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

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Can a paradigm shift in conference business models reverse declining attendance at face to face conferences

I haven't thought this one through thoroughly (for example, is there declining attendance at face-to-face conferences; stats needed) but I have been involved in WUTR (webcasting under the radar) from recent TESOL conferences, as a service provided its members by CALL-IS in TESOL (see but in many ways an extension of my Learning2gether initiative, which I have been conducting weekly since 2010, and now in its 329th episode at

I Googled the question and came on this

I recently filled out a survey for the TESOL 2016 conference in Baltimore, and the last question stimulated a brain-pffft. The question and my response were ...

20. If you have any suggestions or comments regarding how we could improve the convention and/or English Language Expo, please enter them in the box below.

You could follow the IATEFL model of webcasting plenary addresses and certain sessions, and sponsor a series of interviews during the event via an online web site updated throughout the event; e.g.

Going IATEFL one better, recordings should all go to a permanent online archive openly accessible to all, not just TESOL members. Counter-intuitively to some, this would not prevent members from attending or paying dues to any significant degree, but through the appreciation of those who could not attend, it would stimulate growth since it would create an aura of rock star English teachers and give non or lapsed members an incentive of great value this day and age to come and join in such a forward-thinking organization, and to attend conferences where they felt they 'knew' some of the people they would meet there thanks to their online presence, and would want to connect with them both online and personally.

According to TESOL member stats a quick glance shows a slight decline in membership over the past few years (13,000 down to 11,000 in Jan 2013 thru Jan this year). Perhaps a paradigm shift on the business model is in order.

By creating a conference archive and making it freely available as a gift to the profession, TESOL would benefit from the appreciation of potential members who would want to associate with an organization that was seen be uplifting the profession by sharing openly.

The book whose pages Google found for me is this one:

Cobb, Jeff. (2013). Leading the Learning Revolution: The Expert's Guide to Capitalizing on the Exploding Lifelong Education Market. AMACOM Div American Mgmt Assn, Jan 15, 2013 - Business & Economics - 240 pages

Lifelong learning has become a multibillion-dollar business, with more than 60 million adults currently engaged in webinars, webcasts, in-house training, continuing education classes, and more. But it is also an industry in flux, as newcomers topple old-guard organizations that can’t keep pace with the need for instant access to materials and flexible delivery methods, as well as demands for community and connection. Leading the Learning Revolution is the first book to explain how to tap into this lucrative market, which rewards the most forward-thinking training firms, professional associations, continuing education programs, entrepreneurial speakers and consultants, and others. Filled with insights from the author’s vast experience, field-tested strategies, interviews, and anecdotes, the book explains how to: • Use technology to create high-impact learning opportunities • Develop content that is faster and better than the competition’s • Convert prospects to customers by building connection • Focus on the bottom-line results of lifelong learning Successful people and organizations never stop learning, and the people and organizations that lead that learning will never stop growing!

I have bolded the points relevant to my advice to TESOL above. I need to read this book, or others which similarly corroborate my own intuitions.

I hope to flesh this one out when I get more time. Meanwhile, any comments?

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Networking, and playing the Big G Game of EVO Minecraft MOOC

By Vance Stevens
English Faculty, HCT / CERT / KBZAC, Al Ain UAE

This post relates how #evomc16 co-moderators are using Minecraft to help teachers understand how gamification might work for them in their classrooms by giving all concerned the experience of interacting in the game.

But Minecraft turns out to be only a vehicle for understanding the wider concept of gamification. By building elements of gamification into EVO Minecraft MOOC, this session becomes a Big G game space where participants can meet other educators to learn how their students can benefit from gamified environments. So participants here (as well as moderators) are developing their understanding of gamification while enjoying playing in the little g game of Minecraft.

Gamification is modeled in the Big G Game space through creation of a Google+ community "gameboard" and having participants figure out from there what they have to do to play the game. Eventually they end up in Minecraft in creative mode. They then graduate to coping with survival in the more challenging game environment, and through that experience learn that gamification is all about teamwork, mutual support, meeting challenges, and achieving goals, whatever they are, and however they themselves define them. 

The ‘aha’ moment occurs when the players succeed in both the upper and lowercase games and realize that, if what they were trying to teach were placed in such a context, it would not only become more engaging to the learners, but their students would be taking their own learning into their own hands. This can create a powerful learning environment, but educators need to experience it for themselves in order to understand it.

Electronic Village Online (EVO, takes place every year (since 2001) and this year runs from January 10 to February 13, 2016. EVO Minecraft MOOC (EVOMC16) is now in its second year as one of these sessions, .

