GBL n00b

Jedi badges

Games-based learning (GBL) n00b – that’s me!!!

I’m proud to say that I am a n00b because it actually means I’m trying it out. There’s only so much theory one can take because in such matters, the best way to learn is to dive right in.

My year 9 Information Systems and Technology (IST) topic is Digital Media. I know most students typically engage in digital media everyday in some shape or form. I also know that given the chance to create digital media, most students enjoy it. From past experiences, I also know that students don’t often give much thought to purposeful design as they enjoy creating more.

Game-plan (my bigG)

In junior Technology subjects (like IST), we use a very simple Design Cycle of: Design, Produce, Evaluate.  I tried to fit the course outcomes according to this design cycle, matching it with the Jedi ranks so students can level up from initiates to Padawan (Design), Knight (Produce) and Master (Evaluate).  I think it fits rather well such that as learning deepens, students do level up.

Text-based digital media is the simplest so I made it a compulsory start so students experience what is expected to level up. After this, they are free to choose any of the other digital media types (audio, image, animation, video). They are all keen to move on as I said they can create machinimas (how lucky am I to have a class of gamers to be a GBL-n00b in?).


Edmodo is my friend! It has given me a platform to assign work (and annotate/give feedback online – woohoo), award badges and insight into class dynamics. I love that the class is using Edmodo like facebook (they said so themselves), seemingly oblivious to the fact that I’m there. So far, nothing inappropriate has been posted.

I created these student accounts using randomly generated Jedi names and their first names as Surnames. I prefer this than them renaming their usual Edmodo accounts. I wonder if Edmodo will get cross with me….oopsie.


Students were not levelling up quick enough to sustain initial motivation generated by the idea of badges. XP points to the rescue thanks to Classdojo (how lucky am I that student logins came out on the eve of introducing it to my class?).

Looking at the positive and negative behaviours as a class was a good way to communicate my expectations, not just about behaviour per se but the quality of the work they turn in. That is, if they are showing creativity and good thinking in their submitted work, they gain +XP. A few days in, they are indicating some thinking about their own behaviours by suggesting certain actions merit +XP, including exceeding expectations (one of the positive behaviours). I think here is an example of extrinsic motivation seeping into intrinsic mode. Classdojo has made much easier to track – and publish – XP.

But are they learning? Am I teaching?

Submitted work and work in class would certainly suggest so. There is still an incredible urge to create and bypass design and theory so I remind them regularly – these are essential to levelling up.  Students are challenged by each other and by me.  Feedback is constant. I am not teaching in a traditional style yet I feel more attuned to my students – their interests, abilities and understanding of the topic.

Look at their notebooks and there is nothing. By the time we’re done, they would have created Digital Media rather than read or write about it. Is that teaching? Is that learning?

I’m not going to lie – they do disengage sometimes and I bring them back. At first I seriously doubted my approach. But then, how sure are we really that kids are 100% engaged, 100% of the time. Is that even a realistic expectation?

I’m a GBL-n00b and proud of it. This is just the beginning.

Full Disclosure

I am not their real teacher – I’m filling in for four weeks. I took a punt designing a GBL unit with students I’ve never met. It is evolving as I get to know them more and as they come to trust me and my “unusual” approach.  The work students are doing is not graded and likely will never show up in their reports. And yet, they do the work….with enthusiasm….and increasingly better quality.

I am happy….and tired.

