Lived Curriculum


I have in the past ten years tweeted, written and presented about young learners and digital citizenship and coined the term “lived curriculum” to describe the approach I most passionately believe in. Recently it has been suggested that I should unpack this and put a stake in the ground for this term and the pedagogies that surround it. This post is an attempt to place that stake.

I have been involved with the Quest Atlantis program for at least ten years and in that time I have seen tens of thousands of students around the world, some as young as eight years old, grapple with what it means to be part of an online community. More recently my involvement with Massively Minecraft and other Minecraft implementations have reinforced the philosophical stance I cultivated through Quest Atlantis. I want to talk about why that community online experience is so important.

I see many teachers giving students worksheets, watching videos and acting out role plays to assist in students learning what digital citizenship involves. And quite frankly I think it is largely a waste of time. A colleague teaching middle-school reported to me that he had run such a program in his school, for which the students appeared to recognize the major issues, only to that same week engage in outrageous acts of bullying on Facebook. The learning in these programs is too far removed from the context. You have to get into a pool to learn to swim. Yes you can learn some aspects of stroke correction from a video, but actually getting into a pool is assumed necessary to learn to swim. Likewise to teach children to cross a road, we hold their hand and escort them across roads and crossings, pointing out the important things to be observant of as we go. We might watch road safety videos and have fun activities around this but essentially learning to cross a road happening in situ.

Why then do we expect children to understand digital citizenship without being part of online communities? No we do not want to abandon them to all the spaces they could be online or set them sailing into a digital Lord of the Flies. But we want them to engage on their own terms in spaces where they are surrounded by supporting trusted adults. This experiential learning is vital, no worksheet can ever offer the gamut of situations that kids might face online. We are derelict in our duty of care to our students if we do not offer them these experience and seize on the teachable moments as they arise.

In Quest Atlantis teachers are emailed with the transcript of both possibly transgressive AND exemplary behaviors. We do this so that teachers can take up each of those teachable moments and hold dialog, counsel learners and open up these issues. Within the QA online community students are constantly surrounded by trusted adults (other teachers not necessarily their own) who are not their to police the student behavior but as co-learners and support should students seek it. These teachers are asked to model the positive engagement and practices that we want their students to engage in. The same is happening in many very effective school or district-based Minecraft implementations. We certainly saw this in Massively Minecraft.

None of the communities that I have engage in have had a set of rigorous do’s and don’ts. What they do have is a community designed charter or a set of positive statements of the behaviors that are supported and admired in this community. Over time in QA, Minecraft and Open Sim we have seen that children quickly become very adept at moderating their own behaviors and community. They readily say “we don’t behave like that in here…” to students acting out. They learn to see how an interaction might be heading is in a negative direction well before it gets there and seize opportunities to support each other in being more positive and a community spirited. Students want to level up to greater and greater responsibility. Who would have thought that the most attractive reward for lots of hard work in the community could be responsibility, leadership and greater accountability. But kids do crave this! They want ownership and opportunities to show they can shine at being good human beings. And every time I have trusted in students to do so they have spectacularly exceeded my expectations. Even more than that they have things they want to say on the matter and such spaces afford their ownership of citizenship issues.


So this is the long winded way of describing the lived curriculum of digital citizenship – an experiential space for students to immerse themselves in the day-to-day interactions of community online. A space replete with opportunities good and sometimes bad. But isn’t it better for kids to trip in this digital space where a someone can pick them up and help them to understand why such a behavior might be considered mean spirited, dangerous or bullying? We can we expect so much more of these learners when they reach the 13 year old acceptance age for much social media if they have been online and experienced the positive value of being together online since they were very young.

Let’s face it, kids are online as soon as they can swipe in an app on an iPad. We need to stop thinking that digital citizenship has an age threshold for introduction or that the digital part allows us to quarantine it. And let’s take to task the separateness of “digital citizenship”. This is about citizenship in all the places it is possible to be lived out. Learning to be a good human being starts when you are born and is the ultimate lived curriculum!


