Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Mini-games and Mechanics

So, I have been quiet again lately, not because I have nothing to share, unfortunately, it is mostly because I have been super busy. There are some things I am working on, which I am not allowed to share, but others, tied in, that I probably can. So I have decided to take the time (however long that is) to write this post detailing some of the work, and how I am pushing my own thinking, my practice, and making Minecraft do the work for me in some cases all the while making it easier for other teachers to pick up my worlds, and lessons, and run them in their own classroom.

Speaking of lessons, I have been working on this website here: https://fuse.education.vic.gov.au/pages/meeclassroomideas and being very clear on the curriculum links and instructions to try and help people get up and running. Whether you are in a Victorian government school or not, you are more than welcome to use any resources on that page in your own classroom.

Now to the 'fun' stuff, as you may, or may not know, with 1.7 Bedrock came scoreboard functionality, limited, but enough there for what I want to do, and used to do back in the MinecraftEdu days. So of course I have been exploring, dabbling, updating old builds and creating new ones for Minecraft: EE! But what exactly have you been doing you might ask....

Well, a mini-game, sort of. It is an archaeological dig experience, that will sit 'inside' a larger project (which is the one I am not allowed to share specifics of) and put students into the role of archaeologists, researching the history of a particular building site and coming up with some inferences about what the site was used for in the past. This has been months in development, and started with a rough sketch of disparate ideas and command block 'systems' into the massive conglomeration and automation of all of these mechanics and systems into one nice, not so neat, package.

The mechanics in this game are quite complex, and I am still in relatively early testing phases, particularly in terms of large student groups in the world. I need to make sure to get the right balance between students finding 'things' and not finding things, but the basic mechanics all appear to be working from my testing. Here are some screenshots of what the command block arrays look like, as well as some attempted explanations about what these actually 'do' to students in game.



These first 2 arrays control the 'display' space, and are set up (top image) to prevent students displaying non-artefacts, and (bottom) prevent the same artefact being displayed twice, as well as prepping the 'researcher' for the particular artefact displayed.


This whole array is a double up split in half, the left half allows students to 'find' artefacts at particular 'hotspots' in the dig site, while the right half is 'breaking' artefacts for students who dig too fast.


All the 'little bits' that control the dig speed, clone all the tools and other resources students need, as well as open and close the 'security' gate at the entry location.


This one is the 'array' of researchers, that get prepped and ready to 'drop' in on students and talk about the item on display. It ties in with the second picture, and knows which NPC to drop based on what artefact is put in the display frame.

There is an analysis array too, which consists of a hopper sorting system, and command block array, that takes a 'mystery' item that students find, and then analyses it for them.

The second project I have been working on just over the last couple of days is a completely automated question generator in Minecraft. Again using scoreboards. Instead of me coming up with a 'generic' list of set questions that students must answer to find out the slope of lines, or the y=mx+c equation of lines, getting Minecraft to generate random ones for students, based on the parameters I have set within the map.

Again, here are some screenshots of the arrays and what they do, but what I really like about this is the 'conversion' of scoreboard values, to text on signs. This has some pretty big implications for truly interactive and fluid world interactions based on students choices, answers, and overall progress 'through the quest line' of our learning tasks.


This array converts the score for 'building a' and 'building b' to text for the display.


There are 4 arrays like this, that convert from a score between 0 and 63 to the floor number on signs for both building a and building b and puts them on display for students.


This is the job-search mechanic, randomly assigns various scores and checks and balances all the scores to make sure that students get a 'reasonable' job to complete, lets them know when it is done searching.


This is the display for the job board, while not a command block array, this is the output of each of the other arrays shown above. Pressing the button to the left, starts the process, and populates a new job on the signs for students.

I have also been dabbling in some new 'future' opportunities available in Bedrock 1.8, which will hopefully soon be the base for M:EE. It allows us to add custom entities, with custom behaviours, textures and the works. Which means to create a bike, I don't need to take over the horse mob, I can literally create a mob that is a bike, make it rideable, with custom animations and everything!


Of course, having heard this, my own children have conspired to guilt me into making them a whole heap of animals for their own worlds, so I am in the process of creating, foxes, fairies, crocodiles, platypus and sharks, plus a few that I have likely forgotten, but surely will be reminded of. But it is all learning, and getting easier each time to get the base packs ready. The modelling and texturing are still my least favourite parts, but I am getting better at that too, when I have time to do it that is.

