GoPro Perspectives and AFK Performances – (Minecraft Club #9 13.01.15)

As mentioned last week, I have been using a GoPro Hero camera to record events during the club. For the first half of this week’s club the camera remained undisturbed, as usual, on a desk where had I positioned it to film a small group of players. However, approximately half an hour into the session, the camera itself became the focus of the activity for a group of children as they took charge of the filming process.

Away from Keyboard (AFK)

Away from Keyboard (AFK)

The focus on the camera began as one boy, turning away from his computer, waved and stared into the lens. He called across to another boy, who immediately left his seat and picked up the camera. At this point I made a conscious decision to allow them to continue – my alternative response would have been to insist that they put the camera back where I had placed it. However, my early conceptualisation of Minecraft Club as being driven by the children – defined by ongoing unfolding events rather than being purely the product of my design – has encouraged me to take a back seat more often and let things happen.

During the early stages of this project, I occasionally found myself slightly stressed and uptight when technical problems arose or things didn’t go quite ‘to plan’, worrying that these detours were keeping me from ‘researching’ the club. However, my realisation that these were as much a part of the lived experience of the club as the gameplay itself encouraged me to take the view that the club is whatever happens during the weekly allotted 75 minutes. Often this involves children seated in front of their computers playing Minecraft but, just as importantly, sometimes it does not.

Once in the hands of the children (or, more specifically, a small group of boys) the camera is used in a number of ways:

  • They filmed their screens during play, positioning the camera next to their laptop keyboard, at times also providing audio commentary.

Screenshot 2015-01-15 15.33.53

  • One child used the camera’s headstrap to enable him to wear the camera and to film his gameplay and discussions with others from his perspective.

edited screen

  • They introduced other members of the class, carrying the camera around the room.
  • They pulled silly faces into the lens.
  • They conduct conversations with the camera:

Sam: (pointing the camera at Ben) ‘Is your name Ben?’

Ben: (to camera) ‘Yes it is, GoPro!… What’s your name, GoPro?’

  • They held it at arms length and sing and dance to the camera:

Thomas: (singing) ‘I’m on a GoPro / I’m on a GoPro’.

Ben and Thomas: (singing and dancing) ‘We’re on a GoPro / We’re on a GoPro’

They are then joined by three other boys, who form a procession, dancing and singing the same song.

Eventually, as I had forgotten to fully charge the battery, the camera turned itself off, much to the children’s disappointment. But in this relatively short space of time, they had managed to film the club from multiple perspectives.

Although I had already toyed with the idea of giving the children some control of the camera in future weeks, I had not intended that this would happen in such an unplanned and unpolished way. Nevertheless, watching the footage back was both entertaining and enlightening, providing an interesting example of how the process of research can unexpectedly become enmeshed with the clubs events. It also serves to illustrate how Minecraft club is not always just about playing Minecraft but is also driven by the events that occur aside from the gameplay when children are away from their keyboard (AFK), framing their gameplay in a specific context.

The presence of the camera clearly prompted much of the performance element, explained in part by the excitement of having access to relatively novel piece of equipment in the classroom, particularly given the GoPro’s reputation of being an camera used to film adventurous pursuits rather than classroom practice. It is now for me to decide which, if any, of these child-led filming methods I choose to employ in future weeks. Perhaps this is what I meant when I stated my intention to take into account Law’s (2004) call for ‘a broader or more generous sense of method’ at the outset of my research.

Reference:

LAW, John (2004). After method: Mess in social science research. London, Routledge.

Exploring Virtual Feelings (Minecraft Club #8 06.01.15)

I have been using a GoPro Hero action camera to film during the club. This week I placed the camera in a static location in order to capture a wider view of events than that provided by video at different resolutions.

gopro example

So far I am happy with the footage gained in this way, especially given that the audio is clear and the wide-screen image allows me to focus in on multiple areas of the classroom, in a way that would not be possible using conventional video. The camera also has the benefit of being virtually indestructible, allowing it to continue filming when someone knocked it from the chair I had balanced it on.

Picture1

In the words of one child who watched the fall: ‘GoPro be hard as heck: it’s basically a brick’. Given this, there’s also potential for giving the camera to the children to film from their perspectives, which I intend to do in future weeks.