Gamification and school professional community

Many of you at this time of year will be pondering how to motivate your teachers to use technology wisely. Many of you will be thinking about  BYOD or one-to-one 1:2:1 technology initiatives. Many of you will also be thinking about how to further develop a professional community within your school. This story will touch on all of those issues and you will see how a well crafted gamification of professional learning can be used to support school initiatives, quality learning and professional community.


While at the SITE conference in New Orleans I met a young educator working and researching in iPads and special education. Shannan Retter had heard that I was interested in gamification of teacher professional learning and put forward her school’s Mission Possible as highly successful program. I have come to find that Bettendorf High School Teach PD program ticks all the boxes as an exemplary gamification program used to support school initiatives and build professional community.

To get the good oil first hand you can visit the following pages:

After researching the links about the program, I contacted Chris Like @christopherlike, the programs designer, for a conversation over Skype. Not only were we able to meet but we were joined by Shannan Retter @ShannanRetter, LeAnne Wagner @BHS_TL librarian and development partner to Chris and Matt Degner @mwdegner the school’s Associate Principal. This generosity speaks volumes to the professional ethos of this school and the pride that these educators all have in their accomplishments. The meeting was to unfold the story of Mission Possible’s development and how this school is sharing their one year of implementation experience with the world. I want to share what I saw as the highlights of that story with you.

Early 2012 the school was moving to be a 1:1 iPad school and this new kind of PD devised by Chris Like was taken to the principal as a way to motivate teachers and give them a trajectory for their own learning. Chris describes this step of taking his design to the principal as a nervous day. But he had no need to be nervous because Matt could very quickly see that the vision for this was both exciting and practical.


There are 10 levels in the program and the levels and missions are offered with fun and humour. At the lower levels teachers use rudimentary communication tools like email. On their way to level 4 teachers earn their iPad and begin to set it up, examine apps and become expert at using various mobile and social programs. At higher levels the teachers get to give back to the school, to the game and to their profession. They are encouraged to add resources to learning missions, devise new missions, present at professional learning events or publish school based research. Shannan was earning her level 10 points by presenting at the SITE conference, not only promoting the fine teaching and research work she is doing, but also the collaborative culture of the school by giving back to the teaching profession. Chris himself has had an article on this gamified model accepted by Tech & Learning, a periodical published in the US. He feels that his modeling is very important to teacher buy into the model and their own development.

Why is this program so successful?

Firstly it was devised by teachers for teachers with the school leadership in full support. It is voluntary and non-judgemental/evaluative. Quality mentor-supported self-directed learning is on offer and teachers recognise that and jump into it with gusto!

There is a lot of choice in the trajectory for teachers for instance level 4 has 40 missions and you need only 10 to complete the level. And if in level 5 you are not really that  into social media then you can bulk up your points by doing more missions in the previous level.

The program has awards, points and titles that you can earn throughout. There are leaderboards and people compete not just against each other but in teams and domains work they together to support each other. Rewards vary across the system. One no cost item is the fun title earned if you complete a chain of quests in one theme area. This makes you a resident expert in the area which is signified on the leaderboard with your special title such as Tweenius, Blazing Blogger, or Edmodo Dragon. Teachers are now seen going to their peers, for assistance rather than the traditional tech experts, as they begin to see where each other’s expertise lies. This really gets at the heart of community building in any environment, being able to move into the centre and establish your identity as more than a novice. Yes, there are extrinsic rewards (points, titles, even small fun prizes) but more importantly there is the intrinsic reward of school betterment,  identity building, improved student learning and the professional dialog around that surrounds all that.


This is not just about having fun and being collegial. Level completion does require teachers to relate the technology and their learning in that level to the SMART goals for teaching. This relationship is made explicit by the teachers themselves and allows them to build their own vision for using technology, a vision for which they have some personal conviction.