What really excites me about this is, firstly, the opportunity for students to create their own mobs or characters in their own worlds to support their demonstration of learning, but also it expands our opportunities as teacher content creators to create even more immersive environments for learning. As one example; trading could be done with any entity we create, fully customisable. Coupled with the scoreboard stuff already available I can see massive implications for 'automated' worlds and differentiation based on what students have, and have not done.

Well, that is a very broad update, there, of course, have been many other happenings, and things I should share, so I will try and take time and write them up as it happens, rather than sporadically as I have been. Thanks for reading, and as always feel free to leave a comment below.

Monday, 26 November 2018

Classrooms are FUN! Permissions are NOT!!

So, on Friday last week I had the opportunity to go into a classroom and run a lesson with a group of primary school students. I asked if I could record in-game footage, and classroom audio so that I could publish a video and guess what? I could, and did! That video is available on my YouTube channel (or below), and I have to say, it was a lot of fun to get back into a classroom and have the opportunity to teach students in Minecraft again. It is not the first time I have done it since I started my new role, but this is the first time the stars aligned, and I was able to record and review my lesson.



Going back through the over 90 minutes of footage and conversations was awesome, and something I forgot, having not done anything like this for a while now, was how much I say "alright" and "OK". It is so darn frustrating, but it is also such a great reflective tool. What I would change, what I need to do different, how the lesson plan needs a little adjusting here and there. I managed to take the over 90 minutes to just around half, so it is around 50 minutes worth of footage. Showing the ups, downs, and collaborative problem solving as things went awry with my plans. Highlighting another issue with flying into schools running things and flying out again, the resources, not that the school wasn't resourced well, they are amazingly resourced, but I needed different resources, which I assumed would be there, and in hindsight, that was pretty stupid of me, but we persevered and got there in the end!

We also found some issues with the map on the day, the settings are a bit off, and yet again the permission behaviours in Minecraft: Education Edition did not behave as I expected them to. I have no idea when, or even if, they have changed, but we live, learn and try to adjust. One thing I have been reflecting on, in light of the changes in the most recent version, is clear documentation, there is none that I have been able to find. So we are all flying blind, making it up as we go, adjusting things on the fly to reach our outcomes, and well, I think that this is just not good enough. The information about the differences between the faculty and student permissions when joining a world is specific to M:EE, and there is no information out there, or at least that I have found, on what these differences are.

With limited access to students, I don't have time to test everything, but with a clearly defined set of parameters, I could definitely tweak my worlds and lesson plans to suit. But more importantly, if I am struggling with permissions, and I have years of experience, what is a new teacher doing? Flying just as blind as me, only possibly without the expertise to tweak things to make them work on the fly.

I have gone through the Bedrock version history, and I am not sure when (or if) this stuff pictured below was added, I don't remember seeing it in version 1.4.0 of M:EE, but who knows whether I missed it or not. I think this has a pretty serious impact on the user experience when planning lessons for others to be able to run. We now have even less control over what happens when others run our worlds, or at least it appears that way. If we cannot 'guarantee' as best we can, the user experience when using our custom worlds created for learning, linked to outcomes, then what is the use of sharing them? The last thing I want myself, or anyone for that matter, to do is to share lessons that cannot effectively be run in a classroom due to world settings being incorrect, and if you watch the video, I already have, because the settings didn't behave as I expected.




Negatives aside, the log in issues have been resolved over here in Victoria, once we got the message through that there were still issues, which next time, will be a lot quicker as I now know the most proper process to make that happen for my teachers here. So with that lesson, and massive amount of fun done, I am now back to collating resources, linking them to my local curriculum and publishing them for my teachers to access. Our 'School Starter Pack' is due to arrive in schools within a week or so, so I really have my work cut out to try and get as many resources, across as many subject areas, and year levels as possible ready to go before they land.

Back to it, thanks for reading, if you have any comments, please feel free to leave them below, or on the YouTube video if that is a more appropriate location.

Thursday, 22 November 2018

Activity vs Lesson: A Day 2 Take Away

This is the post I promised weeks ago or was it a month ago now... who knows, but finally here it is for your reading pleasure. Enjoy, and please leave a comment below if this resonated with you, or your opinion is different, I would love to engage further around this idea.

I have spent countless hours mulling over the best way to on-board teachers to Minecraft in their classrooms and developing training to make this happen. It was extraordinary to run my first 'Day 2' training with a group of teachers here.