After the club I returned a small section of the footage to re-examine a conversation that I noted in my field notes in more detail.

During the session, Ben (as <CBtekkersOP>) left the group in the game and to go ‘exploring’. He crafted a boat, with guidance from another member of the group and set out, apparently, in search of the sea. He later revealed that his intention was actually to find the members of the other part of the group – three boys who were building in a separate ‘secret’ location from the rest. However, he became frustrated when he found himself stranded on an island, isolated from the rest of his group’s avatars. He requested that I use the teleporting function to return him to his friends, even though he had requested at the beginning of the session that I should not to this for anyone as it often seemed to cause the game to crash!

boat

The following conversation was transcribed from an unplanned discussion, mainly with Ben, towards the end of the session, relating to his feelings about his current game state:

Ben: It’s just sad, though.

Me: Do you feel sad cos you’re not near everyone?

Ben: Yeah.

Me: But you’re in the room with everyone…. You’re actually right near everyone.

Ben: Am I?

Me: No, I mean, in the room. You’re sat next to people. How does it feel… how does it feel not being with everyone in the game?

Ben: Sad.

Mia: That’s what I felt like!

Ben: Because you feel lonely, because, like, there’s no-one else…

Mia: Stranded on an island, waiting for rescue.

Me: (laughs) But you’re in the room with them.

Ben: yeah, but they’re real life people… this is a game…

Me: But.. So… Yeah, but you’re a real life person.

Ben: In the game, I feel sad.

Me: You feel sad in the game?

Ben: Yes.

Me: H.. But… do you feel… How do you feel in the game?

Ben: Sad!

Me: (stuttering) But what is it about you that’s feeling in the game? As in… you said ‘as a real life person’ these people are here.. but how do you feel… how do you feel the game feeling?

Ben: Well, I’m used to being with everyone, you know like I have jobs and stuff and then suddenly I’m on an island by myself and I can’t get home.

Me: But are YOU on an island by yourself or is your avatar?

Ben: No, my avatar is on an island but my feelings are in the game!

Me: You’re feelings are in the game?

Ben: Yes!

Joseph: That’s a bit sad!

Ben: I know that is very sad!

Me: Your feelings are in the game is a very interesting thing to say.

Ben: and very sad… at the same time…

Thomas: (rapping) He’s sadder than sad, he’s badder than bad.

At the time I found this conversation fascinating – I think my intention was to try to help unravel the extent of Ben’s identification with his own avatar, but I found myself getting stuck on the questions to ask to take the conversation further. Nevertheless, I love Ben’s responses, particularly:

 In the game, I feel sad.

 No, my avatar is on an island but my feelings are in the game!

What the video allows me to revisit – and what I didn’t notice at the time – is the movement that accompanies Ben’s verbal responses. These two statments in particular are accompanied by dramatic hand gestures, as if to emphasise the significance of his words. During the first reply, Ben removes his right hand from the computer and makes one, forceful chopping motion from the side of his head towards the computer. By the second response, Ben has turned away from the computer to make eye contact with me directly. However, on the words ‘avatar’ and ‘feelings’ he turns again towards his laptop and makes forceful pointing gestures in the direction of the computer’s keyboard, making contact three times with the plastic, perhaps in an attempt to convey the strength of his feeling in relation to the virtual world somehow within the machine.

point

Ben’s notion of feelings being somehow being contained within the computer yet also felt by him is a theme I intend to explore further, and provides a good example of what I continually find so interesting about exploring this group’s interactions in and around the game.

Finding Friends and Influencing People (Minecraft Club #7 10.12.14)

This week’s session was the first for two weeks, the last before Christmas and also the last of this term. For the second week running, the children played in survival mode.

This entry elaborates on two short sections from my extensive (and messy) fieldnotes made during the session. Reflecting on my approach during previous sessions I found that I was becoming fairly reliant on video data. Therefore, in an attempt to break away from the limited frame imposed by screen based data I made more of an effort to take fieldnotes based on my observations. As a result, I was much less present in the game than in recent weeks.

live with you

Alongside these notes, video data was also collected in the form of screencasts and in class video, which I will use at a later time to add data from different perspectives. As for why I chose this extract, I think I’m framing it as a telling case to ‘make previously obscure theoretical relationships suddenly apparent” (Mitchell, 1984, p. 239).

