Colin's Sandbox


Thoughts on Creating Open Learning Groups

by on Apr.22, 2014, under #digitalcitizenship, #etlead

A recent conversation with some members of my professional learning network made me reflect that there are big lessons to be learned when forming open learning project groups.  In the past I’ve always been a part of organizations / companies that were relatively long-lived endeavors – spanning decades.  The boundaries of collaboration were dictated by people in position of some authority over me for the duration of the project, which was also similarly dictated.

My experience with open learning environments in my master’s program to date have been a luxury for me personally, a safe and secure place to work, so much so that I feel very fortunate.  From conversations with others I know that this is not always the case.  Work can be taken down, debates can occur over comment sections, disputes over domain ownership, and more can all happen.  When forming into these open learning groups there’s quite a few questions that I would seek to figure out and hopefully documenting so it’s understood by all.  I would enumerate those questions as:

  • Who (or what entity / institution) controls the public facing resources (domain name, web site, YouTube channel, Twitter handle, etc.)?  Seems like this is the “project leader”.
  • Can the material be shared freely to any and all through a permissible license?
  • How to handle transition within the organization?
  • How to unwind gracefully out of a project if it’s not working out and not leave others in a lurch? (ongoing reflection)

To me, the second one up there, in conjunction with the effort to put as much of the work as possible out in the open, protects most of the rest.  When projects aren’t going well, or go stale, the disgruntled (or motivated, depending on your point of view) contingent “forks” the project, taking all current (and past) contributions and creating a new project out of it, calling it by a new name.  All previous authors’ names and license terms are retained.   Derived works are typically required to use the same or similar license.  Many forks die, but some go on to live healthy productive lives.  Most all of Linux distributions themselves are produced from three different branches.

When a contribution that someone makes in a downstream branch, project maintainers above may merge those changes upstream.  Everyone wins.

If you ever get a dull moment, check out the Linux Kernel Mailing list.  There are FIERCE DEBATES that are all out in the open.  That first exchange was between the benevolent project dictator for life, Linus Torvalds, and what many perceived as his right hand man, Alan Cox, that resulted in Cox’s departure for a time.   Cox was previously a god in Linux circles, and remained as such after his departure because all the work that is his in the Linux Kernel (and there’s lots, he was an early key player) is attributable directly to him as is the discussion that guided major commits that he made in the Linux kernel.  I think the interesting thing here is that in the Linux world, everything it produces has the luxury of being hosted in a distributed fashion (currently using the protocol Git), verifiable (with all commits signed by author), with revision control allowing you to roll back to any point in time on any file.

One issue is that much of the published work is hosted on proprietary systems such as YouTube, Twitter, and others, so that even though the work is public, it can be controlled by whomever the work was published under, if steps aren’t taken to incorporate the group under some sort of business license and creating business accounts on those services.  Perhaps the key would be to host the work in a distributed system such as Git, hosted by GitHub and mirrored anywhere, by anyone at all as the repository would allow world read-only access.  This would allow anyone, project members or otherwise, to publish documents from there onto any service of their choice as long as they respect the license that was attached to the work.  Maybe something easier to use would be Dropbox or Google Drive, but unless you shell out for additional features it doesn’t look like it meets the requirement to retain revisions.  Neither pass the distributed test.  But using a protocol like Git doesn’t allow for some of the best (and certainly the most popular) collaboration features out there offered by cloud services like Google Apps.

Clay Shirky thinks that this concept of openness and transparency of development should be applied to democracy.

I think it could apply to open learning collaborations as well.  It’s up to individual projects to determine their culture and figure out the tool stack to use that meets their needs.

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Winding down the group project for #etlead

by on Apr.12, 2014, under #etlead

We’re coming down to the end of the semester, the end of the course, and therefore the end of the Minecraft #etlead project for the Gamifi-ED project. It’s been a busy time and although I’ll miss the fury and flurry of activity I look forward to when we can package it up, put a ribbon on it, and call it finished (at least for now).

