11 Nov 2015

Minecraft Community SImulator - Pocket Mine Server for Pocket Edition for Education

I have starting testing my ideas out for a community simulator using Minecraft.  My goal is to create a world for each of my Year 9 Social Studies classes where they can practice and reflect upon the skills of being a Citizen in a engaging environment that gives immediate game based feedback as well as engaging with real life interactions and relationships with their peers in the community.

The Seven Citizenship Skills we have as core to the Social Studies Curriculum are:

  • Collaboration 
  • Critical thinking 
  • Problem solving
  • Decision making
  • Communication
  • Analysing perspectives
  • Creative thinking

These are by no means an exhaustive list and I expect students to be able to reflect on many skills such as public speaking, leadership, contributing, prioritising, as well as the key competencies.

Over this week I have had an opportunity to work with two students to create a server on site and test is out with a class.  We have a week of legacy projects near the end of the year for students to leave a positive legacy at the school, I have been working with these two students to create a minecraft server as their legacy for the future students.

The Server
We have been setting up a Pocket Mine server for Minecraft Pocket Edition as we are an apple school and using 1:1 iPads.  This software comes with its a host of limitations due to the stage of development it is in.

Here is what we currently have to work with.  The latest development build 1.6 of Pocket Mine - Bleeding edge, is the one that is compatible with the latest version of Minecraft PE 1.12.  This causes issues with plugins that are out of date and if installed crash the server urrggh.

Features 'or Not' of Pocket Mine Server:
  • No Mobs
  • No Physics eg, carts, boats
  • No Food
  • No getting hungry
While these things are not critical to creative mode or building your wealth and going up through the level of tools in survival mode they do remove an essential element that makes the game engaging, that is survival.  A common purpose that everyone would share.  A common purpose is important, I believe, as it brings people together to have the interactions that are necessary to achieve the outcomes of the community simulator idea.

Need Tech Guys
Our test was 2 hours of game play with about 25 people on the world.  During this time is became apparant to me that the admin role is essential.
  1. Firstly to sort out any issues that arise such as server crashing, spawn points, numbers allowed on server etc.  
  2. Secondly to explain to people how to achieve what they want to do, things like teleporting, setting a home, making a shop etc.
As the teacher I want to be apart of the game as a player and enjoy the fun and share in the development of the worlds.  I don't think I can do this and be a full time admin as it is a full time job. I tried to play with the students this time and what spending a lot of time helping them out with how to play and use commands and what to do etc.

I think it is going to be important to do three thing to give control and ownership to the students.
  1. Firstly to allocate some admins from within the class that will learn how the server works and be able to work on fixing issues and managing plugins with my supervision.
  2. Secondly to have very clear tutorials of how to achieve different aspects of the world through the commands.
  3. Thirdly to buddy up noobs with those that know how to use commands and are experienced players.
Plugins
As I explained before about the limitations of the Pocket Mine server currently there is no inherent collective purpose.  I want to use the survival game mode as I feel it gives a more robust framework to encourage the interactions needed to achieve the learning outcomes.  Through the concepts of wealth creation it places more value on effort. 

Most of the Legacy Project this week has been about choosing and testing plugins that would add features to the game with the goal of developing collective purpose for the world that I believe we need.

Economy Plugin
We started with an economy plugin.
This is a great plugin with a lot of features as it claims and it seemed to work really well.
We used several of the features for this test.  

Jobs
The jobs worked well.  We had four jobs that people could earn money with.

Lumberjack:
A lumberjack is a tree cutter where you go out into the forest cutting trees.
Different types of trunks like oak or spruce will give you different amounts of money.

Miner:
A miner is where you go underground and go search for different types of ores and valuables. Each different blocks earn you more money depending on how valuable the ore or stone is.

Forester:
A forester is where you plant saplings like oak, spruce or birch.

Landscaper:
A landscaper is where you will use a shovel and re-design the area of dirt, sand or stone to make a suitable foundation for your home or piece of land.

