Colin's Sandbox


Developing the “Using the MinecraftEdu Build Tools” video

by on Apr.29, 2013, under #diffimooc, Digital Storytelling

The second and final digital story production for my Spring 2013 University of Alaska Southeast Digital Storytelling class was to be a media piece pertaining to my professional practice.  With a topic as broad as that I could go in any number of directions; my job is one of technology specialist at an educational non-profit, so there’s occasionally a need to develop documentation and instructional videos for our coworkers and/or our customers.  On the other hand, as part of  my coursework for the Spring 2013 #diffimooc class I am  involved with mentoring other group members in the use of the game Minecraft, and it’s close relative, MinecraftEdu, in the classroom.  I went with that because I thought the need was greater for instructional material with that audience, allowed more latitude for creativity, and hence, was both more authentic and engaging.  I think the end result turned out pretty well.

My story changed around a few different times; at first I wanted to do the piece solely on a very specific aspects of the MinecraftEdu module, but as I was researching the topic I became aware of a module that ships together with MinecraftEdu known as WorldEdit.  I had already built a few structures by hand, and with the MinecraftEdu build tools, and finally once I touched the WorldEdit tools I knew that I couldn’t do a video production of just the MinecraftEdu tools without diving into the capabilities of WorldEdit to show off the differences.

I used ScreenFlow for this media production as I still had a bad taste in my mouth from my last experience with iMovie.  My background: I’ve done a little poking around in my younger days with Adobe Premiere and much older versions of iMovie.  I know enough move clips around, perform basic editing functions on them, add transitions, perform simple audio edits.  I was comfortable enough in the multiple track non-linear editing frame of mind and the newest version of iMovie didn’t sit well with that.  I started using ScreenFlow recently to make up some quick videos in support of a short presentation I gave at ASTE 2013.  Here’s an example:

I can’t say enough about ScreenFlow – it’s now my favorite tool for media productions of this type.  The familiar multiple track interface makes me feel right at home:

ScreenFlow FTW

With my previous level of experience, the things I needed to do in order to make this video were easy to accomplish: moving clips around, recording screen captures, and performing simple audio work.  For more complicated audio I again used Audacity, set in record mode while I viewed the current working video in ScreenFlow.

As far as the workflow went for this video production I started out dutifully with writing and revising the initial script and story map.  I then opened up MinecraftEdu and worked on various pieces of my example world to try to hit on all the things that I mentioned in the script.  There was a lot of video editing required as I had to remove lots of dead space from the various screen captures – during some of the building tasks I was a relative novice, and had to spend a lot of time looking up the syntax of various commands, undo many commands, redo some work.. I used simple text boxes for transition text.  After I had working video in place I then had to go back and do my narration over top of the video that I spliced together. On the home stretch I added some background audio to balance out the sound across the whole piece and to help hide some of the voice discontinuities (the odd “ugh” sound here and there that may be difficult to trim out, etc.).  A fun thing at the end of the video was to do a time-lapse 3rd person view of the world building process.  This was accomplished by having two different MinecraftEdu clients running at the same time logged into the same world.  The first user was just perched on top of a pedestal and recording a screen capture of the second user running around and building the actual world.  At the end I put a big layer of dynamite underneath it all and set it off (saving the world beforehand, of course).

After I uploaded the video to I went back and watched the video again, and decided to spend a little time adding annotations to better show some of the individual commands that were used.  I found the annotation editor to be sufficient and not too annoying for this task.  The reason for doing this in as opposed to going back to the original video was three-fold: first I wanted to see how well the annotation feature worked, secondly I wanted to give folks the ability to turn off some level of the captioning, and lastly because I had already given out the link to several people and I didn’t want to break that link.

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Where to go from here?

by on Apr.29, 2013, under #diffimooc

I just finished up my project describing assisting others in implementing Minecraft in the classroom for about the 10th time.  Due to some of my core principles I started quite late on the write up of this project, detailing my role in an ongoing collaboration that I am a part of along with Anne, Dr. McMillan, and two teachers in the Juneau School District: #diffimooc’s own Nathan Adams, and more recently another middle school digital media teacher.

