Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Assessment in Minecraft - Take 1 Million!

Over the years I have had many thoughts around what it is to assess student learning in Minecraft, what is effective, what is not and what is most relevant. I have been looking at this from an 'outsider' perspective now, as someone who is not tied to producing student learning data in the form of numerical and alphabetical grades. I have never been a huge fan of grades, but they are a reality of teaching in the current education system here, so while I look in from the outside, I still need to consider the need for solid, gradable assessment of student learning while they are in Minecraft.

This has led to quite a bit of thought and discussion with other mentors around formative vs summative assessment. I produced the tutorial video below the other day, showing how to possibly use the book and quill as a formative assessment tool, rather than only a summative tool, but even now, while this is a possibility, I am not sure whether it is a good one? The editing of books and such in Minecraft is not all that fluid, this video shows a workaround to get an editable copy and still be able to 'submit' it to the teacher, but is it really a 'good' way of assessing student knowledge.

This has led to a whole thought process about how important is it that assessment takes place 'in' Minecraft as opposed to out of it. I had the idea in my head that having in-game artifacts of student learning would be valuable, but given the difficulties of actually doing 'assessment' IN Minecraft I am not so sure teachers should be utilising their extremely valuable time to pursue this mode of assessment.

Note, this is mostly about 'writing' within Minecraft, and more specifically reflective writing at that. I have during the recent trainings I have run, talked about how the portfolio is the way to get screenshots out of Minecraft:EE easily, for students to provide evidence of learning to the teacher. However the book and quill is even more powerful in-game as students can accompany the image with more than 2 lines of text, they can have a whole page of text instead. I envision this text accompanying the image to be a description of the reason this image depicts the students learning in Minecraft, what were they thinking at the time and what difficulties arose while building it, plus I am sure many other reflective and valuable questions students could answer about the learning and skills they demonstrated while building.

To be honest, my headspace was probably centred around having a 'base' Minecraft world where students (or teachers) could collate their digital portfolio over a semester or year. However, this so far from the default practice I see in classrooms around the globe. Each lesson/world is standalone, there is no 'continuity' and therefore no need for a collated group of in-game artifacts, because each world/lesson is separate and has limited or no connection to others.

The logical progression of this kind of use would imply that having in-game artifacts in the current 'mode of operation' is unsuitable, so why bother with the book and quill at all. What relevance does having this in-game book as evidence of learning hold for students when they can just revisit their build at any time? Who is using these in-game artifacts, and what is the 'value' of having them for these users?

I am looking at the book and quill as an opportunity to grab a snapshot of student thinking at one time (or multiple), and that has a lot of value to me as a teacher, value that I cannot get by looking at a static image with 2 lines, nor by looking at the in-game build without the student present. So the key here is capturing the student thinking at the time it happens.

Of course the same could be achieved using out-of game means but it 'removes' the students from the world they are working in. I am by no means an expert on 'flow' and how it affects learning and students, but I do know that when I am working in the Minecraft space, jumping in and out of it to gather information does disrupt my thinking patterns. Instead of focusing on the task at hand, I am thinking about where I need to be putting the information, and how I am going to get it there.

Can you tell this is a massive brain dump, and my thinking is still winding in and out of all kinds of scenarios as I write (and edit) this post prior to publishing (it only took me all day!). So what is best, and easiest, and least time consuming for all stakeholders? Having assessment objects in-game, or out of game?

So at the end of all of this rambling and thinking, I still cannot see an effective and timely way for teachers to provide formative assessment of student work in Minecraft. Even during a lesson, with 20 kids and 60 minutes, that is 3 minutes of 'feedback' time per student during the class. Look at behaviour management, and technical management, you lose at least 10-15minutes of that time. So you are down to just over 2 minutes of 1:1 student:teacher time.

It is just not enough to get a real snapshot of what the students were doing. What if the massive leap in student understanding happened in that 40+ minutes you spent elsewhere in that room, even worse, after the 2 minutes you spent with them? Don't mistake my meaning, Minecraft has not 'done' this, it is just a 'thing' that happens in many classes, Minecraft based or not. I would like Minecraft to be able to help solve some of this for teachers in future, and I think reflective writing by students is a great opportunity to begin this change.

I will throw another possible path forward out there, and one that I think may be the best solution I have right now. Students still write the book in-game, keeping in the world, and in the moment, once completed, they can then sign and export their book, but that is not where the work ends for them, that zip file does not get sent to the teacher. The student then collates their exported book into a document of some sort for the teacher. I did it into a OneNote yesterday to test out how I could use this in future to support providing feedback to students, and it took me around 5 minutes to get it set up as shown in the image below for a 12 page book.

The key here is that the thinking and reasoning is still captured at the time, and alongside the images that mean the most to the students. That being said this is still very hard to give a 'grade' to, at least in terms of the current grading system here. Feedback is the easy part here, I was even discussing with someone that 'inking' over student work, using the windows ink-space, was also seeming like a really solid option for providing feedback, but I am yet to try this out. It is the grading that is the problem here, how do you grade someone in a situation like this?

I think the only true solution is a long term one; we need to shift our thinking about what student learning looks like. Be prepared for a 'high horse rant' here; A grade on a paper or test is, and this is likely to be an unpopular opinion, more about gathering data on students and seeing if we 'achieved' our 'goal' of imparting more knowledge than what they started with. Knowledge is no longer the 'key to the city', thinking processes are, critical thinking and problem solving skills and strategies are some key things that I think we need to be looking at closer than content knowledge.

What I think Minecraft offers here, is the possibility of a whole new way of looking at student learning, and it aligns with the 'thinking' kind of assessment; what were they doing, what were they thinking, why did they do that in the way they chose, what problems did they solve are much less clear in terms of giving a 'grade' to a society who currently values those letters or numbers more than I think they should. It does however have the potential to be much clearer in terms of what the student learned or demonstrated along the way, particularly across multiple subject areas. I think this would paint a much clearer picture of how well we are preparing students for a world that no longer requires knowledge, I have all the knowledge I could ever need at my fingertips, either through my smartphone, or computer.

Having the know how to find the knowledge, critically reflect on the source and knowledge presented, then merge it with my prior knowledge and experience and then finally utilise it in a way that supports the task I originally needed the knowledge for are by far better skills than being able to regurgitate the knowledge imparted on my by others. I don't think Minecraft is the silver bullet to fix education systems, but I do think it is a tool that could support a step into a new way of looking at teaching, learning and assessment.

Ok rant over now, I think I have asked more questions than I answered in this post, and thanks so much for reading. If you have any thoughts, suggestions, information or research you think might help move this thought process forward, please feel free to leave it in the comments below.

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