Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Student Driven Learning: Minecraft Style

image from http://www.planetminecraft.com 

Your assignment: Create a game in Minecraft

This was the prompt given to my students for their next project in my game design and development course.  I explained immediately that the assignment is intentionally vague as I want to allow for creativity and with a sandbox environment like Minecraft, anything is possible.  I certainly do not need to hold anyone back as I believe my students will blow me away given the freedom.

I teach an 8th grade semester long elective in video game design and development.  This is the first project I am using Minecraft for and the kids are beyond excited.  For this project, students may work alone or in groups of any size.  In some of my projects I limit the number of students to ensure that everyone is actively participating, but with Minecraft I am confident that large projects could effectively use more hands on deck.

Prior to starting work on the game we had a class discussion.  I want the kids to have control over the project, but I am a believer in planning and felt we needed to set a context.  So.... I presented the class with an important question.  What is a game? I wanted students to come up with a collaborative notion for important key components that are required for a game to be considered a game.  Each of my three classes had this discussion and the general list of key components included:

  • storyline or history of the game (i.e. a sport)
  • characters
  • goal (winning scenario)
  • incremental objectives
  • challenges
  • obstacles
  • rules
  • setting 
  • scoring mechanism(s)
The next step was for students to create a plan and a sketch for their game world.  For most games, I provide a specific list of required elements for a game design document.  This time, I chose not to, but indicated that the plan should be complete, organized, and clear.  I indicated that the plan will be evaluated and my main criteria is that upon reading the game plan (pun intended) I will have a good understanding of the idea for the game, the rules, and would essentially be ready to jump in and play the game when it is completed.  In the spirit of iterative design, I indicated that if I (or a peer) has any questions that reveal ideas that are unclear, the author(s) will be able to update the document.  As  grades seem to be a necessary evil, I feel that everyone can get an A but might have to refine their plan until it is clear.

The general idea for construction is that we will set up a server (or multiple servers) for the creation of the games.  Game creation will take place in creative mode, but gameplay can be switched to survival if that's what is called for.  Students will need to work together in order to ensure that everyone has enough space to build their game.  Teams will have several weeks to complete their games and then we will celebrate our accomplishments by playing the final creations.  I am very excited to see the creativity come to life as students are really empowered with the idea that they can create whatever they like.  There is a nice mix of students with minecraft experience and those with limited or no experience.  I look forward to seeing some mentoring evolve organically as team members work together.  I imagine leadership roles will be assumed naturally based on leadership traits and experience.  Collaboration, design thinking, critical thinking, iterative design, problem solving, and computational thinking are among the key learning goals.  All of these learning outcomes are inherent in the activity based on the minecraft environment and the nature of the assignment.  

Currently, many of my students know far more about minecraft than I.  Learning together will clearly demonstrate their ability to mentor other students as well as their teacher.  I am open to learning and excited about the journey ahead.  I know enough about minecraft and the content to guide them through the process.  I believe this is important as we should not simply assume the 'the kids will figure it out' mindset, but learning alongside my students is very exciting to me as an educator and lifelong learner.  

So far, we have spent 2 days on the project.  Most of this time has been devoted to creating a gameplan, but a number of students in one class chose to complete their plan at home in order to maximize the time in the minecraft environment during class.  This led to our first hiccup.  Some students felt they needed to start with a completely flat world, while others opted for terrain.  I had been playing with running multiple servers in the past, but today I was logged in to a shared account and ran into some issues trying to install and run two versions of MineCraftEdu.  After many attempts, I realized that I needed to not only change the directory of the second install, but also the root directory so that I could access it.  For some reason the AppData folder could not be found manually and the second install does not create a desktop shortcut.  I believe it may be simply a hidden folder, but I wasn't sure how to show hidden files and folders in Windows 7.  Definitely wasn't where I was accustomed to in Windows XP.  Rookie mistake, I'm sure, but hey...

Some questions have come up already and I would like to pose them here for some support from the my minecraft PLN, mainly the minecraft edu community, Joel LevinMarianne Malstrom, Lucas Gillispe, and Mr. Malm.  
  1. Can we utilize mods in conjunction with MineCraftEDU?  
  2. Where do I store mods and how do I incorporate them?
  3. Can mods be initiated on the client side or do they need to be controlled from the server?
  4. Does anyone have insight on the directory issue regarding installing two instances of MineCraft EDu in order to run two servers?
That's it for now.  I'll keep you posted on our progress.

Thanks for reading!