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Gaming Styles and the Classroom

Use the Four Gamer Types to Help Your Students Collaborate

“You are a liar and I will never, ever, trust you again!” The student rose to his feet at the conclusion of a role-playing simulation in our negotiation class, pointing across the room at another student who had misled the other team and then changed his own vote.

The other student, a little shaken, raised his hands in protest. “Dude, relax, it’s just a game.”

“That’s exactly what I mean!” the first student countered. “If you’re willing to do this in a game, what would you be willing to do if the stakes were real?”

The way we play games mirrors how we act in real life. A 2008 study by the Pew Internet and American Life project found that 97% of teens play computer games. On top of that, half of all teens reported playing a video game “yesterday.” Some of these are simple puzzle games on their phone or tablet, but many are surprisingly sophisticated role playing games such as League of Legends or The Elder Scrolls Online. In my own classroom, I have often found that students who don’t seem to have a terribly profound insight into their actions in the classroom are often very self-aware of the choices they make in online gaming situations. 

A new area opens up in the online game world. What do you do? 

A. Explore all the new places? or B. Get all the new loot?

The Bartle Test of Gamer Psychology is an online multiple choice test that asks questions such as the one above. On one of the first days of class, I ask my students to take the Bartle Test online, and report their results to me on a Google Form. It takes about twenty minutes. Based on the students' answers, it assigns a weight in four separate categories: Socializer, Achiever, Explorer, or Killer. Students will often be a mixture of more than one category, although most of the weight will usually be in one category. I use these results to inform how I make groups and how I ask kids to collaborate. The test is based on how students play games. It offers useful insight into how students will react in different situations, and also provides a starting point for me at the beginning of the semester.

Explorers

Students who are Explorers love to explore and wander. In the game world, Explorers want to map the entire area and discover all of its hidden areas. In the classrooms, Explorers love to amass large quantities of knowledge. Their sense of achievement comes from knowing more facts (often obscure ones) and finding secret shortcuts or mnemonics. They love to demonstrate their knowledge to others. I often ask my Explorers to “map out” a new unit of curriculum a couple of weeks before the rest of the class. Can they scout out where the pitfalls might be, and where others might be confused? Can they blaze a trail for the rest of us? Explorers are the closest to what we consider to be the ideal “academics”: those who value knowledge for knowledge’s sake. Yet, Explorers are often those kids who will do all of the work for a project — then forget to turn it in. They’ve already gotten the value from the project. Turning it in for the grade is just not at the forefront of their minds.

Achievers

By contrast with Explorers, students who are Achievers love to gain levels, badges, and awards. In the game world, Achievers gain a sense of accomplishment by being the first to complete something, or by being one of the only ones to win a trophy or reward. They are often very motivated to "beat the game" and move on. In the classroom, Achievers are often most concerned with grades as a measure of their achievement. They want to know the quickest, fastest, or shortest way to the prize. They are often detail-oriented, and I can count on the Achievers in my classroom to help move the others along, simply for the thrill of succeeding.

Socializers

The greatest percentage of my students are Socializers who are motivated by the desire to form meaningful connections and relationships with others in class. In the game world, the Socializers are often the connectors, who help to form questing parties and seem to know everyone online at any given moment. Socializers often form clans, which are groups of like-minded gamers, and when a particular game gets old, Socializers will simply switch games, keeping the clan intact. The game is simply a backdrop for the chatting and interactions that are the true draw. Socializers judge their accomplishments by how many friends, or how many followers, they have. How many of us know students for whom the classroom is simply a backdrop for their friendships and social life?

Griefers

The smallest percentage of students are known as Griefers, or Killers. In the online gaming world, griefers willfully damage and vandalize other people’s creations. They take pleasure in the turmoil they cause in the game world, and in the damage they wreak on others. In the classroom, those students often are the first ones to see if they can “hack” the system, and are often willfully oblivious to the consequences to the community. However, Griefers are often your risk-takers, the ones who are used to starting over with nothing, over and over again — because they’re always being killed — and who don’t mind being wrong. They are likely to have a growth mindset, rather than a fixed one, and if you can draw them into the classroom community, they can have a positive influence on others.