They could also sell different ores that they have mined to make money.

Tax
We implemented a tax system to ensure people engaged with the economy. The functionality of this was excellent. However it just ended up being a negative thing for everyone as they were losing money and we didn't have a narrative, story, or reason for tax to them they were having their hard earned cash taken away for nothing. We turned this off halfway through.

Buying Land
This was excellent. They could buy any section of land they chose with the right sequence of commands. This became the driver and reason to earn money so that they could have their own land that no one else could destroy or build on unless they let them.

Shops
We had this setup but it was to advanced for the initial stages of the world and it seemed a bit pointless trying to sell things that you had made as everyone else could make them too. Perhaps later on when people have built up their wealth this could be better.

Economy Conclusions
So all of this meant a few things. There was a steep learning curve especially for noobs and even for experienced players about how to engage with the economy plugin by using commands and how the different elements interacted with each other. What most people seemed to do was muck around for a while, then give a job a go earn some money then think about buying land. As their was no danger from mobs there was no urgency to build a house or anything.  

With the buy land feature people starting holding off from building until they could buy land to protect what they had built. This means that then opportunities to work with or against others were more limited than in a totally free world where people cannot reserve their own space. So what I saw was a lot of individuals going off to make their fortune and secure their part of the world rather than the interactions I was after.

Currency
We didn't put enough thought into how much land cost compared to how much you could earn through jobs. Land was very expensive in relation to the jobs so not many peole could afford it and then there was tax on top of that to make it even harder, kinda like trying to buy a house in Auckland at the moment I guess. Anyway in the future it will be important to create a better comparison between these as it has a huge effect on how successful the plugin it.

Stealing Accounts
As our server crashed several times this allowed the opportunity for enterprising players to copy anothers player name and take over their player and all the resources and land and wealth they had built up when they logged back in.  

I had anticipated this and I thought this could be a great learning experience about respecting others online property, until it happened to me!  

I couldn't login properly after one crash and finally worked out it was because there was already someone in the world with my name that they had usurped! I was angry and wanted to find them so I used my loud teacher voice over the chaos "who has logged in with my username?" the room went quiet, well quieter, but no one owned up.  

I think very quickly whoever it was logged out and changed their name and I could login again. Unfortunatly the opportunity for learning was lost as it was an interaction between two people, myself and the Master Deciet, and stopping the entire class to talk about the issue would have made them potentially upset, also it was so easy for the person to do it covertly even when in the same room.

So the up shot is that I am going to try and install this plugin that sets passwords to accounts as recommended to me at the beginning by a good friend. Thanks Richard Goldsmith.


Simple and Stable
These two things are important.  The server crashed about 5 times over the two hours and the groans, protests, and exclamations from the room when everyone was kicked off the server were impressive.  Mostly I think due to the fact they were interrupted in the middle of whatever they were doing without warning and would have to respawn at the start place rather than where they got kicked from.

We had this plugin installed to add some interesting fun to the server.
The idea was that you could buy a sponge then break it to get a bonus or negative consequence but it didn't work. One of the students admins came to me about halfway through and said they thought some of the crashes were due to this plugin so we disablled it. In the future the less plugins the better I think to try and achieve the most stability. However they seem to have fixed this now post test and a keen to give it another go.

What Happened
So far I have given a pretty in depth explanation of what we had set up and how some of it impacted the game play.  I had a great discussion with my gameplay student admin about what was happening in the first two hours of this world.  

I approached him looking disappointed that we hadn't achieved the aim of lots of interaction that would result in great learning.  He was very wise.  He talked about how it is always going to be chaos when a large group of people enter into a new area.  It will only be after they have settled in and become comfortable with this new world and how it works that they will turn their attention to the others in it.  This made perfect sense and I expect it would happen at a different pace for different students too.  

