraft requires an account which must be purchased from Mojang for about $28. That’s for a lifetime license, but annual licensed logins are available through educational institutions for only $5 per user, from

The Mojang user ID allows you to play any version of Minecraft. There are many versions with different capabilities. Trusted users are normally white-listed on servers, so in practice you can only play as a single player, or on servers where you are allowed to enter. In order to fully exploit the game in education, it should be played in community mode on a server available to multiple simultaneous users.

The full PC / MAC version of Minecraft is the most versatile. We are looking to purchase licenses for the education edition which I am not familiar with first hand, but it allows up to 30 to play at once, according to It is also possible for us to get a free trial for a limited time.

Training teachers
This brings us to the most important thing needed, and that is a cohort of teachers who are aware of how Minecraft can leverage their learning and that of their students through gamification.

Two years ago, in 2015, my interest in Minecraft as a tool for this kind of learning was such that I organized an Electronic Village Online session for the purpose of learning how to play the game and understand how we could use it to gamify learning environments. We have just completed our third year of the community that was formed then. I have become an accomplished player, and I have a network of other teachers (plus Paul) who can help us with the server side issues. 

The EVO Minecraft MOOC community landing page is here,

To start a similar teachers’ group at your institution you'd need to install the software where teachers can use it and show them how to play there using user ID from the pool requested. Where I work, we will have to experiment with networking other devices so teachers can play in leisure time, which is needed for them to become familiar enough with the game to see how their students might learn it and use it for productive class purposes. It is not necessary in this game that teachers be authoritative sources of knowledge. Students and other players will inevitably make discoveries which they will be eager to share with peers and teachers alike, using communication skills we are trying to teach them.

Further reading
I have described the process of how teachers can learn to be proficient in Minecraft in presentations at conferences, one of which resulted in this chapter in the proceedings of the 2016 TESOL Arabia conference:
  • Stevens, V. (2017). Gamifying Teacher Professional Development through Minecraft MOOC. In Zoghbor, W., Coombe, C., Al Alami, S. & Abu-Rmaileh, S. (Eds.). Language Culture Communication: Transformations in Intercultural Contexts. The Proceedings of the 22nd TESOL Arabia Conference. Dubai: TESOL Arabia. Pages 75-92. Available:

The following free eBook gives comprehensive information about how and why teachers use various aspects of Minecraft to further pedagogical goals:
One of the contributors to that book is Jeff Kuhn, who is on our team of expert co-moderators of EVO Minecraft MOOC. He and I have just written an article which we have submitted to TESOL Journal, having been invited to do so by the journal editor. The article appears in the December 2017 issue of TESOL Journal, where if you are a TESOL member, you can log in and read it for free.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

A Short History of Community in EVO Minecraft MOOC

On Friday Feb 3 I am scheduled to give another talk about EVO Minecraft MOOC.

I have given several such talks over the past couple of years, and usually I focus on how EVO Minecraft MOOC serves as a game board for teachers to learn through experience about gamification. I normally make the point that whereas we play Minecraft, we are really learning about constructing learning environments that are compelling and self-directing, and whose basic premises might apply across a range of subjects and classroom contexts.
In my presentation Friday, I might try and encapsulate some of this as background, but in this presentation I want to discuss recent developments with the EVO Minecraft MOOC community as it has evolved over the three years we have been a community. Many aspects of this evolution have themselves taught us a bit about gamification.
When we started EVO Minecraft MOOC in 2015 our approach was a departure from the norm in EVO sessions in several respects. For one thing we were the only EVO session that required a purchase, albeit a modest one (less than $30 per user ID paid to Secondly, as I have done in all my EVO endeavors, when we started a Google+ Community page, we remained in the same community space the year after, and the year after that (most EVO sessions, even if they have the same name and same moderators one year to the next, start the following year in a brand new community space, on the assumption that newcomers like to feel the session is unique to them). Another way we are different is that, although we have a syllabus, we have been using it less and less. We ascribe to the Community as Curriculum model (Cormier, 2008) which encourages participants to drive what we do rather than expecting them to follow a pre-ordained path through our program.
One interesting aspect of this is that, as we have evolved in our third year, our approach has changed to the point that we hardly even have tutorials. This was not so in the beginning, when we assumed that we would have to teach people how to play Minecraft from scratch. In our first year we started with a flat map server in creative mode and all met there. Monsters are benign in creative (in fact, we use them for target practice) and players have access to a full range of materials available in the game; whereas in survival mode, monsters are lethal, and players must find materials in the game and keep them safe from loss through unexpected demise.