I have never seen the lights go on quite so quick as when I gave this group of teachers the choice between a set of carefully chosen activities from the suite of Minecraft:EE Activity of the week. I wanted to make sure the curriculum links could be clearly visible with a bit of prodding.

Without any instructions other than to complete the activity, and a time limit within which to do it in, off they went. They had a great time, who doesn't! After the time limit was up I started with my prodding, by asking the following questions:
"What is next after this activity?"
"What learning outcomes do you think it covers?"
"What could you discuss with students about this activity?"

It wasn't until that point that they really got the distinction between an activity and a lesson. Not only that, we kept going and had a discussion about how important it was for them, as the teachers in 'charge' of student learning, to be very clear in their own mind about what students are gaining, with regards to learning outcomes, from working in Minecraft.

What was great, is then we went into collaborative activities and showed the absolute value of collaborative work in Minecraft worlds, this is an activity I think should probably be in day 1, and I plan on doing so. I even did this at another event, in a 45 minute training session. Got groups of teachers who didn't know eachother, to join a world and work together on creating something. Then share what happened, what outcomes we could pull from it, and what the next steps may have been.

Back to the day 2 training group, we then, with some friendly advice and suggestions from years of developing Minecraft lessons, began to plan and develop their own lessons, linked to their own teaching, their own plans and their own classrooms.

Each and every participant had at least a half ready plan for implementation in a particular topic or lesson linked to learning outcomes by the time they left the training day. We are about due to catch up and discuss how these lessons went, or what stopped them coming to fruition and start the planning process again ready for next year.

It is exciting times here, and things are starting to gain solid traction. The most recent data set has 300 teachers across the state, using this with 24 students each, on average 7 times a month. This is all averages, and well, may mean very little, but if that is the 'average' it is absolutely astonishing, and something I am very proud to have been a part of.

Thanks for reading and as always feel free to leave a comment below.

Monday, 19 November 2018

Pleasing Statistics

I said a couple of posts ago, that I was going to start sharing some of the positives happening around Minecraft here, and this post is one of those shares. Also, before we get into it, I would like to thank everyone who read my previous posts and engaged with me, with offers of support, a person to talk to and for those conversations that continued the discussion. I really, and I mean, that, really appreciate your time and comments.

For the record, I am fine, yes, I have had a bad couple of weeks, but a lot of that had been taking up space in my head for far too long, and I felt I wasn't being true to myself, and sharing 'warts and all' of my Minecraft in education journey, as I have in the past. I want to reiterate to everyone, this was just one mans opinion, on one mans experience lately. I don't blame anyone, on the M:EE team, or the wider Minecraft in education community for this, it is what it is, and we take stock, reflect and move on. I am still here, and intend on still being here, sharing all the great, and not so great things about Minecraft in education from my perspective. Now, to the positive stuff!

As part of my role, I have had the pleasure of updating my resources for my teachers here, to reflect the curriculum outcomes, and making sure they work with the new version, updating them from MinecraftEdu has been a trip down memory lane, let me tell you! As I have shared these on the M:EE website, I have been using bit.ly links to track how much they are used, out of an interests sake. It is surprising to look at that data, from an objective perspective and try to make sense of it.

I will share some of the data, and what I think that it means, and why I think this data says awesome things about the teachers looking for content to use in their classrooms from the M:EE site.

Sheepish Probability World - 25 downloads
Sheepish Probability Student Worksheet - 25 downloads
Sheepish Probability Lesson Plan - 38 downloads

Animal Cell Student Worksheet - 17 downloads
Animal Cell Lesson Plan - 19 downloads
Animal Cell World - 17 downloads

These are the two I want to discuss right now, I will leave my third piece of content for a little bit, and come to that after we discuss this lot. I look at this data, and it pleases me, a lot. This tells me, that the majority of users searching through the site, look at the lesson plan, and then decide whether they want the world and student worksheet or not. This is brilliant, and exactly what I would hope for. I don't mind how many read the lesson plan and don't download the world, because it means it is not suitable for their class, or their learning outcomes. I would love to know whether it was just that it wasn't suited, or too hard, or too involved, or whatever, but I can only guess at the true reasons, and I am hoping it is just not relevant. I think this is absolutely amazing, if my guess is right!

Now here is the third piece of content I have on the M:EE website.