  1. Finding Friends

On entering the game this week, many children found that they had spawned in dispersed locations, away from other members of the group. Getting back together became the motivation for  most of these children’s play. I observed the different methods they used to locate themselves in the game, navigating the landscape to find their friend’s avatars, and will attempt to detail these below. This process of finding their friends in the game occupied some players for almost the whole session. Whilst some children relied on just one of the methods below, most seem to employ a combination of these at different times.

IMG_20141209_160557Getting up high – Some children navigated their way up to the top of the highest point in the landscape in order to get a top-down view of the game, in the hope of seeing movement below. This reflected the method they often used for orientation in creative mode, where the avatars would levitate above the ground in order to get a view of events below.

Maps – Some children who were aware of the Map feature of Minecraft requested that I gave them access to a map that would have otherwise been available in creative mode. Impressed by the thought behind this request I provided each player with a map, which gave them an overview of the land they currently inhabited. Frustration came when they realised that there was no way of telling exactly which avatar was which, as all were marked with the same white icon. They were also unclear about their own locations on the map, meaning that it provided little help. (This recalls Alison Gazzard’s (2013) work on mapping mazes, where she reflects on the difficulty of pin pointing her location on the map whilst negotiating a maze (p. 72)

map screenshot

Landmarks – Children discussed their location in the game in relation to landmarks in the landscape. They told each other, for example, ‘I’m near the cave’ or ‘Go towards the big hill’. Again, there was frustration as some children found it difficult to find these landmarks in the first place, either because they had not seen them on their own screens or had visited them but forgotten the direction in which they had travelled.

Swapping laptops – Some children surrendered their laptops to another player, allowing them to control their avatar in the belief that they would be able to call upon their superior knowledge of the landscape in order to reunite their avatars in the same location. Sometimes this involved physically swapping laptops, at other times the children swapped seats.

Shared use of screens – Some children moved their hands from their own keyboards to point at their friends’ screens, in order to direct them through the landscape towards their own locations. They would then use their own screen to confirm the nature of their own location, in an attempt to help the other player.

shared use screenshot

Appropriating laptops – One child left early and another player seized the opportunity to use their computer to play the game, continuing the game as the avatar of the absent player in preference to playing as their own avatar away from the group.

Teleporting – Similar to the request for a map, some children asked me to use my teacher admin ‘powers’ to teleport them to the location of their friends. This initially seemed like the easy option, and on a couple of occasions I granted this request but stopped when I found that teleporting seemed to cause server overload, resulting in everyone being booted out of the game and needing to log back in.

IMG_20141209_160932

So, here I’m interested in the multitude of ways that the children tried to solve the same problem. Being together (Burnett and Bailey, 2014) seemed more important than working alone in the game, and this was mirrored by the way that the children arranged themselves in the classroom and the way they interacted with each other and their equipment.

  1. An Emerging Economy

The pattern of play this week (nine children, with two absent) seemed to fall into three distinct groups, reflected physically by their chosen seating patterns – a group of three boys, a group of four girls and a pair of boys. Towards the end of the session, the two boys moved across the room and relocated themselves with the girls, as a result of one of the boy’s laptops running out of charge, meaning he had to use a plug socket located near to the girls’ table. At some point during this relocation, the players’ in game activity also converged as they inhabited the same virtual location. At the centre of this location was a building built by the two boys. The girls, pleased to have located other players, asked to enter the boys house. They agreed, but on condition that the girl worked for them in the game. I was surprised by how quickly they seemed to agree to this request – seemingly willing to comply with the boy’s suggestion without question. Tasks were assigned to the girls – two were tasked with collecting wood, receiving a wage in the form of coal – one piece per 32 blocks of wood collected.

Tree collector

Another girl collected pumpkins, and it was reasoned that their relative scarcity would mean that she would be paid by the half hour for her efforts, again in coal. Food was briefly considered in place of coal as a means of payment, but this was discarded by the girls as they reasoned that food was of little value in the current context of the game.

