Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Week 1 - Vision and Reality

After spending weeks researching possible lesson plans, reading material on Minecraft, watching YouTube videos, reaching out to others, and playing in the MinecraftEdu world, I was semi, sort of prepared for the first club meeting at the middle school. Dave and I had started a wiki so the students could have profile pages, created the accounts and I had worked with our senior systems administrator to create the Minecraft world. We were ready to begin!

The 15 students (17 total in the club), grades 6 -8, bounded into the room as though they had been shot out of a cannon, full of talk of past adventures, the battles yet to be fought and what their plans were for this club world (to the Nether and beyond!). Dave and I gathered them around the SmartBoard for a little discussion on the concept of community gaming and collaborative work within the Minecraft world. We discussed a few guidelines - no griefing, teamwork, and respect for each other's work were the main goals. We asked them what their expectations were for the club. They didn't appear to have any beyond getting into the game and playing.

The loose plan Dave and I had was to have them spend some time exploring their new world and then gradually we would have everyone meet at the "Welcome Center" where we would build something together - their choice, in teams. My vision, which I didn't share, was that they would build something "fantastical" together.

The reality was that students who generally play alone don't suddenly start helping each other mine for materials or construct buildings. There was a fair amount of argument about who shouldn't be some place or who did what to whom. Several times we felt the need to remind students of the policies we had discussed.

At the end of the fastest 90 minutes I've ever experienced, we gathered together for a little "show and tell." In spite of the discord, the students had done an amazing amount of work and were quite pleased to show others what they had done. They wrapped up by logging off, shutting down and whoosh! They were gone - leaving as abruptly as they had arrived.

Dave and I dropped to our chairs, trying to process whether we had actually accomplished something. Our eventual conclusion was that they were accustomed to playing alone, not together and were not used to teamwork in a virtual world. Teamwork on a physical playing field is one thing; working with another in the virtual world - well, that was going to take some time

Later, I thought about my vision of a collaborative, imaginative world filled with structurally stunning buildings and joyous inhabitants. Perhaps I needed to revise a little. How about striving for a feeling of working and living together within a virtual community? Time (1 week into an 8 week program) will tell. 

Exploring a New World

After months of being away from this blog (which in reality was for the TLVW's class), I find I'm in need of it again. I've decided to record the adventures I've been having in Minecraft for the same good reasons we were supposed to record them in TLVW (or at least I'm guessing this was the reason - I never asked). I noticed a significant growth as a gamer and educator (being so bold as to describe myself as such) between my first post and my last as part of the TLVW class. I'm sure I will notice the same as I record these adventures. Also, a place to both record and share successes and failures will surely help me avoid pitfalls next time, benefit someone else, and help me chart next steps.

To catch up on where I've been since I last posted in August... I attended a wonderful conference, Games in Education, in Troy, N.Y in August 2012. People I heard about through TLVW were there - Peggy Sheehy, Marianne Malmstrom, Joel Levin, Bron Stuckey - to name a few. I spent a wonderful 3 hours playing with MinecraftEdu under Joel Levin's watchful eye. I was pretty sure I would be "all world" since I'd been a gamer for 2 months. Once again, I was humbled by my lack of experience and the complexity of the game - which looked, oh, so simple. I was still fearful of attack by monsters who come out at night. Ah, well... some things change slowly.

I sat through an excellent panel discussion on using games in the classroom where we discussed WoW, Minecraft and Quest Atlantis, among other games. I had already been convinced that games were a fundamental way to reach, well, anyone - not just kids. This discussion was the beginning of my wondering "how." How do I get this to be of the curriculum in our school district? How do I create a program? It seemed most of the programs in place at schools began after school...

Fast tracking to January - in an "off the cuff" conversation, I told our district after school program coordinator, Bob, that we needed to look into MinecraftEdu. He jumped on it - scheduled meetings with me and my counterpart at the middle school, Dave, encouraged us to research it, purchase it and pilot it. This is where the next chapter begins...

