Building Meaningful Interactions In-Person, Online, and in Minecraft

*This post has been cross-posted with Raquel Oberkirsch.

We are currently exploring the Treaty relationship using Minecraft Education Edition in three different classrooms. The classes are on either Lesson 4 or 5 in our learning plan, where they are working in groups to build something that represents two reasons First Nations peoples wanted to make Treaties.

Screenshot from our learning plan

Student-to-Student Interactions

Students are interacting in multiple ways throughout this course. As students are attending class in person, they typically sit near their group members (masked and distanced) while they work on their build challenges so they can talk and problem solve as they build in Minecraft. If the teacher prefers students stay in their regular desks, they rely more heavily on the Collaboration Space in Teams to plan and collaborate.  

The Collaboration Space is set up so each small group has a section in the Notebook where group members can type at the same time. We populate this space with a planning checklist for students to go through so they can brainstorm ideas, decide who is responsible for what, and upload their blueprint sketches of what they are planning to build. We also include sentence stems to help students get started and encourage meaningful discussion.  

At times, it can be challenging to get students to take the time to plan because they are so excited to start building in Minecraft. We are hoping that using this planning checklist will help students build with purpose and ensure that they have all agreed on the plan before they jump into building. Check out our video for a quick walkthrough of the Collaboration Space and Content Library: 

We chose to use the Collaboration Space because it gives us access to each group’s brainstorm and planning notes, so we can flip through the different groups and see what they are thinking. This allows us to catch student misconceptions early on and redirect the group as needed, or even plan for a whole class lesson if several groups need guidance or reteaching on a concept. The Collaboration Space also allows each group member to contribute using text or audio recording.  

Students also interact in their group’s Minecraft world while they are building. They can use the chat function in Minecraft, but most students do not need to as they are usually sitting near each other while they work, so they can talk instead. Finally, we are planning to have students explain their builds using Flipgrid and then have students from other groups watch their videos and give feedback using video or text responses. We are thinking we will co-construct a simple feedback checklist that students can use as a guideline for giving feedback on each other’s videos.

Student-to-Instructor Interactions

Our project is adaptable to many forms of blended teaching. Because we are currently teaching the course synchronously, there are many types of student-to-instructor interactions. We have used Microsoft Teams, Microsoft Forms, Class Notebook, Padlet, and conversations to connect and collaborate with students. 

Microsoft Teams is the main platform that we have used for student-to-instructor interactions. The platform allows us to connect with the class virtually for synchronous lessons. In addition, students can connect with us 1-on-1 or in their small groups (private team channels) that we have created for the duration of the course. For check-ins, we start a Teams meeting and invite all the group members. Here is how a typical group check-in goes: 

  • How are things going? Are you still using the ideas on your planning checklist? Have you decided to change anything? 
  • Can you share your screen and walk me through what you have so far?  Tell me about your builds!  
  • Give positive feedback on what they are doing well.  
  • How is this build connected to the build challenge? How does it show a reason that First Nations people wanted to make Treaties? 
  • Give constructive feedback and suggestions as needed. 
  • Do you need anything else from me? 

These conversations with small groups allow us to give specific feedback in the moment and guide our instruction for the next lesson. As mentioned in the video above, the Content Library in Class Notebook allows us to upload content that is course specific and “read only” for the students. We use the Collaboration Space to give written or audio feedback directly on each group’s work and add documents or links.  

We used Microsoft Forms to determine students’ comfort levels in Minecraft. This information was then used to help create the student’s groups. Microsoft Forms will be used in the future to compile information about self-assessment and whole group-assessment.  

Screenshot from Microsoft Form

We used Padlet to collaborate with students on expectations in Minecraft and compile their background knowledge on Treaties. This tool provides a fantastic way to group brainstorm and collaborate as a class, educators included.  

Screenshot from Padlet – Co-Creating Criteria for Using Minecraft for Learning

We used a whole class discussion to co-construct criteria for how we would assess the build challenges. Students shared their ideas and then we grouped them by common themes to develop a rubric we can use to give feedback on each build challenge. We will use this as formative assessment throughout the course, so students have a chance to go through feedback with their group and use it to improve their builds and explanations. At the end of the course, we will use each group’s final Minecraft world with all their completed build challenges as their summative assessment.

Screenshot from Build Challenge #1 Rubric

Encouraging Meaningful Interactions

Here is a recap of some strategies we are using to encourage meaningful student-to-student interactions: 

  • Providing a planning checklist with questions and sentence stems to guide their conversations. 
  • Using the Collaboration Space so students can contribute their ideas using text or audio. 
  • Giving time for students to go through comments on the rubric as a group and make a to-do list based on the feedback. 
  • Using Flipgrid for students to explain their builds and give feedback on each other’s explanations using a feedback checklist. 

And here is a recap of some strategies we are using to encourage meaningful student-to-instructor interactions: 

  • Co-constructing criteria for using Minecraft for learning. 
  • Collecting background knowledge on Treaties in Saskatchewan using Padlet. 
  • Co-constructing assessment criteria for build challenges. 
  • Frequent check-ins with groups for students to explain their builds and receive feedback. 
  • Consistent formative assessment through conversations and comments on the rubric. 

Moving Forward

John Spencer highlights leveraging UX Design by having students take a quick survey based on course organization. We would like to incorporate this to make our course more efficient and user-friendly. Further, we will observe students as they interact with the course, take note of the challenges and issues, and streamline those issues in the future. To increase meaningful interactions, we may adopt Spencer’s “better way to brainstorm” approach as it encourages student voice and reduces groupthink.

For peer assessment, we originally planned to have each student rate their group members on their teamwork and contributions to the Minecraft world; however, we started to think differently after reading this post, specifically this quote: 

“Note that having students grade one another can backfire. This can actually create risk-aversion, where team members are afraid to speak up. It can also introduce an unhealthy power dynamic. Furthermore, students are not trained on assessment theory and practice. You, as the instructor, should be the sole person grading group members.”  

John Spencer – Improving Student Collaboration in remote and Hybrid Learning

After reflecting on this, we decided to have students grade their group as a whole and give them the opportunity to write comments to explain using a Microsoft form. We hope this will encourage a positive group dynamic but still allow the students to reflect on their group’s learning.

What are you doing to encourage meaningful student-to-student and student-to-teacher interactions in your course prototype? What are your thoughts on having students grade one another when working in groups?

2 thoughts on “Building Meaningful Interactions In-Person, Online, and in Minecraft

  1. I can’t imagine being told back in 2009 while playing Minecraft Alpha that the game would one day be used as a learning tool in schools around the world!

    I really enjoyed the portion on co-constructing criteria with Padlet. The examples you showed looked really soli, but my experience with students suggests they are sometimes not the best at developing criteria. Have you found it works well consistently?

  2. Pingback: Building Meaningful Interactions In-Person, Online, and in Minecraft - Raquel Oberkirsch

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