Food's useless

For me, this event raises a number of questions. I’m particularly interested here in how these hierarchical roles formed so effortlessly, seemingly without question. What enabled the two boys to position themselves as leaders over the girl’s play? Is gender important here? Is it a case of capitalising on their in-game expertise and the resulting gaming capital? (Consalvo, 2007) Does the experience of being together in game offer compensation for their players suspension of thei avatars’ autonomy? In what ways do the player’s relationship with their own avatar – their avatar identity – mediate the decisions that the players are making? Is virtual identity important here – and would a model of identity that examines the personal, social, relational and material aspects (Nagy and Koles, 2014) be helpful in unpicking this? Does the nature of the game context lead to a submission to rules in a way that would not occur so readily in the physical space? And what does the imposition of the emerging, seemingly power-based economic system tell us about the children’s meaning making around the idea of a virtual community?

tool extract

I intend to focus on the issues around this example over the next few weeks, before the club begins again in the new year.

References

Burnett, C. & Bailey, C. (2014). Conceptualising collaboration in hybrid sites: Playing minecraft together and apart in a primary classroom. In: Burnett, C., Davies, J., Merchant, G. & J. Rowsell (ed.). New literacies around the globe: Policy and pedagogy. . Abingdon, Oxon, Routledge.

Nagy, P and Koles, B (2014) The digital transormation of human identity: Towards a conceptual model of virtual identity in virtual worlds in Convergence, 20:276

GAZZARD, Alison (2013). Mazes in videogames: Meaning, metaphor and design. McFarland.

Consalvo, Mia (2007) Cheating: Gaining Advantage in Video Games. Cambridge (MA): The MIT Press.

Mitchell, J. C. (1984). Case studies. In R. F. Ellen, Ethnographic research: A guide to general conduct. (pp. 237-241). Orlando, FL: Academic Press, Inc.

Avatars, Griefing and Screencasting (Minecraft Club #5 18.11.14)

Three observations from this week’s club:

1. Avatar names / More singing / Transcribing

I asked a number of children to talk about the user names that they have assigned to their avatars. Many of them used the same avatar name each week, others change the name regularly – even during the course of a session. For instance, <TimJim> was a new name this week, apparently reflecting a discussion around a song of the same name that some of the children had invented during a sleepover. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the song received a number of airings during the club:

‘Tim… / Jim… / I’m all… / alone… / Tim Jim / Tim Jim / Tim Jim / etc’. 

Screenshot 2014-11-18 16.18.46

<CBTekkersOP> was a name I had noticed every week. The player behind the avatar explained that the name reflects three things about him:

1. CB means centre back, the position he plays in football.

2. Tekkers means skills – which he has chosen ironically as – in his own words – he doesn’t have any skills. (Talk then turned to the origin of the work ‘tekkers’, which apparently comes from ‘Bob the Builder’ which – you guessed it – let to more singing: ‘Bob the Builder /  He has tekkers…’ etc)

3. O.P. was short for overpowered.

Foshee and Nelson (2014) suggest that avatar personalisation can create a connection between a player and a virtual environment by increasing the personal relevance and appeal, whilst also contributing to their sense of relatedness (p. 12). This may be worth considering in light of the children’s different appropriations of usernames for different purposes and from different origins.

Transcribing this name in particular led to me to tweet:

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This transcription process is challenging for a couple of main reasons – firstly, due to the sometimes impenetrable nature of the discussion in terms of the content – without insider knowledge the sentence above is akin to an unknown language. Even where the word itself is clear, there is also a danger in misrepresentation if assuming the intent behind it (eg. the above example of ‘tekkers’ being chosen to indicate a modest lack, rather than a confident presence, of skills)

Secondly, the number of voices present in the classroom at the same time and the ever changing network of discussions means it’s difficult to work out who is speaking to who, and frequently the other participant’s voice – often over the other side of the room – can be lost in the general noise.

