Engage. Grow. Fostering Community Online.

Last week (April 19-21) I attended the Digital Learning Conference 2015 in Burnaby with my colleague and OLTD cohort member, Lisa Lewis. It was a great opportunity to connect with people such as Mary O’Neill (@maryjoneill), Randy LaBonte (@rlabonte) and Avi Luxenburg (@aluxenburg) (OLTD instructors) and some of my OLTD cohort. This well-attended conference was a great generator of new ideas and gave Lisa and me our first opportunity to present.

The opening keynote speaker, Dave Cormier (@davecormier), used an analogy of a rhizome to learning. Rhizomes, aggressive, chaotic, and resilient can be hard to contain, following their own path. This is how learning should be; not contained or restricted. “Success is never finishing (learning)”. We were asked to consider why we school, what we are schooling and ultimately what do we want school to be for? There were lively discussions amongst the participants as well as on the twitter backchannel (#2015DL).

My focus for this conference was to collect information on how others are incorporating blended or flexible courses in their traditional face-to-face schools. I attended a seminar by Jeff Stewart (NIDES/Navigate) who described how they tackled the challenges of ‘traditional’ learning by incorporating Web 2.0 tools and choice via various Academies. I am not sure how this model could be applied in Adult Basic Education, but I am inspired by the idea of including community activities, leadership and project-based learning in our program.

Heather Corman and Julie Shields presented their thoughts on Independent Learning Centres. These centres are a place for students to work on courses via distance learning but with a support teacher in the room to answer basic questions. They have met with great success, providing opportunities to students to take courses they would otherwise be unable to. The greatest tip for success was to ensure that expectations were clear – that it was a class and not computer ‘play’ time!

Avi and Mary’s presentation suggested strategies for building community in online and blended courses. Creating social tension may work for some instructors, while others lean towards appreciative inquiry. Both presenters agreed that it was necessary to have a cohort model to build a successful community for learning.

Lisa and I presented early on the last morning of the conference. To see the slideshare of our presentation, check out the link below. I think it went amazingly well, especially as first-time presenters at a very well attended seminar. We challenged our participants to create a digital mindmap of our presentation, and some jumped right in and tweeted a copy to the rest of the conference participants. I was very happy to have the opportunity to both attend and present at this conference, and hope to present at another conference in the future!

Mindmapping – Harnessing the power of student collaboration: http://bit.ly/1yM2LtH.

2015 DL Conference collaborative notes: http://goo.gl/9r1Vqi

Evidence: Sandbox Assignment using Minecraft (video) and comparison of Minecraft to MinecraftEDU (blog post) (April 12, 2015)

Learning Outcome(s):

  • Plan learning opportunities most suitable to the strengths and challenges of a variety of mobile learning and gaming environments
  • Develop practical and technical skills in all phases of concept, development, design, implementation etc. within mobile learning and gaming environments

Reflection to Support Evidence:

For my final assignment in OLTD 508 I chose to create a lesson for my literacy math (Grades 1-9) learners in Minecraft. The assignment required that I build a lesson based on chosen learning outcomes and show my lesson through a 5-10 minute video walkthrough of what my students might see. I was also to discuss whether Minecraft was a good fit for my class or students, how it may allow for various ways to ‘show what they know’ and how it might be personalized for each student’s learning needs.

Although I have watched my children play hours of Minecraft, I had never attempted to play the game myself. Creating a lesson in Minecraft gave me an opportunity to see how it might be used as an educational tool. I initially found the game to be overwhelming, as I played in creative mode and was faced with a wide blank area that needed to be filled. I was also skeptical about how Minecraft might work with adult learners, as I had associated the game with younger players.

I began by choosing what learning outcomes I hoped to meet and then explored various tools within the game that would help me communicate with my students while they were playing. Minecraft does not have the same supervision features as MinecraftEDU, so I needed to be sure that my instructions were clear. After creating a first draft of my lesson plan in my Minecraft world, I moved through as if I was a student which helped me correct any confusing pieces in my design.