In our first year in EVO Minecraft MOOC, experts like Jeff Kuhn and his colleague Aaron Schwarz, and our young moderator Filip Smolčec showed us how to build and craft and delighted us with plagues of rabbits, booby trapped buildings, railways powered on redstone, and other such whimsical structures. We stayed safely in creative mode for about 3 weeks, and in week 4 (in the 5-week session) when we logged in, we suddenly found the server had changed. It had mountains and forests and rivers and monsters, which discovered us almost as soon as we arrived there, so we learned a lot about respawning (coming back empty handed after dying in the game) and consequently, how to prevent that.
But we also learned another important thing about gamified environments. We survived in survival mode because Jeff and others had prepared safe houses for us, so we could go out and explore in the daytime, when monsters are less threatening, and get indoors at night when they tended to prowl. When I retreated to one of Jeff's houses, he was sometimes home, so he would take me mining with him. He showed me coal seams and other places we could get resources, and he mentored me on what to do with them. We ended our 5-week session on that positive note. I was feeling good about the game with the help of others more knowledgeable in the game itself.
This narrative has a personal side to it, because another point I have made in previous presentations is that I started this community in order to learn about Minecraft. I had been interested in the game for a long time but had not found a way to play it in multiplayer mode, most communities of students being closed to old gray-heads like myself. I got the idea to start the EVO session in order to attract experts to teach me and other noobies like me. So in our first year, I learned the game basics. But in my first year, apart from a small structure I constructed with the help of my son, who had joined me one day in creative mode, I hardly ever built anything. I was very busy organizing the session and the online events we would hold for it, but I did not have time to learn to craft proficiently, nor to create structures similar to those that were going up all around me. I tend to be slow on uptake. Like a child who never speaks until one day the floodgates open in surprisingly imaginative discourse, I am a slow absorber of creative genius, before I can set out on my own.
Also after the first successful session in 2015, I didn't go back on the server much in the interim before the next one. I went to the TESOL Conference in Toronto and met Jeff Kuhn (he reminded me we had already met :-) and renewed my acquaintance with Aaron Schwarz (at the time, chair of the CALL Interest Section; I had been the first chair of that interest section 30 years before that). I hung out in brew pubs with the Ohio University crowd and by the end of that had their assurances that we would have a second year of EVO Minecraft MOOC, and they would once more host the server. That was great news.
So the next year we trotted out the same proposal and syllabus as before, but this year I moved a lot of the syllabus to a wiki at where I thought some of the explanations of how the session was designed could be better broken down and managed. The previous year we had worked from a google doc syllabus page, and in 2016 a lot of those syllabus items were still there but now pointed to the wiki. Design-wise, I was trying to get the Google+ Community landing page to be a one-stop "game board" where everything anyone needed to know about the session (in effect, a course, as in the 'C' in 'MOOC') would be accessible in links from the G+C game board. It seemed to work. We had a lot of new people in the session, they pretty much figured out what to do, and got on with it.
The session was badge-oriented, which is to say that about a third of the two dozen people who were truly participating were tracking their progress through the badge system. I've explained that thoroughly elsewhere, but what this means, is that they were following the syllabus and ticking off the benchmarks. The game board worked in that they were not asking a lot of questions, and they were building in our creative server and posting pictures in blogs, and otherwise documenting what they were doing. So we were seeing that we were effectively reaching our participants, or at least a small but creatively engaged number of them.
But we also were attracting experts. One of  these was Mircea Patrascu, who used scripts to create fascinating structures in creative mode, most notably entire towns with subway stations and tunnels with underground tracks leading to other parts of our server. At one end of this metro network was a structure with logic gates where if you answered three questions by setting three levers correctly, a door opened and you were admitted to a huge hangar with a roller coaster inside. You sat on the mine cart and pressed a button and off you went on the ride of your life, up and down and around. The structure was incredible, and Mircea recorded the ride on YouTube

Other people joined us and showed us around their networks. In fact, I was spending most of my time in the 2016 session organizing, recording, and archiving their events, Among those:
Midway through our session, when we had gone by then into survival mode, we were joined by another talented expert Linda Gielen, who made a video explaining some of the things she was building on our server.