2. Griefing / Changing the game mode

Screenshot 2014-11-18 16.32.36

A group of three boys seemed intent on causing mischief in the game, in spite of the reiterated objective to create a community space. (See also Burnett and Bailey, 2014, p. 56). This took the form of a bottomless pit – named ‘ the eternal hole’ – dug beneath the spawn point, hidden inside what otherwise appeared to be a normal house. Griefing extended to the embodied space too – when children left their desks there were attempts by others to sneak up to their unguarded laptops and direct their avatars in to this hole. There were also some familiar types of large scale, potentially anti-social, in-game behaviours, where individuals dominated parts of the game space through the mass spawning of animals. There is a perception that this then led to glitches in the game, where the world slows down for all players. This is worth considering in relation to Barltle’s (2003) four types of player, where ‘Controllers’ seek to establish control over others. Additionally, there may be similarities to the player types or ‘orientations’ seen in Jackson, Gauntlett and Steemer’s (2009).

Screenshot 2014-11-18 16.34.59

Some victims of this griefing found the behaviour funny. Others appeared to be less amused by these actions. When, towards the end of the game, it was discovered that someone had destroyed part of the water slides created during the previous week, the reactions of some children were akin to those that may have come about if their physical property had been damaged. One child suggested that ‘community service’ might be a suitable punishment, where the perpetrator is ordered to create things for the good of the community. There was speculation that this griefing happened because of the game being played in creative mode – the unlimited resources meaning that none were valued. Again, there were calls to change the club to survival mode, starting with a new map. I think this is actually worth pursuing.

3. Screencasting / Playthrough 

The use of screencasting software is popular with the children as a research method – the children requested to have their screens recorded and were disappointed that I had not set this up on all of the laptops. However, different children interacted and acknowledged the presence of this tool in different ways. I recorded the play of three children this week – for fifteen minutes each – and have transcribed two of the videos in full. One player makes constant reference to the video being recording, suggesting that he will take the imagined audience on a tour, using an ‘announcer’ voice to introduce himself, partly using it as a means of producing his own ‘playthrough’ video (Menotti, 2012, p. 81). The second player, however, makes no reference to the software at all. So, while this is a useful tool for charting children’s actions during the game, therefore, the different adaptations of the tool made by the players themselves should not be written out of the final account.

Screenshot 2014-11-18 15.17.26

References

Bartle, Richard, 2003, Designing Virtual Worlds, New Riders, Indianapolis.

Burnett, C. & Bailey, C. (2014). Conceptualising collaboration in hybrid sites: Playing minecraft together and apart in a primary classroom. In: Burnett, C., Davies, J., Merchant, G. & J. Rowsell (ed.). New literacies around the globe: Policy and pedagogy. Abingdon, Oxon, Routledge

Foshee and Nelson (2014), ‘Avatar Personalisation: Towards the Enhancement of Competence Beliefs’, International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations, (6)2 p. 1-12

JACKSON, Lizzie, GAUNTLETT, David and STEEMERS, Jeanette (2009). Children in virtual worlds: Adventure rock users and producers study.

MENOTTI, GABRIEL (2012). Videorec as gameplay. Video game subcultures, , 81.

Dissertation Reflection – Groupwork, Animation and ICT

I have returned to my Masters dissertation recently, partly as I have been asked to summarise my experience of enquiry into a few hundred words for another project, and partly as I’m in the position where I can now reflect of my findings in order to influence some teaching I’m planning to do over next few weeks that will also involve using animation.

I have used stop-frame animation in the classroom for quite a few years now. Here are some of my favourite short films, produced by classes I have taught:

With FS2:

With Y1:

With Y4 / 5:

With Y4 / 5:

I thought now would be an appropriate time to archive and share my dissertation here, in case it may be of use or interest to anyone else. The easiest way to summarise the focus is to share the abstract:

