Monday, February 23, 2015

EVO Minecraft mOOC: How it came about

I started this post not at this blog but on a Google Doc I was editing for a piece Jeff Kuhn was writing for the February 2015 issue of TESL-EJ, the On the Internet column which I edit. I'll link to Jeff's article here (it will be online by the end of the month). But what Jeff wrote there prompted this stream of consciousness, which I appended as a reaction to his article, not only as a response, but as a suggestion to where Jeff might then go from where he had got in his thinking at that point.

As Jeff continued to write after I had left comments in his piece, he quoted parts of what I had written. I had by then moved those remarks to my blog as an unpublished draft.

I am publishing now almost "as is" in order to give Jeff a reference link for citing me in the article we were working on, him as author, me as trying-to-be-helpful editor.

As I begin here I'm responding to Jeff's conceptions from Gee and Ito. The former is games being use not only as games in class but in a larger context (big G) Game. Jeff was using our experience in co-moderating Minecraft mOOC this past 5 weeks as an example of a Game where teachers were trying to 'learn Minecraft' by using Minecraft as the game whose affordances give us insights into and bring us closer to our learning goals and end Game. 

Ito's framework is messing around, hanging out, and geeking out. Jeff had explained these phases of coming to grips with games when I added my comments. He then went on to use me as an example of messing around with Minecraft (my longtime dabbling with the concept), then forming a community of learners and "hanging out" with them in order to see what they did and follow their lead, and eventually geeking out to the point of almost organizing an expedition to resupply Jeff with sticks when he had run short of wood in the bowels of the server he had set up for us (he alludes to this in his article). 

So here it is, my off the top of my head reactions to the first half of Jeff's article, blogged here in order to provide a linkable reference to Jeff's quoting me in his article. It's all in the Game :-)


I want to use games in my classroom. There’s this neat game Minecraft that I've been learning a lot about - for the past several years actually -- but don’t know how to crack it (my problem was no access to a server and community. I think I was having trouble ‘getting’ it when I was playing alone  - the nature of the game changed for me once we got a community into the mix ).

So, I thought, why not start an EVO session? My take on Webheads and most other things I tackle is "let’s get it going!" like throwing a party, and invite as many people as you can, and if it’s a good concept and there are enough people, it’ll be a great party :-)  It’s a little off the wall, but if you’re going to use games in class, this is what you want to do. Hey guys, there’s this great game here, a lot of you already play it. I don’t know much about it myself (how could you possibly know as much as your students about Minecraft?) but I think we can make it fly as a substrate for our learning, so let’s give it a go and see what happens.

As with Jeff's session on Zombies, he’d have been thinking ... I want you to write about crisis management (students start getting a bit bleary eyed) but wait, we’re going to do it by experiencing a crisis. Here I’ll show you (students move to edge of their seats).

So if you expect students to get into your crazy ideas and trust you and those ideas to help facilitate their learning, why not do the same with an EVO session. Take teachers whom you expect are going to stand up in class and introduce a game they know less about than the students, show them what it feels like - no, let them experience what it feels like to be in this learning situation and then (as with crisis management and zomibies, see Kuhn 2014) RESOLVE it, feel it getting better, feel their expertise grow, as Ito says, go from messing around, like I was doing for too long with MC, to hanging out with a bunch of people there, and see what it’s like to get geeky, and what happens after that.

So this in my concept, following from Gee, starting to see the potential of Gamification (Big G fit there?) as opposed to playing the occasional game in class (little g) and feeling the difference when the game starts to kick in to guide and facilitate the learning.

And how does that happen in PD? Experientially and ineffably.  I like Jeff's idea that MC is a toy, that learning grows from how we configure and use that toy.

In 2008, as they were planning their first MOOC, and the attention it was getting was attracting participants into 4 digits, and it was obvious none of them, Stephen, George, or Dave, had anticipated the scale of what they were setting in motion, Stephen Downes was asked by a colleague in a live podcast WHY he was essentially flogging his back with this endeavor, and he replied simply, “because I’ll learn from it.” That is the answer to many questions of why we do what we do, and the justification for it, and the mindset we must inculcate in our students and other teachers we train.

And what was learned in the first MOOC was how to scale learning for thousands of participants in an academic endeavor, all of whom had as many reasons for being there, and as many take-aways in store for them as their headcount, while making the process manageable for the facilitators of the course.

So what #evomc15 did was to apply some of what was learned then about MOOCs and has been refined since to the facilitation of a course conducted itself in the manner of a game, the nature of the thing it was designed (or not designed as the case may be) to teach (or not to teach, but to help others ‘get’).

I’ve started a blog post on this topic

and what I’m getting into here is the follow on to that post, a reflection on what happened, and how I see why it happened.

I think we accomplished a lot in this EVO Minecraft mOOC #evomc15 experience, or at least I did, in coming to grips with the toy and learning to appreciate how it might impact our learning and that of our students.

(As a curious footnote on the idea of big G little g; big M little m - I've been calling our MOOC a mOOC to acknowlege the fact that it is a miniscule Open Online Course, not a Massive one. There has been some question as to how massive a course has to be before it can qualify as Massive. Some have put that number around 100 at minimum, and at the time I started diminunizing the m in our mOOC we had around 30 some odd participants. We ended the course with 67 (the last two acquired on almost the last day) so we might need to look for a font that will represent something between a small m and a Massive one).


Kuhn, J. (2014). The world is not enough: The need for game design. IATEFL LT SIG & TESOL CALL-IS Web Conference on Gaming and Gamification – a Win-Win for Language Learning. Recording