This week I have had the distinct pleasure of working individually with the group members. A personal highlight was working with Chris Stegall in assembling a rough movie trailer storyboard, a process that involved pulling from existing efforts from Nicole, Chris, and others, writing and rewriting, combing through visual clips that we already have, and figuring out what remains. Chris brought up the idea of using a parody of the Lego Movie scene where Emmet goes through an instruction manual of life in the Lego town of Bricksburg:

In our instance though we’re showing what sort of dismal place Panem could be.  I love it – the concept that is, not the dystopian world of Katniss Everdeen.  Chris spent a lot of time exploring the theme with a variety of comic book sketches using images we took directly from the game.  Chris is by no means the only person working on this project, but I single her contribution out this week since I found it personally rewarding to be involved with this phase of media creation.

panem-are we there yet

I have a friend, Noah Walden, who is working on the narration piece which I should receive back shortly (today!).  Once I have that it’s just a matter of assembling all the bits and pieces into a short trailer to release!

The couple of outstanding things that remain to be done are connections with relevant standards as well as some housekeeping in terms of links collected together via a ThingLink page, contact pages, and bios, in order to give it polish.  “Wait a second, did you just say standards?”, you ask, “should that not come at the beginning of unit design as stipulated by Understanding by Design principles?”.  Normally, I would say yes, this is the best course of action, but in this instance, since our group was concerned with exploring how Minecraft could be used within education, we were unsure how large or small to make the scope of the game design, and hence the standards which were to be addressed.  After undertaking this project I feel much better equipped with putting the standards piece in its expected place at the beginning of the planning process.  After all, right now we’re just playin’.

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#etlead: The [week] 11th Hour

by on Apr.06, 2014, under #etlead

This has been a good week for our group, working on developing the game-within-Minecraft concept in order to teach the concepts of civics and teamwork necessary to prevent Panem.

The hardest part of our group is figuring out what is doable by the time the presentation is due versus what would be a super cool aspect of the game.  I have to keep reminding myself (and others): we are doing a presentation about a game we would hope to make – we don’t have to actually finish every aspect of the game itself!

This is hard in a way since we have so many creative thinkers on this team. (continue reading…)

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#gamifi-ED + #etlead Minecraft Group Project / Process

by on Mar.28, 2014, under #etlead

It’s really hard to describe the boot strapping of this game design process, other than to fire off words like: confusing, cohesive, scattered, fun, feeling lost.  Starting off this project a few weeks ago there was some confusion as to what it was we were actually trying to produce and what were the target goals we were going to be assessed by, etc.  One thing was pretty clear – it was going to be a game involving “The Hunger Games” in some fashion, creating the environment of Panem or pre-Panem, and focusing on guiding students on how to avoid Panem.  The group was to be focused on creating the environment using a certain version of Minecraft, the popular indie sandbox game called MinecraftEdu.

Getting the Group Going

We started with a few sessions where varying groups of us have been in the world to explore the features, get a feel for what we can control in the game, see what is difficult / easy.  To do this several of us created structures in the game to represent symbols appearing in the series of books such as the Bakery, the Meadow, the Hob, etc., and this served as an excellent learning tool for many in the group.  Some of the participants were held back due to technical hurdles (still being resolved) but I think everyone has a pretty good idea what’s involved, a general feel for how the game works.  I gained a lot of XP guiding the teachers through the environment and figuring out what motivated all the different styles of learner.  My favorite to date was setting up a quest for Tiffany to get through in order to get a saddle for the horse she tamed.

All of us have our own favorite communication tool; we’ve been trying to make meetings work through Google Hangouts, and communicating primarily through Twitter and the comment facility with Google Docs with the occasional email or IM this way or that way.  While in game we’d use the chat feature, oftentimes Google Hangouts would make Minecraft performance laggy.

One pressure is of course the schedule.  This time of the year is pretty busy; many teachers had crammed schedules ahead of spring break and the week just after.  Making sure we have a project that is manageable and not left half finished by the time school is out is important.

