Minecraft in Education is on the cusp a new era. A new dawn of integration into classrooms and learning environments across the globe and we eagerly await the launch of the full, licensed product that schools will stump up valuable cash for. The marketing has been done, the conferences have been spoken at and the webinars delivered. You’ve experienced the “wow”, so what about the “How”? While for many will mean “How do I get started?” or even “How do I do X?”, for me it has led me to ask…
…”How would I do Minecraft Education Edition?”. With a blank canvas to work on and a bottomless pit of resources, what would my Minecraft Education Edition look like? For me there are 7 C’s that are at the very core of my vision of Minecraft in Education. Read on and let’s reignite this discussion of growth and development starting, as every learning experience should, with the curriculum.
There are some incredible examples out there of learning explored within a Minecraft environment that the community and early innovators have developed and nurtured over the years. There are new and exciting projects being completed every day. But are the resources shared? Not as widely or as completely as you might think. In the frantic life of a classroom educator, sharing and uploading resources for others to use is pretty far down the list of priorities regardless of the good intentions of the individual. The priority must always be towards the teachers own students. My Minecraft Education Edition would ease this burden by providing a starter pack of world resources that an educator could pick up and teach across the curriculum with. They would be designed by experienced educators and built by experienced builders. They would form a core of expandable resources from which an educator could anchor and then develop their curriculum. The resources would be underpinned by solid curriculum outcomes but be open enough to be easily adaptable or expandable by an educator to suit their own intended outcomes. I would have a team of educators on hand to listen to the requests of the community and either offer advice or develop the resource to be added to the bank for the benefit of all. Solid, subject specific, curriculum based resources, built and developed by and for educators would be at the absolute cornerstone of my Minecraft Education Edition. This wouldn’t dictate how an educator used them but would provide a solid foundation on which they could build and develop their own resources.
Creating in game learning environments takes time. A lot of time. The wider Minecraft community have agreed with this for many years and many gifted coders and content creators have developed tools, skills and knowledge that streamline the process. You want a dome on top of your tower? There’s a tool for that. You need an armada of ships approaching your port? There’s another tool for that. You’ve spent an hour creating a build area for one learner and now need 29 more exactly the same? There’s a tool for that! In my Minecraft classroom I’d be able to draw from these tools freely. They’d use a common interface that made simple sense because I’d worked with the tool’s creators to develop one. I’d be able to take a building from one world and drop it into the landscape from another. My ability to create immersive learning environments wouldn’t be hindered by my ability to create in Minecraft! The wider Minecraft community struggled with this problem years ago and solved it in many creative ways. They coded solutions and tools that made their building easier and more efficient (not to mention more impressive). In my Minecraft Education Edition, I’d have a creation package of tools that drew from the very best that the community had to offer but that operated in a simple and easy to understand way so that even the most novice Minecraft Educators could pick them up and create.
Within Office365 I can share documents and files with whomever I choose. I can give them a copy of the file or I can give them editing permissions so we can collaborate on the same document in real time. We can chat at the side of the document or even jump into a Skype call to discuss what the other is doing. I can set up a class OneNote document with a few clicks of an email list and I then have full access to what my students are doing, how they are progressing and what feedback and guidance they need. I call this “teaching” for ease of reference and it works pretty well across all sorts of mediums.
Within Minecraft I would have very similar collaboration tools. I would have a simple collaboration option so I could invite another educator to collaborate on a build with me from wherever they may be and whatever their email domain may end with. Likewise, I would have a simple user name list of learners I wanted to access a particular world. I would be able to add any user from across the globe with the simple input of a username, email address or even domain ending (for example: firstname.lastname@example.org). In my Minecraft Education Edition, I would be able to collaborate with hundreds of others at once across any area of the globe and on any platform they happened to be working on and it would all be done with a simple username/email address click.