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Turning for Home

On the home page of the Moodle, Jane writes the following: "We are going on an adventure.
Think of this as a semester abroad. You will be entering a new culture, practicing new ways to communicate, uncovering unfamiliar norms of behavior, confronting new ways of thinking about how the world works. Some things will look familiar, some things will appear quite strange...You have chosen an excellent tour group with which to travel."
And so it has been an adventure. I was a reluctant traveler. I'm certain my early posts reflect that early anxiety. This was a required class so I pushed on, somewhat willing because of the requirement but anxious. Along the way, I learned to manipulate an avatar, put her in clothing (though my sense of style is in question), build objects (I spent hours building a grill, complete with grate and fire), insert scripts and travel efficiently. I saw beautiful landscapes and amazing use and demonstration of information (Serenity Falls, Genome Island and the Space Station)
I played World of Warcraft and gained a new respect for gamers and their abilities. I managed my backpack and other packs, because I had to in order to make room for quest items, and learned to use my acquired tools and clothing more effectively. I fought back my fear and the surge in heart rate as I battled combatants. I learned to follow the map and plot my course according to the topographical map. Sometimes the straight course is the least efficient!
I joined other VWs on my own - something I wouldn't have tried previously but now, I have the confidence to move in them without a guide. I learned nothing seems as sophisticated as Second Life but some have the potential to work well with our schools.
Possibly, the most important part are the connections I made with my classmates. We had students from Dubai, Uruguay and Italy, as well as the New England states. I was blessed to have been able to spend time with them and learned so much from their opinions in the forums, the resources they shared, and our experiences in the VWs - OliveTree showed me Harbinger's Haven in SL and met up with me in WoW a couple of times, Vermaelan gave me early pointers in WoW that I so needed but didn't know I did, Poem took me on an extensive tour of EduNation (and politely didn't laugh when I suddenly found myself in my underwear while donning scuba gear) and told me about her work, and Mikenfushdos met up with me in WoW for a quest - just when I needed it most (after our final meet-up in SL and I was sad to be saying goodbye).
The meet-ups with Thynka Little and Allyx showed me possibilities with projects and classes. I saw potential I would have previously dismissed before our journeys began. Now that we're close to pulling into the harbor, I have no desire to disembark and wish this could have been a longer trip. 

Saturday, July 14, 2012

A Transformative Day!

What a banner day this has been! I met Poem O'Reilly, my classmate in TLVW, at her SL home in EduNation.  Poem told me that EduNation belongs to Randall Sadler, a professor with the University of Illinois.

We toured around Poem's area of EduNation which her university rents from Randall Sadler. Poem told me about her students and the simulations they do to help with learning English. One of the places she took me was a hotel lobby. There they have scripts set up to help students with appropriate dialogue. We also saw a library because, as Poem put it, students attend colleges all over the world. They need to know how to access libraries.

Later, we went to the aquarium where we met up with another language teacher, Heike Philip. Poem directed me toward the scuba gear which I immediately put on. Of course, it's packed so I'm wearing a duffle bag! How many times am I going to do that? I took it off and unpacked it on the floor. Once I was wearing it (and in the process, I lost my hair!), I immediately started swimming but once I went down the hatch, the script for swimming dropped off. Heike advised me to try removing the scuba gear. Now I'm standing there in my underwear and I'm bald! Good heavens! Virtual Worlds can be humbling! I managed to get the gear and the hair back on and I'm back to swimming. It was unbelievably beautiful and so detailed. There were mantas, schooling fish, a wreck and coral reefs. Poem told me her students love going there. I can see why.

Here's the part I find amazing... Poem is from Uruguay and teaching grad students. I meet up with her in Second Life and find out about her work with students and I tell her about mine. Earlier this week, I met up with OliveTree (a classmate from Dubai) and we did a quest together in World of Warcraft. In addition to the engagement of this unique teaching/learning tool, I realize that it's not just the "virtual world" concept that's so intriguing; it's the fact that we can meet anyone from anywhere there, and learn from them as well. I am broadened by the experience and look forward to learning more!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Moving On

Level 13, new cape, new weapon (Stonesplinter Staff)

Just like that, World of Warcraft was done. This was the last week and we (as a class) are ready to move on. I look back at the first few postings - I see concerns about ineptitude and fear of battle. Later, I experienced many (did I emphasize "many" enough?) deaths and went to so many cemeteries, I became more familiar with the terrain in shades of gray than with it in color. Case in point, while on a quest for "Bigger and Uglier" in Loch Modan, I was having difficulty finding my quarry. They (the Stonesplinter Shamans and Stonesplinter Bonesnappers) were located in a cave - only I couldn't find the entrance. The map indicated I was right on top of it but I couldn't see it anywhere. When I died again after battling it out with the only cave dweller I could find, Gorick Guzzledraught, (I was sure the Stonesplinter crew was behind him), I actually chose to stay dead and proceeded to search other areas without any worries of being ambushed. I stumbled across the opening to the cave while I was dead. Once I knew where it was, I went back for my corpse and continued on the quest.