Students as teachers

Dandelions are considered weeds and yet they are pretty – from a different perspective.
Students are meant to be learners. I want to try a different perspective where students are teachers.  This is certainly not an original idea (e.g. Steve Wheeler posted: “What the flip?“); however, it is new-ish to me. I’ve read up so much on this that attribution is nigh impossible. I’ve always encouraged classroom as community and learning from each other. I’ve come to believe that “teaching is a good learning strategy”.
What is new-ish I think is considering games-based learning (GBL). Specifically, I mean the big G (read more here). Can there be a big G without the small g? – I wonder.
Now, it’s time to apply!
As an example, here are the elements I am going to incorporate for my Year 11 Information Processes and Technology (IPT) class, within our virtual classroom. In the process, I hope to expose them to less-used features of Sharepoint. The current topic focus in Storage and Retrieval. The context is: “What does the world know about me?” – exploring Social Media.
  • sandpit wiki – play area
  • Resource wiki – student-created
  • forum (Discussion board) – not just QandA, but also somewhere to bounce off ideas. My Year 12 IPT will be invited to contribute mainly questions to help guide year 11s in their learning journey. I’m unsure of whether or not to allow “shallow” feedback such as “good question” or worse, “like”. What do you think?
  • Showcase gallery

At the moment, I am sticking to the forums instead of blogs.

This is not just a matter of integrating technology. Rather, it is providing students with an online platform to ‘teach’ (and learn), augmenting the discussions and interactions in the classroom. No grades for any of these; there is a separate assessment task.
Some people will call this blended learning. Some, like Steve, will call it flipped. Some might call it Inquiry and I may run it as a project-based learning unit. I am also planning a GBL approach with year 9s, more big G stuff and subject to another post.
Students will learn. This time, I’ll let them teach…each other…and quite possibly, me.
With changing perspectives, (my) teaching is evolving and I find that exciting. For the record, I’m also a little scared it’ll fail, i.e. that I can’t facilitate my students to teach. I’ll try anyway.

l33tMeet – small g and big G

Today, my daughter (Megan, 10) and I went to a MassivelyMinecraft l33tMeet. Megan went to be with her MassivelyMinecraft mates IRL and I went to learn more about games-based learning (GBL), as a parent trying to understand the appeal of MassivelyMinecraft and as an educator to check out GBL and gamification everyone seems to be talking about lately….and yes, I’m totally a n00b, but I’m learning to play.

MassivelyMinecraft (MM) – no curriculum

Bron Stuckey talked about MM as a research into learning in the 3rd space, learning outside of school. It is a space where kids are leading kids and learn about digital citizenship by being digital citizens. Adults are there (@jokay*, @vormamim, @bronst) to guide but not to dictate. There is no curriculum but there are badges kids can aim to earn so they can level up, if they want to.

I won’t go into the details about MM here as if you’re interested, you’re really better off visiting the MM site.

What really struck me was what Bron called the small g and the big G. The small g is what kids learn in-game, e.g. building houses, fighting creepers, crafting potions. The big G is what kids learn through the game using MM as a framework, e.g. writing journals, making video tutorials, skyping (text and voice), screencasting, self-directed quests. The big G provides opportunities (heaps) to develop individuals and a community where kids lead kids and kids are comfortable to learn and I know that from Megan’s experience, that the learning is massive! ISTE’s NETS for students are met in MM.

Quest Atlantis (QA) – with curriculum

Bron briefly talked about Quest Atlantis. She said that educators can find the jump to no curriculum (MM) too big a leap which is why QA can be appealing. In QA, kids complete educational tasks through quests and missions.

What then?

Dean reckons all these is transferrable into other contexts – different virtual worlds (Second Life, OpenSim, etc) and books/texts (Lord of the Flies, Animal Farm, etc).  Set up the big G and kids will learn. I can begin to see that it is possible, thanks to the l33tMeet. I can begin to appreciate that teachers are (can be? should be?), not so much teachers but, designers for learning.

Between you and me, I much prefer to use the terms small g and big G as against gamification and GBL.


*Jo didn’t “speak” today. She was busy doing what she does extremely well, “playing” with the kids in-world. 

**I’m guilty of thinking how can I tick all the boxes in the curriculum with nary a thought that maybe the boxes are not enough; kids can do more.

@jokay (2nd from left) with miner girls (L-R): mobee01 (Megan), Boofa, NinaBanina