She and Rose Bard, another of our new moderators for that year, primarily developed our server so that there was an elaborate safe house there, and also a spawning point admin building with an accompanying tutorial area set up by Aaron Schwartz which taught newcomers how to craft using sticks and cobblestone, two easily acquired resources in Minecraft. There was also a warp chamber which you could step into to transform into another world, I believe it was back to our creative world (need to check on that). Linda and Rose set up maps, and storage boxes for everyone at the admin building. We needed only place a sign on one to claim it.

Another tutorial wall from the Longhouse spawn point in EVOMC17, from Jeff Kuhn's photos
I don't think I even managed that in 2016. All my time was taken in organization. I resolved that the following year, I would spend less time organizing and more time playing. It was my turn to gamify.
Another interesting thing happened in the time between EVOMC16 and EVOMC17. Rose suggested that it would be good for us to practice on the server, and Mircea rose to the occasion by creating blog posts in the voice of ersatz explorer “MP”, who had discovered a temple in some desert biome, a story which no one believed except that he had returned to his hometown to pay off all his old drinking debts using a large diamond that he had with him,
MP included some photos in his blog post which a bunch of us used to align ourselves in the biome and eventually find his temples. We did this in the course of several sessions partly documented here:

In conducting these quests, we further learned about the pleasure of meeting online in this vitual space, as well as the benefits in supporting one another in our mutual learning journeys.
This event created another milestone, tangible affirmation that our G+C had formed a community. Although some work was going on between EVOMC16 and EVOMC17 to prepare the server for the 2017 session, this was the first time of which I’m aware that community members, albeit moderators in this case, met on the server for such sustained practice and pleasure when EVO was not in session. As we make our way through EVOMC17 we see more evidence that we are a community of practice with connections to one another that extend beyond EVO.
Since our inception, we have themed our 5 weeks on Dave Cormier’s 5 steps to coping with MOOCs; namely, orient, declare, network, cluster, and focus. Time after time we see our pattern of activity fall around this model, and we’ve labeled each of our weeks accordingly in our syllabus and wiki documents.

The first time we ran the session, when we had no precedent or track record, we saw our syllabus as providing structure to the course (i.e. session :-). When we did the course the second time in 2016, I remember posting to the G+C each week something to the effect that “now we are in week 3, the week we will focus on our networking.”

In that year, I noted in a submission to The Proceedings of the 22nd TESOL Arabia Conference 2016 in Jan 2017
“The missions, checklists of things to do on a weekly basis, are pretty straightforward. They must be, as participants seem to find them and do them without asking too many questions, and when they do ask and the moderators respond, the response seems to get them on task.”

In this third rendition, there has been very little mention of our syllabus goals, but things are simply falling into place in the pattern that Cormier described. This year there has been, apart from recycling and improving on extensive documentation, very little direction on the part of moderators, and few questions on the part of participants. The scale of participation has been similar to what it was in the past, but there has been little evidence of people asking how to play MC in the Google+ Community, and some evidence of people going into the game and figuring things out from scratch, of course with help and guidance from proficient players already in the game. In other words, there has been little demand for directives from participants in EVOMC17 not in the game, whereas a lot of learning appears to be taking place in the game.
The community that has gathered in the game has been a facilitator of this development, but another factor is adults who enter the game with their kids and develop proficiency with impetus and guidance from their children. Marijana Smolčec, one of our first co-moderators, as a good example of this (and her son Filip became yet another co-moderator and was well respected for his expertise and childlike spontaneity). Rose Bard, who became a co-moderator in 2016, is often accompanied in MC by her son Emmanuel, and a new member, Jane Chien, appears to be drawn there with her son Mattie. Another of our co-moderators, Mircea Patrascu, is an expert in MC who uses it to teach coding to children, and he often works with the help of his son Vlad.
This is from a report I filed with the EVO Coordination team
We have 296 in the Google Community, 23 who filled in the registration form for this year, 15 from that number who have actually been on our server, but a number of others who have been on the server from previous years in our community or have been whitelisted there without having filled in the form (e.g. some community members are there with their kids, always welcome :-). We have a solid core of around two dozen committed, active, and awsome creators in-world. These latter are modeling and learning amazing stuff with one another.
Prompting lead  coordinator Mbarek Akadder to respond in email
Hi Vance,
What makes EVOMC so awesome and  special  is the participation of kids with their parents! It  looks  more like  a family gathering than a session!
We are also attracting people from other communities.
  • Jo Kay from Jokaydia
  • David Dodgson from British Council has rejoined us
  • Steve Jenkinson from the Google+ Community Minecraft in Education, with over 5000 members
  • Beth O'Connell and Kimball Harrison from VSTE, Virginia Society for Technology in Education
People are venturing out. Jeff has gone on an epic trek. Jane has discovered by chance our old world from 2016, and Rose showed us a way back to the new one. Aaron has been updating the server in the background, making possible our multiple words in creative and survival modes simultaneously
How can we as a community envisage the end of this? Most EVO sessions do end. Our members have formed addictions and bonds and challenges that will keep us going in world long into 2017. This remains to be seen. Like one of Jeff’s treks, EVO MC MOOC is off on an adventure, a quest without a foreseeable end. More dispatches follow.

