Monday, December 19, 2011

Collaborative Projects using Minecraft

There are many opportunities to participate in a project while living in different locations. Recently, this group of middle schoolers' worked on a collaborative project together, each from the comfort of their own homes. They all have a Minecraft account, and they used one student's Minecraft server. This project allowed them to use their favorite online game to meet social studies and technology standards. The students communicated throughout the process with the online chat and through Skype group calling. The purpose of the project was to make a video about a pre-history village. Instead of dressing up and playing characters as the rest of the class did, they decided to BUILD an entire prehistory village using Minecraft software.
Minecraft is focused on creativity and building, allowing players to build constructions out of textured cubes in a 3D world.
Some of the challenges included getting certain students to stop goofing around and they also failed to START with a plan. As they built their village, they argued about each inclusion and whether or not it followed pre-history in terms of historical accuracy. They concentrated very heavily on only using building materials that were accessible during that time period.
What they learned by the end of the project was to set up specific times that they could all work on it together to finalize certain areas and make group decisions, to have a common plan and set zones and directives for each student to work on. They also had to learn diplomacy, they destroyed project pieces that did not meet rubric guidelines, but they had to explain/debate/support why they made that choice. It would have been more helpful to have a project manager who made final decisions like this established from the beginning. There was also a student who gave a non- participant access to the server, which was against the rules and he was temporarily turned off until the project was complete and captured on video. When it came time to shoot video of their online world, the students tried out various screencasting scenarios. They used Jing, and For the narration, the students used a group call coming through Skype which they captured while they navigated through the site. This way more than one voice was represented on the video and no one had to leave their homes. This scenario works wonderfully if you have students in different countries, provided they are able to meet according to the time zones. It was also challenging because certain students failed to mention to their families that they were recording. There were background noises that interfered at times, forcing them to make many retakes of the video. Some students had microphones and others didn't. Some students had Skype accounts and others had to quickly create one. The beauty of this project is that the students chose the technology, they had to problem solve on the fly, and use multiple web 2.0 tools to assist them. The teacher simply gave them the topic of their video and the students managed the project specifics and timeline on their own.
As a teacher who now understands how this program works I would have asked for a basic master plan on paper first along with a list of team members and their roles. Although the students managed their project on their own, they could have benefited from some project management guidance and follow-up. I think I would also have mentioned that they should have scheduled times to work on it as a team for the necessary debates as well as the asynchronous work. It would have saved them some time.