Reflecting on the Givercraft Experience

[This is my Course Reflection paper for EDET 693 – Gaming & Open Education.  I am currently enrolled in the Educational Technology Graduate Program at the University of Alaska Southeast.]

Taking several steps back and reflecting on this course in its entirety, I realized that the open-ended nature of the course assignment, to create a K-12 MOOC through MinecraftEdu, was in itself a model about how to integrate technology into teaching, learning, and assessments.  At the time the assignment seemed vague, over-arching, and definitely overwhelming.  As educators we often strive to maintain structure in cultivating learning environments while still being flexible to the diverse needs of our learners.  Now as I look back, I realize that the unstructured assignment allowed us to explore the potential of integrating gaming and literacy, which should serve as a model for any educator looking to incorporate new technology tools in their classroom.  We should be willing to take risks in expanding our knowledge and skills as educators but also to explore new and emerging technologies and their use in our classrooms.

Our work as a team of coaches developing this MOOC underscored the importance of peer learning communities as a support network for integrating technology and implementing new teaching strategies and methods.  A peer learning community brings the different skills and expertise needed to support educators in taking risks and exploring new ways of teaching and facilitating meaningful learning.  This can be a valuable experience for educators to sound off their ideas, gain inspiration from others, and save time and resources by collaborating with others.

In designing this unit, we initially weren’t sure how exactly we wanted the students to use MinecraftEdu, but we had several ideas for a topic.  We eventually settled on using a book, “The Giver,” by Lois Lowry, and we later named the project Givercraft.  There was great potential for incorporating several content areas but we decided to focus on literacy and use Reading (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.6.1, RL.6.2, RL.6.3) and Writing (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.6.3) standards in this unit.

Our main tools in designing and implementing Givercraft included:

  • A registration form used by teachers to sign up their classes to participate.
  • Our Givercraft website (http://givercraft.weebly.com) which served as our primary marketing tool for advertising to teachers and the public about this project; later we added a password protected page on the site for participating teachers to access information and materials and a merchandising page to promote a booster campaign, selling t-shirts and hoodies, to support future MinecraftEdu experiences.
  • A Google Group for our Givercraft team to communicate about our progress on tasks, to discuss and decide game elements, issues, risks and other topics as needed.
  • A Google Group for the teachers (The Givercraft Community) to facilitate a learning community for the participating teachers; we used this forum for introductions, announcements, to troubleshoot issues, and to share concerns and ideas about Givercraft.
  • A shared Google Drive team project folder was used to document the work of our Givercraft team; we saved everything that was created to support the project in a shared folder for team members to access and provide feedback when needed.
  • A shared Google Drive folder for teachers (Givercraft Teachers) which included the unit plan and supplemental materials, schedules, technical support files and documents including the MinecraftEdu client download and instructional guides, instructions for updating Java, Wiki instructions, and basic controls for playing MinecraftEdu. We also created videos to supplement some of the instructions and guides which were also uploaded to this teacher folder.  At the end of the experience, we had teachers upload any screenshots and students quotes that weren’t included in the wikis that we could include in the Highlight Reel.  A separate folder was created for each teacher to send their Student rosters
  • Individual Google Drive folders (Givercraft Rosters) for each teacher to submit class rosters which we used to created usernames for the game and the wiki pages. We used the same rosters to create data collection sheets; the teachers recorded student scores based on the rubrics after each Scenario.
  • The Givercraft 2014 Highlight Reel was a video compilation of screenshots taken by students, teachers, and Givercraft team members throughout the experience. We also included quotes from student wikis that reflected the range of their experiences.

We incorporated several strategies into our project design that reflected research-based best practices which complimented the diversity and strengths of our GiverCraft team members.  We had initially struggled to organize our brainstormed ideas, our roles within the team, and our planning process, but that actually forced us to regroup and focus on the project as a whole by assigning roles and answering big questions about our overall goals and objectives.  We had been effectively using an Understanding by Design process for developing our lesson plan ideas and project goals but the course reading helped us to develop our process that would eventually characterize our team dynamic and facilitate more efficient teamwork throughout the semester.