I started out in my usual fashion, writing down quick blurb after blurb in what may be described in outline fashion that I move around and flesh out later.  I was bumping into problems trying to describe the mentoring aspect of the project.  To me I simply responded to a bunch of questions in email and IM, made some videos, and just in general tried to make sense out of new stuff for the other group members.  Some days (and nights) I’d take half a mind to go on a tangent, learning quite a bit about an interesting aspect of the Minecraft ecosystem and then I’d try to write it up to benefit the others.

There, done, and in a lot less time than I thought it should take!  Well, not so fast, you have to account for standards, for assessment, for some specifics on how you would differentiate instruction for your collaboration partners.  It’s also really hard to separate the methods you used for teaching others about Minecraft from the methods used for general group communication as they take the same form.  To make matters harder, due to the breadth of the group’s work and the uniqueness of the collaboration’s circumstances, I was asked – why not consider make this part of a larger study?  I changed the format around a few times, bouncing from Google Docs to Google Sites to allow for a more flexible layout.  As I starting getting all of those random thoughts down however  I started getting the realization that writing from that vantage point of the coach separated me from the rest of the group and only told one portion of what I hope will be considered a successful endeavor.  To get the whole story, we would have to hear much more about the actual classroom experience.  I frantically sent out some requests to some of the others in my group, late for the requirements of the class to be sure but I would still like to combine our knowledge gained in this project in one place that I can point to and say: “we did that”, not so much “I did that”.  If we are interested and can find the gumption and resources to continuing this effort in the future, we can craft this effort instead as a action research study. “We did that” then becomes “we’re doing this”.

The document still feels a long way from done however.  IF it’s to be part the record of a larger study involving more collaboration partners, I feel we really need to do a more thorough job reviewing the literature and reporting on how our experiences fit within those findings.  We should make an effort to show how we find teachers to work with that will be a good fit.

As for the presentation, I intend to do a screencast showing Minecraft being used to build something: I will be narrating a brief scenario where a teacher presents a problem to the class and helps the class come up with answers with the use of Minecraft.

I’ll likely be elaborating on some of these topics in greater detail over the next couple days as I work through the screencast.

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Demonstrating student achievement with Minecraft

by on Apr.18, 2013, under #diffimooc

I’ve definitely been struggling with the great god Rubric as of late, as I am of any attempt to define Quality.

Yup. That old argument again.

I bring that picture up because not only have I actually read that book (twice!), but have also had the pleasure of owning two old Japanese motorcycles, one for each reading.  Since I therefore like to at least think that I have given the concept some thought, I’ve always hated trying to categorize quality into neat little buckets like “High”, “Moderate”, and “Needs Improvement”.  I spent some amount of time better suited for oh, say, doing the laundry, cooking, or working on any number of more productive things tracking down people that had a beef with rubrics too.  The phrase “some amount of time” in this case means about an hour, but any time trying to slay the rubric beast in this context is wasted time anyhow.

A Wise Person told me about 4 days ago, “#thisistheworldwelivein”.  In that spirit I’ve since resigned myself to quit whining about it and to “just get over it”, which is what I think that Wise Person really meant.  In addition to indeed being wise, the “Wise Person” in question also happens to be the person who hands out the grade at the end of class, so that’s another reason to pay double attention to the subject.

When I finally put away all the hoighty-toity armchair philosophy posturing I decided that the best way to measure the success of the people that I’m working with in this Minecraft lesson was to simply ask them.  They’re all volunteers, the experienced they gain is strictly an add-on enrichment exercise.  A self assessment on their part seems like the way to go here – not so much a pre- and post- test but more of a before and after knowledge survey.  In that light I crafted my questions in a way to accomplish two goals: background information and project planning.   Background information: their level of comfort when using computers, do they consider themselves savvy with gaming.  Project planning: what types of machines they have at their disposal, how much of an issue is classroom management, how they may continue to communicate with students outside the class environment (if at all).   The big one though is “What is an example of an interesting design or engineering problem in your community that is in the public spotlight currently?”.  I envision that as being key to starting a creative dialog back and forth between the participant.  How can we open that problem up to students?

When some finish line or milestone of some sort in our collaboration has been reached, I intend to send an updated form back out, this time trying to gauge how far we’ve come along in meeting things highlighted by the standards I just happened to pick out that in their turn best met what I had in mind for a unit.

