Tag Archive for minecraft

When Griefers Strike: Community, Citizenship and Rebuilding

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What does it mean to be a community? When disaster strikes, how does a community respond? What does it mean to see real-world consequences of digital actions? When one group’s project was digitally vandalized just a day before it was due, a class of 6th graders demonstrated U Prep’s commitment to community and social responsibility by jumping in to help rebuild.

As an interdisciplinary project in 6th grade, students explore the effects of damming (and releasing) the Elwha River on the Olympic Peninsula. Students choose to focus their research on a particular discipline such as Literature or Social Studies. In the Science track, led by 6th Grade Science teacher Quynh Tu, students build recreations of the Elwha River valley before, during and after the dam phase in Minecraft. Working with creations of the Elwha River basin pulled from satellite mapping data, students label the effects of the dam and removal on the geography and ecology of the basin. Using a school-run Minecraft server, customized with an educational version called MinecraftEDU, all of the teams create their models in distinct areas of one shared digital world.

The day before the projects were to be presented to their peers, one team logged in to find their work had been extensively vandalized (called “griefing” in gamer culture) using the same tools that students had been using to build their environmental models. Trees were burned, a dam destroyed, a valley was flooded, and the valleys were filled with creatures called Golems which had been created by the vandals. In addition to one group’s models, the common loading area and instructions were destroyed as well.

The affected group took pictures of the damage, and reported it to Ms. Tu. When the class met for their last work session that day, Ms. Tu, Middle School Director Marianne Picha, and Director of Academic Technology Jeff Tillinghast asked the targeted group to describe what happened to the class. The students described how hard they had worked on the project, and how sad they were to see their work destroyed. They were obviously nervous about the deadline to present the next day, and weren’t sure how they would be able to make the deadline.

Without any teacher prompting, the conversation evolved as the class began to brainstorm solutions. Could the server be restored from a backup? The server backed up daily, so the server could be restored to the last image before the project was vandalized. That would mean that all the group’s work for the last day would be lost, though. The targeted group thought about that for a minute, and said that they didn’t think it would be fair for all the groups to be penalized just to save their work. Can the deadline be moved? It might be possible, but with the entire 6th grade ready to present on Friday, and with camping trips and beach day coming up the next week, it would be very doubtful. Finally, one student suggested: Most of us are done and ready to present. Can we help them rebuild?

The class moved into action as everyone logged into the world and begun to build–some finishing their own projects, and others helping the targeted group clean up and rebuild their work. The three students who had originally built the world shifted into project management mode, deciding what could be delegated to others (“There were trees all along this stretch of the river,” or “Drain out all the water,”) and what they had to rebuild themselves (such as their original dam design). As other groups finished their work, they moved over to help the class-wide rebuild. The period ended and moved into lunch, and students ran out to get their food and brought it back to the classroom to continue working. Throughout the rest of the day, whenever students finished work in other classes, they returned to help out, and a large group continued working after school. Finally, by the time the afternoon ended, the project was rebuilt and all the groups were ready to present their work the next day.

The nature of Minecraft, being an open space in which all students build freely, presented a calculated risk that someone would abuse the project or another student’s work. Responsible citizenship is a core value of the University Prep academic program, and these students demonstrated that value in action with their response as a class to this situation.

Building Our Values and Mission: Minecraft Design Challenge

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This quarter, I’ve been using Minecraft in Digital Media. For this project, I wanted to give them a design challenge related to the mission and values of our school. Their presentation is below, and if you have a chance to watch it and leave feedback, we would appreciate it!

Design Challenge: Create a world in Minecraft which reflects U Prep’s Mission Statement and Values.

To begin with, the students had to unpack both the Mission Statement (“University Prep is committed to developing each student’s potential to become an intellectually courageous, socially responsible citizen of the world.”) and Values (“University Prep believes that integrity, respect, and responsibility are essential to accomplish its mission and to sustain its vision.”) From there, they brainstormed what kinds of things could be built into Minecraft that would communicate, further or demonstrate those values both for themselves as well as other players who might join their world.

After the mindmap, they did two rounds of prototyping: first drawing a map of their own proposed world, then having to assemble all of them as a class into a physical prototype in our Maker Space. After that, they went to their in-world build. Finally, they presented their work for some of our staff and faculty for feedback. Their presentation is below (~8:00, direct link to slides). If you watch the video, please take a moment and leave feedback for the students on their feedback form. Thanks!

At the end,

Minecraft vs MCEDU: Choose Your Weapon

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(image: minecraftedu.com)

Minecraft had been in medium range on my radar for a few months now, but a teacher project idea has pushed it into “go time.” Minecraft is definitely one of the hot discussion items of the last year or so and is still gaining steam for school development. Much of the classroom use is based on a variant of Minecraft called MinecraftEdu, meant specifically for classroom implementation. I spent most of a day researching and wrestling with the two variants, and trying to determine which was most appropriate for us. In the end, our decision came down to two large factors: the server options and student accounts.

Six of One, Half-Dozen of the Other?

