Saturday, 7 April 2018

How Important is Fun in Learning?

So yesterday was my first Minecraft Education Edition Teacher Starter Academy, as part of my new role, which I am still not fully able to share the details of just yet (sigh). However this day was set up as a 'taster' for Minecraft in Education, taking attendees through things like "What is Minecraft?" and "How can it be used to reach educational outcomes?" as well as giving them the absolute basics of logging into M:EE using their O365 account, the basic controls and what is available to support them to get started and use it in their classrooms.

It was a great day, and there are more coming up over the next few months that I am very much looking forward to. However, throughout the day there were people on social media, helpful people, sharing ideas that they thought would support me in the workshop I was running. This raised some kind of conflicting thoughts for me, that I am going to try and 'decompress' here into something coherent as it has been weighing on my mind for the last 24 or so hours. OK, so if I am being honest, I was awake a fair bit last night trying to resolve an issue, and I don't want to do that again tonight. Selfish? Yes, but hopefully worthwhile for both me, and you!

The problematic thought kind of centers around the title of the post. How important is fun in learning? A lot of the resources shared were around ensuring that the lesson was fun, and game like. In a lot of respects I understand that is a key part of what Minecraft CAN offer in a classroom, however when are new to Minecraft educators 'ready' for that change in thinking? Because if I think honestly, it is a very big change in thinking, a change in the way you design lessons, a change in the way you assess outcomes and consequently a change in how your classroom operates.

Should brand new teachers to Minecraft, (notice I didn't say Minecraft in education there, just Minecraft since over 60% of the teachers in attendance at the academy yesterday had never set 'foot' in the game.) get introduced straight away into this whole idea of making learning tasks in Minecraft like a game? Part of me thinks "Yeah, why not, start as you mean to continue." But the realist part of me sits back and scoffs at the other part (Can you tell I am in quite a bit of conflict internally over this?) and thinks "Think back to how you started, you started with 'teacher controlled' demonstrations, how much 'game' was in that?"

I look at the change in my lessons over the last 7 or 8 years and think about the development I went through as an educator, the changes in the way I thought about education, games and assessment. Is it right to say to teachers starting today "Trust me, this is where you should be trying to get" or should we be a bit more 'open' to the idea that getting them to start will mean that teachers will develop over time and in future their Minecraft lessons may, or may not, incorporate the 'game' parts of Minecraft based on their own specific learning outcomes, expertise and students?

So I guess this leads to the next question, does every lesson need to be fun or should every learning activity be fun for students? I enjoy creating maps, I enjoy 'crafting' playful learning tasks in Minecraft for classrooms. But if I look at, for example, the Animal Cell map I am currently re-configuring for M:EE, that has very few elements of what I would classify as 'fun' or 'game like', however I think it is a highly valuable lesson/experience for students. Feedback from students who did the map with me, and from teachers who have used the map in their own classrooms has been very positive, but is it a fun activity? I am not entirely sure.

Conversely the Energy Transfer map I am currently also working on, is highly based in a game type situation and I would expect that to be fun for students. Does that mean the Energy Transfer map is more 'valuable' than the Animal Cell map as an educational experience?

I cannot, despite my newer thinking processes around fun activities in Minecraft, (since the map was originally created in either 2012 or 2013, probably over both of those years given how many hours it took to create it.) think of a way to make this Animal Cell activity 'more fun'. I guess you could possibly look down the scavenger hunt aspect, but that might destroy the 'immersion' that I think is a really key aspect of that map and in reality what is the goal of the scavenger hunt?

So we come to yet another couple of questions. How essential is it that every experience students have in Minecraft in school be 'fun'? How much do we risk 'schoolifying' Minecraft if they don't have fun? I don't think I 'ruined' Minecraft for any of my students by incorporating it in my classrooms, in the many changing forms it has taken since 2011.

So should we let teachers develop along their own path, or should we be pushing them towards a particular path?

Having written that last question just above has certainly clarified why I have been so conflicted over this. I have always tried to let educators find their own path, supporting as much as I can, but trying not to 'dictate' the path they take. Letting them try, fail, reflect, learn and try again, with support where needed, has been the way I have tried to operate since the beginning.

I think that trying to tell the people I am supporting, whether they are beginners, or whether they are experts, that one particular way of using Minecraft in their classrooms is 'best' is definitely not what I want to do, nor do I think that is what the helpful tweeters were indicating I should do. Having more options for development, and more access to information that will support each teacher in their own developmental journey in using Minecraft in their classroom is going to be the key that shifts their thinking and hence their classrooms, hopefully schools, and really hopefully systems.

If I am going to share resources around, I need to make a conscious effort to ensure that I am also telling those I am sharing with, that what this resource depicts, or talks about is not the only path forward, but might help them define their own path. That whole sentiment of try, fail, reflect, learn and try again is the process of learning, why should we step in the way of those who are along that path?

Wow, if you got to here, despite my ramblings, thanks so much for reading. I am certainly feeling better in myself, and hopefully sleep will come easier tonight now that I have resolved the main conflict I was having. Thanks internet (and faithful readers) for being a sounding board for my thoughts! As always feel free to leave a comment below if you want, I am open to any and all thoughts around this and think that a discussion may help us all in our respective journeys!

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