So when you look back at all of this, what is the direction of the unit design thus far?  I like to think of it as an iterative process, meaning “messy”.  Ideally, backwards design starts with some essential question, picking out standards we’re trying to meet, finding assessments to adhere to those standards, and then coming up with your instruction to fit that.  Instead, here we’ve started off by thinking what sort of neat things we could do with a certain tool (instruction) to demonstrate solutions to a problem (our essential question), then going back and working on the standards that we could hit, and then on to the assessments piece.  I’m sure since this is all very exploratory we’ll learn a lot about what is achievable, where the pitfalls of time are, other ideas for problems to take on, different tools to use, etc., and therefore head back often to different steps in the process.  I have a suspicion too #thisistheworldwelivein – it’s a lot easier for me to start in this fashion and work hard at something. I can choose to be OK with it and use the standards that are met as an accounting tool to help guide future choices, and not stress out too much about it.

It has occurred to me, of course, that I should have sent this survey out about 2 months ago.  Along the same vein, now that I’ve gone through this course, it has also occurred to me that I could have done a lot of things differently.  Then, a more comforting thought, well if you can’t say that about a course, why go through with it at all?  Otherwise you’re just reinforcing skills you already know and behaviors you already are comfortable with.

This past couple of weeks I’ve been exchanging quite a few emails and IMs with Anne and Nathan in support of classroom instruction with Minecraft.  I also visited another middle school classroom here in Juneau along with Anne and Chip and we walked through a Minecraft unit with the kids there.  I was there for two consecutive classes; the first in which I actively stepped back during the presentation and watched how the students came up with such interesting questions and ideas.  The second I took a little more of an active role in and I had a few moments where their eyes really did seem to light up.  I couldn’t believe, for instance, that this one student _really_ wanted to know how I did the Google Earth -> Minecraft world thing.  And I boiled it down for him – I went to a presentation where someone showed me it was possible, they posted their sources, and I just extended that just a little bit —->||<—- to work up in the interior of Alaska.  Hopefully highlighting how when we communicate our work with others, everyone can benefit.

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Assessing Students, er, Teachers

by on Apr.10, 2013, under #diffimooc

Now that the testing madness is over I’ve been working with the members of my group increasingly over the past few days in getting ready to roll out MinecraftEdu in Nathan’s classroom as well as to check out another teacher’s program that is already in progress.  Very exciting – what started as a personal obsession is being taken on whole hog by others with me moving more and more into the support role.

I shared my NETS-C Rubric with members of my group and I received some mixed results.  A big concern one teacher identified was to not take up too much of the teachers’ time in creating units for Minecraft, which I agree with completely.  I do think that the biggest portion of planning for something like this is all of the communication aspects, such as utilizing Google Docs, or a Wiki, or *something* in order to facilitate collaboration between groups of students, as well as the formats for project publication.  The good news is that the time spent on working on that sort of communication and project framework is directly applicable to other projects, so I view it as time well spent.

How to assess progress along the rubric however?

For the students’ side of the unit, Anne has signed on to develop a pre/post test for measuring student progress, although we discussed this morning with Nathan some limitations with this approach, as it would be hard without a large number of students to measure performance gains with this approach.  I suggested a more qualitative approach to measuring level of engagement and ability to transfer knowledge to other areas.

But what about measuring the teachers’ progress?

I don’t think a pre and post assessment applies here but I do think a simple checklist meets the needs.  Most of the items on the rubric lend themselves well to simple binary logic, answering questions such as: has the teacher worked with the students to select and define a real world problem?  Has the teacher implemented a good communication workflow to assist student collaboration?  Since the “high” qualification for items in the rubric were planned for as much classroom and community participation as possible (i.e. using online resources such as Google Docs), assessment should be easily possible.  The difference between “Moderate” and “Needs Improvement” levels of achievement are harder to monitor since by design they signify reduced openness in the curriculum.  Perhaps my rubric should instead just be a larger series of small Yes/No suggestions instead of hard and fast graded rubric items.  As it stands now, I’ll likely have to rely on direct observation while in the classroom to accurately identify levels of achievement.