Our overall planning process followed the ADDIE model of game design from the text chapter on “Managing the Gamification Design Process” (Kapp, 2012).  We had begun to analyze our content and had a general understanding of the design we wanted but the ADDIE model helped us to consider the scope of the project and assign roles and responsibilities for each team member.  I think we became more efficient after we appointed Thomas as our team manager; having a designated team member to schedule and facilitate meetings helped us focus on the tasks for each week.  The “Sprint” format for our meetings worked well as the smaller work teams would report back on their progress, outline their next steps, and identify areas that required more support from other.  Looking back I think that sprint meetings work better when you have a team that has worked together over a longer period of time.  I think we were still getting to know each other and develop a working dynamic and while the sprint meetings were effective and fit better into our schedules, I think there were still opportunities for more discussions and collaboration in those earlier stages after we adopted sprint meetings.

Our shared planning document in the Google Drive project folder was a major step in facilitating our understanding of the project and the various tasks needed with a timeline of tasks leading up to the Givercraft experience.  Having a template for a planning document could be a great way to focus discussions in the earlier stages of the course or future projects.  Several Google Apps that we used to meet and stay organized, (Drive, Hangouts, Groups, etc.)  were new to some of our team members and that initially impacted how well we interacted and shared information.  One of the biggest barriers for some team members was and continues to be access to reliable internet connections; it was unfortunate that we lost several team members and that one team member wasn’t able to play with us in MinecraftEdu.  I think we did our best to work around these challenges and there were more project tasks outside of the game than in the game, so it wasn’t an issue of having enough role and responsibilities (we had plenty of that!). However it’s an important factor in how the project team members were able to participate and collaborate.  We certainly lost teachers and their classes during the registration period due to technical difficulties – lack of reliable internet or bandwidth issues, outdated or broken computers, conflicts in Java versions that would impact other school programs, existing MinecraftEdu servers that conflicted with our client version, and some schools only had netbooks and tablets which prevented them from participating.

I think all the effort we made to get organized and communicate more effectively was an important step in our becoming a team.  We had a rocky start getting our ideas on paper and having a meeting where every team member could attend.  Having a regularly scheduled meeting and process helped team members to work more efficiently and they knew where to go find out information from the group if they missed a meeting or had a question throughout the week.  There was a point after we assigned roles and responsibilities where team members did not always communicate their progress or areas of need or the smaller work teams would take their task in a completely different direction; that’s going to happen from time to time on any team project.  There are entire industries dedicated to helping work teams be more efficient, so it’s important to recognize that we could always do better a second time around, but that each process should reflect the team members (unless we have plans to franchise Givercraft!) and their skills and strengths.

The blogging and Sprint meetings were helpful in pointing out issues so that we could address the miscommunication and re-assign tasks, roles and responsibilities as needed. The asynchronous aspect of planning a project of this scale on such a short timeline proved to be a barrier for effective team communication.  It’s difficult to have the same understandings when you’re not always able to meet as a team or if you’re process or organizational systems are not consistently applied across the team.  While this could have been a good time for us to scale back the project so that we could keep it manageable and have team members buy-in to the process and project goals, this is a common issue for any project team and underscores the importance of having a customized process that everyone understands and agrees is essential to team communication and success.  Looking back, I don’t think there was necessarily a better process that would have been better; every team has a its own unique dynamic, I hope that our experience can inform the next group and guide them to create a process that works for their unique skillsets and needs as a team.

Testing our lesson ideas and expanding our knowledge of MinecraftEdu through the weekly gaming sessions was incredibly invaluable to my understanding of this project.  I did not always understand what I was doing in the game but simulating the student experience gave me insight into the gameplay, how our design would impact student interactions, and a better sense of what our expectations could be of teacher participation.  Hosting the Teacher Challenge was an appropriate way to “meet” teachers; it was similar to how students would meet one another and forge their player identities in Givercraft.  I think it gave teachers who were less experienced in gaming an opportunity to test the waters and see what they had signed up for.  It would be worth considering a teacher challenge session as a marketing tool for future projects.  Having teachers play the game could be helpful in convincing them to submit an application and help the project team assess the teachers’ gaming abilities; one thing we have learned from Givercraft is that teacher presence in the game plays a significant role in how students behave and interact in the game.

