Minecraft in Education: Let’s Talk About Money: Part One

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I Tweeted a few weeks ago that I had written my final blog for this space.  So why is there a new post up here?  I have shifted my efforts into a new project (www.LearningBlocksEdu.co.uk) which is gathering pace rapidly with new resources and ideas being volunteered faster than my limited web design skills can cope with publishing them (any donations of web design skills would be gratefully appreciated).  So why have I made the shift and what does the future hold?  Let’s talk about money!

Money makes the world go round!    However, not once did money come into the discussion when I decided to become a teacher!  I became a teacher because I believe absolutely that the route out of social and economic deprivation for young people lies in education.  I have taught in some of the most deprived areas of the UK for my entire career and have seen first-hand the baggage that some of our young people carry with them.  I teach in a classroom and face learners every day.  They don’t carry a filter to their barriers and baggage in my school!  So, I break down their barriers, build their trust and care enough about them to compensate for when they don’t think anyone in their life does.  As a school we buy them breakfast, we pay for support to help them through the challenges of daily life and we pay for their involvement in opportunities their parents cannot afford among myriad other strategies to ensure their life is not hindered by the opportunity of education.

I teach today in the same school and the same classroom I learned English in 20 years ago as a student and the building hasn’t changed much in that time.  A lick of paint maybe (many years ago) and a data projector added to the front of the room (the image doesn’t fit the interactive board to the point of being unusable).  Our IT facilities perished in a fire last summer and we expect a rebuild to be completed by Christmas (which Christmas is open to some debate).  But I still see us as “the privileged”; maybe not in comparison to other UK schools and the ones I see colleagues teaching in around the world but on a more global scale we are truly privileged.

“EdTechPreneurs”

Some time ago I dabbled with the idea of turning my education skills, knowledge and innovation into a monetizable commodity.  Could I really become an “EdTechPreneur”?  I have good friends that have made a career for themselves outside the classroom by monetizing their skills, selling their resources or charging for their services.  I admire them.  I admire their commitment, their innovations and their sheer guts to go out there and do it.  But I admire many more educators out there that share freely, openly and with no expectation of a return.  This isn’t intended as a judgement on either philosophy.  I am simply relating my decision to my own circumstances.  Every time I see a new EdTech “start-up” consultancy or product I ask myself two key questions: “Can I do this a different way for free?” and “Is this worth more than breakfast to my learners starting the day with nothing?”.  They drive my innovation and ground my expectations in equal measures.

During my dabblings into the field of “EdTechPreneur”, I did some soul searching.  The question “Why am I a teacher?” kept rearing its head.  I just couldn’t justify the charge.  I was once offered payment for a training session I ran but felt so guilty about charging for my help that I never chased the invoice.  At that point I knew that “EdTechPreneur” wasn’t for me.  Every penny I charged for my skills, experience and ideas would be money that had to be diverted from other areas of the school budget.  Education is not a bottomless pit of financial resources and neither is it a commodity to be exploited.  For the learners I work with it is a life line, a future and a key to a life better than the one they have lived so far.

Minecraft in Education

Minecraft is one of the most innovative and revolutionary learning platforms that has entered the classroom for many years.  My classroom has always been a “hackable” space.  What do I want to add to my classroom?  What would my learners benefit from most?  I don’t care what it was designed to do; what CAN it do?  I displayed my laptop screen on a TV before interactive whiteboards and data projectors came along, I strapped a top down webcam to a metre ruler taped to the side of a desk in order to display live student work before Visualisers were even a thing and I used Minecraft in my classroom at a time when video games were being debated as “addictive distractions” from learning not “immersive engagement” tools.  I like to think I played a small part in paving the pathway for Minecraft into mainstream learning environments.

I wasn’t the first but I was always a vocal innovator when it came to Minecraft in Education.  I tried things I thought would work and failed many times (I’ve lost track of the number of lessons that have resulted in Pikachu pixel art when the intended outcome was Viking Poetry).  Every one of those “failed” lessons taught me skills, honed my planning strategies and developed my approach.  I learned from and with others undertaking a similar journey.  Together we collaborated, shared and supported each other.

