What Kind of Pedagogy Are We Really Pushing Forward?
This blog post was written by TeacherGaming’s CEO Santeri Koivisto. @Aalvisto on twitter.
Today – the day I’m writing this blog post – is the 13th day of this month (as of Jan.13, 2013) and we already have 60 new schools starting with MinecraftEdu. That makes the fast-growing number of total schools closer and closer to the first kilo. Half a million users in schools already means a lot of influence. It puts us in a position where we really have to start thinking about what kind of ideas we want to promote, because MinecraftEdu’s impact on customer schools is huge.
TeacherGaming has always been about two things. The first, the more important one, is the +1 effect we want to have on our user schools. We want them to be better and we want the teachers to be able to do better pedagogy with less stress. The second: we want to get our livelihood out of this. On the second point, we are slowly getting there, but we want to impact others, so the quality is always important.
We want to make school more meaningful. Students have a lot of feelings for games and for Minecraft especially. Minecraft generates a meaningful context where everything is connected. Now, we don’t make the content and the ideas to be taught, we concentrate on the tools that teachers can use to present their own ideas in a way more meaningful to the students.
The focus on students is one of the key features of a good pedagogy, but we need to give teachers the space and time so they can provide that focus. Therefore, the pedagogical approach we are putting forward is something that takes more weight off from the teachers’ shoulders and empowers the students more to take responsibility for their own learning. The goal is to let teachers to stand back from the wheel and take a facilitator role. This overlaps much with the meaningfulness. When the substance is interesting, the students drive forward by themselves.
From structured learning environments towards open problem solving and collaboration.
We all know that schools are not bathing in money. Robust structuring and pre-made learning materials are expensive to produce and learning along a narrow path isn’t even that much fun. The good thing is that the teachers’ workload is lowered, but the motivation are being put to the limit. How can we break this clearly unbeneficial circle?
Let’s be honest: this is something we really want to lure into the teachers’ minds. You have lots of ready material – use that, but make the first assessment blended with MinecraftEdu. For example: if you are teaching math, try building your classroom with certain dimensions and asking the students to figure out how to calculate the space inside. The concept of volume will come around and you build up the meaningfulness of the other learning material too. This is something that requires minimal preparation and is very effective. Continue trying other similar connections.
MinecraftEdu works so well just as it is. When you start, start with things you don’t have to prepare. There are many.
The blending of informal and formal learning is very important today, because the vastly-growing amount of information is hard to swim through during school hours without making school 24/7. The big thing here is that when students sense something interesting and important, they will be keen to seek more information so they can fully understand it. When the combination of school-determined assessment and context existing in the students natural environment blends together, it’s easier to see the new perspectives, easier to connect what you already know. The school can affect behavior when the students feel that school and the teachers are making a point that really matters.
The precise knowledge is far less important than the behavior you can encourage.
The third important factor to which we are encouraging the teachers is to just let the students to roam free for a couple of hours. Let them have conflicts and be involved! Teachers are masters at solving school-break disagreements, so what’s the difference when the same thing happens in a virtual environment? The difference is that this time students are not alone, and there is an adult that can help them to get over their grudge.
What about the negative sides of gaming? It is not our intention that the game world is the only world used in schools. Human interaction without any agents in the middle is still super-important. Games can bring up interesting topics, develop discussions and – as mentioned before – create more “meaning” to other contexts of interaction. In any case we would like to know from you how your students’ behavior changes. If it’s a positive change, let us and the others know; if not, let us together make learning situations that can change the direction.
Coming back to the teacher’s workload and the interaction mentioned before, we would like to support the teachers talking more and sharing more. A community that supports its members is a key factor when adapting to a new dimension of learning. Many of us have tried games, but an open sandbox as a learning environment is a very different mindset compared to most of the others. We are constantly developing ways for you to share your ideas and use others’ ideas. We would also like to invite you to thriving Google groups at https://groups.google.com/forum/?fromgroups#!forum/minecraft-teachers.
As an ending I want to bring to your attention the biggest mistake I am aware of. A real “lose your face” type of thing you can do in front your students when they are having a disagreement about the game is saying “it’s just a game”. Let me tell you, IT’S NOT! The emotional connections are deep. The studnets are living in a world where games can happen in a virtual environment, but the environment itself is not a game.