Another important step was hosting our Handshake meetings to meet teachers and review logistics the week before Givercraft.  This was another opportunity for us to discover the expectations and needs of the teachers, which laid a foundation for communicating with teachers throughout the experience.  Again, given more time to plan and prepare, it would be important to include the teachers in refining the lesson plan and reviewing the supplemental materials, especially the Scenario instructions and rubrics.  I think team members need to work more closely with teachers to prepare and possibly serve as “advisors” to a smaller team of teachers (2-3) in their preparations leading up to the gaming experience.

During this entire project, our Givercraft team was constantly analyzing, evaluating, and documenting our group process but also our individual learning and growth areas.  Our weekly meetings leading up to Givercraft became daily check-ins during the experience to report on gameplay and any issues that needed to be addressed before the next day.  While I personally appreciated the flexibility and frequency of meetings and check-ins, I think it was challenging for the entire team to “keep up” with the game implementation after Givercraft began.  While we knew this would be a factor during our planning process, the scope and scale of support that was needed to adequately and effectively manage the game experience was intense!  I appreciated the check-in meetings every evening because it helped me to decompress and reflect immediately about the gameplay that day.  However, we struggled with the turnaround time to implement any changes that were needed and to adequately communicate that to the team and to the teachers.  Because not all classes participated everyday, from their perspective, sometimes the changes were very drastic each time they joined the game, and it became almost unpredictable.

The decision to use “The Giver” as our book lent itself to much of the chaos in managing the game; we were able to frame any changes to gameplay by using the context of the book.  I even felt that as the weeks went on, the entire community (students, teachers, elders) was becoming immersed in the flow of the game and that our identities were evolving as a community AND as individual members.  While there was no typical day in Givercraft, there were constant adjustment made throughout each day and week during the entire experience.  After Givercraft began, we recognized that it would be helpful for students to take a gamer-type inventory survey, to help them understand how they were participating as players but to also acknowledge that everyone has a different style of gameplay and personality and identity within the game.  Students who were able to take the survey posted their gamer type on their wikispaces pages which also helped us to understand their behavior in the game.  Had this experience been conducted with a smaller group of students, it would have been interesting to incorporate tasks and game elements to meet the gamer types. I’ve included my journal entries from my role as a game monitor to illustrate how we continuously adapted the game to reflect the needs of students as well as teachers.  What is difficult to document are the emails, hangout calls and chats, and phone calls with teachers to address individual needs that occurred throughout Givercraft.

Another important tool in helping us understand what changes needed to be made, was to monitor the chat during each day.  Students who used the chat frequently were able to express their ideas, opinions, thought process, etc.  This enabled me to find them in the game to help them address any issues or to mediate as needed.  It was also a good way to gauge how well they understood the scenario or what their daily tasks were.  It would be interesting to get a sense from teachers, how they monitored or managed the game in the physical classroom.  I can only assume there were many issues that came up, some of which were relayed by teachers through emails or Google group posts.

The teachers played a vital role in preparing, connecting, and guiding the students throughout this experience, it would be incredibly valuable to have increased feedback and participation from them in the planning stages of future projects. I plan to compile a summary of issues and topics that we tried to address each day to illustrate the types of support that future project teams need to consider.  I believe it was important for me to be available to address teachers’ questions, needs, and concerns, but I also acknowledge that it was difficult to respond in a timely manner while monitoring the game.

Even though we didn’t specifically outline the technology standards to be assessed, the students used multiple technology tools throughout the experience including playing MinecraftEdu on computers and using WikiSpaces pages to post screenshots and reflections about their builds in the game.  I believe we should have articulated specific technology standards because they not only guide the learning process but it would have helped teachers to understand the technology skills needed to successfully complete the GiverCraft experience.  Just as educators need to learn the technology in order to facilitate the learning experience, students need to understand what technology skills they will acquire or improve to meet the learning objectives.  In addition, I think just as we met our objectives as technology coaches by designing this experience, we should have also outlined objectives and standards for teachers that would be met by participating in Givercraft.  We lacked adequate time to prepare teachers and having teacher objectives to illustrate our expectations for their participation could have been helpful for them and us.  It could be argued that most teachers who participated in Givercraft already knew of the ISTE Standards*T however the specific standards and objectives could have been helpful for teachers as they evaluate their participation and particularly our implementation and facilitation of the entire Givercraft experience.