The Future

I searched my soul again recently.  In the midst of a new direction for Minecraft in Education a new wave of “EdTechPreneurs” has emerged.  Each one with their own take on the “commodity” of education and the “product” of learning.  I don’t sit well in this new wave.  I’ve seen YouTubers ride the popularity of Minecraft as an entertainment medium then struggle when the quick fix ideas have been exhausted and they have to rely on their own creativity.  I’ve seen Minecraft Map Builders become disillusioned by others making money while their genius goes unrewarded.  Most worryingly I’ve seen gifted educators swamped in a torrent of overwhelming “edubabble” by “EdTechPreneurs” seeking to monetize the use of Minecraft in Education.  I’ve even seen those with no teaching experience whatsoever, or with such a niche educational focus as to make their experience un-transferable, revered above those at the chalk face.  To each I wish good luck with whatever direction they choose to pursue.  My future lies elsewhere.

Maybe I’m too idealistic and the human race is inherently selfish in nature?  Maybe my educational vision is not one shared by others?  Maybe education is actually a commodity and learners and their parents really are just “clients” and “stakeholders” within a global, corporate infrastructure?  Or maybe, just maybe, there are a few educators out there who share my view that learning is NOT an exploitable commodity, it is NOT just a profit margin or an audience share.  There will be many unwilling to share this blog as it doesn’t fit with their own vision of the future.  It is, after all, one person’s view.  The new www.LearningBlocksEdu.co.uk however is gathering momentum based on the core principle that if we share freely, many benefit!

For my learners, education is about far more than the money they don’t have.

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2 comments

  1. Every teacher who works in a school and draws a salary is getting paid to deliver education. Unless of course, you are advocating all teachers should not be paid for their skill, knowledge, own education and ability to inspire and ignite?

    In which case there will be many head teachers out there who will be very happy to hear that their staffing costs have just been reduced to zero.

    Of course, OER are a very different thing and sharing and collaboration are very important to share the knowledge.

    Being paid to develop and deliver education has never been and will never be an issue. What about people who want to use Eduacaional tools and materials but don’t have the time/skills/resources to make or develop them.

    Take interactive whiteboards as an example. Teachers can’t make them themselves so they pay for them. Is it wrong of the companies like Promethium to charge for their product? Of course not. So it’s no different for a Minecraft map or for setting up a server for a school or for developing lessons for others to use.

    It’s all very well holding the moral high ground and saying “this should all be done for free” but unless you have a private source of income or are extremely rich and can afford to spend hour upon hour making maps or running workshops for free this viewpoint is unrealistic and unsustainable.

    The ideology is admirable. The reality is somewhat different.

    Share outputs for free. Not a problem, but people should be paid their worth to create them.

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  2. Thanks for sharing these thoughts. There are some very valid points here. To clarify, I am not suggesting the programme should be given away for free although I can think of many worthy circumstances in which this would be a very generous and worthwhile gesture.
    Yes, I am paid as a qualified classroom teacher to deliver an engaging and successful education. In this I plan and produce my own resources and as a school we even buy in certain schemes, books and packages which support our needs. Where finances will not stretch to this however, we reach out to friends, colleagues and resources sites for ideas and support, as has always been the way of education. Likewise, when our friends and colleagues reach out to us, we share freely.
    When I started my journey with Minecraft in Education I reached out for help many times and without question my cries were answered quickly and freely. I have tried to repay that as my own experience has grown by supporting others. Countless other classroom educators do likewise but without a central point to connect via. That’s why I created http://www.LearningBlocksEdu.co.uk, to connect, support and celebrate those using Minecraft in their classrooms.
    I haven’t directly asked a single person for a contribution to LearningBlocksEdu. The decision to volunteer a resource, a picture of a student’s work, a lesson idea, a quick guide, tutorial or even leading a training lies entirely with the individual. Every time I see a picture shared on Twitter or read a blog post someone has taken the time to write about their experiences I have countless other ideas for how Minecraft could be used in the classroom. My hope is that people will visit the site to share a picture and leave with ten new ideas for their next lesson.
    If a teacher or an establishment is in the financial position to pay for support or resources, then great and I’m sure they will find many offers that suit their needs. For the countless other circumstances out there where the financial situation will not stretch to that kind of support, I want them to know that help is still out there, they don’t have to struggle alone and it isn’t as daunting a task as they think it may be. We have already had many generous offers of contributions which I am hoping to add to the site very shortly. This is a very new project that I am balancing alongside my own teaching commitments and the contributors have been extremely patient and understanding in this.
    Since the Mojang EULA prohibits the monetization of maps or the commissioning of maps for commercial purposes there are plenty of resources out there to be tapped into for free. With full credit given to the creator of course. There is no set format for submission or sharing, no preferred platform or version of Minecraft and no expectation of contribution from anyone. The LearningBlocksEdu approach to crowdsourcing support and ideas may not be one that everyone agrees with, but I don’t think I will be alone in my idealism.

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