What I discovered was that Minecraft is so flexible that you can create just about anything you want. The interface allows players to build to the best of their own abilities – those with more practice can build more elaborate constructions but new players can still meet learning outcomes by building basic structures. This game empowers learners, which James Gee (2013), in his Thirteen Principles of Game-Based Learning, describes as allowing players to co-design, customize, manipulate and take on an identity. I was also reminded of Universal Design for Learning (CAST, 2015); Minecraft provides multiple means of representation, expression and engagement, all positive features of good educational games.

If you choose to use any mobile learning or gaming environment in an educational setting, it is critical to ensure the learning draws on the strengths of the tool. Poorly planned activities can cause frustration in the learner or see them move off-task. It is simply not enough to just choose a game; educators need to plan a clear lesson that has been carefully thought through and meets the chosen learning objectives. Being familiar with how the game works and potential challenges students may face is important when designing the lesson. I am currently exploring math games to use with my class, and with these OLTD learning outcomes in mind I am much more critical in my assessment of whether the game meets my needs and the needs of my learners.


CAST. (2015). About Universal Design for Learning. Retrieved April 28, 2015 from http://www.cast.org/our-work/about-udl.html

Gee, J.P. (2013, Nov 13). Jim Gee Principles on Gaming. [Video file]. Retrieved March 23, 2015 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4aQAgAjTozk


Evidence link(s):

Video tour of Minecraft lesson (VIUTube)

Comparison of Minecraft and MinecraftEDU (blog post)

Evidence: Rubric for Evaluating Digital Educational Games and Evaluation of a Game – Lure of the Labyrinth (March 29, 2015)

Learning Outcome(s):

  • Critically assess and evaluate resources for best practice in mobile learning and gaming environments
  • Integration of current cognitive learning and educational gaming theory and examination of current research around best and emerging practices

Reflection to support evidence:

As part of OLTD 508 – Mobile Technologies and Game-Based Learning, we were asked to create a rubric that could be used to evaluate a ‘serious’ or ‘educational’ game (Assignment #3). We were given the option of working with a group or individually; I chose to complete this assignment individually. I created my rubric using a blend of different models presented through course readings. I then used the rubric to evaluate a free online math game – The Lure of the Labyrinth – to both test out the effectiveness and ease of use of my rubric and to determine if the game may be one I would choose to use with my students.

While creating the rubric, I had to step back and think carefully about what criteria or characteristics of a learning tool were important to me as an educator. Problem-solving characteristics and integration of knowledge content of the game are important and these can appear differently based on different pedagogies. I found my learning had come full circle as I revisited familiar terms such as behaviourism and constructivism as applied to game creation, and how the ultimate goal of a game should be the synthesis of knowledge from a variety of sources (connectivism).

Researching principles of game-based learning introduced me to James Gee (2013), whose Thirteen Principles of Game-based Learning helped frame additional rubric categories such as ‘feedback/instruction’ and ‘student engagement in the game’. Gee’s approach to categorizing game-based learning principles as Empowering Learners, Problem-solving and Create Deep Understanding has helped me focus on the why of using a game as a learning tool as opposed to worrying specifically about the tool itself. While I do not usually use a game-based approach in my teaching, I can see these Thirteen Principles as general good teaching practice.

Applying my rubric to The Lure of the Labyrinth helped me identify potential gray areas that needed to be edited in my initial draft. This game is well-respected for its content and educational appropriateness, so I was pleased that the game received a high score on my rubric.

With so many mobile learning and gaming tools and resources available, it is important to critically assess whether or not the tool you wish to use will actually accomplish the learning you desire. This cannot be done without first establishing at least minimum criteria against which to evaluate. The criteria should be grounded in current cognitive learning and educational gaming theory, as opposed to simply which tool has the most bells and whistles. Ultimately, the first priority is to ensure the technology you are using relates to the learning goals rather than trying to determine which learning outcome might be met by the tool. I am confident that I can apply my rubric to any new mobile learning or gaming resource I might wish to use with my students.