It was important for our Givercraft team to simulate the student experience and to understand how teachers would need to support the diverse needs of their students in this unique learning environment. One of our most significant steps was to model the standards we wanted to address through Givercraft.  Reading the book, playing MinecraftEdu, and writing about our experiences, enabled us to design a lesson plan that reflected how students would participate, what tasks they needed to complete, and what resources would help teachers to support their students.  As the main content for this experience, we believed very strongly that reading “The Giver” needed to be a prerequisite for participation in Givercraft and we asked teachers to have their students read the book before our start date.  Most classes had either just recently completed reading the book or were very close to finishing and had read enough that they could start Givercraft with a foundational understanding of the book.  Several classes had read it in previous grades but we don’t necessarily know how each class reviewed the content prior to participation.

We also wanted to give students “voice” and “choice” in their learning so we created rubrics that would allow them flexibility to determine their evidence of learning and mastery of the standards.  We also wanted teachers to assess the evidence based on what students would post and write outside of the game on their Wikispaces pages.  The drawback was not having the rubrics evident in the game so that students could view and experience the various levels of mastery.  We were worried that by providing examples of each level in the rubric, students have a visual standard rather than being allowed to creatively meet the standards in their own way.  I would be interested in hearing from teachers how the rubrics were received and whether or not they would recommend a different approach to their use in this experience.

We designed badges that would be awarded by teachers as students shared their work from the game.  From what we learned about gamification, rewards and badges in any game are important to players for a variety of reasons.  However, our game design did not highlight the badges or demonstrate their value within the game; the badges were awarded outside of the game, on each student’s wiki page.  And while teachers were able to assess students’ work, the logistics of awarding (and posting) badges, proved to be too time-consuming and not an integral part of the assessment process.  This is something for future groups to consider, whether or not badges are effective in this type of game, but more importantly what is the best process for awarding them to students.

In her blog titled, “Five Characteristics of Learner-Centered Teaching,” Weimer (2012) proposes some clarification on her five (5) characteristics of learner-centered teaching.  Learner-centered teaching:

  • “engages students in the hard, messy work of learning,”
  • “includes explicit skill instruction,”
  • “encourages students to reflect on what they are learning and how they are learning it,”
  • “motivates students by giving them some control over learning processes,” and
  • “encourages collaboration.

Givercraft included almost all of these characteristics through a variety of ways.  Incorporating “explicit skill instruction” was not provided for learning how to play MinecraftEdu, although it could have been used by teachers in preparing students before and after their time in the game (reading, taking notes, reviewing the rubrics, making a team plan, writing reflective journals in the wikis, etc.).  One of our project team debates was about whether or not to provide instructions for playing in MinecraftEdu.  We eventually provided links to guides and tutorials but I would be interested to hear from teachers about whether that was helpful or not.  I would recommend taking the time to find the appropriate tutorials and guides and making pdf copies for teachers to review and print as needed.  The filtering issues at schools prevents teachers (and students) from accessing the tutorials and guides that we recommended.

For students, they were responsible to manage their time and resources in the game; they had the freedom to literally play and wander around a zone for the entire class period (if they really wanted to).  However, most students found something to do right away.  Whether it was exploring, learning to use the basic controls, finding their friends, starting a building, or just trying every tool and block in their inventory, every student couldn’t help but learn something from the moment they entered the game.  We purposely did not articulate how we would monitor the game, we wanted to observe students and intervene if needed.  In reality, as coaches, game monitors, and Elders, we had a lot to learn about how to monitor an online game.