Exploring Contour Maps Lesson Plan - 55 downloads
Exploring Contour Maps World - 82 downloads

Now there is not only a difference in the total number of downloads (all three of the lessons were released within the same week), and I will explain that, but the data is also reversed, and I have a guess as to why. This lesson was highlighted in the October Minecraft Education newsletter, which brings a whole different audience to the table. These are not teachers hunting the site for something specific, these are people looking at highlighted content. They are not so much interested in the learning outcomes it seems, or the plan associated with the world, they are more interested in looking at the world. Which I find interesting, but cannot explain further than that.

What is interesting, for me at least, is I have not advertised these lessons anywhere but once on Twitter when they were first released, and ego aside, my reach on Twitter is not all that impressive. So, what do I take from this set of data?
  1. Teachers are searching the M:EE site looking for relevant content.
  2. These teachers are willing to explore deeply into lesson plans to determine whether it is suitable.
  3. If it is not suitable, they clearly head off and keep hunting, if it is suitable, they grab the world and other associated resources.
  4. I need to keep sharing my content to support teachers, because it is clear that some are finding my content, and they are finding it useful for their own classrooms.
That's it from me right now, if you have any comments or suggestions, please feel free to leave them in the comments section below. If you are tracking your own content, are you seeing the same kind of trend? Do you have a different opinion as to what this means? Thanks for reading!

Sunday, 18 November 2018

The Global Mentor Program - One Mans Opinion

This post was initially written directly after my previous post, in a very negative frame of mind, but it highlights my feelings about the current mentor program. Please bear in mind, the whole mentor program is a work in progress from the M:EE team perspective, so what I have experienced this year, will not continue (I hope) into next year, and they do have changes coming that I think will improve it, but I still think there is plenty of room for more edu-focused teachers to get involved, and I know this is something that is actually wanted by the M:EE team.

I mentioned in my last post why I initially joined the global mentor program; it was to help shape the way Minecraft: Education Edition developed, and from a desire to help others on their journey wherever they may be. This again, is a fairly negative post, so fair warning. Just my opinions and feelings right now.

Instead of being part of a community that is consulted on changes, or asked for suggestions on the next ‘iteration’ I have been helping 'brand new to Minecraft "Trainers"' skill themselves up by asking those in the community who learnt through trial and error, searching YouTube or just plain playing the game, using their own time to do so. These "trainers" are using the freely shared skills and knowledge of the community to bolster their training, and their paycheck. Look back at my previous post, where I talk about the time I am going to have to spend trialing multiple circumstances to determine what impact the global /wb change has on maps. This is a perfect example of the time I will freely give, and they will gladly benefit from. I am not sure how I feel about this if I am being honest, I want to help teachers use this in their classrooms, and at its most basic level, helping trainers, is in fact helping teachers, but it does feel like the community is being 'used' by these trainers, as they seem to give little back in return for the knowledge they are given.

We are not a consulted community, changes happen without any indication they are coming. We may, or may not get access to early betas to explore, of which I cannot normally partake in, because I work with too many schools and teachers running the current version, and normally they are not backwards compatible, and they are certainly not able to be installed side by side.

One of my biggest issues with the community as it stands, is any attempts to push people in the community to think deeper about the pedagogy instead of the 'shiny' and 'new' and 'engaging' aspects of Minecraft: Education Edition has fallen on mostly deaf ears. I think this is because a fairly large portion of the members are not teachers, but are trainers instead, but this is only a guess. I have been continuing to push my own thinking, sharing it as I go, and there is beginning to be a community of teachers who are exploring deeper, so this can only get better.

I spoke to Meenoo Rami, manager of the program about my feelings when she was in Melbourne a few weeks ago, I said "The mentor community is broken." her response, and rightfully so, was "No, it isn't, it just isn't providing you what you need." So, fair call, what do I need from the global mentor community?

At this point, what I need, most of all, is to be a part of a community of practitioners with whom I can push boundaries, discuss options, create amazing content and share the knowledge and resources freely. What I want from the community aligns, but is also a bit separate from that. I want to be part of a community that shapes Minecraft: Education Edition, a part of a community that pushes it beyond the current boundaries, a part of a community that supports one another freely and openly to grow the great possibilities I see Minecraft in classrooms creating. But instead, currently I get very little, I gain the relationships with other teachers willing to engage with me, but overall I feel a bit 'underutilized'. I give everything for free to the community, and instead of utilizing that skill and knowledge, I feel it is ignored, and they promote 'mentors' that are not actually part of the community at all.

