Humans are social creatures; thriving when we form groups, networks and social structures. We are often an active part of hundreds of different community networks including family, work and interest groups. How we connect with and interact with those communities contributes to how successfully we operate both as an individual and a collective. A community can be an incredibly powerful organism of connected individuals that add up to far more than the sum of their parts. The Minecraft community is one such group (albeit one larger than many nations on Earth).
Part of the success of Minecraft is that it doesn’t come with a user guide! Most people pick up the basics of moving, mining, building and crafting pretty quickly but that will only get you so far. I absolutely guarantee you, that nobody created their first Nether Portal through individual experimentation. So they must have reached out to the community in some way, choose whether that be a friend, family member, work colleague, Google search or YouTuber. Every query, search result, image and YouTube video has a community member behind it. Someone that has already made the journey you are embarking on and has trodden the ground and left a path. Every idea, step, failure and achievement made and shared, strengthens that path and shifts it from a trail to a super highway over time. The community knowledge is greater for it. As is the way of every community across the globe.
My Minecraft Community
My community of connections within the broader Minecraft community are personal to my perspective and my journey just as yours will be to you. When I set out to write this blog, I promised myself I wouldn’t name anyone for fear of missing someone off the list but suffice to say there are some incredibly selfless, generous, helpful, knowledgeable, creative, funny and all round fabulous people out there that have supported me over the years. My thanks go out to each and every one of them and, yes, I even mean you at the back there! But that isn’t the point of this blog at all.
When I started out with Minecraft in my classroom, I was both daunted and excited. I used Twitter as my primary community connection tool (although I consequently discovered other routes, this remains my primary tool) so I followed Minecrafters widely and not just Teachers and Educators. I followed YouTubers, Map Builders, Coders, Command Block experts, MCEdit Filter Writers, Digital Artists and Consultants, as well as amazing chalk face Teachers doing incredible things with Minecraft in their own classrooms. Whenever I was stumped or needed help, I Tweeted. Without exception, my cries for help were answered quickly and my skills grew. When I felt confident enough to start sharing my experiences, I did, and people reached out to me for help. I tried to either advise or refer them on to someone that could, as quickly as possible.
With “The Baddlands” came my first ever publically shared Minecraft in Education resource (download it from education.minecraft.net). Until now, I never felt confident enough to share either my builds or my lesson plans with the community. Sure, I shared ideas and solutions and I took part in many Skype support sessions with other developing practitioners but I never felt confident enough in my own skills to share until now. Having put something out there, albeit as basic as it was, I have to say I wish I had done it years ago! I spoke at several conferences, conventions and teach meets (and even on BBC Breakfast) about what I was doing, before I felt confident enough to share the resources. With the launch of the new “Classroom” additions to Minecraft: Education Edition in September, and the additional community support and collaboration tools it will bring, there has never been a better or easier time or way to share your resources. So why not take a chance and put something out there?
A Brave New World
As Minecraft: Education Edition becomes more established and grows its user base, so too the wider community will grow. The diversity of experience and skill this will bring is something that I personally am very excited about. I am very much looking forward to growing along with an entirely new generation of Minecraft Teachers and Educators and collaborating in ways that have yet to be explored and using platforms, tools, ideas and approaches that have yet to be invented. So consider yourself a trail blazer, an innovator and an explorer and connect as widely as you can to forge this brave new world into a thriving, living, breathing community of growth.
Now you will come across things that frustrate you. I have many times, in my Minecraft in Education journey. Sometimes this is due to a knowledge gap and my community are amazing at plugging these. Sometimes they are due to a narrowing of vision; I have got myself so far into a mine of discovery that I have reached a dead end and have lost sight of the many other mineshafts of approaches I could have taken to achieve my ends. Now occasionally, I exhaust all avenues and still find myself frustrated by either a missing feature or tool. If I’ve learned anything from the team at Microsoft, it is that they are absolutely open to any suggestions, feedback and ideas that the Education Community have to offer. They are not always feasible but they are always listened to. So feel free to Tweet @PlayCraftLearn or submit via the user voice at http://education.minecraft.net/support/
Top 5 Tips for Creating Your Own Minecraft Community
Reach Out: The world of Minecraft in Education can be daunting and outside your comfort zone (trust me when I say it will NOT be outside your learners’ comfort zone). There is a wealth of experience out there just ready, willing and keen to be shared. The Minecraft Mentor programme is a great place to start your search but please don’t be put off by the experience of the Mentors. No question is too small, too big or too complicated and there is no such thing as a “stupid question”. One thing I will urge you to keep in mind however is that the Minecraft Mentors are volunteer Teachers and Educators, that are giving their time freely without re-numeration, in order to support the future development of the community and its educational impact. Be nice and please be patient, they are often fitting your queries in and amongst full time jobs as teachers!
Share Your Journey: Don’t be afraid to Tweet, Blog or share your journey in any way you find natural or comfortable. Please don’t be intimidated by the things you see others doing. Your journey is personal to you and your learners and is absolutely worth sharing, the negatives and positives. You will often find others doing similar things that will connect, collaborate and suggest additions or improvements you hadn’t thought of. Tweet a picture (use the hashtag #MinecraftEdu to connect with other likeminded Teachers and Educators) to start with and see what the response is. It may just surprise you!
Share Your Discoveries: If you see something that grabs your interest, share it with your own community. If you’ve been offered advice, had a solution to a problem suggested or used a great resource then share it with your community. You will not only be helping others grow but be growing your own learning. Teaching others is a skill that both consolidates and solidifies learning in any learner.
Follow Widely: Your Personal Learning Network may consist solely of Teachers & Educators, at the minute, who are sharing the latest and most innovative practise within your field. Don’t be afraid to ask the most basic question, everyone has to start somewhere. Be prepared to expand this network and integrate into a whole new community of people. Some you may regard as “the elite”, some you may regard as “the watchers”. Never, be afraid to ask the simplest of questions because someone somewhere will be happy to help and they may be a step further than you. The broader Minecraft community, is as diverse as it is vibrant and amazing things are done outside the field of education that can be easily adapted and integrated into your own practise. You may even have the best source of information and inspiration sitting in your classroom every day. Open your mind, diversify your knowledge, consumption of input and great things will happen.
Take Time To Play: This cannot be understated. I make a point of sitting with my son every night to watch his favourite Minecraft YouTubers and to play multiplayer with him at least twice a week. This connection with what captures the imaginations of our young people keeps me constantly “on my toes” in terms of what I incorporate into my classroom learning. How I like to play, differs from how my son likes to play Minecraft and this diversifies both our experiences and skills. He remains my “go to” expert in my community when it comes to Red Stone. The connection with “play” is something that we often lose as adults due to time constraints but something which very much governs how our young people learn. If we have lost the ability to play, how can we connect with the ability to learn?
The Bottom Line
Your Minecraft Community will become a vibrant and stimulating personal web of support and encouragement if you engage with it. The relationships you create and nurture will reward you many times over, as they will in any other community. And never be put off by the experiences of others or be afraid of your own voice. I stand by the mantra; “Never judge your own Day One by someone else’s Day One Thousand”. Share widely, engage often and nurture your own Minecraft Community so that every day of your development matters.