There was no real instructor, we framed our role as game designers and monitors; teachers were facilitators in the classroom and even players in the game.  In large part because of the ways that students evolved as players in the game, our roles as Elders began to change as well. I think it was important for students to see that we didn’t always have the right answers or hold all the knowledge about the game. Many of the teachers can attest to learning new skills in MinecraftEdu from their students.  The “learners” was no longer just the students who were playing but really everyone involved in the game.  We were learning our roles and negotiating our impact on the Community within the game.  For the students, the Givercraft experience provoked them to solve problems, to organize their efforts, to find common ground, and to establish their role or place within the community.  I learned many things from the students throughout this experience.  In one of my Givercraft journal entries, I wrote about the balance of power within the game and how students had shown us that the Elders were the inconsistent element of the game.  I was grateful that the project team members were willing to shift our role in the game in response to what we were learning from the students.

Givercraft evolved into a global interdisciplinary unit that encompassed more than the reading and writing standards we chose to assess.  From my own experience in facilitating a program, it’s been easier to have a group agreement that we revisit throughout the program to evaluate its appropriateness and to gauge how well we are upholding the agreement as a group and as individuals.  It was easier becaue we were all in the same room and we saw each other consistently throughout an extended period of time.  The difficulty in applying the same type of group agreement in the Givercraft experience, was that we had students who weren’t in the same place at the same time on a consistent basis.  However, the opportunities and implications in creating an online learning community through gaming were impressive in this project.

Any classroom or program is hard enough to manage even with a “living” group agreement or classroom rules and behavioral expectations.  Corporate and organizational branding exists to provide a specific experience that is the same no matter where you are in the world.  In Givercraft, we had almost 700 students, ranging from 4th – 12th grade, to 25 teachers, across five (5) time zones in 21 cities and two countries; in the game, all participants logged in at various times throughout the day and played across 20 zones.  While I think the Givercraft Community Agreement was necessary, just as law and contracts have a place in society, it was unrealistic to think that implementation would be as simple as we outlined in the agreement document.  Any good teacher can you tell you that there is more gray area than the black and white print on that agreement.  The Givercraft community that evolved throughout this experience was the heart of this interdisciplinary unit.  The identities that were assigned to students mimicked the naming process in “The Giver.”   The teachers who hold a position of power outside of the game (in the classroom), became “mere mortals” in the game, either due to their inexperience playing Minecraft or because they didn’t make the rules, they were just regular players.  These mysterious Elders who had no faces that students had ever seen or been introduced to, held all the power that extended beyond the game (they could call, email, or chat online with your teacher!).

The game elements that lent themselves to a world of “Sameness” was an aspect of this experience that hadn’t even crossed my mind during the planning stages.  These elements of hunger, day/night, weather, freezing and muting students, teleporting, unlimited supplies, border blocks, etc., they had all previously seemed logistical to managing the game.  As all of us became immersed in the flow of the game, those elements took on real meaning in the context of the book and thereby our online gaming community.  Slowly, the students began referring to each other by their usernames (even if they were in the same class).  They began to ask questions about what was beyond the border blocks; they wondered aloud (in the chat) who lived in that community beyond my zone, who was that other person in the chat that I never see, why was it always daylight, how come I could have all these blocks and tools at my disposal but everyone wanted to be the same.  Citizens were working together to complete massive structures in their zones; they were making suggestions and negotiating strategies based on their time in the game, what they were skilled at or interested in, and how they wanted to interpret or incorporate details from the book.

Several teachers worked with their classes to make a plan in the classroom but the student interactions in the game were organic, dynamic, and meaningful.    They were forging alliances with other citizens they didn’t know (students from other classes) and discussing how to use the space in their zone to illustrate the Community in the book.

While there were moments of curiosity or realizations about who the Elders were outside of the game, eventually the Elders began to symbolize the authority that had power of your abilities and choices in this community.  The community members began to talk back (in the chat) to Elders, advocate for their fellow citizens to be “unfrozen,” negotiate terms for imprisoned citizens, voice their support (or protest) of Elder justice, and even sabotage Elders with potions, digging into the void repeatedly, griefing, false accusations, the list goes on!  In some instances, citizens became attached to certain Elders or displayed a preference to working with a certain Elder because of previous experiences or because they developed an understanding of each Elder’s identity in the game.