They shone shining lights on two alleged mentors at Minecon Earth, neither of which has ever answered a question in the mentor Teams space, never engaged in a discussion and not been a part of the mentor community these last 12 months (and possibly longer). If you are going to promote the mentor program, at least choose some active mentors, not those who have taken the ‘badge’ and run away with it to promote themselves.

One of the maps demonstrated at Minecon Earth, is not available for anyone to use at the moment, and if history is anything to go by, it will not be made available for the good of the community, but will instead have a price tag attached, whether Microsoft pays this price tag or not is kind of irrelevant. I think the mentors should be producing content for the community, it is a volunteer program after all, if you don't have time, or the desire to share freely, don't join the mentor program.

In fact, one of these same ‘mentors’ told me I was ‘mistaken’ on social media when I made mention that the resources they have created are not freely available. I was happy to be proven wrong, but unfortunately I wasn't. Two weeks later, after I finally managed to get around the ducking and weaving and get a final answer on the question, I was told, in private, that those resources were not available for me to use.

Microsoft continue to promote the 'pretty' and the 'catchy' instead of the deep and meaningful learning that they should be. It appears that the focus is on new teachers, but it is not just new teachers out there, and new teachers at some stage stop being new teachers. It is not going to be long, before school administrators ask teachers using this in their classroom for evidence that it is supporting students to reach curriculum outcomes. If teachers cannot back up their use with solid evidence, they are going to get told they are no longer able to use it.

In my opinion promoting things like social and emotional learning is great, but it needs to be alongside curriculum linked, solid learning outcomes. Minecraft, in my classroom, was never, and in my opinion probably should never be, about ‘only’ the extras. I expect the same all of the teachers I work with, it is always about the learning outcomes, and the ‘other stuff’ is a solid bonus and make no mistake, those bonuses are amazing and well and truly worth it.

All the 4C’s, the social emotional learning, #SDGs and #TeachingTheToughStuff, awesome, and definitely something that that has value, but until the curriculum is shaped differently (a hope and dream at the moment) we are still, as teachers, accountable for the outcomes, and reporting of our local educational systems, and as such, I think we should put our focus there and use Minecraft to make the learning more valuable for students as best we can, within the curriculum we are bound to.

So, what am I saying? I don't know, if I am honest. I don't know what the future holds for Minecraft in education, but I can tell you, that if this debacle continues to grow at the scale and rate it has, I fear we will have lost the greatest opportunity to shift the educational paradigm away from what has been 'traditional' teaching for a world that it is no longer relevant to. There will be a saturation of 'shiny' and 'pretty' surface activities, with no real learning outcomes, and the deep learning lessons will be too hard to find, and even harder to get implemented in classrooms. Or, one of my biggest fears, the valuable, deep learning content will be behind pay walls, making it harder to fund in schools, harder to run, and more difficult for teachers to prove the worth of Minecraft in their classroom early on so they get the flexibility later to push a bit outside the 'norm' and start the change at the ground level.

Information is no longer the key, the ability to decode, decipher, and look at the massive amounts of information available to us and use it in unique ways to solve problems is the key to unlocking potential futures for our students. At this point we are still accountable to outcomes, and in the future I hope that we will be able to be much more flexible in the ‘what’ we teach and assess. Until we actually get there though, using Minecraft to cover only ‘non-curricular’ learning is a very dangerous place to be, and is risking the platform becoming useless in the eyes of administrators before it has a chance to shine.

I will remain a part of the global mentor program, if they continue to let me do so after these last two posts, as I still think I have a lot to offer the community, the community could also offer a lot for me, and I would still like the opportunity to share and shape the product as it develops. However my disappointment in what it has become this last 12 months remains. The mentor program, from my perspective right now is mostly a ‘publicity machine’ for Microsoft, and an ‘echo chamber’ of ‘pretty’ and ‘shiny’ activities that are not curriculum based. There is little discussion about the pedagogy, there is little discussion that takes Minecraft beyond its most basic of uses as a replacement of a worksheet, and I find this a massive missed opportunity, and one of the things I wanted the most out of the program, a community of like minded individuals, all supporting one another to better their practice.