I've spent time learning about the backpack and Mage trivia. I learned how to read the map and that if it looks like the only way to get there is to go over a mountain, it might be worth my time looking for a roundabout way. Running everywhere was time consuming so when I received a quest to take a gryphon ride, a whole world (virtually!) opened up. I found the gryphon master everywhere I went so I could get around easily.  I learned (today, thanks to Esmeque) that guards are a font of information and I really didn't need to spend so much time looking on my own for inns, merchants, and trainers. I learned to use my weapons and spells to a certain extent but I'm reasonably certain I needed to be more efficient, judging by the amount of time I spent in a "dead" state. I learned to attack from a distance and that melee battle with more than one combatant usually resulted in my death - probably as a result of inefficient use of weaponry and spells. I began managing my backpack better but there's much work to be done there

I know I can go back and visit Trulytis but it seems the quest to gain an understanding of WoW and its potential for use in the classroom has been accomplished and somehow, that takes some of the need to learn more away. I miss it already - even the heart racing as I approached a fearsome combatant. I enjoyed Trulytis - she's brave, takes on an adversary that will surely beat her and learns to get herself out of trouble quickly. I wish I were more like her...

Sunday, July 1, 2012


This morning, we (students from TLVW) had the pleasure of meeting Luann Phillips (SL Thynka Little), the builder of Grandma's Birthday Party . I was intrigued with this video and the winter safety project she had done in Second Life for her Capstone project at Marlboro.

I could see so many applications for the disaster preparedness ideas. Too many times folks head out the door unprepared for what they may encounter. Recently, there have been TV commercials addressing the same issue. They bring up the idea of having "emergency kits" with spare medications and other first aid items.

Not long ago (in the winter), a friend's college-aged son and a friend traveled home from their school. The college isn't far away and they weren't planning for any stops along the way. They dressed in shorts, t-shirts and flip flops. Their apartment was always warm so they didn't feel a need to layer any more than that. Also, he had plenty of spare clothing at his house so, again, no need to bring more. About a half mile from his house, he slid off the road. A car had come to close to him and in his attempt to avoid the oncoming car on the icy road, he swerved and ended up in the ditch. Fortunately, he had his cell phone and was able to call his folks. They weren't far away and were able to get to him quickly. The possible "what if" scenarios are astounding and frightening.

Disaster plans are not meant to scare people but to help them work through emergencies. Technology is such a part of every day life and can be part of the emergency plan but they can't be the whole plan...

So, what do we need to do to address this? As educators, we can use/create/locate resources such as "Grandma's Birthday Party." We need to address these issues early with our students but we also need to target community members. Consider the number of stories we hear of people (adults) heading into the wilderness armed only with technology (cell phones, GPS devices). Sometimes the "wilderness" is a remote highway such as the upper areas of the Adirondack Northway.

Thynka addressed the need to "reinvent" the Cooperative Extension to be more relevant to today's society. I see all sorts of possibilities with the kinds of work she's doing to provide education to the overall community. Help in making plans for both personal and community emergencies can be part of that role for the Cooperative Extension and educators in general.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

First Impressions for Quest Atlantis

I went back to look at my first few postings for Second Life and World of Warcraft. I remember feeling "creeped" out by SL and terrified by WoW. Within a few visits, however, I was soon feeling more adventuresome and comfortable with the format. I'm hoping I'll feel the same with QA. Right now, I'm irritated, annoyed and feeling trapped.

List of annoyances:

  1. Here's me - I signed up with  "sbisaccio" not realizing it would be my avatar's name. Apparently, it will require dispensation from many people in authority to change it. I'm annoyed about that. 
  2. Help files require logging in again - except that it wouldn't allow me in while I was in world. I could log in to the help file while I was out of world. I'm definitely irritated now!
  3. I'm trapped in a loop. I went to Emissary Island - seemingly the only available venue at this time where a principal told me to view a slideshow (PowerPoint - not that!). I went through half of the slides and then it was apparently time to move on. I needed to talk to other teachers - this was all canned dialogue, mind you. I was eventually able to make my way back to the classroom where I was told to click on the terminal that would take me to the next step. Unfortunately, I was reminded that I hadn't finished the slideshow. I haven't been able to move from there.
Let's see how this compares with the other VWs I've been to...
On the right is Trulytis with nary a skill to her name.The only thing in her backpack is a hearthstone for Coldridge Valley. Down below is TisGirl with the wide open space of Marlboro Island. A maze awaits her and a tunnel to learn to fly through. Both feel intimidated, a bit frightened, but neither are annoyed!
Let's hope QA gets better since I don't know that there are too many options for elementary kids!