It’s ok to freeze. Really? #Minecraft

Screenshot 2015-08-19 09.29.37Over 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.

15 Comments

  1. Really cool post! It’s true that Minecraft is no longer seen as a simple game…it’s now an educational tool which kids will learn lots of stuff and extend their creative ability.

  2. Minecraft is really cool…thanks for the post! I wish that my school adds Minecraft to the education program. It’s more fun when you DO something rather than listening and learning by heart after that.

  3. Matt Coia says:

    I don’t understand what you mean by “pre-created” server. Do you mean using a specific map that someone else created vs a randomly generated world that you could then tailor to your particular needs?

    • dbatty1 says:

      Thanks for your question. A “pre-created” server is one that has been pre built by someone else, for example MinecraftEDU. It comes with pre decided plugins. A server that is specifically designed for the purpose of a group has been created from the ground up and the users decide on the plugins as they go. If students are part of this process they are learning lots about conflicts between plugins and also are making decisions around the impact of a plugin used – as a result may choose not to incorporate it as it may not fit with the culture/charter of the community. A pre-created server removes this decision making at the entry point stage.

      • Matt Coia says:

        Ok. I find that a strange statement then. Maybe I’m misunderstanding, but it goes against much of my personal experience.

        I have been using MinecraftEDU since 2011 and have never had any trouble adding or subtracting functionality through Forge based mods, as was deemed appropriate for the students being served and the goals of the lessons being taught. If the lesson was about how to setup a Minecraft server, that could certainly have been done as the file systems are very similar, if not identical.

        Even if I wanted the students to use a vanilla world with vanilla rules, it was never a problem because all the additional tools built in are totally up to the teacher to use or not use. From a student perspective, the experience could be just as free-spirited as using a vanilla install (or Bukkit, as you are using). Just because a teacher has tools to assist in building maps and managing students, they don’t have to use them unless they feel they are needed. Personally, I don’t find the freeze feature any different than pausing a video to explain/extend a concept or saying ‘put your pencils down for a moment’. As I’m sure you know, Minecraft is slightly more engrossing than the average textbook or worksheet, which means that sometimes a student may not respond to simple verbal cues as quickly as they normally would.

        The best part about using EDU though, was that I never had to worry about trying to get around my IT department’s strict firewall rules. Everything stayed within our network. It just made everything easier.

      • dbatty1 says:

        Thanks for responding. Many don’t go beyond what is supplied re a pre-created server. I love the fact that you do.

      • Matt Coia says:

        The point I’d like you to take to heart is that there was never anything “pre-created” about it. Out of the box, without any teacher input, the world/server students would be placed in would be a plain Jane vanilla random world, with all the same attributes of a vanilla world. No different than the version of Minecraft you use.

      • dbatty1 says:

        I’m not sure I follow.

      • Matt Coia says:

        Maybe you are thinking that pre-created content and curriculum is automatically provided by MinecraftEDU? That’s not the case at all. Teachers need to design the worlds themselves or start with a world that another teacher made and adapt it to their needs. If the teacher wants students to be able to access their server from home, that is also an option. MinecraftEDU even offers a server hosting service that would work great for that exact situation.

      • dbatty1 says:

        I am not thinking that pre-created content is provided by MinecraftEDU. And I am aware that they provide hosting. I think we are coming from two very different perspectives with regard to learning. My focus is student centred and student driven, with students being the co-creators. By allowing students to create a server with scaffolded support, that considers the needs of the students from not only a curriculum perspective but also building community and culture of the server, is a different concept to bringing in a pre-created server such as MinecraftEDU. There is nothing wrong with MinecraftEDU, it does however, set up the teacher as the owner of the server. As you have stated “Teachers need to…” “another teacher made…” and “if the teacher wants”. A server built from ground up (involving students at all stages of the decision making) is able to be tweaked to suit the class or school setting from the beginning. As a result of this, plugins can be discounted before they make their way to the server. This is done through robust discussion with students around questioning if it supports learning and the culture that is desired on the server. An individually designed server provides opportunity for different learning and outcomes. In my situation it has enable students to really understand the learning process, self reflect more purposely, understand different needs (as we cater for high school and primary students along with students with significant learning needs) and understand outcomes. They have deliberately created a space that is theirs and has a culture that they have designed that supports learning and play. My experience has been based in a high school setting (grade 7-10) and one where the curriculum allowed for this to be explore through using a design based approach within our technology curricular and ICT checklist outcomes.