Groups 

What can you do once you have a list of your students and their percentages in each of these categories? You can sort the list by any of the categories and assign groups accordingly. If I want collaborative working groups, I will sometimes ask students to form their own groups with one of each type of gamer in each group. Or, sometimes, I will ask for my Explorers to form a group to do some preliminary research, my Achievers to formulate a plan, my Socializers to publish and share our process, and my Griefers to look for flaws in the game plan.

My Explorers are those kids who can scout ahead for potential problems and pitfalls.


Sorting my students in this way allows me to focus on those areas where I most need to provide support. I know at the beginning of the year, I need to actively bring Griefers into the fold, before they get themselves in trouble. I need to keep the Explorers from wandering off into the woods. I need to broaden the perspective of my Achievers and not let their razor-sharp focus keep them from seeing the big picture. All of my students need to appreciate each other’s strengths, and learn from each other. The Socializers can keep everything moving, and let me know when they sense trouble in the working groups, since they are usually closely attuned to who’s working with whom.

Achievers will make the grade, no matter what.

This activity works best with middle and high school students. The Bartle Test is not scientific, and it’s just a small test with subjective results. But it’s written in a language my gamer students understand, and the results are fun and spark discussion. In my experience, there is no such thing as behavior that is “just a game.” How we play mirrors how we live, and the choices we make. My students generally feel the Bartle Test results are pretty accurate, and it’s a simple starting point for the complex task of adapting my learning environment to meet the needs of every learner in the room.

How would you score? Take the free Bartle Test yourself: http://4you2learn.com/bartle

NEW! One of my students created a free iPhone app that allows you to take the Bartle Test: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/bartle-test/id887069888?mt=8

NOTE: MMORPG is short for Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game, an online game world that is running consistently, like World of Warcraft or Everquest.

Handwriting vs. Typewritten

This is some research I conducted at the request of my Principal.

Word Processed vs. Handwritten Essays: What Does the Research Say?

Our school implements a traditional final exam period. Over the course of three days, students are excused from classes and sit for timed exams. In some cases, the final exam counts as much as the grade for an entire quarter, and is worth up to 33% of the student’s semester grade.

As our school reexamines our current practices of assessment, I was asked to examine current research and studies contrasting handwritten and word processed final essays. Our school is a one-to-one school, so all students have access to a personal laptop throughout their school careers. The school is concerned about the validity of handwritten essays in assessing students whose work all semester has been word processed.

There are other questions the school wishes to investigate, as well. If given the choice to handwrite or type, are students who choose to handwrite their essays at a disadvantage when the essays are scored? Do students perform differently when handwriting vs. typing their answers? What are students’ concerns when choosing to handwrite or type?

The University of Edinburgh did a study in which students were given the choice between handwriting or typing essays. Typed and handwritten versions of each essay were produced and graded by a group of four graders. Surprisingly, the researchers found a small but noticeable grading bias toward handwritten essays. Students who chose to word process their essays received scores that were several points lower, a result that has been confirmed in a number of other studies (Russell & Tao 2004, MacCann et al 2002, Sweedler-Brown).

Powers et al (2014) provide two possible explanations in their report on a similar study they performed at Rio Hondo College. When grading a typed essay, readers may inadvertently expect a higher level of polish because the essay is typed out, rather than considering it as the rough draft produced under time pressure and anxiety that it is. The authors also noted a “Reader Empathy Assessment Discrepancy” in which readers tended to identify more closely with the writer if the work was handwritten, citing a “closer identification with the writer’s voice.” 

This suggests that in order to ensure that handwritten and typed essays are graded equivalently, schools should either require that all examinations be either handwritten or typed, or in cases where students are given the choice, educate graders about the presentation effect. Mogey et al. 2006 found that when teachers were made aware of this type of grading bias, it reduced the effect. It is also interesting to note that papers that were printed in a cursive font also seemed to reduce, but not eliminate, the bias (Powers et al 2014). When asked if they wanted to be able to choose handwritten or typed essays, only students who were faster handwriters suggested the need for choice. (Mogey et al 2014)

A second difference between handwritten and typed essays is the quantity of the finished output. Thomas, Paine, and Price (2003) found that students who typed their essays produced considerably more words than those students who chose to handwrite, a finding confirmed by Mogey, Paterson, Burk and Purcell (2006) although another study found the difference to be very small — 9 words more on average (Horkay et al. 2006) In schools where most assignments are given on the computer, students rarely use handwriting to do their work. Connelly, Dockrell and Barnett (2005) found that first-year undergraduates had a handwriting fluency level similar to what would be expected from an 11-year old child. Consequently, requiring students to handwrite their final essays when they have typed all their previous work calls into question the very validity of the assessment.