I have blogged before about community and the power of collective working. Suffice to say that this is one of the most important and valuable resources available to a Minecraft Educator. The wider Minecraft community is a vast, vibrant and varied organic being. It moves, shifts, innovates, shares and collaborates and produces something that is far more than the sum of its parts. There are many ways that this community interacts, from private teams working on secret projects, to public forums sharing knowledge and support widely. For a community to be successful however it needs a degree of organisation but it must be self-governing as to what this organisation looks like. Some prefer to post in open message boards while others prefer to connect with individuals directly on Social Media. My community would draw from all of these but would be centrally collated for ease of access. Support is a huge factor and I would have experienced educators on hand to help out, advise and collaborate at short notice. Nothing new here and the community has been doing this in abundance for years. I would add in regular events (both physical local geographical and large scale virtual) to connect educators often and encourage the growth and sharing of skills and ideas widely. There would be a Minecraft space running around the clock where educators could connect and try out new things together, seek advice and support each other. Above all my community would be freely accessible and open to all.
This falls into several categories within Minecraft: digital, real life, virtual, and information.
The digital, in game chat has a very limited place in my classroom. It can be used very effectively with students that find social communication difficult but for the vast majority of learners, it is an unnecessary distraction that keeps them from the intended learning. Very few students in my classroom have ever typed anything into chat that was more constructive than saying the same thing in real life and often typed things that were more destructive. The real life communications we have face to face in a classroom are far more powerful than any other. I’d have the ability to turn off chat for all users in my classroom.
The virtual communication offered by mediums such as Skype or Beam are much more powerful in a constructive way. They break down the barriers of classroom walls or geography and connect us globally in an instant. In my Minecraft classroom I’d be able to quickly launch a group Skype session or Beam my session to a list of users I had been working with. I’d also be able to communicate collaboratively via documents using the same user list I had in my Minecraft space. So in effect my class Outlook group would also be my user group in Minecraft and in OneNote or in any other medium I choose to communicate with them.
The communication of information is an absolute minefield in Minecraft. Signs are ignored by the vast majority of recreational players consuming adventure maps for fun. Present a learner with 3 lines of text on a sign and they will ignore it unless I build in a purpose to the reading; add a chalk board with many lines of extended text and it may as well be written in hieroglyphics for many learners. Deliver the text via a character in the game and it may be clicked on but will it be read and understood? In my Minecraft classroom I would be able to deliver information in a variety of ways. I’d have sound files play when a learner enters an area, I’d have on screen text displayed that matched the sound file and I’d have a OneNote (for example) document launch with the relevant text added to it. I’d have chalkboards displaying a whole PowerPoint slide or YouTube clip. I’d have NPC’s talking to learners and giving them things they need for the next learning phase. I’d be able to communicate information using the myriad mediums we use in our non-Minecraft lessons but within the Minecraft environment.
While developing 21st Century Digital Citizenship skills is all well and good it has limited space in my 1 hour session on Shakespeare. If little Johnny is mining the depths of a chasm in search of diamonds for his sword to enable him to attack Jennifer, I want to be able to stop him in his tracks and bring him back onto the learning track. Now sure enough, it could prompt a detailed discussion about the rights and wrongs of what makes a contributory, as opposed to a destructive citizen and the group would learn and grow as a result. But (and it is a big “but”), that is not the intended learning of my session. I need to deliver a learning outcome within the session time constraints and therefore I need to have control of the environment to ensure these can be delivered. I’d be able to stop Johnny in his tracks, take his diamonds from him and move him back to the learning area so that he could get on with learning about Shakespeare. Over time I may use these controls less and less and I may even completely ignore them eventually as my experience and confidence within the Minecraft learning environment grows, but from the outset I want omnipotent control over every aspect of the environment and what happens within it.
Now this is the one area that I am least experienced to speak about. I’m an English teacher after all. I see command block experts make the environment behave in ways I could only imagine. I see coders create tools that boggle the mind in their creativity. Even from my limited experience point I see the potential for using Minecraft to teach and develop coding skills. It is clear however that whatever shape my coding took, the effects of the code must be demonstrated in the Minecraft environment. I’d draw from the best that the modding, command blocking and Raspberry Pi Minecraft communities have to offer and work with them to create a unique, in game, coding experience.
There you have it. My 7 C’s of Minecraft and my blue sky thinking on how I’d do it. I have been deliberately ambiguous and contentious in some places in order to promote discussion and reignite the passion for innovation that so vibrantly lit the community in the early days. How would you do it? What have I missed? What have I got completely wrong? I’d love to know your thoughts so as always your comments and replies would be gratefully appreciated. Let’s reignite this discussion of growth and shape the future of Minecraft in Education together from the chalk face!