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Minecraft for small-group learning

This post offers that pedagogical and analytical lens to argue for Minecraft in classrooms from kindy upwards. Minecraft has become the cultural core of a vast user-generated media movement. From Deviant Art to The Tate Gallery, Minecraft is being recognised for it’s ability to engage creativity and imagination. Unlike traditional field games or board games, the computer upholds the rules  – what you can and can’t do. It is this inner-sense of — what can I do? … just where can this end? — that has had such a profound impact on what the public think a game could be and resulted in a media explosion of new material.

Minecraft has become very popular on smart-phones, tablets and consoles. Though the game play is not quite the same as the PC/Mac version, they all have a strong following and millions of sales.For teachers,these versions make promising low cost alternatives to Minecraft or Minecraft EDU on PC. As Minecraft isn’t a ‘curriculum’ tool,  teachers should consider the pedagogical advantages of this game as a learning-tool. Being at the fore of popular culture isn’t sufficient, nor simply because kids become engaged with it. Before a block is placed, teachers need to be clear what their goals are and articulate them as arguments. That is essence is what this project is about.

Minecraft-Xbox-360-Edition

From a pedagogical lens, little is known about regular video-games play with large numbers of school-age students. Higher education on the other hand has extensively studied virtual worlds in education such as Second Life for many years. One recurring finding that intimacy is a key factor in the students motivation and enjoyment of learning. Whereas popular edu-culture uses the term ‘personalised learning’, I believe it is important reframe this is ‘intimate play’ in the classroom. Let me give an example. School ‘group work’ rarely uses groups of twenty to thirty students. Virtual world research shows successful group work with between 4 and 8 students provides higher levels of intimacy and autonomy in student learning. The same has be found in educational games such as Quest Atlantis, and to a lesser extent (few studies) MMOs where ‘working groups’ or ‘parties’ are often similar, allowing each player to take on a role, where different skills are needed to solve a problem together.

Hypothetically, Minecraft on consoles (allowing 4 up play) or small-group tablet has a stronger pedagogical basis than 30up on a PC-server when viewed though the analytical lens using archetypes found in Quest Atlantis and Second Life as school systems look for clear linkages in educational evidence and often suspicious of popular culture.

As all use of Minecraft in school requires interpretation and remediation if it’s to meet standards and set outcomes anyway — consider Pocket and Consoles as an equally viable option. It isn’t necessary to ‘control’ students use of the game but essential for the teacher to be ‘in control’ over the objectives and limits of the learning episode. In this way, the teacher would not have to be in the game at all and with practice could turn Minecraft into an activity which children would control without the challenges of networks, accounts and creating maps.

We’d be really interested in your thoughts — and especially if you’ve used Minecraft Pocket or Console in your classroom.