Jeff Kuhn and I collaborated on this slide show for our joint presentation,
which was seeded by the blog post you are currently reading.


Cormier, D. (2008). Rhizomatic education: Community as curriculum. Innovate, 4(5). Reprinted with permission of the publisher; available:

Friday, January 27, 2017

Experiencing Gamification through Minecraft

It's been many months since I've blogged here but I've been having the itch to get back to it.

EVO Minecraft MOOC has taken on dimensions that are eye-opening as far as revealing what gamification is and what it does.

We start here with an anecdote. I just left the world of Minecraft (having succumbed to spiders in the dark in the wild tiaga), but the journey was incredible.

I had logged on to the server two hours earlier. I arrived at the place I had left the night before, the one at the end of this video.

I pressed TAB to see who was in-world with me. Maha was there as well as Jane and Mattie. Maha is from Egypt, and Jane is Mattie's mother. She and Mattie are from Taiwan. They play with us frequently.

I asked where everyone was and mentioned I was at the village that Dakota had walled off to protect its citizens from mobs (explosive creepers and mindlessly lethal zombies that attack the villagers at night). In return for his protection, the villagers allowed him to trade with him. He was raising sugar cane at a farm inside the village and from cane you can make paper. Many of the villagers were librarians and would exchange emeralds for paper. So the village was a source of emeralds, which could be used to obtain other valuable objects which other villagers might have in exchange for the emeralds.

Jane said that she and Mattie would like to see the village. We had all got there the night before by using the warp command. Warp lets you appear at a designated point but when you get there by magic you don't know where you are in relation to where you have been, and I couldn't remember the exact warp word, except that it had two capital letters (but it's in the video above, somewhere). Maha, elsewhere on the server, was reading our texts and told us what the command was, so Maggie used it to teleport to where she thought I was.

We later found that Maha had looked up the destination from a /warplist on the server and had given Jane the wrong destination. On arrival at her new destination, Jane said she was at Rose's house there, but there was no Rose's house where I was. So I decided to warp myself to her location and there we both were.

Rose appeared coincidentally online just then and she quickly figured out that we had warped to her old house on the server space we had developed the year before. She joined us and we started looking around. For Jane it was a brand new world. For me, it was nostalgic to visit places from last year, still intact, though it took me a few minutes to re-orient.

Rose didn't want to remain there because she thought we should be focused on developing the world from this year's rendition of EVOMC17, so she suggested we warp back to our world. I asked if we could just head that way, and in which direction. Rose said it was far away, but she offered to lead us there.

There was a rail system connecting the two worlds beknownst only to few on our server. It emanated from stations in the old world that had been built the previous year, but to use it we needed to have mine carts. We found that among us, only Mattie had enough iron ore to craft them, so with his resources we quickly came up with the carts. What followed was an amazing ride south and east that I'm going to video one of these days.

I'll put that video here.

