Minecraft, World of Warcraft, Virtual Learning, and Reality

ObenThe last few weeks I spend taking care of my mother, traveling on occasion and exploring virtual worlds and their possibilities in the teaching profession. The goal of the course was to expose us, a group of students at Marlboro College for Graduate and Professional Studies to the relevance of virtual worlds for real-world learning environments.

I would love to say that I aced this course, that it came naturally, that I felt “like a fish in water.”  Nope, this idealized view of myself never materialized.  Instead, I learned how to be humble, ask for help, call 13-year olds on Skype in the US to get lessons on Minecraft mining, called a neighbor’s son to reconfigure my mother’s antiquated router system, and watched hours upon hours of youtube tutorials.

In addition, I WhatsApped my son in Japan to go through the finer points in mining, creating gold, creating signs, power boosts and cry about a dog who drowned in Minecraft. Our mother-son relationship benefitted greatly from this reversed dynamic. Before the course, I saw absolutely no use for his time on the computer watching endless “weird” legos move. However,  in his apps and Skype lessons the amount of detail orientation and real-time work which goes into mining, creating every item through combining different materials, and creating complex structures one forth.  For every question, my son had an online tutorial ready to guide me.  He wrote pages of commands and emailed them for me to try.  I got advice from his friends on “super awesome structures” complete with more tutorials via email. More than that, the collective teen posse cautioned me to “keep totally to the letter of the tutorials”.  All this from a group that never takes a book and reads it from front to back, a group which seems completely laisser faire when it comes to spelling, etc.  I had entered an alternate universe where I became the learner who climbed the mountain….

Only after entering the World of Warcraft did I completely realize how deeply connected these kids are through their online gaming.  They quest together, they form complex teams with characters completing each other’s strengths and weaknesses, they problem solve, read and analyze detailed notecards. Before this course, these were realms I had no access to. Now, I understand the process, time commitment, and mindset much better.

There are definitely uses for Minecraft, SL, WoW in the teaching profession.  However, the great challenge is for teachers to first master these realms and then fold this mastery into required subject activities which guide students not only within a virtual world but extend those activities into the real world.

 

 

 

 

 

Game-like Learning and hidden Ideologies

Dr. J’s Thoughts on:At home taking a rest_001

GAME-LIKE LEARNING: AN EXAMPLE OF SITUATED LEARNING AND IMPLICATIONS FOR OPPORTUNITY TO LEARN James Paul Gee University of Wisconsin-Madison

 PDF of JP Gee paper

Sometimes we are struck by specific  insights triggered through our reading.  My personal trigger in JP Gee’s paper was: “What all these games exemplify, though, is that there is no real learning without some ideology. Adopting a certain set of values and a particular world view is intimately connected to doing the activities and having the experiences that constitute any specific domain of knowledge. “

I never really thought or analyzed this aspect of video gaming and virtual world
environments. However, as I have a teen, I know about my strong reactions to ongoing gaming endeavors. Games such as Minecraft and Clash of Clans while time-consuming did not seem inherently dangerous. However, the line was drawn and defended when a game simulating a Casino environment became of interest. This game not only requires the buying of gems in real currency but also encourages a Las Vegas type mindset. While I could not put my finger on the strong negative reaction of mine, this article cleared it up. Indeed, this game requires the gamer to embrace a certain type of ideology which I consider extremely dangerous. I see it as a training ground to desensitize the approach to life gaming in a casino.

Generally, the idea of inherent ideology nestled in a game is something worth exploring as this opens unconscious doors within the ID and Ego not accessible to teachers in a classroom. Latent character flaws and strengths could be activated. As such, I will call this for a lack of better words “unguided manipulation” which can and does have far reaching consequences not only in school but real life.

Joshua Smyth, associate professor of psychology in The College of Arts and Sciences at Syracuse University, recently conducted a randomized trial study of college students contrasting the effects of playing online socially interconnected video games with more traditional single-player or arcade-style games.

While both multiplayer and traditional single player video games present a double-edged sword, Smyth’s research found that online, socially integrated multiplayer games create greater negative consequences (decreased health, well-being, sleep, socialization and academic work) but also garner far greater positive results (greater enjoyment in playing, increased interest in continuing play and a rise in the acquisition of new friendships) than do single-player games.

All students taking part in the study reported decreased health and sleep and interference with real-life socializing and academic work. In contrast to these costs, participants experienced benefits, most notably by those taking part in online multiplayer game play. Online multiplayer gamers enjoyed their play far more than those assigned to more traditional game types, creating new friendships in their online environments.

The greater question is that of hidden manifestations of value and ideology manipulation be it “good or bad”. With online time commitments outpacing real life experiences the door is wide open to idealogical manipulation.  While I am not paranoid about a “great conspiracy”, I do believe that a highjacking of values is inherently possible in virtual worlds.  When thinking about a counterpart in the literary world I was reminded  of “The Giver” by Lois Lowry where society in its quest for total harmony eventually forgoes all their memories to achieve perfect harmony though perfect assimilation.