“Classroom” Management

In the past few weeks my “classroom”, which I would call the members of my group whom I assist, has seemed to become for the most part self-managing.  Nathan has goals on how he wants to approach the creation of a Minecraft LAN program at his school involving his tech people, Anne is heavily involved in creating a world and working on assessment, Chip has been invaluable in our Google Hangout sessions as a moderator as well as working on “The Monster Lobe” unit and possible other suggestions for expanding what we’ve done so far in new ways.  Others have been contributing feedback to aspects of our unit as well (thanks Adrianna and Tracey!).  We have been most active over our email group, Google Hangout, and back channel IMs.  For the size of the loose ad-hoc group that we have it seems to be an ideal set of mediums.  If we had a larger group it may be more difficult to keep the chaos on track.but for now I think we are OK.

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Coaching Teachers in MinecraftEdu

by on Apr.03, 2013, under #diffimooc

[Edit – I’ve completely rewritten this piece after a discussion with Dr. Graham.  Thanks for the substantive feedback.]

The narrative form first: What I’m really looking for here is for teachers to develop real meaningful problems with their students that they can use MinecraftEdu to model solutions, working together when feasible.  The unit should be documented in some online fashion to support the students asynchronously, and where applicable in the Minecraft world itself to allow walk throughs.  To support collaboration the students should be encouraged to follow this lead and put their project description and reflections in similar formats.  Throughout the unit the teacher will model and monitor responsible etiquette in the online forums used.  When help is needed, the teacher should consult the various resources available to them (e.g. the Minecraft and MinecraftEdu Wikis, “Minecraft-teacher” mailing list, various forums, etc.).

Along the way a sample problem and solution should be used to demonstrate the various parts of the project, from conception, documentation, through implementation, and finally on to reflection.  Students should be exposed to various methods for finding information that’s already out there for their benefit.  Kudos for innovative ways of demonstrating solutions, such as utilizing a 3D printer for selected projects, or an online gallery of screenshots that students help curate.

NETS-T Standards

1b. Engage students in exploring real-world issues and solving authentic problems using digital tools and resources

1c. Promote student reflection using collaborative tools to reveal and clarify students’ conceptual understanding and thinking, planning, and creative processes

3d. Model and facilitate effective use of current and emerging digital tools to locate, analyze, evaluate, and use information resources to support research and learning

4c. Promote and model digital etiquette and responsible social interactions related to the use of technology and information

Rewording to be centered around the unit:

1b. Use MinecraftEdu to demonstrate a possible solution to a real-world problem, demonstrating sample solution workflow.

  • High – The teacher helps to guide the students in selecting and defining a problem to work towards solving.  A sample, relevant problem is discussed along with a solution created in MinecraftEdu.
  • Moderate – Students choose from a preset set of possible solutions to a predefined problem.  A sample solution is shown as an example.
  • Needs Improvement – A sample solution to a predefined problem is discussed but not available to the students to examine.  Students are expected to recreate the sample solution as described.

1c. Promote reflection and collaboration using a set of online tools that allow for creativity.

  • High – The teacher demonstrates expected modes of project documentation such as in-game text blocks for contextual information, and Google Sites or Google Documents for project description and collaboration.
  • Moderate – The teacher notes the availability of the documentation and collaboration tools but does not sufficiently demonstrate when or how to use each.
  • Needs Improvement – Student collaboration is not encouraged through the use of online tools or in-game blocks.

3d. Teachers use and demonstrate online resources available for Minecraft and MinecraftEdu to enhance student learning.

  • High – Students are shown and allowed to edit a series of most commonly used Minecraft and MinecraftEdu Wiki pages as a collaborative group resource using a tool such as Diigo or Pearltrees.  Other resources, such as YouTube tutorial videos, are added to the group resource to support student objectives.
  • Moderate – Students are shown the existence of the Minecraft and MinecraftEdu Wikis, and these resources are centrally listed, however no effort is made to encourage students to share resources with other participants.
  • Needs Improvement – Students rely solely upon their own search skills to locate resources necessary to complete their goals.  No effort is made to list useful resources for the class.

4c. Teachers demonstrate respectful etiquette both in in-game and public communication outlets.

  • High – Teachers show students when and how to use the in-game chat in a manner respectful to all participants.  When possible, chats are logged for future reference.  The tone of all online documentation is likewise held to a high standard of professionalism to encourage meaningful engagement from all participants as well as to demonstrate their work to others.
  • Moderate – Teachers do not regularly monitor the in-game chat.  Online student-led project documentation is held to a moderate to high standard.
  • Needs Improvement – In-game chat is not monitored.  Online student-led project documentation is either not present or not reviewed for appropriateness.
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