Gee, J.P. (2013, Nov 13). Jim Gee Principles on Gaming. [Video file]. Retrieved March 23, 2015 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4aQAgAjTozk


Evidence link(s):

master copy game evaluation rubric

evaluation of lure of labyrinth

minecraft logoImagine a game that allows players to create what they want, where they want, and (usually) with whom they want. This is Minecraft, and far from the glossy, intense graphics of many video games today, Minecraft uses a basic block to create everything from land to trees, animals, buildings and people. Despite the low-tech graphics, kids (and adults) spend hours completely immersed in the game. Perhaps the promoters of Minecraft provide the best reason… “in Minecraft, no one can tell you what you can or cannot do.”minecraftedu logo

Minecraft is available in two different platforms; ‘regular’ Minecraft and MinecraftEdu. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, depending upon whether you are looking at it from a player or educator perspective. Sansing (2013) provides a good comparison of the two. Minecraft’s strength lies in its unlimited capability for open-ended play, where everyone in the world is a peer (teachers and students alike). As players become more skilled with the game, they naturally ‘level-up’. Minecraft can be played individually or as multiplayer, and while some servers are ‘white-listed’ many are easily accessible by any player. Servers without vigilant moderators may be a concern for younger players who may experience ‘griefing’, ‘trolling’, foul language or bullying. (See This “Minecraft” Community Is Saving The Lives Of Children With Autism” for an example of the impacts of this behaviour.)

In contrast, MinecraftEdu is teacher-controlled via integrated classroom management tools. While still encouraged to build and interact with the environment, students are required to complete tasks created and monitored by the teacher. Players that are already skilled at the game may find this restrictive. For those unfamiliar with the game, MinecraftEdu includes a ‘Tutorial World’ – an introduction to the basics of Minecraft through team puzzle solving. MinecraftEdu is a multiplayer game only and the teacher has control of who is allowed into the game. As moderator, the teacher can ensure that inappropriate behaviour is not allowed.

MinecraftEdu is useful for keeping students on track if using the game to meet a learning outcome. There are many custom blocks in the Edu version that are not available in the standard Minecraft game, such as ‘home blocks’ that can be used to teleport a student back to a specific spot, or ‘information blocks’ that can store messages or other necessary information. The only way I found to provide instructions (that would not fit on a sign) in Minecraft was to write in a book and store it in a chest.

AnWorld-of-Humanities-Map-Feb-20131other huge advantage (from a teacher’s perspective) of MinecraftEdu is the ‘World Library’ of teacher-created lessons and activities. After spending more hours than I want to count creating my tiny little build to teach area and perimeter, I would greatly appreciate being able to search already created worlds that may only need slight adjusting to meet my own personal teaching requirements. Let’s be honest, I also wouldn’t mind simply touring around in some of the worlds myself.

From a teacher’s perspective, Minecraft would be suitable for small group or individual projects. Students that already had their own Minecraft account could choose to use the game as a way of showing their learning. It allows for maximum creativity and personalization. MinecraftEdu, only available to schools, is suitable for delivering specific content in whole-class lessons. Access to this platform at school would help ensure universal access to all students, as not everyone can afford an account or have the technology to play the game at home.



Sansing, C. (2013, Sept. 24). Minecraft or MinecraftEdu at School? Pros, Cons, and What it’s Great For. Retrieved from https://www.graphite.org/blog/minecraft-or-minecraftedu-at-school-pros-cons-and-what-its-great-for

What is MinecraftEdu. (n.d.) In MinecraftEdu Wiki. Retrieved from http://services.minecraftedu.com/wiki/What_is_MinecraftEdu#What_makes_MinecraftEdu_different.3F