This post represents work that I tried to do but didn’t… Though there is no finished product and no formal group organization, efforts were still made and limited group collaboration still happened. Here I will articulate what happened and my reflections on it. This post is part Think About Your Thinking and part failed Work Together.
In an effort to find a partner or small group for Work Together, I tweeted an open call.
Classmates: If anyone wants to pair up for “work together” due 7/16, I’m open to it. I have no ideas for what to work on tho… #nousion
— D’Arcy Hutchings (@poindekster) July 7, 2016
Several people responded and Noelle proposed an intriguing idea: building a world together in Minecraft, which is being used by educators in a variety of ways. I said I’d join her on her quest. We opened the call out to others in the class that were looking for a collaborative project. First we (mostly Noelle) experienced challenges related to sending group direct messages to all our classmates who expressed interest in a collaborative project because we weren’t all following each other. Speaking for myself, I didn’t have everyone added. I thought I had gone through and followed my classmates early in the course — but maybe it was before everyone was set up in Twitter (or had shared their handle), apparently. I have since gone back to the list in the course and followed everyone on Twitter to remedy this for the future.
Noelle took the conversation to email to get around our communication challenges with Twitter. She had taken charge of looking into us setting the game up — and had run into a series of tech hurdles along the way. She took the lead in seeking help for those challenges from our instructor and Minecraft tech support, all to no avail.
On July 11, she brought it back to the group asking for help with troubleshooting and testing. Philip, having played before and having his own server set up for it, stepped in to help first. They could not get in to each other’s worlds. Next Noelle requested two people other than her try to connect. I then attempted to install the education version of the game and experienced my own set of difficulties. Around then Linnea chimed in that her computer wasn’t sufficient for Minecraft and she branched off to work on a different project, inviting anyone to join her. Noelle proposed that the people still interested in working with Minecraft could resort to playing the game on their own and then coming together to draft a shared set of rules, as this is a good practice for students working on the game together.
After working with our IT guy, I was able to get the game installed and loaded. I could not connect to either Noelle’s or Philip’s IPs. Yesterday, Philip requested that I try to connect to his server again. It was unsuccessful. I decided to go into Minecraft on my own and play it in preparation for working on collective rules. Even that failed. After 20 minutes, I figured out how to move and whack things. I could not figure out any other keyboard controls. I bashed some sheep and ground for awhile, and wandered around.
Then my character go stuck on a high elevation so that he walked in the sky instead of down the cliffs. [Insert eyeroll emoji.]
The game had no built-in tutorial level, nor help guide for getting started. I took to Google to find such a guide and discovered none for this version of Minecraft as it appears to be in beta. [Insert 2 eyeroll emojis.] Recognizing that I had already spent the two hours I had budgeted for the action phases of the project, I announced to the group that it was time for me to move on away from the project. So here I sit with nothing to show for a Work Together project!
Reflections & Conclusions
The new education version of Minecraft isn’t ready to be widely used, in my opinion.
Teachers and tech people wishing to use Minecraft need to thoroughly test it before promising it to or trying it with students for the same of good use of time. (Or do they? I am reminded of what Chris said in our live session about failures being teaching moments. I still say yes because the potential time suck is huge here.)
We would be better served to have people explicitly state whether or not they were in the group with us. I’m still not sure whether Dillon ever actively joined our group of if we just automatically brought him in. I wasn’t able to tease out the answer from the public Twitter strings because they branch a lot and if he said anything in direct message, I couldn’t see it because we weren’t following each other. Similarly, Samantha said she was interested in joining us in a public Twitter thread but I never heard from her again (we were not following each other). I assume she is still alive and well somewhere…
If you are going to try to use Twitter to set up a group, make sure everyone is following each other first.
Encourage group members to let others know if they run into problems! I feel bad that Noelle apparently did a lot of work troubleshooting without us even knowing she was doing so. I hope she will be making her own assignment like this one that presents her work for grading despite the lack of a successful project.
Initially I panicked when everything fell apart. I had wasted my budgeted hours and a full week working on this effort in some way and there was virtually no time left I could devote to an alternative. Then I realized that in trying to set up a group project, we DID collaborate and we did actual work that should count for something. Hence, this blog post.
It was a rather sordid affair, but from the ashes rises the glorious phoenix, am I right? I think there was some useful stuff gleaned from this experience and here’s sort of my take on it.
I would definitely not call this a failure for those reasons that you pointed out, you did collaborate and you found out some useful information that you’ve publically shared to warn others. To me, that’s the most important part, the sharing your experience. Too often when you’re trying something new, it is extremely helpful to have an idea of what didn’t work for others in the past. That awareness can solve a lot of frustration. Being a at a distance from your cohort or group, when you encounter tech issues, the automatic response for some is to think that the issue is self-induced and “I must have done something wrong” is the first thought. But most of the time the issue isn’t operator error. I can’t count up all the tech-issue time I’ve spent trying to solve something that wasn’t my fault. Your solution, as mentioned by Phillip in his post, of meeting up and discussing through a google hangout, probably resulted in a similar learning outcome.
As Noelle mentioned in her post, when you do run into problems, it is so nice to have a collection of people you can go to for some help or at least to run things by them for confirmation that it isn’t you with the issues, but with the actual software, server, or whatever. And Dillon’s post made me realize that at some point, you just have to stop and say, “This isn’t working, I need to move on” which can be hard to do, but necessary.
This all relates to Linnea’s comment about taking technology for granted and when you have computer problems, if can be frustrating. This is a good reminder that when you are teaching an online class that relies on technology you might want to have contingency plans. And we should also prepare our students and have them think about a contingency pla
shoot – none of my hyperlinks came thought on the comments. I forgot to add the html coding. 🙁
I appreciated hearing your honest account of how the group work didn’t work. I think it was in the conversation with Alan Levin- he talked about how sometimes the technology just doesn’t work, and we have to just be flexible and roll with it! As a teacher, I tried to not let it be a big deal when/if tech broke down. Students need to see that it happens to everyone and that it’s part of life! If they see examples of us not freaking out when things don’t go as planned, maybe it will help them identify how to adapt and be cool when it happens to them somewhere down the road. It sounds like your group definitely gave it your best shot, though, so A for effort 😉
There’s failure and then there’s failure, right? Some are teachable moments, others…not so much. Given the experience you’ve had (and Noelle, with whom I and others spent a lot of time trying to get things working!) this seems like the kind of failure that one would want to avoid. A bit too large of a teachable moment.
I should have done a better job with the Twitter thing. In particular, I created a list to make it easy to see and identify all the Twitter accounts for the class (as opposed to having to go to every individual People page on the site), but I wasn’t explicit and some people joined rather late. I need to emphasize the importance of Twitter for the class from the beginning more than I did.
I beg to differ that you have nothing to show for the experience…but I am sorry that it didn’t work out. So it goes, as you know…
More comments later, but let me hasten to say: this not only counts for something, it counts for everything. You don’t need to find a “replacement” for this Work Together project!