“Video Games and Learning” began this Thursday, October 3, and there’s still time to enroll. Kurt Squires and Constance Steinkuehler, a husband and wife team at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, are teaching this 6-week Coursera MOOC for the first time, and so far it looks promising.
After watching the first series of short video lectures and reading the material, I was eager to delve into this week’s assignment, which is to play a digital game that I’ve never played before, ideally in a different genre, for at least 30 minutes and then produce a 1-minute video or audio recording (or a short written report) reflecting on the ways the game structures learning. Sounds fun, right?
I chose Minecraft, in part because several of my students are really into it. So I went all out and bought it. I loaded it up, created a single-player world, and was immediately dumbfounded – this wasn’t my kind of world at all. Because even little kids play it and because I’ve spent a great deal of time in Second Life and World of Warcraft, I assumed Minecraft would be a snap. Wrong! “Quick, find a tutorial,” I muttered to myself and pulled up the Minecraftwiki. But not before my avatar chopped himself into a hole and couldn’t get out. I deleted that world and started over.
I’d already spent more than 30 minutes trying to figure out how to move the avatar around. I’m used to the WASD keys but not to having a cursor that’s a big plus sign in the middle of the screen. I couldn’t get my Lego-like guy to turn 180 degrees and kept bumping into blocky things, bobbing in water, and staring at the sky. Just as frustrating was the first-person view; instead of seeing my avatar from behind (third-person view), there was a huge wooden arm in the right corner of my screen chopping away. I did try the behind and face views, but they seemed even more awkward. So there I was in my second world trying to gather enough materials to make a shelter for the night (highly recommended) when it suddenly got darker and darker. Zombie attack! I did the only thing possible: logged off and, humbled enough for one evening, went to bed, snuggled under a quilt, and read a mystery while the wind pounded rain against the window. Ah, nice and cozy and safe.
But I’m not giving up. To my Kindle I just downloaded Minecraft for Dummies, written by Jacob Cordeiro, a Stanford Online High School student. Should be just the thing. Soon I’ll go back to see if the zombies killed my guy.