“We gained control of many things. But we had to let go of others.”
― Lois Lowry, The Giver

 

Firestorm, OpenSim and Virtual Worlds

by Dr. Jasmin Bey Cowin – Virtual World Explorer

Better late than never!  After watching my son battle giants, slay dragons, and built complete societies, I decided to become cool too.  To achieve that highly desired “cool mom” status I enrolled in a course at Marlboro College for Graduate and Professional Studies and am taking an online course in Games and Simulations. I am currently pursuing a Certificate in Educational Technology at Marlboro College.

I shall be writing about my adventures in JokaydiaGRID, which is an OpenSim grid for education. Click me to go to Jokaydiagrid and enter an educational world.  So far, I have created an Avatar in Jokaydia and joined Second Life, a 3D virtual world created by its users.Signing up for JokaydiaGRID will take a couple of days as one gets vetted.  How I don’t know!

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A Firestorm in Germany Real Life Photo by Jasmin Bey Cowin.

However, before I could enter any world I had to get acquainted more closely with my computer operating system and install Firestorm an OpenSim viewer which is a software program developed by the Phoenix Viewer Project. There are many Open Simulators but this was the one recommended by my teachers – or should I say Virtual World guru guides?

Was the signing up easy, painless and hassle free?  No, it was filled with vexing problems, online tutorials and sad emails such as Which buttons do I press? Why does it not load? Or even:  Where am I?  I will explore the finer points of In World experiences my next blog.

I shall let you know through updates where my travels have taken me, which worlds I discovered or created and the fabulous failures which surely will happen.

Visit my blog often!

 

Free Teacher Tech Tools and EDpuzzle

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EdPuzzle tutorial

What does Edpuzzle do for the busy teacher?

If you use videos in your classroom or assign videos for your flipped classroom this is the perfect FREE tool for you. This app allows you to search simultaneously in youtube, TED Talks, Khan Academy, LearnZillion, National Geographic, Veritasium, Numberphile, Crash Course and Vimeo.

EdPuzzle features?  Features range from cropping videos, recording your voice on top of your selection, adding quizzes, and assigning content to your classes. In addition, uploading and editing your own videos id very doable.  Your video assignments with embedded quizzes create a strong assessment tool.

I have no time!  Edpuzzle is easy to use, intuitive and user-friendly.  If I can do it, so can you.  Plus, they have a great support team.

Having control! Very useful is the teacher ability to restrict fast forward by the students.   For assessment, you will be able to get meaningful data and insight in how your students answer their quizzes.

Last, but not least, your Project Based Learning has just become interactive. Students can upload their videos and create their own EDpuzzles. Such student project creation is at the top level of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Discourse on the Style Manual Strunk and White

by Dr. Jasmin Bey Cowin

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In his style guide, Strunk discusses in detail the defining principles of composition and writing. His 11 Elementary Principles of Composition contain several noteworthy points. Among his recommendations are “to choose a suitable design and hold to it, make the paragraph the unit of composition, begin each paragraph with a strong topic sentence and thoughtful use of the active voice”. Essentially, writing with these elementary building blocks can be compared to creating a music composition. Paragraphs symbolize harmony, topic sentences depict the melody and the active voice represents the dynamics.
Paragraphs comprise the first unit, the body of the composition. After introducing the main idea at the beginning of a paragraph, three to five sentences follow and support the main idea within. A closing sentence finishes the paragraph and serves as the recapitulation of the main idea put forth. As harmonious building blocks of coherence, paragraphs aid the reader to follow the logical development of the composition.

Focused, clear, specific topic sentences state the main idea of the paragraph. A strong topic sentence serves as the ‘hook’, the ‘melody’ – an invitation to the reader to further explore the text. A topic sentence focuses on and highlights the main idea of the paragraph. The format of a topic sentence is topic + a controlling idea. The controlling idea shows the direction the paragraph will take. Example sentence: compelling writing of compositions requires certain characteristics. The topic is “effective writing of compositions” and the controlling idea is certain characteristics. To summarize, paragraphs are introduced by topic sentences which are comparable to a catchy tune.

The use of active voice generates positive impact, robust dynamics and an elegant flow of sentences and paragraphs. Active sentences contain an active subject. The subject is doing the action. A straightforward example is the following sentence, “The king loves the queen.” The king is the subject, and he is doing the action: he loves the queen, the object of the sentence. An active voice makes it clear who is doing what, it sings in forte or piano.

Strunk models the treatment of paragraphs, topic sentences, and the importance of active voice in writing direct and concise sentences as key in clear and logical writing. Without proper scaffolding and interlocking sequences, writing is prone to lose its focus and thrust.