So, if you are a teacher that is interested in growing your own, or others practice in this space, please consider joining, and making the community one that is focused on practice, pedagogy and curriculum alignment as well as pushing the educational uses of Minecraft (and games generally) in education. Leave a comment below, or reach out on Twitter @EduElfie and I will make sure to let you know what the process for application is once they make that information public. Thanks as always for reading, hopefully some more success stories coming up soon, I do have a lot despite my recent negativity, and a few draft posts that are much more positive than this, so stay tuned!

Saturday, 17 November 2018

A Terrible Week

This, this may never see the light of the public eye, if it does, well, take this as the rantings of a very frustrated individual after 10+ days of issues, lacking communication, and changes to a whole platform for the sake of one map. I should also note, these are most definitely my own opinions, as they have always been on this blog, and are not the opinions of my employer. I am stating this at this time, because this is a very negative post, and I haven't had one this negative in a very long time, or ever.

Let's start with the issues, around 10 days ago Microsoft released 1.7.0 of Minecraft: Education Edition. Awesome, 1.7 means we have the same codebase as Bedrock 1.7, which means scoreboards are finally here, limited, but here in a useful capacity for most of what I used to do in MinecraftEdu and what I would want to do in my maps now. Great right? For anyone outside of a 'proxy' network, yep, fantastic. Unfortunately every single one of the schools, teachers and students I work with is behind a proxy network. So what does this mean?

Nobody can use it at school. Teachers who I have been working with, had put hours into developing lessons, and worlds to go alongside them, but can no longer use it in their classrooms. This highlights the massive issues of 'automatic updates' of software like this, but putting that aside, the first indication of an issue was from a mentor, in the mentor community asking others if they were seeing similar issues. It wasn't long before I started getting emails and calls from my own schools and teachers here asking what was going on.

The only update I could get was 'We know about the issue, we are working on 1.7.1 which will fix the issue and expect it to be 24-48 hours for a fix.' So this is what I told all my teachers, hopefully a fix will be available in a couple of days. Fast forward a week, and there is still no fix, so I ask around and get told that it is 'in certification' which apparently means it is 'ready' to go to the Microsoft Store, but is going through checks and such before it is available, this should take a couple of hours, but in the mean time it is available as a manual download on the MEE website.

Brilliant, I run off and tell all my teachers that the 'auto-fix' should be available in a couple of hours, but if they are desperate they can manually update. About a day or so later, it actually hits the Microsoft Store. I was waiting patiently for the same release on iOS, but it has never come. My request for timelines and updates fall on deaf ears. I found out a day or so ago that they have not released it for Mac either, which means, only Windows 10 devices are now able to be used for Minecraft: Education Edition in our school networks here. Sorry to those classes, and I know some, in fact I am supposed to be working in one next week, who have a mix of devices, you are fresh out of luck.

Now to the changes, there is one major one which I don't understand, and when asked for clarification I was told the change was made for the streamlining of one particular map. My frustrations were at boiling point already with the issues we are seeing here locally, dampening on the great traction and growth in use we were seeing, but this was astounding to me. Change the whole platform, for one map? Ludicrous!

Now, every individual starting or joining a world doesn't have 'world builder' permissions. Now, I am going to be honest here, we spent at least the first 6 months of this year trying to solve issues within the mentor community, and I would say that at least 60% of the issues were based on 'world builder' permission. We have tried to nail down who gets what permissions in what circumstances and there is no documentation, and no clear communication (yet again).

Now, I need to go through and test as many circumstances as I can, to try and figure out who can do what, and when. I managed to type /wb without issue in another teachers map, are students able to do this in a teacher hosted world, what about in student hosted worlds? All of these have serious impacts on the way I set up worlds for others to use, massive, and also a large impact on teachers 'processes' when working in classrooms with students, and how students work in groups.

Not only that, the map they are streamlining the whole product around, using one of my previous publicly available videos and instructions, would have taken someone less than 5 minutes to fix the issue that changing the whole platform is for. I even would have done it for them, but instead of using the expertise they have in the community they built, or even discussing the implications with the mentors, they just make a global permission change, which means that every single user, even in single player that wants to place a slate, board, poster or NPC needs to type /wb first. Can you see how this might impact if students are not able to do this in a teacher hosted (or fellow student hosted) world, and they are trying to put down boards so that they can demonstrate the learning they have done, or write about the build they created?

