Game designers build a form of assessment for learning into every aspect of their game and the same should be true of learning designers. In game design the assessment and feedback usually come in the form of death. Dramatic I know but think about it. If the aim of a level is to get a character to the end of a series of jumps to reach a goal then the feedback comes in the form of the character falling to their death repeatedly until they learn the correct jump point or which object to move to make the jump possible. Instant feedback as to whether the skill as been learned effectively is given in the form of either making the jump or plunging into a pit to restart and retry.
Assessment policies, practices and preferences are as varied as the teachers that use them. Some favour the use of percentage grades calculated from a multiple choice quiz while others prefer written feedback for students to act on as part of an iterative learning pathway. This blog has been difficult to write as a result but I came to a number of conclusions while researching it. Well three really:
- Assessment is often neglected in Minecraft learning design
- Minecraft teachers often over innovate when attempting to assess learning in Minecraft
- Minecraft often forms part of the learning outcomes when it comes to assessment
What I’m not going to do in this blog is tell you what tools and formats you should be using when assessing learning in your Minecraft lessons. That would be far too presumptuous of me and be a pointless task for many who have assessment practices dictated to them by a standardised policy across their department, school, trust or district. What I will attempt to do however is summarise some of the pitfalls and offer advice you can implement to make it easier to answer the question “How do I know what they learned?”
If you haven’t read my post “What are they learning?” go read it now. This post will build heavily on those thoughts so really… go read it before you read on. Now if you pair that question with “How do I know what they learned?” at every point of planning, delivering and assessing your Minecraft lessons you can avoid some of the biggest pitfalls when using Minecraft in your classroom.
Build assessment into the lesson
One of the biggest issues in the lessons I work with teachers on is that they become fixated on what students will do within Minecraft and lose sight of how they know students will have learned anything. Let’s have a look at some example outcomes:
- Students will be able to build a local historical site
- Students will have used a renewable energy source to power their home
- Students will build a setting for a story
Simply adding a phrase like “Students will be able to…” to the opening of a curriculum standards statement is just not going to cut it here. A student could achieve these statements by completing a very shallow learning activity but not actually learn anything. “How do I know what they learned?” is a crucial consideration here. If you consider “What are they learning?” during the planning and delivery of the lesson it should be a much easier step to quantify the outcomes and present your students with robust opportunities to demonstrate their learning.
Don’t over innovate
Minecraft teachers tend to be quite an innovative bunch. They have to be to take the crazy leap of attempting to deliver any kind of learning via a video game. One problem with being innovative is that we tend to over innovate. Just because there are X hundred million apps available doesn’t mean you should attempt to use them all in one lesson. And just because your students love playing Bed Wars on a mini game server doesn’t mean you should feel the need to use it as an assessment model for your lesson on the water cycle.
Keep it simple. “How do I know what they learned?” should be all you need to answer and students shouldn’t need to learn a whole new platform in order to demonstrate that learning. I’ve seen everything from stop motion video to QR codes used to demonstrate learning in Minecraft but is it necessary? If you can assess what they learned because they wrote a story in their workbook that included the curriculum elements you intended, do your students really need to devise their own mob battle for you to assess it? Does the assessment model make it easier/better/more efficient to answer the question “How do I know what they learned?” If the answer is no then you must seek other options.
Is Minecraft really on your curriculum?
This one is by far the biggest pitfall when assessing what students learned in a Minecraft lesson. Now if the curriculum you are accountable for delivering includes a student developing their knowledge of or ability to use Minecraft, this section is not for you (and please reach out to me as I’d love to work in your school). Chances are it doesn’t. Yet I see learning outcomes and assessments that include Minecraft elements as success criteria.
- Students will know how to use command blocks
- Students will use 5 different types of blocks in their house
- Students will defeat all the mobs in the arena
Learning about Minecraft is not the same as curriculum learning and should never form part of your assessment outcomes.
The 3 Golden Questions
To what extent have students achieved the curriculum objective?
Learning is a journey. It rarely arrives in neat little check boxes that can be stacked against standards in an orderly manner. Part of that journey is the iteration of attempts to achieve an outcome while skills are developed and mastered. Build these opportunities into your Minecraft lesson from the planning stage but try to offer a graduated approach to summative assessments too. The degree to which a curriculum objective has been met should then inform your next learning experience with the group.
How do you know they have learned?
The evidence you collect of the learning is absolutely crucial. Teachers are accountable for the quality of learning in their classroom and without evidence of that learning, serious questions should be asked. When you are planning your Minecraft lessons, make sure you plan what the learning will look like at the end. How will students demonstrate the degree to which they have achieved your outcomes? How will you evidence it if someone calls in asking “What are they learning?”
What can students do to improve?
Assessment is integral to the learning process but isn’t the end point. Build in active opportunities to feedback the next steps to your students. Use your summative assessment as the starting point for the next learning sequence. By using a graduated assessment model it is possible to clearly demonstrate to students what they achieved but also what they need to do to improve. At Cross Pond Collaborations we employ graduated assessment rubrics for all our resources so you can begin this dialogue with your students but feel free to use what works for you and your students.
A Final Caveat
When Minecraft: Education Edition launched under the Office 365 umbrella over 4 years ago, I rejoiced envisaging the integration of that platform into Minecraft to make assessment and the demonstration of learning a powerful force to be reckoned with. We got the camera and portfolio to capture what students build. We got clickable URLs within NPC so students could launch Office 365 documents from within the game. Amazing advancements and really useful tools to help assess what students are learning in Minecraft. But it could be so much better.
I had hoped to see live integration of Word or OneNote documents within Minecraft books so teachers can see and assess what students in their class are working on in books in game and live. I had hoped to see live integration of PowerPoint into Boards in game for the same reason. Microsoft has some of the most powerful inclusion tools available and they are built in throughout the Office 365 suite… but not Minecraft which hinders some students being able to demonstrate what they are learning. Students can’t even capture video in game easily without resorting to external software.
Microsoft have done an amazing job in making Minecraft: Education Edition a powerful learning platform and in supporting teachers in getting started in the game. But please Microsoft, make your next key feature update “The Assessment Update”. I’m ready and more than willing to help make that update rock!
By keeping two simple questions at the core of your planning your Minecraft classroom will astound you with its power. “What are they learning?” and “How do you know what they learned?” are simple questions that cut to the core of the learning process and ensure that the learning in your classroom is deliberate, demonstrable and measurable. Whatever other skills students develop along the way are welcome additions but by focussing every aspect of your planning on curriculum learning you will see the true power of Minecraft as the most transformative revolution in education of the past decade. The deliberate use of Minecraft to deliver and develop solid curriculum based outcomes, beyond the intrinsic IT and social skills that students develop while playing the game themselves, requires careful consideration. Pointing to accidental skill development is just not good enough for achieving demonstrable, measurable and curriculum linked outcomes.