It’s ok to freeze. Really? #Minecraft
Over the last couple of days I have had the opportunity to spend time with educators talking about Minecraft. This has been a wonderful experience and consequently has led to some thinking and reworking perspectives.
One of the things I get asked when any discussion occurs around Minecraft is do you use MinecraftEDU. And the short answer is no. I have dabbled with the pre-created server but the learning that I have engaged with students, in the space of Minecraft, has used a ‘fit for purpose’ bukkit server. The server development has been supported by Jo Kay and has been part of the student learning (along with mine). It is with this lens that I come to the use of Minecraft in the learning process, it needs to be fit for the purpose. Every aspect of the design needs to fit with the intended learning along with the ‘hidden’ curricular. This means the server needs to fit the purpose, all plugins used need to be well thought out – what is the reason for them being incorporated into the server experience?
It is with this in mind that I encourage careful consideration with regard to a range of issues when looking at using Minecraft. These include:
- what is the culture connected to the game – what expectations are strongly held onto by the student that they bring with them to the class?
- what is the connection between avatar and self?
- what interactions and expectations need to be consistent in game and external to the game?
- what experience in game is needed and expected?
These questions play into what plugins and expectations need to exist on a server. As you can see there is more to think about than just playing the game in school and it fitting with direct curriculum outcomes like learning about ratios or exploring historical concepts. Minecraft presents a virtual learning environment for learning within, it is a place to be while learning the stated upfront goals.
Yes, it is easy to take a pre made server and run a lesson on it, however, it is a different concept to broaden this out to support learning on a deeper level within the game. Using a pre-created server could be likened to choosing to use a text book that has been designed to support a large audience/client base. Is that good teaching practice?
It is this question (is it good teaching practice) that I believe is important to explore when using Minecraft, closely linked with the above four questions. When teaching we are supporting the whole child with their learning, not just the acquisition of a single concept, which is why the above questions are important for consideration when jumping into using Minecraft in the classroom. We need to understand the Big G of games as described by James Paul Gee (with particular focus on Minecraft if it is the game of choice). I reflected on Gee’s session here. Listening to students to get a sense of what their avatar means to them is important to do. There is research around the area of connection and representation of self and avatar, it is worth doing some reading to get an understanding of this. Identity is important to explore here. Think about how you represent yourself on social media websites, in games or other spaces on the internet.
I realised I titled this post with ‘It’s ok to freeze. Really?’ and this is where one needs to consider actions in game and in the face two face place of the classroom. Is it ok to freeze students in game? Is it ok to teleport students to you in game without them being able to choose to act? To this I ask the question would you do this in the physical world? Would you physically turn a student around, drag them over to you? For me the answer is pretty clear. Think about the subtle message it delivers as well as the obvious. Also what does this do to learning? What does this do to the flow state with regard to game play? And finally all these feed into what experience in game is needed and expected – does a pre-create server do this well?
I gather I may not have provided any real answers, but hope I have started the thinking process. When we first start dabbling with using a game like Minecraft it is easy to use something ‘safe’ and ‘easy’, after all the learning curve is pretty huge and starting small is good. However, after a little while ‘safe’ and ‘easy’ might not suit. Questioning everything we do as an educator is important and there is a lot to be learnt in this area regarding games in the the classroom. Merely scratching the surface it looks simple and a great way to engage students, but after a while more broad questions start to appear and complexities start to arise. Minecraft is a powerful learning tool. If you are using it, are you using it to its potential? What is it’s potential? Is it providing a place to be as part of the learning, or is it just a task based tool? The approach taken to this last question will determine the server you run.