A number of studies also show that students who are very familiar with technology do better on typed tasks than those who are not (Wolfe, Bolton, Feltovich, and Bangert 1996 and Wolfe, Bolton, Feltovich, and Niday 1996). This suggests that for a number of our students entering as ninth graders, if they have not had the same access to technology, they will be at a disadvantage until they develop their word processing skills (not just typing, but editing and rearranging text too.)

The biggest question of all is how we might use computers more effectively to assess what students have learned. The nature of the word processed essay is essentially a substitution-level task (Puentedura, 2014) and is subject to many of the limitations that handwritten essays face. We should look into the possibility of using computers to generate and display animations, screencasts, video clips, live links, and other digital artifacts to demonstrate learning in ways that would be impossible in a handwritten essay. We might also examine the value of using time constraints on the task of demonstrating learning, and consider piloting untimed tests. 

In the end, the goal of the final exam should be to gather information about what is most important to us to know about our students’ learning. Horkay et al. 2006 suggest that which mode you use depends on what you want to know — do you want to know whether students write well on paper, or digitally, or how well they write in the mode of their choice? How relevant is the ability to write well on paper? Once we answer those questions for ourselves the path should be clearer.

References

Horkay, N., Bennett, R. E., Allen, N., Kaplan, B., & Yan, F. (2006). Does It Matter if I Take My Writing Test on Computer? An Empirical Study of Mode Effects in NAEP. Journal of Technology, Learning, and Assessment, 5(2).

MacCann, R., Eastment, B., & Pickering, S. (2002). Responding to free response examination questions: computer versus pen and paper. British Journal of Educational Technology, 33(2), 173–188. http://doi.org/10.1111/1467-8535.00251

Mogey N., and G. Sarab. 2006. Essay exams and tablet computer – trying to make the pill more palatable. Paper presented at the 10th CAA Conference, Loughborough, UK. 

Mogey, N., Paterson, J., Burk, J., & Purcell, M. (2010). Typing compared with handwriting for essay examinations at university: letting the students choose. Alt-J, 18(1), 29–47.http://doi.org/10.1080/09687761003657580

Powers, D. E., Fowles, M. E., Farnum, M., & Ramsey, P. (2014). Will They Think Less Of My Handwritten Essay If Others Word Process Theirs? Effects On Essay Scores Of Intermingling Handwritten And Word-processed Essays. ETS Research Report Series, 1992(2), i–15.http://doi.org/10.1002/j.2333-8504.1992.tb01476.x

Puentedura, R. R. (2014). SAMR: A contextualized introduction. Retrieved November.

Russell, M., & Tao, W. (2004). The influence of computer-print on rater scores. Practical Assessment.

Sweedler-Brown, C. O. (1991). Computers and assessment: The effect of typing versus handwriting on the holistic scoring of essays. Research and Teaching in Developmental Education.http://doi.org/10.2307/42801814

Thomas, P., C. Paine, and B. Price. 2003. Student experiences of remote computer based examinations. Paper presented at the the 7th CAA conference, July, Loughborough, UK. 

Wolfe, E. W., Bolton, S., Feltovich, B., & Bangert, A. W. (1996). A Study of Word Processing Experience and its Effects on Student Essay Writing. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 14(3), 269–283. http://doi.org/10.2190/XTDU-J5L2-WTPP-91W2

Wolfe, E. W., Bolton, S., Feltovich, B., & Niday, D. M. (1996). The influence of student experience with word processors on the quality of essays written for a direct writing assessment. Assessing Writing, 3(2), 123–147. http://doi.org/10.1016/S1075-2935(96)90010-0

How to Minecraft

I found that I had to create some tutorials for my students to get some of them started who had never played Minecraft before.



