Is Minecraft the Ultimate Educational Tool? - Idea Channel
If you’ve watched past episodes of Idea Channel, you know we’re huge fans of Minecraft. This totally amazing video game allows you to build your own world from scratch, what’s not to like?!?! But it may be good for more than just fun and games. Some experts have brought Minecraft into the classroom, allowing teachers to customize lessons and students to engage with concepts in new ways. And while educational games aren’t new, Minecraft has some unique advantages that could usher in a new direction in education. In the future, students across the world may spend their class time punching trees.
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Is Minecraft the Ultimate Educational Tool? [transcript]
Here’s an idea: Minecraft is the ultimate educational tool.
You guys remember Minecraft! We made this other video about it that one time where we talk about how it is basically gonna safe us all. But in case you need a refresher: Minecraft is a computer game that can best be described as first person Lego’s, with a dash of husbandry, a heaping helping of architecture and a pinch of Slay the Dragon. In ‘survival mode’ you have to gather resources and materials and fight the bad guys - some of whom are very sneaky [makes a hissing sound]. In ‘creative mode’ you get to - ready for Nicolas Cage - go nuts. The pixelous [sic] sky is the limit: you can build whatever you want and then start a multiplayer game and invite all your friends, you can import and export 3D-models to make structures, even share your creations with your co-workers and palls… or your students towards the end of teaching them the finer bits of computer science, art history, engineering, civics, math, world history and maybe most things. [shouts: “say what?!”]
Now before we get to talking about Minecraft specifically, lets talk about computer and video games in general as educational tools. There is a long history of using pixels to teach kids about stuff. For about as long as there have been affordable computers there have been educational games to put on them. LOGO taught you how to program that turtle and Lemonade Stand taught you how to build your lemonade empire. Oregon Trail taught you: always ford the river. [whispers: “never ford the river”] Mavis Beacon , Reader Rabbit , Big Brain Academy… the list goes on.
They’re all great games, but they all share a common problematic shortcoming. What is you don’t want to teach typing or reading? Sure, you can use Virtual U to teach management or Zapitalism to teach economics or Roller Coaster Tycoon to teach roller coastering. But these games can’t be specialized or made immersive. They lack even the basic technology for fluidity or improvisation. Two things which are paramount in teaching. What if you want the game to be different every year? Or every class? Or collaborative? Or portable? Or what if you’re a grade school teacher and you teach ten subjects, each of many units and ideas to cover. If only there were a way to build a fully customizable network environment that was both fun and inexpensive?
Aside from being an exceptionally effective way to avoid doing you homework, as it turns out Minecraft is also an exceptionally effective teaching tool. [Remarks: “Sorry if I just totally ruined Minecraft for you.”] Pobability: build a Random Animal Dropper. Physics: measure the time it takes a block to fall and then talk about gravity. You can build Minecraft versions of famous bits of architecture or sets for Shakespearean plays. You can place works of art inside of a Minecraft gallery or use Minecraft’s mathematically ideal blocks to talk about volume and area. Teach a foreign language with in-game signs or tell kids they can only communicate with each other on a collaborative task in - I don’t know - Latvian. The possibilities of what you can get into and out of the game - which you thought was just for punching trees - are endless.
And kids respond because it’s a creative, collaborative, entertaining environment where they are in control of their own challenges - which can be… many. There’s something like a thousand Minecraft mods for all kinds of things. Like Computercraft is a mod which lets people write Lua programs inside Minecraft. There is even - are you ready? - an official Mojang licensed version of Minecraft for education called Minecraft Edu. Spearheaded by Joel Levin, a Minecraft teacher, Minecraft Edu is to Minecraft what the teacher edition is to your history textbook, except cooler. With 20 installs over a 1000 schools across 6 continents the number of students currently learning with Minecraft Edu alone is at least 20 000.
Now, am I saying that we’re gonna see Minecraft or even video games in general in every classroom? Probably unlikely. Setting up this kind of thing requires a certain investment in technology, time on the part of the teachers and a certain technical proficiency which… I mean we all know the chance a piece of technology will fail is directly proportional to the number of people watching it in operation. But should we hope to, eventually? I say: absolutely. Studies have confidently stated things like: data analysis shows that classes using the game had significantly higher means than class not using the game. Source in the description [source]. And the number of teachers documenting their overwhelmingly positive experiences using Minecraft in the classroom is huge. Another source in the description [source].
So the question might not be whether or not we use games in schools, but rather how far do we go? Game-designer and advocate Jane McGonigal thinks that we should go all the way. In her book Reality is Broken, she describes a school which does not use game, but is a game. She writes: “(…) every course, very activity, every assignment, every moment of instruction and assessment would be designed by borrowing key mechanics and participation strategies form the most engaging multiplayer games” [source]. Admittedly, we’re probably pretty far from that point, but as video games continue their search for legitimacy as forms of entertainment, art works, containers for narrative and now educational tools … Minecraft’s use in the classroom is a pretty important step. A hugely popular game for entertainment used by a small but growing number of teachers to show that game based learning is in fact worth its weight in obsidian. And who knows, maybe someday there will be a Minecraft University.
What do you guys think: are video games the future of learning? Let us know in the comments and you should mine this block to subscribe. Go ahead, mine it up! Get your mine up!