A group of 5th graders joined me in the library learning loft after school this past semester to work on a gamification project. Because Project Based Learning has been emphasized in academia as a way to promote real world learning in the 21st century, the goal of our tech club was to conquer a real need that students have in today’s digital culture: understanding the responsibilities of digital citizenship and cyber safety. My role was to provide the space, the technology tools, and to facilitate the learning experience, but the project would be totally developed and designed by 5th graders.
The Project Began
Since I have a background in virtual worlds and machinima, I was comfortable with building in 3D and shooting video inside a game world. However, I had never played Minecraft and wanted to be sure the students understood the educational purpose of our club. Parental permission and school district approval were first and foremost before the students could begin work.
Because this was the first project in a virtual online game at my school (or that I am aware of in my school district), I needed to get support from administration. I was given the okay to use MinecraftEDU rather than the regular Minecraft game most likely because the “edu” clearly focuses on a collaboration of educators. After receiving approval from my principal and district administration, I was given a purchase order for a classroom set of Minecraftedu game licenses to use with up to 25 students.
I was already aware that Minecraft is currently a very popular game with children because the icon on my desktop caused a constant chatter in the library for weeks before the club began. “Hey, look- she plays Minecraft!” was heard in almost every class- even kindergarten. I decided to hide the icon rather than tell the students that only a small group would be able to take part in the Minecraft project.
Although I consider myself a tech savvy librarian, am comfortable in a variety of virtual worlds, and have embraced Web 2.0 and multi-media tools, I had a difficult time getting the server up. A private server would assure that students would not run into strangers. During the busy school day, I tried several times to host the server but never could get in and began to worry that we would not be able to get into the game on the first day of the Minecraft Club. My first student entered the library after school that day and together we had it running in less than five minutes, which led to a blog post on the concept of digital natives.
Critical Thinking Skills
Watching the students work in Minecraft validated my research in virtual worlds. This next generation of young adults will be quite ready to utilize 3D immersive learning and will not find it as complex as the generation ahead of them. It was amazing to see how quickly the students built homes and buildings and it confirmed the idea that there is something innate in humans that makes us want to create.
Although the students were immediately engaged in creativity, I found my role as teacher imperative to this project. The students needed guidance in identifying an educational topic that would clearly focus on an essential driving question. After the first few club meetings, the students agreed on the need to help younger children learn digital citizenship and cyber safety. The challenge for the project was to design a game that would help students understand those concepts in a fun and immersive way. Once this driving question became the challenge, the students took off building a maze inside the “Budder Library of Digital Citizenship”. Game design came naturally to them as they built levers to open doors when questions were answered correctly.
Students as Project Leaders
Since I had very little experience in the game, the students were empowered as leaders and felt they were teaching me. They had no idea that I could film inside the game (using machinima capture software) but one boy showed me that he has a Youtube channel and films inside the game himself using Bandicam. I thought I was a pioneer in 3D learning and was humbled to see a ten year old boy film machinima easily.
Another boy asked, “Do you know what a griefer is?” These students understood griefing and other gaming terms and taught me the user-interface (how to teleport, text, etc) with excellent explanation of shortcuts. I overheard them joking with each other about trolling which led to discussion about being good digital citizens in practice not only theory.
Our project took place over just a few months but I am proud of the accomplishments of my 5th graders in that short time.
The Students Graduate to Middle School
Whether or not this project continues to grow, I know that I learned as much from this experience as my students did. As they leave for middle school, I know they are hard workers and they understand taking personal responsibility for digital citizenship. In an ever-changing world of digital media, the future is in good hands.