Evidence of Emergent Phenomena in the Minecraft project.
Complexity Theory – the science of all sciences. It is a theory that has been used (amongst many other things) to study the stock markets and traffic conditions in an attempt to try to explain stock market crashes or traffic jams. Complexity theory states that when you have a complex system a thing called emergent phenomenon will appear (or emerge). A complex system can be defined as a collection of interacting objects competing for a limited resource.
The emergent phenomenon arises generally without the help of a central controller. It would be almost impossible if a central controller had to recreate a traffic jam. As Neil Johnson says in his great little book Simple Complexity:
“A universal feature of Complex Systems is: emergent phenomena can arise without the need for an invisible hand. Instead, the collection of objects is able to self-organize itself in such a way that the phenomenon appears all by itself – as if by magic.”
As the phenomenon is emergent it has not been predicted or planned for, it is generally surprising and can be extreme. The precise nature of the phenomena depends on how the individual’s objects in the system interact and how interconnected the are.
One thing observed in this new science is that the behavior of the objects involved in the complex system is greatly affected by feedback and they can adapt their strategies dependent on their history (through memory). One final and interesting point is that a complex system always shows a complicated mix of ordered and disordered behavior.
I love this theory for its slap in the face to the nonsense that is the traditional reductionist approach to understanding the world.
In our Minecraft project (which I spoke of in my last post) we have 140 students building a new world in a MMO Game(Massive Multiplayer Online Game). They are all in their building at the same time. I would describe this a complex system and the observance of the emergent phenomenon has been eye-opening.
As the students are in total control of this Minecraft world which they are creating, the project has become very student-driven. This has had the unusual effect of driving the content we are teaching to a much deeper place. Our initial aim was to cover some science-based curriculum teaching about our solar system but the demands bought about by the conflicts and collaborations naturally forming up within the group of 140 new citizens have taken the “science learning” to a far different and more relevant place.”
For example, the children demanded that districts were forms in order to maintain some sense of organization on the new planet. This was never planned for or expected. Those districts have taken responsibility for the tasks that they see as important to survive on this planet eg the technology district has seen the need to create energy to power the planet. This has lead to confrontation as some students wanted to develop nuclear energy while others wanted to go down the wind farm, green energy route. To overcome this confrontation both sides have done extensive scientific research into their relevant areas. This research has led to some students changing their minds, others sticking to their guns but solutions have been achieved. The teachers involved were suddenly required to assist in new scientific study far beyond what they had originally predicted – we are now assisting in the learning about desalination plants, the use of methane as a source of energy, how is nuclear energy actually created, and so on.
For this style of learning and teaching to be successful it requires teachers that are very adaptive, open to new learning, operating as facilitators, and able to drop their own egos and needs for power. In an ideal world, all teachers would have these fundamental skills.
There are literally hundreds of other examples of emergent phenomenon being driven by the group which I will report on over the next few weeks.
Now lets talk about one of the other points I mentioned earlier and have blogged about previously – feedback. All of the student’s research and work has been reported in a wiki space. I find this to be an extremely effective feedback mechanism for our COMPLEX SYSTEM. Every child can see every other child’s work and ideas, they can take ideas from others they can input into other students pages, they can survey the citizens when needed, they can communicate effectively – they provide powerful feedback to each other and the network drives itself to deeper learning.
I cannot express how exciting this project is for staff, students and parents because of the emergent phenomenon we are observing which has the effect of driving the network or system (or student body and teachers) to a very interesting and exciting place. The evidence of deep and personalised learning is overwhelming. Have a look for yourself. AURORA 5/6Z WIKI