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PLAY Minecraft! Assessing Secondary Engineering Education using Game Challenges within a Participatory Learning Environment

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Addressing the NGSS, Part 3 of 3: Supporting High School Science Teachers in Engineering Pedagogy and Engineering-Science Connections

Tagged Division

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.985.1 - 24.985.10



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Paper Authors


Erin Shaw University of Southern California

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Erin Shaw is a Computer Scientist at the University of Southern California's Information Sciences Institute, a research center at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. Her research focuses on modeling and assessing student knowledge in the areas of science and mathematics, experimenting with new technologies for aiding assessment in distance learning, and studying computer mediated social dialogue and team collaboration in post-secondary engineering education. She received an MA in Online and Distance Education from The Open University, an MS in Computer Graphics from Cornell University and a BS in Mathematics from Massachusetts State University, Fitchburg. Ms. Shaw has directed research as a co-principal investigator on several National Science Foundation sponsored grants. In 2013, she served as a STEM outreach specialist at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering.

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Minh Tuan La University of Southern California

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Minh La is an undergraduate student at University of Southern California majoring in Computer Science. He was a junior when he wrote this paper, and is expected to graduate in May 2015. He has been interested in the field of Computer Science since high school when he attended Center for Advanced Technologies in Florida. His passion leads him to constantly ponder on how evolving technologies can be deployed to find it's applicable usage. After completing his studies in USC, Minh pursues a career in Software Engineering.

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Richard Phillips

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Richard Phillips, University of Southern California
Richard Phillips is an undergraduate student at the University of Southern California majoring in Computer Science and Business Administration. He was a sophomore when he wrote this paper, and is expected to graduate in 2016. He plans on getting his Masters in Computer Science as part of USC Viterbi Engineering School's progressive degree program in 2017. After graduating, Richard wants to pursue a career in the field of software engineering and eventually management.

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Erin B. Reilly University of Southern California Annenberg Innovation Lab

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Erin Reilly is Creative Director & Research Fellow for Annenberg Innovation Lab at USC's Annenberg School for Communications & Journalism. In her role, she oversees all aspects of lab programming, product design and mentoring students in developing applications and business ideas using digital media and how it impacts society. Her research focus is children, youth and media and the interdisciplinary, creative learning experiences that occur through social and cultural participation with emergent technologies. 

Erin is currently developing PLAY!, an educational collaboration platform helping learners tap into broad interest based peer communities as well as exploring new forms of reading and writing through dynamic book prototypes. She most recently published her first digital book, Flows of Reading, to inspire educators to reflect on what can be considered as reading and what kinds of reading they perform in their everyday lives.

She was Research Director for Project New Media Literacies at MIT and also has conducted classes as a Visiting Lecturer at MIT’s Comparative Media Studies Department and Harvard University’s Project Zero Summer Institute. Reilly is a graduate of Emerson College and has her Master of Fine Arts degree from Maine Media Workshops + College. She is a member of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, the first-Vice President board member of NAMLE (National Association for Media Literacy Educators) and serves on advisory boards, such as PBS Emmy-award winning Sci Girls. Erin consults with private and public companies in the areas of mobile, creative strategy and transmedia projects.

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PLAY Minecraft! Assessing secondary engineering education using game challenges within a participatory learning environmentAbstractThis paper describes an interdisciplinary collaboration between communication and engineeringteams at to create assessments for engineering education in the context of PLAY(Participatory Learning and YOU!), a new, participatory learning environment for multimediacollaboration (Reilly et al., 2012). Minecraft (2013), an online game and building environmentpopular with young teens, was used as the engineering learning domain. Within PLAY, studentscreated and shared Minecraft ‘challenges’ during a focus group consisting of five boys, ages 9 to16. Machine learning techniques were used to create a classification scheme for engineeringstandards based on the Science and Engineering Practices in the Next Generation ScienceStandards (NGSS, 2013). Natural language processing and data mining techniques were appliedto student ‘challenges’ to assess and report on students’ engineering and domain learning.Results show that standards applied and domain topics discussed vary consistently by age.Responses to the corresponding questionnaire show clearly that the session was a highly positiveexperience for the children. The potential for use in engineering education is discussed.The goal of the project was to explore the feasibility of using PLAY as a STEM learningenvironment. Engineering was chosen as the STEM domain, and the game of Minecraft waschosen as the engineering course domain. Work to be done included creating and testing thefollowing: 1. A data pipeline for analyzing a PLAY ‘challenge’ - the canvas that includes a networked multimedia presentation and its associated social dialogue; 2. A classification system for identifying the application of engineering standards and domain topics; 3. Analytics for instructional assessment.Text Processing MethodologyEngineering practices from the NGSS science standards were organized into a number of non-overlapping categories using a supervised machine-learning program from MALLET (2013).The final engineering standards categories were: • Analyzing and interpreting data • Asking questions and defining problems • Constructing explanations and designing solutions • Developing and using models • Engaging in argument from evidence • Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information • Planning and carrying out investigations • Using mathematics and computational thinkingA supervised machine learning approach was also used to create Minecraft topic categories froman online Wiki.Focus Group MethodologyAssessment of the system included a two-hour PLAY session and a corresponding questionnairein July 2013. Five boys participated: two entering grade 4, two entering grade 8 and one enteringgrade 11. Participants were given two seed challenges to start, “Building a House in Minecraft”and “Building a Sewer in Minecraft”, which were created by two of the authors (who areundergraduate engineering students) to allow students to become accustomed to the PLAYinterface before creating their own challenges. The seed challenges were purposefully created toprovide data that would correlate to engineering standards. After thirty minutes of commentingon and debating the seed challenges, students were instructed to create their own challenges,which they did for the next thirty minutes (figure 1). The final hour was spent participating inpeer challenges and also iterating on their own challenges (responding to peer comments).[Extra Page for Figures and References]ResultsFigure 1. PLAY canvases created by students.Figure 2. Assessment results showing application of engineering standards, per user.ReferencesHeick, T. (2013) 5 Lessons To Learn From Minecraft In Education, TeachThought, Feb. 2, 2013. (2013) Machine Learning for LanguagE Tookit, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, (2013) (2013) Next Generation Science Standards, generation-science-standards.Rielly, E., Jenkins, H., Felt, L.J., and Vartabedian, V. (2012) Shall we PLAY?,

Shaw, E., & La, M. T., & Phillips, R., & Reilly, E. B. (2014, June), PLAY Minecraft! Assessing Secondary Engineering Education using Game Challenges within a Participatory Learning Environment Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--22918

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