Regarding gamification, this was it. Rose had to explain to Jane and Mattie how to operate the carts. Their behavior is such that if someone stops on the tracks the next cart back hits it and then reverses out of control. There is no control because the system is powered by redstone to propel the carts forward, or if they strike another cart, backwards, with no brakes until you reach a station. One problem is that as we came to stations on our way forward we didn't know at first to hold down the W key to avoid stopping, so we'd reach one and stop there. Then the next cart to appear from behind hit the cart that had stopped there, and then headed backwards, hitting the cart behind it, and when the next cart appeared, chaos ensued, and so on,as we lurched backward and forwards along the first stretches of track. 

When we managed to all come to a stop (each of us out of sight of the others) and coordinate a way forward, we reached a part of the journey where there were no stations, but barriers which would stop the carts literally in their tracks, but if another cart came along, it would plow into any cart still on the tracks and reverse. So we had to get out of our carts and destroy them quickly before the next cart arrived, to prevent the boomerang effect (destoying an object makes it available for retrieval, which is how we could then collect and reuse the carts to continue our journey).

So these carts had to be collected and replaced on the track on the opposite side of the barrier as follows. You needed two carts. You put one on the redstone rail on the track. You put another on a rail mechanism above so that it would fall inside the first cart, so you have two carts nestled one inside the other. You then get into the cart and press a button on the barrier, and your cart shoots off to the east. Again, if you meet an obstacle, like a cart on the track, you hit it and ricochet back to where you came from, where you have to dismount, destroy your carts, collect them, run them back through the mechanism to reposition them properly, get inside, push the button, and head off again. 

Getting 4 people to move down the tracks in this way was a complicated process (not unlike getting a team of players to overcome obstacles in moving a ball down a field). It was pure gamification. Rose had to explain to us what to do. We had to do it and deal with consequences of any departure from the only procedure that would ultimately work. Imagine doing this with foreign language learners. It required focus and perseverance. It was challenging and great fun.

Eventually we neared our final destination, which was the rail terminus back in our current EVOMC17 world. For a long time the rails had gone seemingly forever over water and now we were approaching the tiaga with its snow covered trees and layered terrain, like stacks of brownies with white icing on top. Near the end I hit a cart on the tracks and started going backwards. I was wondering if I should dismount in transit (would I fall in the ocean and drown?). Someone came running along the tracks and caught up with me. Snicker-snack the mine carts were all destroyed, including the one I was riding in. I was left standing on the tracks.

I started running to the east as the skies turned orange, signalling sunset. Better to arrive in daytime as monsters come out at night. Rose had mentioned we would be arriving at a dangerous place. so she had gone ahead as she was the most proficient with a sword. After a few minutes the tracks sloped steeply downwards and I saw my companions at the bottom, waiting for me. It was almost dusk. 

Rose had told us in text that in real life she needed to get back to something, so we were in a hurry to continue the journey from the terminus to the safety of the world we had built and lit up. That was where our safe houses were, where we could get inside and close the doors behind us. But that world was also distant enough to prevent people exploring the new world from stumbling on the rail line leading to the old too easily. Rose had helped design this, so she knew the way back.

Rose led our small group of avatars up and over the tiaga. Spiders appeared which we set upon with swords, but Jane was eliminated and respawned back at her own house, no way to return to us since teleport wasn't working :-). 

I tried to keep up with Mattie and Rose but was in the dim light I got caught in water and couldn't see how to get out of it. I tried heading forward and jumping simultaneously to extract myself and eventually did, but by then had lost the others. But Rose had come back for me, so we resumed our jumping up the icy terrain. Arrows suddenly appeared from nowhere. I never saw the skeleton that fired them but managed to elude it. But by now I had lost track of my friends and my direction of travel. Night time ain't no time to be out in the wilderness in Minecraft, and I was doomed. My screen reddened and I was informed that I had been taken down by a fire-eyed spider. I was invited to respawn. I accepted the invitation and found myself standing safely next to the last bed I had slept in.

From that position I was able to contact the others. Rose and Mattie were still making their way to their virtual home, in the dark, protected only by swords and by Rose's knowledge of where they were.  I couldn't wait to see if they survived it. Two hours had gone by quickly, and I had to log off.

Back in my real world, I felt the urge to blog it; hence, what you have just finished reading.

Meanwhile, here's Jane Chien's perspective:

The photo on the left shows the mechanism where you place mine cart #2 so it falls into #1 already on the tracks