There are 185 people enrolled in the Google+ community that serves as the base for EVOMC16,, but far fewer actively engaged participants. For this small coterie, it seems to be going well. They have found in the Google+ community page the link to the syllabus,, which points to a set of missions here: The missions are pretty straightforward -- or, they must be, as participants seem to be finding them and doing them without asking too many questions, and when they do ask and the moderators respond, the response seems to get them on task.

Gee (2008, p.24) distinguishes the little ‘g’ game, the software comprising a game such as Minecraft, and the Big ‘G’ game or "social setting" that the little ‘g’ game helps to gamify. Going to the Google+ community page and figuring out where the session components are and what you are supposed to do with them is how you play the Big G Game of EVO Minecraft MOOC. Completing the 10 missions (or a to-be determined number) leads to the awarding of an EVOMC16 survivors badge. Evidence of completion of the required missions is recorded in a Google spreadsheet which is in turn linked from a click on the badge. The badge is awarded through Credly. The Credly system validates awards through specification of criteria needed to earn a badge. A link from the badge awarded directs anyone who clicks on your award to an open document displaying verifiable evidence of what was accomplishment.
The missions are, for weeks 1 and 2:
  1. Introduce yourself on our Google+ Community  
  2. Install and enter our voice tool so we can communicate in VoIP while in-world
  3. Fill in the Google Registration form
  4. Reflect on your activities for Weeks 1-2
  5. Join the Missions Accomplished Google sheet
  6. Join us in Minecraft
These missions have provided our demographics for this session and shown us who we are likely to be working with through to the end of the session. As things stand midway through the session:
  • Although we have 185 members on our Google+ Community, this doesn’t give us much of an indication of who is with us in 2016 because we are continuing a community that we started last year. 
  • But from Mission 3, we see that around 30 participants have filled in the Google form “enrolling” them in the session.
  • Of these, 21 provided Minecraft usernames, which are needed to whitelist them on the server. So at this point in the session, we have around 21 participants with access to our server, plus 7 active moderators, and a few others besides.
  • Our most rigorous test of commitment is completion of Mission 5, where participants must request access to our Google Sheet in order to track their ten missions accomplished. Midway through the session, a little over half a dozen participants had joined that document, but this number is likely to increase as the session goes on, since completion of missions leads to awarding of badges.
What our participants lack in number they have been making up for in energy. Our server in creative mode has been attracting some impressive builds. Here are a few who have posted their achievements on our Google+ Community page.  
  1. Yvonne Harrison has documented some incredible structures on her Flickr feed, linked from here
  2. Thorsten Gross has posted pictures of his builds here, and of a project he was involved with at Ricarda-Huch-Schule in Dreieich, Germany, here,
  3. Kathleen Kerney created a lovely garden,
  4. Beth Evans is prepping for survival,
  5. Beth O’Connell has created a library house,
  6. Ellen Clegg made a good start on her house,
  7. Moderators Jeff Kuhn and Aaron Schwartz have been busy creating whimsical structures such as a towering Sargon’s castle, and a zombie pit where buttons summon monsters (so participants can practice dispatching them)
  8. Micea Patrascu has been making some phenomenal builds with secret mechanisms and logic gates, and putting train tracks through tunnels around the server connecting them. I made a video of one of the train rides: which you can find embedded in my blog post at Stevens (2016).

Mircea Patrascu shows where this train ride ends up, at his subway stop, in his post here:
Mircea shows where this train ride ends up, at his subway stop, in his post here:'s post to the EVO Minecraft MOOC Google+ Community gives his incredible video overview of the roller coaster at the train station end of the ride, which as you can see in the comments to that post, he created with his son:

In order to access the roller coaster, you have to answer three questions about Minecraft. When the switches with the answers are correctly set, a door opens, and you can push a button to set the train in motion. Enjoy this ride!

It looks like the participants mentioned above are well on their way to earning their badges, and there are only a few missions left to accomplish. These are set in weeks 3 and 4 of the session, with week 5 being set aside for consolidation, learning from one another, helping others who might be inspired to catch up, and of course helping each other stay alive in survival mode. The transition to survival mode is planned for week 4, and will continue for as long as the server stays alive and properly maintained in Aaron’s office at Ohio University.
The focus of Week 3 has been Networking, finding out what’s available in the wider world of Minecraft.