Abstract

Over recent years, much has been written about the use of ICT in the classroom to engage and motivate children’s learning across the curriculum. However, the scarcity of the time and resources available to a class often mean that children are required to work in groups. While there are certainly benefits to children working together, collaborative learning often becomes more challenging – and the group-work dynamic more complicated – when technology is involved. Using ICT with group-work, therefore, presents its own barriers to learning that prevent some children fully benefitting from these sessions. Using audio recordings of children working in groups with ICT, alongside teacher observations, the views of children and other practitioners, this case-study aimed to identify the barriers to learning and then analyse the effectiveness of two alternative strategies introduced to enable groups of children using ICT to work successfully. The study concludes that socio-cultural issues relating to children’s use of computers, as well as the limited interaction opportunities imposed by the use of ‘personal’ computers, contribute to the challenges of using technology in group-work contexts. The research also demonstrated the benefits of involving children in the process of their own learning and suggests that, although children’s comments may show emotional intelligence and knowledge of the theory behind group-work, putting these ideas into action can often pose a challenge for them. Finally, the research provides some recommendations that may help to promote successful group-work for children when using ICT in a creative, group-focused context.

The main point from my findings that will influence my future use of animation is this bit, right at the end:

‘ blah blah blah there is a convincing case to be made to recommend that, where availability of resources allows, a ratio of two children per computer is actually the most appropriate – particularly where the technology is being used to produce a creative outcome. Whilst it is in some ways disappointing to draw this conclusion, as the project initially sought to identify best practice for working in groups, it certainly goes some way to highlighting how vital it is to consider the organisation of a task where ICT is involved. In comparison with larger groups, working with a partner provides a greater level of access to the computer, whilst still giving the opportunity for discussion, shared support and shared learning. Working in pairs would minimise the ‘process of negotiating for control over the technology’ (p. 18) observed by Lomangino et al (1999) which is heightened by the number of people present when using group-work. The children involved would still gain the benefits of working with others – the ‘quality of interaction and dialogues taking place’ (p. 177) observed by Rojas-Drummond et al (2008) resulting in the ‘learning and improved understanding’ (p. 360) seen by Mercer (1996). From the emic perspective, paired work still engenders a number of the benefits of group-work identified by the children. It provides the motivational benefits of working with others, identified by children in comments such as ‘It’s fun because I can work with my friends.’ It also helps those who enjoy the supportive element of working with others; the children are able to ‘Learn to share and learn new things’ with their peers. Paired work would also fulfil the criteria for promoting ‘turn-taking’ identified by the children in the Group-Work Rules. Children could still be given clearly defined roles in their pairs, but these roles could either be swapped or both roles could more easily involve access to the technology. Paired work would therefore allow for the maximisation of the benefits of working with others, whilst minimising the effects of many of the barriers identified by the project.’

So, this forthcoming animation project will involve children working 2:1 with the equipment, rather than in small groups. Not only this, but the children will be using iPads with the ‘iMotion’ and ‘iMovie’ apps, instead of laptops with webcams, ‘Monkeyjam’ and ‘Movie Maker’, meaning that the interface will hopefully be slightly less temperamental than before.

Here are the links to the full text of my dissertation, should anyone want a long read:

Masters Main Text

Masters References

Masters Appendices

Minecraft Epic Reality

Enjoyed ‘Minecraft the Movie: The Story of Mojang‘ last night. Here’s the trailer….

There’s some quite unexpectedly spine-tingling moments involving the sheer epic scale of the creative aspects of the game. The accelerated footage of the collaborative building undertaken by the members of the Fyre-UK Mega Build server is particularly amazing. An example can be seen in this video – a time lapse of the building of ‘The Vaederian Palace’.

This is on such a different scale to what my class have been doing recently but follows the same principles of collaboration and creativity. What’s particularly interesting is the real-time collaboration occurring between so many individuals in different locations. This possibility is something I’d like to extend to my class, hopefully working with other schools – if we can work out how to allow external access to our local server by poking the right holes in the school firewall.

There’s a segment with interviews with Joel Levin (‘The Minecraft Teacher‘ who has developed Minecraft Edu) and pupils from a school in New York. Here, the emphasis seems to be on using the game for motivation and engagement purposes, whilst using creative mode to allow children to experience situations they wouldn’t otherwise find themselves in in real life.

At various points in the film, there is footage of real-life locations that mirror in-game landscapes (or is it the other way ’round?) These were clearly on my mind on my run this morning, where I stopped to take these quick photos of the countryside in the Loxley Valley. I could almost imagine a Creeper making its way towards me over the horizon.

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