I don't want this all to be negative, so one of the brilliant things they did with this update was bring Code Connection (and rename it to Code Builder) into the game itself. Absolutely amazing, streamlines the whole process, works seamlessly from my experience. However, instead of (and this is relevant given they want people to type /wb) typing /code to start it, all you have to do now is press 'c'. In theory, a good move, but in practice a complete pain. Accidental 'c' presses are rife, I have done it multiple times since updating, and this brings the agent right into the game, where you are standing. So you cannot build where he is, or do anything in that block unless you remove him from the game.

So how do you get rid of him? Use a /kill @c command of course! See the inconsistency here? It is too hard to use some commands like /code, but /wb and /kill are commands all users are expected to be able to use, students and teachers.

I said this would be a rant, and I think I am definitely living up to that warning, however this is the reality of Minecraft: Education Edition right now. Changes for the sake of changes, without consultation of the community of experts in Minecraft and education that they created. I joined the global mentor program so that I could help shape the way the program develops and support growth of the global community, and I am not feeling any of that right now. Before I go off on that tangent, my full opinions on the global mentor community deserve their own post, so look forward to that in the next couple of days.

As always, if you managed to wade through that slab of text and negativity, thanks for reading, if you have any comments, or thoughts, please feel free to share them below.

EDIT: I have since been contacted by the M:EE Team, and they were not aware that devices other than Windows were having issues. This has highlighted the need for me to be clearer in my communications with the team as a mentor, and also that I need to get the teachers I work with to submit support requests of their own, rather than all of us expecting them to know there are issues. So, if you are still having log in issues, please file a support ticket here: https://minecrafteducation.zendesk.com/hc/en-us 

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Collaborative 'Live Tweeting'

I have had another post brewing for a while now, and I had to put that on hold, because these last 4 (or 5 depending on your timezone) days something has happened that is well and truly worth sharing, discussing and I think, promoting.

It started with this tweet from Simon Baddely:
Which of course he then replied to, stepping out each key point along the path of creating this resource. OK, so it took much longer than 12 hours, and more people than just Simon, but the end result got released just a couple of hours ago. If you don't want to read any more, at least head over to https://www.crosspond.net/projects and check out "Pumpkin Town" and then come back and see my interpretation of the Twitter feed, and how I think this may be one of the greatest ways of sharing the work we do when creating lessons, I don't just mean Minecraft lessons either, but lessons in general!