Even the Elders began to evolve and rethink their roles in the game which was an excellent example of the adults learning from the students but also a testament to our commitment to creating a meaningful learning experience for ALL (students, teachers, and coaches/elders).  I enjoyed learning from the students and being a part of this dynamic, interactive, and volatile community.  The issues our online gaming community faced parallel many issues that are prevalent in our society today and it’s important to use this experience to discuss how we react as individuals and as a society.  The opportunities existed for teachers to have broader follow up conversations about access, equality, equity, power, laws, diversity, environmental changes and impacts, choices, consequences, systems of oppression, etc.  I was overwhelmed but also inspired by the power of this experience to bring up all of these topics; I was most impressed that we were all “living” this experience through an online game and that became than just interpreting the story in the book, the students were living the story and experiencing it in a deeper, more meaningful way.  Instead of asking students to simply read about a world of sameness, we immersed them in this similar environment or world that brought up more questions than answers.

Education is intended to train students in becoming competent, responsible, and contributing members of their respective communities; their learning experiences should provide multiple opportunities to develop higher-order thinking skills and processes that will enable and empower them to take ownership for their learning.  Givercraft was a unique opportunity for students to experience learning through gaming and by being a part of an online community of learners.

When we were developing the scenarios, we recognized that using MinecraftEdu would allow students the flexibility to be creative and make choices about how they would participate.  In the first scenario, we asked students to recreate the Community described in “The Giver” but gave them limited direction on how and what to build.  It may seem simple to think about building a community that emphasized “sameness” but when I think about the gaming sessions where our project team attempted to complete this “simple” task, it’s obvious that it would require collaboration among students and critical-thinking skills and processes to complete the task.

It wasn’t enough to have a vision or interpretation of the Community, students needed to explain it well to their peers and negotiate a process, group roles, selection of building materials, and how to manage their time in the game.  Each group was given a blank zone with an unlimited supply of materials; nighttime, weather effects, animals, hunger and health in the game were all disabled, so students could build without worrying about those distractions.  We had recommended to teachers that students work in teams of 2-3 but that each student needed to be logged into the game.  Throughout the first scenario, the chat was buzzing as students tried to figure out where they were, how and what to build, and for many, how to use the basic controls in the game.  Students took screenshots of their work and posted them to their individual wiki pages and wrote brief reflections to accompany their screenshots.

As we transitioned to Scenario 2, the task was to find memories (books in chests) throughout the community and Elsewhere (areas outside of their zone borders), and to build something that represented the memory.  They would also take screenshots of their built memories and post to their wiki pages as evidence of completing the task.  To reinforce the context of the book, we turned on nighttime, weather (snow and rain), hunger, health, and animals; now students had to worry about survival while they worked to find and build memories.  The result:  CHAOS!  Almost all the strategies and gameplay learned and developed in Scenario 1 went out the window as students struggled in this new scenario.  I am still amazed at how well the book aligned with this particular game.  Scenario 2 was overwhelming, messy, and confusing, as it was supposed to be.  Students were forced to regroup and create new strategies for this tumultuous new community that was significantly impacted by the release of memories.  Learning to survive in the game became a task unto itself, but students were incredibly creative and resourceful in combining survival with memory making.

Each class had their own way of communicating and preparing in the classroom (outside of the game), but in the game, each student was responsible for their own choices and actions in the game.  I chose a single class to show samples of their work from the Givercraft Wikispaces site; I spent a significant amount of time in the game observing this class mostly because there weren’t many classes in the game during their designated time.  I observed them (often in Spectate mode which allowed me to be invisible to the other players) communicating in the chat, navigating their zone, collaborating on builds and even arguing or “fighting” in the game over real estate, creative differences, or griefing.  I tried not to intervene but I would usually ask check-in questions about their creative-process, choices in materials, and individual roles within a smaller group.  I’ve included writing samples from each student in the class I selected.  From their wiki pages, it’s obvious the entire class was highly engaged throughout the entire experience, and the wikis served the purpose of self-reflection about their time and progress in the game.  Students experienced a wide range of emotions throughout the game and were conscious of how it affected their gameplay.

