Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Setting Boundaries

So after much thinking about my last post, and many discussions with random people (and some not so random) I think I have come to some sort of conclusion about where I am, and where I think I should aim to head towards.

I don't think that always 'just letting the kids play' is going to cut it, they may learn to work together, treat each other with respect, manage their time effectively and plan instead of jumping straight in. And while these are great life skills to be learning, they are not the sum total of the curriculum designated by powers higher than me in my education system. They are most certainly a part of it, so there is 'room' if you will for this type of learning to happen, if I can give the students the time.

But, there is so much more to teach these students. One thing that keeps coming to mind is that in the real world there are rules, and restrictions. If I was speeding down the road at an obscene speed, would the policeman pull me over and slap me on the wrist and say 'naughty boy, don't do it again'. Certainly not, they would be taking my car away, and my license. So how can I be producing functioning members of society if I hamstring myself from 'punishing' the students.

We as a school have adopted the "Restorative Practices Approach" to behaviour management, and on the whole this works great, but if/when this fails with some students we still fall back on the punitive system. When I got pulled over for accidentally running a red light (honest mistake) the policeman did not sit down with me and discuss how me running the red light affected him, or how it could have affected other motorists, he wrote me a ticket and treated me like a criminal. Does this mean that the punitive way is better, I don't think so, but it is the way society deals with those that don't follow the rules.

So the discussion on twitter started around the student control features of MinecraftEdu and traveled a very long way into how a game based learning environment is 'supposed' to look. I may have mentioned in my last post that I would prefer to have the tools available and not have to use them than to not have access to them and want them. I don't think my basic premise here has changed.

Why is there a threat of fines if we get caught breaking the law? My understanding is that it is a deterrent designed to stop us breaking the law. Apply the same idea to a classroom, why would I want the 'threat' of being students being muted in game? To make sure that the chat does not distract from the learning I am trying to get done. Why would I like to be able to threaten students with being frozen in the game? To make sure they are using the time available in my class to the best benefit.

So do I in principle disagree with the control tools included in the Edu mod? No I certainly do not. Do I think they could be misused to remove the power from students and cause disengagement from the game? Yes I do, and now that I have had this discussion and listened to 'the other side' I can see some merits in the utopia they describe, and will endeavor to use them only when necessary.

Now for the real question. Do I think I can get to that utopia that would require me not to have the threat of these tools? I think it is possible, but a lot of work would need to be done in terms of respect for teachers, respect for schooling and respect for learning, something which I myself can endorse in my own classes, and can push in my own school to a certain extent, but I will have a very minimal impact on Australian society as a whole. So I feel that until there is a shift in societies value of both education and teachers, that having the threat is better than not having it.

Will I give students time to just play? I already do this at lunch and recess, and will be thinking of ways I can do this in my classes and still reach my teaching goals. Thanks for reading, feel free to comment and share your thoughts on this tricky issue.


  1. This is great! So I replied - This might help. I'm loving this blog! +10XP

  2. Thanks for taking the time to write such an interesting reply. At this stage in my GBL journey I can see what you are trying to achieve, but as I said in the previous post I cannot quite see how to get there, yet. I am sure my teaching will evolve the more I engage in this type of learning in my classes, as well as discussions such as these we are having right now.

    Creating 'lessons' (I know you hate that word but...) which in Minecraft are going to essentially be maps is something I plan on developing my own skills, this video ( was uploaded to YT today. I am floored!! Also I think this is the sort of 'organised play' you are trying to help me reach. Seeing this is getting me closer to seeing how it could be done in my own classes.

    At this stage too, a lot of teachers are doing these sorts of things on their own, as Minecraft gets used in more schools for education I am hoping a lot more collaboration will happen, in fact I am chasing it.

  3. Just a further comment, on re-reading Dean's reply post, something else sticks in my mind. The other day when I couldn't get into work and yet still ran my Minecraft class from home.

    You comment that "the ‘real world’ ones that shape kid to kid and kid to teacher interactions and boundaries. Kids will be confused in games as to how negotiable these things are." when talking about boundaries, there were 2 students, that when I watched/edited the video to upload to youtube I noticed crossing boundaries of appropriate 'respect' towards me on several occasions.

    At the time I registered that these things were happening, but did not address them in-game, instead I waited until I could address these issues face to face. In hindsight, now, I think it would have been a much more powerful learning experience for those 2 in particular (and me) if I had addressed the issue in-game at the time. There is always next time.

  4. I really like the controls that in place in the EDU mod. It really helps to be able to freeze students so that you can get their full attention to give them an additional instruction. I also like the boundaries feature and I think this is important in game-based learning, especially with younger students. Students need to learn to work in a society with rules and procedures, regardless of their career. I also think it is vital to give students the chance to "free play" as this is where they learn to develop social skills, creativity, problem-solving and most importantly independence. As students function well within a series of parameters, you can slowly give them more freedom. I am a big proponent on freedom being earned through responsibility.

  5. Thanks Mr.Marshall for sharing your thoughts, I hadn't really thought along the lines of 'freedom being earned through responsibility' but it is something I might try to incorporate as my classes spend more time in the Minecraft world.