      • Matt Coia says:

        I see. Your situation is much different than most of the teachers I’ve talked to who use MinecraftEDU in their classrooms. But that said, I don’t see why the same couldn’t be accomplished with MinecraftEDU. All the settings are the same, command line control is there, and there are thousands of Forge mods available to use to add/change functionality. Students could do all of that. Your original post seemed to discount MinecraftEDU as an option and I just want anyone who reads your blog to understand that. I wish you good luck and thanks for the conversation.

      • dbatty1 says:

        It’s all about the learning that one wants to achieve that should drive the choice. I am fairly sure people who read my blog can make their own interpretation and will use the questions that I raise to consider different perspectives. And thanks for the conversation.

      • dbatty1 says:

        I really think it boils down to approach. There is nothing wrong with using a pre-created server offline, it’s about the approach. For me it is about listening to the students and taking opportunity of a tool that allows learning beyond the school timetable and its walls.

  4. dowbiggin says:

    Something I think it’s really important to point out is that the very purpose of using games in the classroom (or other learning space) is that students/learners can do things in a game they can’t do, or perhaps would never try, in the real world. Because it’s a game. They are more willing to take risks and try the “impossible.” By that same token, the teacher is able to do things to help manage that space and work with the students within it. Likening freezing and/or teleporting students in a game to brutal in-person treatment of students face to face is not cool. It is a game. A game. It’s not real. But they get to have amazing experiences because it’s a game. Because it’s not real. They know that when they are frozen, or if someone needs to be teleported (which I’ve really only needed to do at a student’s own request), that it’s NOT. REAL. To pretend otherwise is to insult students’ intelligence and teachers’ professionalism.

    • dbatty1 says:

      Thanks for responding to my blogpost Diane. Obviously my reflection has got you thinking and consequently responding. I have spent considerable time talking through the freeze option with a range of people who are fully immersed in the game space, including Vu Bui (https://twitter.com/vubui) and Jo Kay (mentioned in my post), my students and others who are significant in the games in education space from around the world. It is through these discussions that I am forming my thoughts and the way I operate in my class and consequently raise questions for further thinking. One of the things that I find interesting about bringing Minecraft into my classroom is that it has challenged my perspective as an educator and the notion of control. Flow is a vital part of learning and in games this is an aspect that needs real consideration. Freezing can interrupt this significantly, so thought needs to be given to how one manages students when using games for learning. I am an advocate for using the strategies that one employs in class to manage and support students when using games in class. Providing time frames and creating student awareness of when they need to get into a safe place, rather than freezing, allows them to manage their resources in the game – a really vital skill and empowers them in the thinking process. Resources in the game Minecraft take time and expertise to build up and acquire. If they are lost through no fault of their own there is significant real emotion felt. Game players are invested in their game artifacts and the game, this is an important aspect to remember with regard to strategies employed when using games in the classroom. In the classroom we give students time to organise themselves to listen or interact in discussion or other activities, providing that opportunity when using games in the classroom is no different. Providing time to organise thoughts and property in game before engaging in class discussion is a respectful response to students learning in that space. Bringing games into the classroom is a continual learning experience for the teacher and as a result I have found it useful to look at a range of work by James Paul Gee, Constance Steinkuehler, John Seely Brown and Mimi Ito. I have also found it worthwhile asking my students about what it means for and to them to be in the state of flow in the game and how the classroom impacts on that when the game is incorporated in the classroom.

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