The Game Itself

The original idea is to demonstrate civics in the world of Panem through a game and then somehow tie this in with current and past cultures and institutions.  Thomas brought up the idea of exploring something like Hammurabi’s Code of Laws within the game and the more we have dove into the game and talked about it, the more we are sure that we could emulate the environment of Panem and create the same pressure to skirt the unjust laws at the risk of drawing the attention of the Peacekeepers.  There’s a lot of room in this process to explore concepts of civics; exploring institutions, creating a simple system of economy (buying / selling goods, taxes, penalties, incentives).  There’s lots of discussion about individual mechanics such differentiating a character’s items and attributes and group, and we’re on the right path there.  The hard part which remains is: what defines winning?  Or do you just run it a certain time period, examine what happens, and reflect upon it afterwards?  Does the game just get played over a couple short sessions, or does it keep going in little snippets over the semester?  The big questions you might say 🙂

Teachers and Their Students See the Game Differently

Teachers and students play the game differently.  We’ve heard about Bartle’s gamer types before, but I think in a mixed, somewhat semi-formal environment adults tend to not display their “killer” personality.  Students have no fear in this department, feeling quite free to blow up buildings and mix it up.  I intentionally left the world open and free (sans mods such as MyTown or WorldGuard), and Vicki has had a discussion with students about what the expectations in the game world itself should be, respecting everyone’s creations.  Great stuff!

The Next Few Weeks

I’m looking forward to coming up with something really fun with the group that students (and teachers) would really want work with.  As we work more and more with the students I think the real civics lesson will happen as a consequence; having to actively construct the world of Panem and consider the larger issues of disparity, dysfunctional institutions of government, could be a great opportunity to critically examine past and present cultures as examples.

In the next week we need to nail down a snapshot outlining the game mechanics, portions of the narrative, such as how a game starts and finishes.  Perhaps a return back to the original Educurious unit is warranted here.

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#etlead week 9 reflection

by on Mar.17, 2014, under #etlead

Working with #etlead+#gamifi-ED #Minecraft crew

griefer-level-1We have a great team lined up for the #gamifi-ED Minecraft project in the #etlead class.  Over the past week there have been no fewer than 4 hangouts between various members of the group to get our feet wet with Minecraft / MinecraftEdu, and an extensive amount of that time was spent discussing ways that we could create a game within a game to set the stage for students to learn some concepts of civics as it relates to preventing Panem.  It’s a pretty compelling idea and I hope that Vicki’s class is into the idea.  It’s a concept that can really be expanded out as big as you like: comparing and contrasting governance in Panem with various examples current and past seems pretty compelling.  There’s a lot of thanks to go around here: I’m thankful to Chris Stegall and Tiffany Pickrell for really lighting the fire for me and reviewing the initial Google Document and coming up with some great ideas for the world as well as potential quests relating to The Hunger Games and how they might look in Minecraft.  Tomas Andersen came up with the idea of incorporating the Code of Hamurabi within a quest.  Sara Lambries came late to our group, but I’m excited to work with her here as I have done in the EDMA693 course.  Nicole Fuerst has more knowledge stored up about games and gamification in her crippled X-Box thumb than I have in my whole being and I’m excited to work with her in this endeavor as well.  Our crew got thwarted by Thomas Mellen during the tutorial session, as he went around and tried to block everyone while they were finding their way to the campground on more than one occasion, and so hereby earns the “Griefer Level 1” badge.

Geeking out with My Son

I spent some time this past week geeking out with my son, who’s very interested in Minecraft.  I had the most rare time the other day, just sitting back and watching him explain his creation to me within the game.  It was quite exciting listening to his design thoughts – he built this neat indoor garden inside his house.

He loves flowers!

The Importance of Powering off

With all this new attention on learner collectives, and 24/7 learning its easy to stay powered up and engaged at almost any time of the day.  We have to remember to make time to get outside the digital sphere at times, and with that note I need to power off for the night myself.  It’s been a busy past month, I have spring break to look forward to, and want to spend a good portion of it with my loving family.  I’ll never be completely ahead on all the work, and I always have a better perspective after hanging out, messing around, and geeking out with them.

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