A learning theory in there somewhere, from Tilly's blog #evomc21 #reflections

Vance Stevens

Hi all,

I have enjoyed Tilly's posts at her rejuvenated blog. She and I have some things in common. For one we like to write about our adventures in Minecraft. You can see some of my narratives on the tutorial video page; for example this one here

That's episode 16, but in Episode 21 I come to the point at the bottom of that narrative
And that took 20 minutes in YouTube time. It also prompted a fair bit of prose in addition to the multimedia component. Maybe your students would like to record and annotate their adventures as well. Ask them :-)

Another of our moderators is a very readable blogger. He is known mainly by his initials MP, a well known explorer among some villagers in Minecraft. He blogs his adventures in a short-story genre, well worth reading for the entertainment, for the information, and as perhaps a guidebook to some of the routes you might want to try and follow on our server: https://evominecraftmp.wordpress.com/author/mirceapatrascu/ 

Tilly seems to be an upcoming blogger of this stripe, which brings us to another thing we have in common, our approach to learning through gaming. Consider her reflection here:

My main reflection this time from doing the EVO MC MOOC is that it might not be a good idea to make it too easy for new starters (teachers as well as students!). I noticed an invitation to mining with a diamond pickaxe. To a newbie that has no value at all. You only begin to appreciate the value of higher level items if you have personally been through the lower levels. I don't think short cutting is a good idea, at least for me personally. I have enjoyed the struggle of my own little world a lot more than having things done and prepared for me. It's great to get tips and tricks and I wouldn't know how to survive without the help of the MOOC moderators of previous years. But in general you only learn well (and enjoy!) if it's what you need and want at that moment. Perhaps there's a learning theory in there somewhere!!

This observation reveals her personal approach to her own leaning and is not to suggest that we should not provide diamond swords to newcomers or go to the trouble to create elaborate builds for their benefit. I appreciated having places to run and hide when I was new to Minecraft. But I didn't actually learn the game until I arrived at Tilly's strategy (get killed, get up, build a shelter, hide all night, accumulate the most rudimentary of resources, get killed, loose everything, work out a strategy for preserving valuables in a chest within a shelter so when you respawned you could start from there, not from scratch). Nor did I twig on the potential of the game for students until I saw it as place where students would need to employ strategies as a way of learning something useful.

So  this brings us to how to use it Minecraft with students. Would they learn best in such a context, where they would land in the game, establish themselves through working out the best strategy, communicate that to one another, communicate their accomplishments, blog them or in some way reflect on them?

I could write a book chapter on this, on learning through chaos. In this view, chaos is where learning starts, the need to construct meaning from nothing that makes sense. George Siemens, co-founder with Stephen Downes of the connectivist MOOC in 2008, says that when the teacher paves the path for the student so that the student can more easily follow that path, it "eviscerates" the learning experience, as opposed to letting the learner hack his or her own path by entering the deep end and figuring out how swim. In real life, drowning would be a tragic outcome, but in a simulation such as Minecraft, it simply triggers a respawn and another go. Learning results (learning of something, whatever) but the resulting rich learning opportunities can be leveraged for learning something else, like a language.

Not to let this drag on too much, but this is my approach to the game and to learning (as opposed to teaching, though it is often argued that teachers teach best when facilitating from the sidelines). Bobbi Bear and I have spent the past couple of months establishing ourselves in Minecraft using tools and techniques available to newcomers to our server. Our tutorial video series walks learners through how they might arrive at a spawn crisis (our videos show that crisis as being at the Spawn Point, where a new resort has since appeared, but as Tilly shows us, that crisis could be elsewhere on the server). We go on to model how you can overcome the crisis, establish your base, and get around on the server, find minerals, make beds so you can sleep (no more huddled all night in muddy caves) and so on.

We have other moderators eager to show you what they offer on the server. Sura has her approach as does Olivetree, and these certainly appeal to certain types of learners who might not be at home with chaos. I benefit from being in the company of these knowledgeable moderators myself. The other day I learned from Olivetree how to make a mulch pit and mash a bunch of wheat seeds around in it until you get bone meal which you can throw on fields to make flowers, or what I use it for, add it to saplings which I always plant to replace any tree I've cut. Sustainable living is one of the valuable lessons in Minecraft.

But Bobbi and I like to apply our approach to learning by guiding your through chaos in safety; in other words, let's go on a walkabout somewhere on our server, maybe build a shelter somewhere (if we feel like it), mine for minerals, learn from each quandary as you approach it (I learned about mulch pits because I was asking Bobbi if she had any bone meal on her, not because I took a lesson on forestry, though that would be another valid approach, and for some learners possibly more effective, to arriving at the same informatio

I think Tilly is suggesting that she might like to try my approach. If you think you'd like to just pop about on the server acquiring objects and skills as you feel you need them, you can reply to this message and let's set a time we can meet. The only catch if you are in the USA is that I am 12 hours away in Penang. If you are in Europe or SE Asia time zones, it's going to be a lot easier to find a time.

Meanwhile Bobbi Bear and I will continue to propose our Meaningful Play - Adventure Tutorial Safaris at around 1400 UTC, 10 pm for us, 9 am in the USA, and afternoon in Europe. We could also meet earlier than that (count back 12 hours) but not much later. We are free almost any day because every day is lockdown here in Malaysia, and home is the safest place to be. Even Minecraft with its occasional mobs is safer than going out into the real world, until they introduce diseases in Minecraft (for which you would have to craft a vaccine - let's not go there; it stops being fun :-)

Sorry about the length of this but I love to write. Write back if you want Bobbi and I to meet you in Minecraft and show you around, tell us what times you are available. View our videos if you want to see where we've been; we can take you there, but we like to explore new places too.

Hope to hear from you and see you in world,

Teacher Vance