Five Challenges and Opportunities in Education

Link to complete sketchnote graphic

Tinkering

As an ADE-in-Residence at the San Francisco Exploratorium last spring, I was asked to adapt written materials on Tinkering and Playful Learning to an iTunes U course intended to introduce teachers to the concepts of tinkering, making, and the pedagogical principles that make these powerful learning experiences.

Going back to a science museum was a nice treat for me because I started my career in the Education Department at the Museum of Science, in Boston. The idea of learning through tinkering was first introduced to me through the work of Seymour Papert, when I was a graduate student taking a course at the MIT Media Lab. I was fortunate to spend some time working with Mitch Resnick and other students in the Lifelong Kindergarten group and I was pleasantly surprised to find so much that was familiar to me from the beginning of my career teaching hands-on science courses at the Museum of Science. I learned to teach by encouraging students to explore and discover, and although I didn’t realize it at the time, I was embracing constructivist philosophy, and later, constructionism, as I encouraged kids to make their own artifacts and engage in discussions with others about their artifacts.

The Tinkering course materials were developed by Mike Petrich and Karen Wilkinson, and were developed along with their book The Art of Tinkering. The book provides a hands-on look at the stories and artifacts that many different “makers” produced in the Tinkering Studio in the San Francisco Exploratorium. The challenge was in adapting the book materials from a fairly linear, author-directed experience to a self-directed, interactive experience in which learners could potentially explore the course modules out of order. In essence, our hope was that the Tinkering iTunesU course would present to learners an opportunity to play, build, and construct in a truly hands-on and engaging way.

There are many opportunities for educational leadership as schools are realizing that a makerspace needs to be more than just the place where they set up the 3D printer. Increasingly, we are trying to build engagement in learners by giving them a sense of agency over their own learning. We want our learners to be motivated to do their best work not because of extrinsic rewards, but out of a natural curiosity and sense of wonder. As more and more of our students have access to MacBooks, iPads, and other devices, we need to find ways to empower our teachers to see these devices as mobile makerspaces: devices that allow kids to take anything they can dream of, and make it real.


Cooking with Meggy

Cooking with Meggy is a multi-touch book that I created for the Meggy Jr., a handheld video game device that I have been using in my Introduction to Computer Science classes. It was my first self-published book, and it filled a need that wasn’t being met; there were no books about coding for this device, so I created and published my own. This inspired other teachers to start publishing their own content, and now our school has a number of teachers who have created and published original content on their own. Along the way, it has pushed our school to explore important questions of copyright and intellectual property with respect to the work that teachers create while at the school.

With iBooks Author and the iBookstore, publishing has never been easier. We are encouraging teachers to develop their own books to further their own professional development, as well as for use by their own students. One question that has arisen for leadership is what the appropriate share of royalties should be for the teacher, and for the school. Because it costs nothing to open an iBookstore account, teachers could just as easily publish using their own iBookstore account, as use the School’s. This would allow the teacher to keep all the proceeds, and retain ownership of the material even after leaving the School. Yet a number of these books were created using school resources, such as a school-owned laptop or as part of a paid sabbatical or fellowship grant. In fact, one of the most frequently asked questions during our iBooks Author trainings is precisely, what is the school’s split of the revenue from the work done on the book, since the teachers are primarily developing the work on their own time and with very little input from the school. Teachers are understandably reluctant to take on a new publishing project without a definitive answer.

One leadership challenge and opportunity for me has been to push the School to think about these issues, and to try to define what the scope of a teacher’s work is. For example, we have a number of teachers on our faculty who are wonderful at what they do because of their real-world experience as practicing artists, or active novelists. If a teacher develops an original work while employed by the School, is that work simply a natural expression of that teacher’s art, or is it a work that is commissioned by the School, that would not have otherwise been written? What if it incorporates scenes or examples from that teacher’s work with students? Are we employing teachers who write, or writers who teach? What we are finding is that lawyers tend to recommend the most restrictive terms that are most favorable to the School, and yet we are trying to find a balance that is fair to teachers also while protecting the School from being taken advantage of.

Another separate challenge for us has been teacher education around copyright. We still have a number of teachers who create books using images dragged in from Google Images. We have decided as an organization that anything that is published under the School’s brand will be entirely original copyright, or copyright-cleared material either by direct permission of the artist, or through a Creative Commons license. The problem is that many teachers either think small (“it’s just for my own classroom, no one else will see it”) or misunderstand what fair use means (“it’s covered under fair use because it’s educational”). This has created an opportunity for us to exercise leadership by educating our faculty about copyright and fair use, and requiring a meeting with one of us before they begin writing their books.