In conclusion, actively voiced paragraphs and topic sentences are the basic foundations of engaging and thought-provoking writing just as musical compositions use the building blocks of harmony, melody and dynamics to create transcendent symphonies.

Reflections on Martin Luther King’s letter from Birmingham Jail

 

Martin Luther King’s letter – document from Stanford Online Library

_MG_8718-1  by Dr. Jasmin Bey Cowin

In his letter from Birmingham, Jail King responded to the critical publication “A Call for Unity” by eight clergymen who chastised both his presence and actions as “unwise and untimely.” King established a common background with his “fellow clergymen” through classical, literary-historical, and biblical allusions in order to clarify and declare his reasoning towards the non-violent protests of the Civil Rights Movement and the legitimacy of his personal presence in Birmingham. One of the main threads in King’s letter is his underlying dialogue with the question if individuals are ever morally justified in breaking civil law. King addresses six major issues in his letter: negotiation, timing, breaking laws, triggering violence, the myth of time, and extremism. In order to illustrate his points and appeal to appeal to logos, ethos and pathos King uses classical, historical, and biblical allusions as well as quoting idealist historical figures as his rhetorical strategies.

King uses the example of Socrates, the Western archetype of wisdom, the father who birthed academic freedom through his acts of civil disobedience to address the assertion in “A Call for Unity” that King’s actions, “even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence.” In his appeal to logos King writes, “Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.” In effect, King created the following syllogism: If Socrates is good, and Socrates was right to create tension so that the mind could grow, it follows tension is good for inspiring growth in mankind. Furthermore, King implies that proceeding without tension is going to leave man in “the dark depths of prejudice and racism.”

His allusion to historical events such as the discovery of the Americas, Nazi Resistance, and the Boston Tea Party seek to establish connections between morally bankrupt oppressive societies; the silent white moderates; transformative historical events; and figures of high moral and ethical repute both present and past; and the Civil Rights Movements justified use of civil disobedience when faced with injustice. In response to the clergyman’s claim that his use of direct action was “untimely,” King appeals to pathos “We have waited for more than three hundred and forty years for our God-given and constitutional rights”, a reference to Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the Americas. References like this give an aura of authenticity and credibility to the points and events of civil disobedience being illustrated in King’s letter. One of his examples is the vandalism of the Boston Tea Parties which was named heroic by the American public at the time. He continues his arguments with ethos, pointing to Hitler’s ‘legality’ of actions in his pursuit of the complete annihilation of King’s “Jewish brothers” versus human morality. He then juxtaposes Hitler’s legality versus the Hungarian Freedom Fighters illegality in their struggle to obtain freedom. “We can never forget that what everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.” He leads the readers to the conclusion that devotion to “order” rather than justice blocks the “flow of social progress.” His syllogism here is Civil disobedience and breaking unjust laws because one obeys “higher laws” is, therefore “in reality expressing the very highest respect for the law.”

King uses the pathos of the early Christians biblical struggle as his justification for “the mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice.” He links the struggle of the Civil Rights movement to that of Christianity by alluding that despite their collective suffering neither group submitted to unjust laws. Furthermore, King asks these powerful rhetorical questions; “Was not Jesus an extremist for love? Was not Amos an extremist for justice? Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel? Was not Martin Luther an extremist…and John Bunyan?” By mentioning influential biblical and theological figures who suffered for their beliefs, King appeals to both pathos and ethos by showing the moral exemplar personified and the inspiring influence they had on Christianity. King specifically aims for pathos when he mentions three Christian extremists who were crucified, including Jesus Christ the Church’s representative of mankind’s highest potential of a human being. He also refers to the church as ethos. For MLK, “the church as the body of Christ” has the moral obligation to stand against unjust laws. He quotes St. Augustine who said: “An unjust law is no law at all.” Finally, King further stokes the embers of sympathy by describing the disappointment he had to the church’s reaction to the Civil Rights Movement. He points out that Christians have “to obey God rather than man” and that a living Church, the true ecclesia, as the representation of Christ-like goodness and hope of the world, needs to be again a thermostat that transforms the mores of society.

King’s message to his fellow Christian Clergyman can be compared to prophetic message of Jeremiah who “… had come to the dungeon cells and remained there many days.” It was Jeremiah who delivered a message from the Lord to the Hebrew people who were struck with despair after their community had been split and almost destroyed. In essence, King assumes the mantle of prophecy for his people and their struggle. Walter Brueggemann writes, “Prophecy is born precisely in that moment when the emergence of social political reality is so radical and inexplicable that it has nothing less than a theological cause.” Not only did King symbolize the Zeitgeist of the desegregation movement, he also grabbed hold of his community stuck in despair. Through his moral, ethical and intellectual leadership he rallied support, empathy, understanding, and sympathy for the Civil Rights movement and desegregation across color lines to “dispel the dark clouds of racial injustice” for the “radiant stars of love and brotherhood.”