It is very similiar to the initial chaos of a group going anywhere new like colonisation of a new land, world, space.  I am going to hold on to this concept so I can expect the colonisation chaos in my classes when I start next year.

What They Wanted
Player Vs Player
Always they talked about turning on PvP (Player Vs Player) so that they could fight and kill each others avatar so as to make them drop all their items they are carrying and make them respawn at the central point of the world.  I had initially turned this off as the idea of killing another person is not one that should be encouraged either in the real world or virtual.  

However...

I feel challenged on this by the students. Being able to make someone drop all their hard earned items and make them respawn can significatnly impact the interactions in the game.  I do have to remember this is a game and while it is called killing a player they do not die like in life. It needs to be thought about in terms of what the actual consequences are, eg making them drop their items they are carrying (so you can collect them), and sending them back to the start point.  

This introduces introduces many interesting interaction possiblities from power imbalances of the wealthy with strong weapons and armour, to trust and protection, to deciet and treachery, to protecting your land and self defense, to terrorism, to spending your time on bringing others down to build your wealth, to revenge.  

I am going to explore this more with another test next week hopefully.  My thinking at the moment is that PvP is not as bad as I orginally thought and can actually add a much needed element of consequence to the game that gives player interactions and relationships deeper meaning.

Exploration
This is an important feature as a purpose in itself.  I am going to spend time trying to find about seeds and downloadalbe worlds that have interesting things to expore in the hunt for resoureces.  Things like caves with lava and ore in their depths.  Cities or fortresses with hidden chests and loot in them.

The Learning
Discussion
A lot will be happening between players in the world constantly.  More interactions than one person can keep track of with 24 people running around doing what interests them.  There will need to be a structured chance to pause and discuss the world as a class. There need to be opportunities to:
  • To bring up grievances and solve them
  • To voice problems and solutions
  • To create rules and agreements
  • To organise roles and responsibilities and collaboration 

Basically allow a chance for the whole class to connect with each other.  

This is important as in the world they can isolate themselves or their group and not interact with others very easily so providing a forum for everyone to discuss what is going will 
  • Bring the classes attention together
  • Provide a window into what is acutally happening in the game
  • Provide an opporunity to unpack some of the concepts that are coming up


The concepts I expect and hope to be able to deal with in this context are things like, 
  • Capitalism
  • Distribution of wealth
  • Self defense
  • Law and order
  • Conflict
  • How groups make decisions
  • Immigration
  • Cconomic growth
  • Systems of government
  • Cause and effect of events
  • Exploration and innovation
  • How leadership is acquired and exercised
  • How people participate individually and collectively to community challenges


Evidence of Learning
How do I measure the learning?  My idea is to use reflection.  I want to keep the experience in the world and 'in the moment' as possible, where students are making decisions based on what is happening around them without having to think about rubrics, assessment, and outcomes.  

The learning will be drawn out of the Citizenship Skills through structured reflection after each mine craft session.  There will be one 60 min session every two weeks with each class so the actual in game progression will take quite a lot of time in the real world.  I plan to teach quality reflection and spend significant time on this to begin with focusing on what happened, what I learned, and how I can apply this learning to the future. 

I have had some success with SeeSaw as a micro blogging tool with an iPad app for quickly and easily creating varied reflections.  It has a class dashboard and is easy to create drawings, vids, pictures and to annotate, comment, do voice overs.  As well as share within the class and to parents for commenting and likes.

I am imagining the evidence of learning looking like students reflecting on their interactions and happenings in the minecraft world and talking about how it relates to being a Citizen and how they can apply their learning in the future.  

I expect they will need to unpack the skills, decide what skills are important for them and then think about how they are going developing those skills in the mine craft world as well as the real world.  

I see the real value of doing a Community Simulator in a virtual world is the opportunity to have learning experiences, reflect and try and again quickly.  The ability to make poor decisions that have consequences only in the virtual world.  To get learning about being in a community and interacting with other people without the high stakes of the real world.

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