For week 3 the missions are to
  1. Explore other networks in Minecraft
  2. Build something in creative mode on our server
and for week 4 to
  1. Create pictures or video of you in survival mode
  2. Reflect on your experiences in survival mode
Each set of missions is described in a page at our missions wiki; for example this one for week 3, on networking:

Apart from the several networks of educators using Minecraft mentioned there, networking activities in our group included:
  • Bron Stuckey’s online presentation in Week 3 where she filled us in on how others were incorporating Minecraft in promoting learning from among her extensive network of connected educators,
  • Yvonne Harrison posted about what she is learning about the wider Minecraft networks 
  • On Sunday Jan 31 Thorsten Groß has arranged for his students at Ricarda-Huch-Schule to show us around an elaborate build they created there, an instantiation of Bron Stuckey's advice that Minecraft helps us turn learning over to the students. Thorsten and his students will conduct a tour through the world of their school reconstructed in Minecraft, as shown in this post,
    They started to do this at
    a BarCamp about games, where the idea of reconstructing their whole school was planned and later on finished by students themselves. This event is scheduled for January 31, 2016, and is one of several events we hope to arrange to showcase the accomplishments of participants in our own extended network.
The networking aspect is what we focus on in this and other sessions like it. Most participants are starting to figure out that effectively networking is the key to success in the Big G game. This is modeled in the design of the EVO session, and in how the session is conducted. Not only are participants learning a lot about about Minecraft but they are starting to find their way about the EVO session itself. They're figuring out that the session is itself set up itself like a game.

Why is it like a game? There are two answers to the question. 
  • The first answer is that it was designed that way. It was designed to inculcate for teachers what gamification actually feels like. 
  • The second answer to the question of why EVOMC16 is like a game is because it is. By that I mean, the Big G Game of Minecraft MOOC has some rules with flexibility, goals and challenges, and awards in the form of badges. It's also much like a game because participants have to figure out these rules, it's designed to let them to figure it out as a built-in part of the game, and as in any game, it it's more fun if it doesn't play out the way anyone especially anticipated. 
This is normal for the app culture. When you go to Facebook and Google+, you don't get clear instructions. You're thrown into an interface and you see what's there and work out what you're supposed to do and how it will benefit you. So for participants who want to play the Big G game of EVOMC16, they go to our Google+ page where they find a sidebar with links they can click on. One of the links is to a syllabus, an outline of what they'll be doing each week during the session. The weeks are themed on Cormier's (2010) well-known five phases of coping in MOOCs, i.e. orient, declare, network, cluster, and focus (see Stevens, 2015, for elaborated explanation).

The syllabus alludes to missions that must be accomplished each week, and links point participants to the wiki where there is more information about each of the missions. The missions have participants do basic things like purchase Minecraft, get a username, introduce themselves to the community, join us in-world in creative mode in order to practice for our shift to survival, and fill in the Google sheet where participants will track their missions accomplished in pursuit of the one badge on offer at the moment. 

As of now we have just completed Week 3 on networks of educators using Minecraft. One aspect of networking is reaching out to the community within. We are hoping to arrange other tours with members of our community, such as the one by Thorsten Gross mentioned above, as our participants are turning out to be a rich source of modeling for all of us

I laid out our Big G goals in response to this post to our Google+ community by Kathleen Kearney,

We are all learning about gamification here, it's not so much about Minecraft. Minecraft is the little g game, the enabler of our emerging knowledge of gamification. When you enter survival mode you'll find that you are assisted by others in world. With their help you stay alive and learn. So gamification turns out to be learning through teamwork and mutual support and meeting challenges and achieving your goal, whatever it is. In this game you set your own goals. By achieving your goals in the game light bulbs go off in your head and light your way to some realization of how what you are learning in EVOMC16 might work to meet your real world challenges. 

The 'aha' moment occurs when the players succeed and realize that if what they were trying to teach were placed in such a context, it would not only become more engaging to the learners, but their students would be taking their own learning into their own hands. This can create a powerful learning environment, and educators need to experience it for themselves in order to understand its implications.

Cormier, D. (2010). Success in a MOOC. YouTube. Retrieved from

Gee, J.P. (2008) “Learning and games.” The ecology of games: Connecting youth, games, and learning. Edited by Katie Salen. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. (pp. 21-40). Available:


Stevens, V. (2015). Dreams, inspiration, and challenge: Writing in voice to articulate a way forward for EVO Minecraft MOOC 2016. AdVancEducation. Available:

Stevens, V. (2016). Week 3 - Networking, and playing the Big G Game of EVO Minecraft MOOCAdVancEducation. Available:

The above citation is for this post. This post was updated on Jan 31, 2016 and submitted to the Connecting Online 2016 (CO16) WizIQ blog. That post was rejected by the staff keeping the blog at WizIQ because it did not promote the session itself. However, I gave my presentation on this topic at CO16 on Feb 7, 2016 and blogged the archive of the recording here:

I published the video of the recording on YouTube