When I created my little book on coding, I got a firsthand look at all of the questions and issues we would be dealing with in the years to come as the publishing floodgates opened. From a leadership standpoint, the most valuable thing I did was to actually engage in the task that we were trying to encourage our faculty to do. It led by example, and helped us to get out in front of the issues and control the message before we created precedents that would have been difficult to back out of later.

Underwater Dome Assignment

Mission: Build Mr. Kiang’s New Office

So far this semester, I have asked my students to work in different collaborative ways:

  • On their own (Build your own House)
  • Assigned Groups (Build a Way Station)
  • Groups of their own Choice (Build a Learning Commons)

My goal is to get students working with different classmates, to appreciate what talents different students have, and to get them to the point where they can organize themselves to get a large-scale community build done.

For this build, I asked the class to work together on one project: building a new office for me completely underwater. I had the following requests:

  • It needs to be enclosed by a glass dome.
  • It needs to be BIG.
  • All elements need to be mined or donated from existing supplies (no deus ex machinahere!)
  • I like trees, flowers, and other natural elements.

The best part of this activity was watching how students came together and decided on a plan of action. One student’s general store became the clearing house for supplies. Another student set up a Google Doc that listed the supplies that needed to be collected. In a great discussion in class about the best way to create the dome, my students came up with some great guiding questions such as:

  • How much glass is required to enclose a given area?
  • How deep does it need to be to be completely underwater?
  • What’s the best location on the map for the dome?
  • What is the safest way to work underwater without running out of air?

Their final plan was brilliant: Build a wooden platform on the surface of the ocean, and build a dome out of sand on the platform. Then, burn the wooden platform away, and let the sand dome drop to the bottom of the ocean, where it can be covered with glass and the sand replaced with air.

This project took a couple of weeks and involved all students in various phases of the project: Leveling the ocean floor; Gathering and storing supplies; Building the dome; Dropping the dome; Glassing the dome; Removing the sand; Designing the interior. We even needed some students to provide security against the occasional skeleton taking pot shots at the work crew!

This video was captured by different students from multiple angles, then edited together by Aliya.

My students organized and coordinated everything themselves, and although two students drowned and a couple of them burned up, my office looks amazing. I think we can call this project a tremendous success!

See above for a video of the dome dropping and a shot of the finished interior of my new domed office.

Advice for Parents

I often hear from parents that their kids are spending hours playing Minecraft, and they wonder if that's okay. I tell them that first of all, "there is an opportunity cost for anything kids do, in that the time they spend playing Minecraft is time they are not spending doing other things, like studying, sleeping, or eating" (if I'm feeling snarky I will sometimes add in "they're also not doing drugs, playing hooky, or watching cat videos on YouTube.")

So setting aside the opportunity cost piece, what harm is there in playing Minecraft? Ask them if they're in Creative mode or Survival mode. 

Minecraft Survival has skeletons that shoot at you.

Minecraft has two modes: Survival, in which cartoonish zombies, skeletons and spiders try to kill you, and you have to work to earn the resources you need for your own survival, and Creative, which is like a scaled-down version of Google Sketchup in that anything you can imagine, you can build in three dimensions with blocks.

In Creative mode, where there are no monsters and resources are unlimited, I really can't see any down side to kids spending lots of lots of time being creative and building stuff. If my kid spent hours drawing in a sketchbook, I'd probably see it as a great example of her creativity. Minecraft Creative is kind of like sketching in 3D, or playing with Lego blocks. I think it's great for all ages.

Minecraft Creative mode allows you to freely build with any of the blocks in Minecraft.

On the other hand, Survival mode is a much more complex game involving resource management and real critical thinking and problem solving skills. Kids may need some guidance in planning out what they will take on an expedition, for example, to make sure they have enough food to sustain them, and the materials to build a shelter if they are journeying far from home. This is a great opportunity to discuss what kinds of things we need to survive in a new world. Lots of great tie-ins to social studies curriculum, here!

