@iLearningUk and @thecommonpeople on why  Minecraft is a good educational tool.

So this is how it goes. I contacted Adam to see if he was interested in conducting a short interview via twitter to discuss how he has used Minecraft as an educational tool. I first came in to contact with Adam when I was looking for resources on YouTube to help me to go beyond the basics of Minecraft. I found his series called “Everyday Minecraft” which started out as a recording of how to survive your first night in a vanilla Minecraft survival game. His style of narrative and engagement with the game was instantly appealing. He creates funny moments and responds to his followers who are able to leave comments and suggestions that he then goes on to act upon in game.

In later episodes, he is joined by his son, Django (very cool name) and we suddenly get the perspective of a (6?) year old on the game and see it through their eyes. It is absolutely captivating and I have watched nearly 40 episodes so far. His original plan was was to do 50 days, recording an episode every day to create this video diary of Minecraft from scratch. His journey ended up in a mission to Mars and I am looking forward to following that up when I reach episode 50.

Adam has travelled the UK talking about Minecraft and how it has been used to teach. He has been involved in projects to bring Minecraft to Museums and is currently talking about recreating National Trust monuments as a project

My post-interview thoughts

Q1.  Thinking about Minecraft, what was the impetus and rationale behind using MC to teach with?

Minecraft is a sandbox experience which makes it ideal for creativity, exploration, ideas and concepts. As it doesn’t restrict you from the normal ‘rules’ of a game people in Minecraft can build and do pretty much what they want. In an interesting episode of Minecraft Minechat (episode 25) Andre Chercka discusses how he has set up a server for working with autistic children and in it he shows us houses with roofs built of watermelons (8:34). The idea that you can build a roof on a house made of watermelons is just incredible. You couldn’t do that with Lego. There isn’t a watermelon brick in Lego. But in Minecraft, you could build that roof with any of the 153+ blocks available to you. You are only limited by your imagination. 

So the sandbox approach that Minecraft allows is a creative, open-ended platform for learning that means crafters can experiment, explore, try things out in a safe, controlled way. It also allows them to cooperate, collaborate, communicate as well as teaching them secondary IT skills as they get more involved.

At some point, all crafters want to record their world and their activity in that world. So very quickly, they find out about screen casting, publishing to and setting up a YouTube channel, streaming their videos via twitch. These are all skills that will be useful in many online, digital environments so are transferable skills. In 2011, 53% of persons employed in the EU used a computer at work. Panorama, E.U.S., (2012). With this level of computer use only increasing in the workplace, the ability to be comfortable finding digital solutions to problems becomes more important.

Q2. What has teaching with MC achieved so far in terms of student learning?

Minecraft has been used to teach everything from Maths to History to Quantum Physics and computer programming. Minecraft has a healthy modding community (modding is the process of developing extra programmes or ‘modules’ that change the original game). There are several mods that allow you to further engage learners with a specific topic and many different communities using them. The mods often encourage collaboration and exploration through their games. In this way, learners are actively encouraged to find common themes and solutions to solve problems (Problem Based Learning – PBL). This approach can also integrate well with flipped learning as the two different pedagogies compliment each other.

The Minecraft community is largely self sufficient, providing updates to wikis, links to tutorials on youTube and walkthroughs on particular problems on Twitch. All of these resources allow the learner to progress their own learning in a self-structured way. Criticisms of this approach are that without the facilitators to guide the learning process, learners do not always lear what then need to. Without a facilitator in place, Minecraft sessions can quickly disrupt in to griefing sessions, or just personal build projects with little or no direction or apparent purpose.

I usually show this video to explain how minecraft could be used in education http://youtu.be/RI0BN5AWOe8
Read more at http://www.ilearninguk.com/archives/174#DPT6erxok3LU2BMc.99

Q3. What impact have you seen on staff where you have delivered MC in schools?

Adam talks about moving away from more traditional forms of teaching in to a more playful approach. I like the idea of this and support making learning enjoyable at any age. Getting engagement with the learning is all about making a connection with the learner. We do this with great presentations, with humour, with our personalities, but we can also use technology that they understand and enjoy to deliver our messages. The properties of gamification as defined by González, C., & Area, M. (2010)  fits with Minecraft as a learning tool and therefore we can consider it suitable for gamification of learning.

The change in one’s own pedagogic practice can indeed be a daunting prospect as Adam noted, as there is scope for failure and issues with employing new technology that has yet to be proven in a classroom environment. However, once initial fears are overcome through the support and facilitation of a good TEL advisor and with the continuing support of other teachers using minecraft such as the Google group for teachers there is lots of opportunity and scope to try out new ideas and to get creative with the teaching.

Minecraft use in Higher Education learning is largely unexplored at this point in time with few studies or research being conducted in this area. My own research is in the use and design of learning spaces in the virtual world and whether one can or indeed should look to replicate real world learning spaces in the virtual ones. I certainly will be looking to explore the use of Minecraft in Higher Education as a learning tool.

Q4. How do you know it has had this impact? What evaluation strategies and methods have been used?

Minecraft seems to have been a catalyst for many teachers who are finding new and exciting ways to use it in an educational way. Adam reports that he gets feedback from teachers who have initiated new projects based around Minecraft and the excitement that has generated.

He also reports that the University of Lancaster are working on a Minecraft Democracy project and that this will be measured through questionnaires and post project interviews. It is hoped that this will demonstrate links between the skills and how Minecraft can be used to engage and develop new concepts in teaching.

It is always hard to establish a cause and effect relationship between a learning intervention and a resulting positive, measurable impact. There is no doubt that utilising Minecraft can and does stimulate discussion, creativity and experimentation, but at present there is little science behind the results. We have studies of gamification of learning and measurable impacts against control groups, but perhaps the very sandbox nature of Minecraft makes it harder to control and therefore harder to measure? Does Minecraft need to be measured or is there a role for it to play in allowing students to be in control of their own learning? What ever the answer may be to this question, Minecraft surely has made an impact educationally.

González, C., & Area, M. (2010). Breaking the Rules: Gamification of Learning and Educational Materials. In Proceedings of the 2nd International Workshop on Interaction Design in Educational Environments (pp. 47–53). SciTePress – Science and and Technology Publications. doi:10.5220/0004600900470053

Panorama, E. U. S. (2012). Digital Competence Analytical Highlight. Retrieved from http://euskillspanorama.cedefop.europa.eu/docs/AnalyticalHighlights/DigitalCompetence_en.pdf

 

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