Symbolically, the survival elements were exactly the kind of memories that were eliminated in the Community; the students made thematic connections that weren’t explicit in the book or in the scenario instructions.  Instead of just “building” memories, they “lived” the memories and wrote about them! They acted them out, they found locations or objects that represented memories and took a screenshot next to it, they shared memories when they couldn’t find books, they made their own memories, they developed their roles as characters in the community and wrote about their experiences! I was completely blown away and impressed with their creativity and ability to adapt in the flow of the game!

To bring my reflection back to a personal level, this is my first semester in graduate school.  Education and technology have been separate passions throughout my career and only recently were beginning to overlap in my professional experiences and development.  It made sense for me to pursue an advanced degree that combined my experience in out-of-school time programming, my interests in alternative learning environments, and my love of technology.  Having played sports and games my entire life, I understand through my experiences how gaming can help you learn through practice, competition, achievement, challenge, and especially with failure.  Learning more about MinecraftEdu helped me understand the course material in a tangible way and to consider its potential in creating our project.  I think the most significant tool throughout this course, was in creating a blog and writing about my experience throughout the semester.

I learned a lot about gamification from reading the course materials but blogging about my reflections was an ideal method for me to respond to the reading and develop my understanding of the content.  Exploring the elements of gamification described in the text and expanding my understanding through my research for each blog post was an invaluable exercise in professional development.  Looking back through all the blog posts leading up to the Givercraft experience, it’s helpful to reflect on how I have been able to apply what I learned throughout this course.

Participating in the Connected Courses MOOC at the beginning of the semester also expanded my thinking about distance learning but also made me aware of how educators need to be the driving force to integrate current technology into the classroom.  The technology that exists today has great potential to change education and how we teach students to learn.  By the time this current technology reaches our classrooms, it won’t be current.  If we continue to create incubated learning environments for students, they will not have the experience and context to be prepared for the fast-changing world of work which inevitably awaits them.

Distance and online learning is no longer a new concept, but how we facilitate learning without the cues and context of being in the same room will continue to be the challenge for educators and learners.  I would consider myself a highly tech-savvy individual despite no formal education in computers or technology.  Even with all my technology experience, I still had to adjust to being in an online degree program and had to make a conscious effort to shift how I process information and develop new learning habits.  On the other hand, I thrive on problem-solving, paying attention to details, and still being able to see the big picture in any situation.  Throughout Givercraft, I have consistently argued for transparency with stakeholders (teachers, students, principals, parents, etc.) about our project and what goals we are trying to achieve.  In designing various aspects of this project, I kept trying to see our work from the perspective of a teacher or a student and even the parents.  I wanted to be sure that we provide the highest quality experience possible despite all our limitations.  For me, this project was created for the students to experience an alternative meaningful learning environment through gaming.  My ulterior motives were that I would learn something from this experience, that I would be able to impact and support students (and teachers) in a positive way, and that we would create an exciting, inspiring, and innovative experience for everyone involved.

Our success in this project could not have been possible without the teachers taking a chance on Givercraft and for staying involved with us until the end.  I believe that my primary role as an educator or coach is to facilitate and guide others through a meaningful learning experience.  Teachers took an incredible risk by signing up to participate in Givercraft and I felt committed to doing everything I could to earn and keep their trust throughout our project.  This project and semester was far from easy; I think being responsive to teachers and being willing to learn and evolve certainly helped us facilitate a meaningful experience.  I have learned to plan meticulously but to balance that with flexibility and creativity.  In modeling that for other educators as well as for students, I believe it creates a more relevant, collaborative and thereby meaningful learning experience.  I also wrote in my Givercraft journal that “I hope we model leadership, mentorship, and lifelong learning through our interactions with students and that they see our love for learning through gaming and our willingness to build community with them.”

References:

Kapp, K. M. (2012). The Gamification of Learning and Instruction: Game-based Methods and Strategies for Training and Education. San Francisco: Pfeiffer.

Weimer, M. (August 8, 2012).  “Five Characteristics of Learner-Centered Teaching.” The Teaching Professor Blog. Faculty Focus – Higher Ed Teaching Strategies from Magna Publications. Madison: Magna Publications.  Retrieved from:  http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/effective-teaching-strategies/five-characteristics-of-learner-centered-teaching/

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