This school’s gamified technology PD is one year into its implementation. The team has gathered a lot of data about the effectiveness of the program and is planning to publish that very soon. This is so far ahead of the curve for most school or education systems. I was blown away by the vision and trust shown in teachers to get this happening and I hope you are too.

P.S. Chris says if you have any questions or would like to contact him, he is more than willing to help anyone wanting to get their own version of the PD model developed.  You can contact Chris via email at

Gamification of a Community of Practice


Making some distinctions

This is the first in a series of posts to relaunch this blog on a new footing more focussed on the exciting space created by the marriage of community, learning and gameplay. These five posts stem from the work I have done in designing a game layer for the PLANE professional community and the questions that arose out that experience and its early evaluation.

It is important here to take a clear position on the definition of the key terms gamification and community of practice. In my book wherever possible short and practical is the best and most accessible definition.

Community of Practice

A community of practice specifically centres its interest on the practices of the workplace. But communities of practice are not just celebrations of common interests. They focus on practical aspects of a practice, everyday problems, new tools, developments in the field, things that work and don’t. (McDermott, 1999, p. 2) For something to be a community of practice you have to be able to identify the practice that draws the community together. In PLANE the practice is teaching and learning with information and communication technologies (ICTs). From its earliest conception PLANE’s has been designed as an open source community driven space


Deterding et al define gamification as “the use of game design elements in non-game contexts.” That does not suggest making the whole context/project into a game but applying well chosen mechanics of games to further the goals of in this case the learning environment. We need to step back a little and remind ourselves what gamification is and what it is not. It is not game design but it draws from the theories and lessons learned in game design. And if done well it is so much more than a repetitive collection of points or trinkets for clicks. In the context of professional learning it needs to draw from many other bodies of knowledge such as motivational theory, systems thinking, professional development, communities of practice and attendant concepts of professional reputation and identity.

The way Deterding and colleagues distinguish the three hot agendas of serious games, gamification, and playful interaction is very useful. The PLANE community activity involves all three of these and the distinctions might be best explained by unpacking the design and activities involved in each.

Gamification of CoP

Firstly, Leornian is a serious game, a complete game designed in Unity 3D for teachers to play in order to learn the key principles surrounding the concept of “hard fun”. It was designed to be a single player immersive game experience.


Secondly, the PLANE virtual world, built in OpenSim has several incremental and live bootcamp events with fun activities designed for groups of teachers to explore together how virtual worlds might be part of their teaching and learning. These activities could be described as as playful interactions. Playful being used to describe a quality of the interactions but even when viewed collectively the activity in the virtual world does not constitute a game.


Thirdly, the Hero’s Journey in PLANE is a ‘game layer’ as we have chosen to call it, is not a game. It involves interactions yes, not centred around play but around professional learning community activity. Community members engage in these professional learning activities and begin to see progress as they receive rewards and advancement in the community’s bespoke game layer. They earn points, complete missions and level up through the game mechanics that have been drawn upon to build this layer. In McGonigal terms this could be described as “gameful interaction”. They are gameful they are not necessarily playful.


On the surface it may seem like semantics but these are very important distinctions to make as we consider the role of gamification in professional learning.The next 5 posts will explain how gamification or gameful design was employed in the PLANE community of practice and surface some of the key issues surrounding its implementation. This third relationship to game, ie gamification is what I want to take up in much more detail over the subsequent posts.  I find, and I hope you will too, that this is really juicy stuff

Resources to further unpack the design of the PLANE Game Layer:


Deterding et al (2011)  Gamification: Toward a Definition CHI 2011, May 7–12, 2011, Vancouver, BC, Canada. ACM 978-1-4503-0268-5/11/05.

McDermott, R. (1999). Nurturing three dimensional communities of practice: How to get the most out of human networks. Knowledge Management Review, Fall.

McGonigal, J. (2011) We don’t need no stinkin’ badges: How to re-invent reality without gamification. Presentation at GDC 2011.