MinecraftEdu has a long way to go in its marketing to convincingly sell the difference between the two versions. While their wiki points to “features” which are supposed to help classroom management, it doesn’t delineate what those features are. It also advertises a lot of features which seem to be useful (plugins, WorldEdit, mods, etc.), but are in reality accessible to either Minecraft or MinecraftEdu. There are a few interesting additions to the Edu toolkit, including:

  • Teleporting all users back to you when its time to gather a class together,
  • Distributing “assignments” in the form of mass messages, and
  • Special “Do Not Build” blocks to limit places where students can’t build.

After consulting our resident Minecraft guru (12th Grade Help Desk Intern), he confirmed that pretty much all of the special features of Edu could be implemented with additional plugins and mods to the core Minecraft program. The key sell of MinecraftEdu is that these features are pre-activated and much easier for an administrator to control. For the average teacher setting this up for their class, that ease of use and setup equals valuable time and energy, and shouldn’t be disregarded. It was less of a selling point for me, though.

MinecraftEdu also has a fairly simple system for applying restrictions to users and settings in order to “lock down” the game. While I can certainly appreciate why that would be an appealing option, U Prep defaults on the side of an open experience as teaching tool, rather than preventative restrictions. Having many of these options removed at the server level eliminates some of the powerful digital citizenship lessons that can come out of an environment like this. While the end result in terms of user experience may end up being very similar, starting from a more permissive environment and modifying it to a comfortable level (i.e. core Minecraft) seemed to be preferred rather than starting too tight with built-in software-level restrictions and not being able to eliminate hard-coded functions within MinecraftEdu.

To Serve, or Not to Serve

A key point for us was where to host the application itself. As we continue to shift our infrastructure to cloud-based and vendor-hosted services rather than locally-managed devices, hosting with one of a variety of commercial Minecraft hosts fits with our overall IT philosophy. Furthermore, if this is going to be tied to school activities, we want it to be accessible both at home and at school. If that sounds contradictory, a key tenet of our device program is that students should have access to their learning from anywhere, at any time. A recreational game (which some students did operate last year) is fine within the space of school walls, but when it becomes a project or class activity, students need to be able to connect to that at any time. Opening up an additional port in the firewall just for purposes of accessing the server requires a little more IT work and management than hosting remotely.

The catch is that we could not find a commercial host operating MinecraftEdu–only Minecraft. Therefore, if we wanted to use Edu, we would have to host internally and deal with the ramifications of setting up an externally-accessible server. While there are lots of vendors providing online hosting of Minecraft (AllGamer is the most prominent), it is possible to install MinecraftEdu on a remote host, although it’s not the cleanest process.

The Clinching Factor

At this point, I was leaning towards the core Minecraft package for two main reasons:

  • Ease of procuring a externally-hosted vendor,
  • Ability to recreate any useful options of MinecraftEdu by using mods and plugins, and
  • More open environment closer aligned to our program philosophy.

The catch that turned us back towards MinecraftEdu was in the licensing: To provide Minecraft to students, we’d be buying accounts for individual students, which could be used for any Minecraft purposes: logging into school-provided servers as well as any other free play servers available outside of school control. This seemed to be a bit of an over-reach to us– the idea that we’d buy totally open versions of the game and give them to students for purposes which occasionally would be school-related just didn’t seem to fit within our program philosophy.

In contrast, buying MinecraftEdu doesn’t purchase software licenses– it purchases user licenses. Furthermore, the licenses are specified as “active user” licenses. In other words, the basic level of 25 licenses only relates to 25 simultaneously logged-in users. This is a huge advantage to deploying this different teachers or classes down the road– one class might use Minecraft for a project in March, while another can use the same licenses in June. We don’t have to deal with managing or limiting concurrently-installed software.

Much Ado About…?

In full disclosure, I’ve been working with our installation now for about two weeks. During installation, I came away with a different impression about the level of student restrictions within Minecraft Edu than I had coming in to the project– I simply turned off all of the restrictions in the installation process, and I think that we have a relatively equivalent level of “openness” in the Minecraft world than had we gone with a core installation. Once the students get totally immersed, we’ll have to see if we run up against “Why can’t we…”

In short, while I found precious little going in with which to compare the two versions of Minecraft side-by-side, I think we arrived at the correct conclusion in using Minecraft Edu even in light of our earlier concerns.

Installing MinecraftEdu on a Remote Hosted Server

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After comparing Minecraft and MinecraftEdu, we decided to go with MinecraftEdu. While we had our own criteria for making this decision, ironically it wasn’t because of one of the biggest selling points of MCE– that teachers could run it on their own machines and set up a local server on the fly without IT involvement. While that applies for many teachers experimenting with Minecraft on their own, I was ready to support one of our teachers with a dedicated server for a couple of classroom projects. Over the last couple of years, though, we’ve been consciously moving most of our server infrastructure to external/hosted solutions. We didn’t want to create a local server which was counter to that strategy. Also, our teacher felt strongly (and we agreed) that her project would be best served with students having access from home. With that in mind, we decided to host MinecraftEdu on a new server through Blackmesh, our existing provider. Here’s how we installed and configured our server for the first time in a remotely-hosted environment.

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