The 3 Hour Challenge
As I explained in Part 1 of this blog, I strongly believe that the potential of Minecraft in Education is immense. From coding to collaboration, Maths to Myths; Minecraft can be used to explore them all. There are however barriers to its potential being fully realised:
- Teachers are not necessarily Minecrafters
- Immersive content takes time and skill
There are tools out there to aid the build process and speed things up. Many of these tools can be found on Adam Clarke’s (@TheCommonPeople) “101 Ideas For Minecraft Learners” series on his YouTube channel. I set myself the challenge of seeing whether or not I could create something multi purpose that could be used in several different Literacy lessons to explore various different features of writing.
The first thing I needed was a set of schematics for the buildings I wanted to add to the world. Schematics are the blueprints for Minecraft creations that someone else has built and shared online. I visited http://www.minecraft-schematics.com/ to browse the thousands of schematic files on there and managed to locate a handful of files that I wanted to experiment with ranging from small huts to large castles.
Problem one: It took me nearly thirty minutes of searching to locate the files I thought might be useful and there is no way to preview the schematic in your world without switching to MCEdit.
Next I needed a blank map with a few more features than a “flat world”. World Painter (http://www.worldpainter.net/) is a fabulous tool which allows a user to terraform a map before exporting it as a usable Minecraft world file. I sculpted a flat area in the middle with a nearby waterway and a range of biomes around the edges to explore and develop.
After opening the world in Minecraft to load the area…
… I closed it and switched to MCEdit (http://www.mcedit.net/) which is a magical piece of software allowing, among a myriad of other functions and features, the insertion of schematic files into a world. Within an hour I was able to insert the files into my map and position them accurately.
Problem Two: MCEdit can be difficult to control. It is an amazing piece of software that has revolutionised the way maps are built in Minecraft. However, a novice teacher looking to start out with Minecraft in the classroom may find it difficult to use.
The results of my experimental challenge were quite pleasing and I’m sure that with practice, I could get the build time down even further. I still need to add details such as paved streets and lights which really bring a map to life. I haven’t even touched a lesson plan or objective yet either. There isn’t a single command block or speck of redstone anywhere in the build. However, if I had started from an empty map without the aid of the tools above I might have only been able to lay out some foundations in the time. I certainly wouldn’t have anything like the outcome of this experiment.
My intention was to explore ways of reducing the build time for teachers wanting to create rich, immersive Minecraft experiences for their learners. I gave myself a strict time limit and used about two and a half hours on the experiment in total and by that point the potential and limitations of the tools I explored were clear:
- Schematics offer great potential for teachers to draw upon the skills of others however are rarely built with education in mind. There are thousands of them available which is both a blessing and a curse. It may be costly to commission a build to create bespoke schematics.
- MCEdit, and the ability to manipulate large numbers of blocks in a world, offers massive potential for creating custom content for a specific learning environment. The controls and interface are difficult to master and potentially a deterrent to novice Minecraft teachers.
- The potential of complex command block programs or even simple redstone mechanisms is immense with a whole world of options to truly bring the learning to life. Within the 3 hour challenge, I didn’t even touch on tools such as http://mcstacker.bimbimma.com/ which offers the simplification of command block programming. Even using this tool however I would have struggled to create very much, compared to what is possible.
Feed It Forward
So to the crunch. I am issuing an open challenge to both the Education and Minecraft communities. Try the 3 Hour Challenge for yourself. What can you achieve? Share your tips and barriers in the comments below or on Twitter (either direct to me @SimBadd64 or using the #MC3HourChallenge). Suggest a feature that you wish you had at your disposal to make building lesson content easier. Share a schematic you have built that might help a teacher out for free. Paste a command block code for a specific function that could add to the learning. Link to a YouTube tutorial you found useful.
I will attempt to collate the results, tips, barriers and suggestions into regular updates over the next few weeks and post them on this blog. In keeping with the sharing ethos of both the Education and Minecraft Communities, any resources you share must be freely available.
So go on… take the #MC3HourChallenge and let’s push the boundaries together..