Because it is generally easier to survive in a group, kids will probably want to explore the intricacies of joining a community to pool resources and fight off a common threat. This is where they will want to explore the Multiplayer aspects of Minecraft and join a server, and that's where the Minecraft experience benefits most from adult guidance. Joining a server is a great way to meet other players from all over the world, in an environment where it is easy to help other people, and your age, race, or country just doesn't matter.

But kids may also run into scammers (people who try to take your stuff), griefers (people who try to break your stuff) or they may want to dabble in doing some of those behaviors themselves. Joining a new server is a process of figuring out what the rules of that community are, what the consequences are for breaking them, and discovering your own role and the value they can bring to that community. 

Kids may try a number of different servers with different rules (in some servers it's okay to PvP, or harm other players, and others are more "family-friendly" and pro-social.) Some servers are Creative-only, and as long as players follow the rules (don't build in other people's areas, build in certain colors or with specific materials, etc.) kids can pretty much build anything they can imagine. When there is no scarcity of resources, it eliminates much of the bartering and trading aspect of the Survival game, which can be a plus or minus depending on how you look at it.

The bottom line is, you don't have to be a Minecraft player yourself to guide your child's (or students') experience with the game. Just recognize Minecraft for what it is: an open-ended sandbox full of possibilities, with many opportunities to solve problems with others and engage in the same kind of critical thinking that adults do when thinking about how best to contribute to society. The learning possibilities expand when kids go online with the game. The decisions kids make can be good ones or not-so-good ones. It sometimes takes an adult to help them figure out which is which. But the best way to experience Minecraft of all, is to have your kid show you how it works. It is an eye-opening experience.

Take the Redstone Challenge!

One of the ways that Minecraft is changing the way that I teach is by providing more tangible ways of explaining abstract concepts. For example, one of the topics on the AP Computer Science curriculum is the idea of logical operators in boolean algebra. An example of this is the AND operator.

Simply put, the statement if (x > y AND y > z) only evaluates to true if x is greater than y and y is also greater than z. In class, this has largely been a pencil and paper exercise. Yesterday, I showed my students the equations on the board, and then I showed them a few simple logic gates in Minecraft that I built with redstone, levers, and sticky pistons.

I cleared out the weeds from a flat area near the World Map building, and built a couple of structures out there.

This is an AND gate. It only extends the piston when both levers are flipped.

This is an OR gate. It extends the piston when either one, or both, of the levers are flipped.

This is an XOR gate. It only extends the piston when one, but not both, of the levers are flipped.

The assignment for my kids is to go through this Redstone Logic Gates guide, and to build a few of these circuits in single player creative mode. Then, they need to do the following:

  • Using redstone, create a logic gate that does something useful for your home or learning commons.
  • Post a short video (1-2 minutes) in the Discussions area of our CMS that shows the redstone and explains the logic gate, how it works, and what it does that is useful.
  • The logic gate can be one of, or a combination of: AND, NOT, NAND, OR, XOR, NOR, XNOR, or Implies.

This is a video challenge I issued to my high school students to build something using redstone. It's an introduction to logic gates, and a challenge to build something original incorporating some of these principles.


I like the idea that this is applicable to the real world, as well as Minecraft and the AP exam. In my house there is a hallway with a light switch at either end. Both light switches control the same hallway light. Each switch has an ON and OFF setting. It's always puzzled me that sometimes in order to turn the light ON, you need to flip the switch OFF, depending on who last used the switch. 

This is a puzzle that can be expressed using boolean algebra, and modeled in Minecraft.

Here is an example of a project one of my students created.


Ask Kids to Design Their Learning Space

Challenge: Think about the things you are asked to DO as a student. Then, think about the kinds of SPACES that would support that work. Finally, in your working group, BUILD the ideal learning space in Minecraft.

Study area with group and individual tables

Rooftop greenhouse with local plants and flowers

I asked my students to build together synchronously on the server. These students have a Skype connection going so they can talk as they work.

Solar panels on the roof of this space

Where: I set up a separate Minecraft world and linked it to our normal World using the Multiverse plug-in. Each group of students has their own little island to build on in Creative mode. They were given documents that the School developed, 14 design principles guiding the development of a real building on campus.


© Douglas Kiang 2017