Tuesday, January 27, 2015

EVO Minecraft mOOC: Orient, declare, network

EVO Minecraft mOOC has just entered its 3rd week as I write this. There are just two or three dozen participants, so it's not a massive open online course exactly. I call it a mOOC, or minuscule open online course.

In EVO we're not supposed to call them courses. In return for nominal TESOL sponsorship, they are called sessions in order to avoid confusion with paid courses provided online by TESOL.INC. So even the course part is debatable, which is to say that despite this, it is still a course, The notion that it's not is simply Newspeak.

EVO is Electronic Village Online, http://evosessions.pbworks.com. I have moderated many EVO sessions and this one breaks several EVO rules. First, it covers a game that is not free, and in that sense departs from traditional EVO policy and the open part of MOOC (though everything we do in this session around this game is indisputably open). Also, the course was proposed, but not really developed, until after the acceptance deadline. This is because it turns on its head yet another norm for EVO, that sessions are moderated by experts and meticulously prepared beforehand and readied for display and critique (by EVO coordinators) by the time of their acceptance at the end of November.

Whereas most EVO sessions are developed with great care by people with expertise they wish to share, this one takes a flipped approach. It was evolved over the month of December and readied just in time for the start of sessions in January, 2015. It was conceived of as a game about learning to game. The moderators would not necessarily be experts but would be gamers knowledgable about the potential of MC in language learning seeking to learn how to play and game the game for that purpose. What they are learning is how to approach a game not as an expert with global knowledge but as a co-learner with students they might introduce it to in turn. As I did with the original Webheads in Action EVO session in 2002, the moderators would model this means of learning and engage participants in sharing the responsibility for that learning. We would peer-teach, scaffold if you will, each other.

I came up with  the idea for this one when I read that there would be a Canvas MOOC, Minecraft for Educators, starting in Week 3 of the EVO 2015 sessions, and I registered that idea in a tweet last August. In a sense the tweet was the proposal, and what followed was window dressing to gain acceptance for inclusion in the EVO 2015 listing of sessions.

I accepted Marijana and Filip's offer and we went on from there

The proposal at 
http://evosessions.pbworks.com/w/page/90096824/2015_EVO_Minecraft_MOOC starts a little facetiously; to wit:

"This session will invite interested teachers to join us in playing Minecraft, learning all we can about playing alone and together, and how Minecraft is being used effectively in language learning. We'll learn by doing and from one another. 

Target audience: 
Teachers with a gaming problem / gamers with a teaching problem / teachers of gamers with a learning problem.

Session objectives: 
By the end of the session, participants will have:
  • explored and played with Minecraft
  • shared their discoveries with other participants
  • created spaces in Minecraft where desired learning outcomes can be promoted
  • shared what they have accomplished in MC
  • curated resources related to MC

Session participants will learn about Minecraft in the same way they would expect students to figure it out and adapt it to their own learning goals; that is, we will learn by playing and sharing what we discover. We will learn, as Joel Levin puts it, how to 'limit' the game; that is how to create spaces there where we can promote desired learning outcomes. We will point each other to resources (there are thousands of them, so we'll have to curate for one another). We can create YouTube channels for our work and create videos showing what we accomplish in MC and how we might use the worlds we create with our students. Kids do it, so someone in our group might set up a server we can all play on (if not, we'll get a kid to set one up for us - there are YouTube videos to show us how)."

The starting point noted above is Using Minecraft for Learning English, in TESL-EJ August 2014–Volume 18, Number 2, by Marijana and Filip SmolĨec with an introduction by Vance Stevens, http://www.tesl-ej.org/wordpress/issues/volume18/ej70/ej70int/

In this article, 11 year-old Filip writes and dictates to his mom Marijana as they share their perceptions of how MC helps kids learn near-native levels of English. In the introduction I drew on the work not only of Seth Levin, mentioned above, but also on recorded presentations by Dave Dodgeson and Jeff Kuhn. Eventually we brought the latter two in as co-moderators.

I take a cat-herding approach to marshaling volunteers in efforts such as EVOMC15, so it is not uncommon for people I moderate with to step to the plate when they are good and ready, but the moderators who are contributing solidly at the moment are Marijana and Filip, my wife Bobbi, and Jeff Kuhn. Jeff has been particularly forthcoming, offering a video intro to Minecraft, and setting up a server for us where our most productive interaction has been taking place.

Jeff is our resident adult expert among out co-moderators, but another way EVOMC15 departs from the norm is in attracting young people like Filip to join us and tutor the adult learners. Here again we model an effective approach to the student-teacher dichotomy by obliterating the notion of age as a means of categorizing one or the other. This is how it should be in our classes. If we are hired as teachers, one effective way of doing our jobs is to let our students learn by teaching us. One salient affordance of MC is that it provides an engaging crucible for experimenting with exactly that. Filip came aboard with his mom as co-moderator, but we have also been joined by 12-year old Carlos from Spain and teenager Ian Hill from UAE. All three have contributed builds to our MC sandbox, and Filip provides us with a constant stream of pointers, and spawns rabbits and other creatures for us to cope with in amusement.

As I like to do with my writing, I like to get it out there and develop it as we go. I will go ahead and publish this and return later with more information. I need to develop this into a slide show to assist a presentation Jeff and I will give on Sunday Feb 8, and also adapt it to a presentation proposal I need to make in the next few days.

I will develop this with more information about how the course is organized on Dave Cormier's 5 stages for success in a MOOC, and explain how the third step, Networking, brings us into the Canvas MOOC on Minecraft for Educators, which is associated with MinecraftEDU, of which Seth Levin (there's that name again :-) is a founding contributor.

Also I need to explain why we have minimized spaces for interaction for this mOOC. Instead of opening several spaces, each with a different purpose, we have chosen to focus on just one, a Google+ Community at https://plus.google.com/u/0/communities/112993649763396826671.

This post, or a future one, will discuss how that has been working out.