Now to the debrief, if you want to see the whole Twitter 'stream' you can do that by heading here: https://twitter.com/SimBadd64/status/1056111477818621953 and viewing the replies. I am going to pick out a few, and embed them in here and talk about the value of the tweet, in terms of the narrative being created around the lesson plan, but also about how this is a key step in supporting others to follow.
These two tweets are key to setting the whole scene for the lesson. Starting with an idea, and then straight away going directly to outcomes sets the right stage for learning to be the focus of the world and lesson, rather than something 'tacked' on at the end of a pretty build.
Now we get into the nitty gritty of bringing a 'theoretical build' to life, in the quickest, easiest way possible. Creating that world, block by block would take months of work, Simon achieved it within minutes. The fact that Simon has shared the tools required at each step is so important in building the grounding for others to be able to do the same. It also sets Simon up as someone willing to share his knowledge, and if someone comes across this thread in 6 months time, and wants to know how he went from Tinkercad to MCEdit, clearly Simon knows how to do that, there is visual evidence right there, and since he has begun sharing, chances are he is going to respond to a query just as willingly. There is nothing more maddening then teachers having to re-invent the wheel, over and over again because the process hasn't been shared, or people don't know who to ask for help.
I have skipped quite a few tweets from Simon, and come back to the thread here, because I think it important to highlight that everything before now has been done 'outside' of Minecraft itself, using external tools. Minecraft, up to this point has been a 'testing' tool in terms of sizing and proportions. Not only that, he has shared the direct link to the village he used as the basis of the world. Given the limited nature of tweets, in terms of characters, I am glad that Simon took the time and made the effort to credit the person who made the build available.
This is where I think things get awfully interesting. Simon has used his expertise to generate the base world, and hands it off to his colleague, Ben Spieldenner, to take up the next stage of creating this 'immersive experience'. Clearly in this partnership, each member knows their own expertise, is willing to share and support the other, but also knows when to back off and let someone else do the work in terms of expediting the end result. I think that is an important thing to reflect on, how often do we try to 'do everything for everyone' maybe not really recognising their own strengths, and allowing them to take ownership of their portion of a project. Thinking in terms of students here, how often do we as teachers, 'dictate' the lessons, disregarding student strengths and opinions in the effort to reach our 'assessment outcomes' rather than student 'learning outcomes.'
Ben, as Simon did, takes the very important step of sharing where to get the resources to follow along. He cannot possibly list 'every step' in a tweet, but there is enough there to get someone started, and exploring at least. Again, Ben has set himself up as someone willing to share the exact process, so if others want to follow, they can either try using the information in the tweets, or by contacting Ben directly for support.
Ben continues to share each step, the resources used, and even says in a 'sideways' thread that he will happily share his base template for others to use!
2 days later Ben comes back, and talks about how the narrative is built into the world, the sequence of events and the importance of the learning over the visuals. Both are important to an immersive experience, but immersion without learning is a waste of teachers, and more importantly students time.
I am not skipping many of Ben's tweets, and that is no criticism of what Simon did, it is just this is where I think the importance of learning has been really captured. The outline showed was collaboratively created by both Ben and Simon, and the narrative it creates has been carefully designed to ensure that students have access to just enough information to make their inferences.
Time, the ever present ruler of us all, prevented Ben from achieving all the the visual adjustments he wanted, but there are many other things that a supportive lesson for teachers of all ability levels needs. The world, and visuals are but a part of the package required for teachers to effectively run this in their own classrooms.
Now the madness truly ensues, the crazy guys gave me access to the world, to initiate the spawn location mechanics... Sound fancy? Well, in reality, if we want this map to be usable by teachers, we need to make it as supportive as possible, which means all the game settings dialed in automatically when a student joins the world.
First issue with any 'student loaded' pre-created map with NPCs is WorldBuilder. If you load a world, you have WorldBuilder rights automatically, which means you can destroy NPCs with an accidental left click, and there is no easy way to get them back other than deleting the world and starting again, a massive time waster. So, first task is to remove WorldBuilder from anyone joining the world. What I really valued here was the ability to share, in context, exactly the commands, their purpose and I think that makes it easier for others to see, and use it themselves in future if they need to.
Next was to make sure students have the items they need to engage with and collect evidence from the narrative, and then take information out of the game for their writing piece. The camera, portfolio and book are all given automatically, making a teachers, and students for that matter, job much easier.
I don't want to 'blow my own trumpet' here, but I had an inkling of an idea I wanted to try out, it would have been amazing, but upon reflection, it was just unsuited to the purpose here, and far too risky in terms of 'ruining' the experience for those coming in. So, back to the 'tried and true' rather than the innovative right now. I think highlighting the idea that 'shiny and new' isn't always the most appropriate aligns with the idea that we should be using the best tool for the job, not just the latest.
With my 'job' complete, I hand it back to Ben and Simon for their next steps. Again, using the expertise of those in the community is, I think, a key step to moving the whole community forward. I really appreciate Ben and Simon giving me the opportunity to not only help get the map ready, but engage in the 'live tweeting' of the progress along the way. It really made me think about what steps I was taking, and which are the key steps to share along the way to support others in their endeavours.
I went to bed, and while I slept, Simon and Ben had been working madly to ensure the map worked as intended, threw it to another mentor, Trish Cloud, for their feedback and ideas about how to make the map better. Again, involving members of the community, gathering feedback, ideas and a different perspectives is something that I think makes this whole process shine!
And then, they released it. With a lesson plan, student resources, world download and assessment support. From an idea, to a fully supported lesson in 4 (or 5) days. Just in time for Halloween.
After that, another mentor Ben Kelly picked it up, excitedly, after watching the whole thing unfold on twitter and recorded a short intro. This brings to light the idea that we are a big community, the fact that people were excited to see the process unfold on Twitter is great, amazing in fact. So, why do we not share our processes more often?

Well, the 2 or so hours I spent 'live' tweeting, in terms of Minecraft work, would have probably been about half that time if I hadn't been tweeting it. So an hours worth of work in Minecraft, and an hours worth of thinking and sharing on Twitter. Was it worth it? For me, in this case, yes, not a doubt in my mind. Will it always be worth it? I honestly don't know, I think this whole thing has highlighted some really good tools, thoughts, ideas and resources, but is it sustainable? It is certainly not an 'every day' activity that is for sure.

Well, thanks, as always for reading, I needed to get that off my brain, and now that is done, I will go back to writing my other post. If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to drop them in the comments below, or reach out to any of the mentors mentioned in this post on Twitter for their support if you want to access their expertise!