I frequently get frustrated when I talk about video games on university campuses because the conversation often turns into “Oh, do you mean gamification?” No, I don’t. I think gamification has great value for certain disciplines, but putting gamification at the forefront of what’s interesting about video games is like McDonald’s positioning ketchup as the focus of their advertising.
I stumbled across “3 Things I Wish Everyone Knew About Gamification” in one of my feeds this morning, and the author eloquently states what gamification can do well, why it’s not a solution for bad systems, and encourages educators to consider their classrooms in a holistic fashion, rather than thinking the simple addition of points to curriculum will suddenly cause their students to become more engaged.
I could quote a number of passages, but chose this reminder that good technology is a powerful too, but often requires a lot of work to provide value.
Learning how to apply the principles of gamification and methods of games-based learning effectively is not easy. Designing a class as a well-designed game is extremely difficult and time-consuming on the educator’s part. Playing a well-designed game is difficult and may be time-consuming on the part of the student. Too often, gamification is used as a band-aid, a quick-fix applied on top of a poorly-designed game.
As always, I hesitate to post anything about gamification, since it gets so much hype, without linking to Ian Bogost’s thoughts. The blog post doesn’t go as far as Bogost, but maybe if everyone talking about gamification was as thoughtful about the potential as the blog post author, Bogost wouldn’t be quite so firm in his statements. Maybe
The MinecraftEdu Twitter account retweeted a link to a student English paper about how Minecraft is being used in education. Great read from a student perspective, good source list at the end of the article. Always interesting to hear what students think about games in the classroom – I think we should be spending as much time talking to them about the future of games and education as we talk to teachers.
A sample from the paper:
I tried imagining how I would use Minecraft in a science class and thought of when my 7th grade earth science class. We were learning typography, both on land and in water, but were limited to sharing the only 3D model available among the twenty-five of us. If we’d hadMinecraft back then, even with only the teacher’s computer and projector available, I think we would’ve definitely benefitted from having a more “to scale” model to use. For math, the blocky composition of Minecraft’s terrain and materials could have provided an amazing challenge in geometry during high school; I can picture the frustration of trying to make an acceptable circle. Granted I feel this frustration when I try to make circles in the game nowadays, so it wouldn’t be too different. My high school physics class would’ve probably used it the most, though; having our circuitry labs with the ability to construct functioning ones, without the loss of materials, would’ve made my teacher hop for joy! So, is that a shining hypothetical of Minecraft’s potential to teach engineering, too? Turns out, hundreds of schools have been using MinecraftEdu to teach these subjects to higher-level classes already.
In an interview, Will Wright states “we’re falling way short” of what’s possible in the video game medium. I think he’s correct, and it’s why I’m so interested in getting the university community to become more involved with games. He’s talking about development and publishing more than education, but games have a very wide area of possible effect and the efforts to incorporate video games as tools for teaching and learning is just one way of trying to maximize the potential of video games.
I’ll extend the message of this awesome presentation to say kids don’t learn from lessons they don’t like. It’s one reason Minecraft gets them so excited. You may be learning the exact same lesson about volume and area in math, but they’re going to like it more in Minecraft.
Most of what I talk about here relates to video games and education, but I grew up playing all sorts of board games. This article from the Chronicle, about making board games in the classroom for learning, makes me think about how many different disciplines games intersect.
Designing a board game could apply to any discipline. Making the board and pieces has design and art elements. Most of us have the ability to make a simple board and markers, but it would be interesting to see what artists might build out of the concepts imagined by a different discipline. The business school might take the board game design idea a step further and encourage students to plan how you’d build and sell your game on a self-publishing site like GameCrafter.
I talk to a lot of faculty who want their students to design a video game as part of their curriculum, but video game design is a really steep learning curve. Board games offer the same type of design decisions, and they’re more readily accessibile than video game design. If you’re a faculty member, how might you incorporate board game design into your course?
MinecraftEdu is the Minecraft mod for educators we’re running on one of our Temple servers, and Joel Levin (who created the MinecraftEdu mod along with some talented developers) founded and is active in the Minecraft Teachers Google group where we’ve been conducting Minecraft demonstrations and Google Hangouts.
Joel does a great job explaining what’s exciting about using Minecraft as a learning environment, and the Minecraft Teachers group is a fantastic resource for finding out what other educators are doing.
YouTube user and forward-thinking Minecraft builder LetsLente released his Minecraft map modeling the European continent in 1:1500 scale.
The process for simulating the topography of an entire continent in Minecraft is fascinating. LetsLente bases the Minecraft map on the ETOPO1 Global Relief Map from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) National Geophysical Data Center. The map information is imported into WorldPainter, an interactive map generator for Minecraft. For more information about WorldPainter, the Minecraft forums have a great thread that goes into more detail than the WorldPainter page.
There are no buildings on the map, and everything is not to scale, but running (or flying) around the map definitely gives you an overall sense of the geography in the various regions of Europe. LetsLente was kind enough to share a Google Doc listing the coordinates of major cities, and you can really get a sense of the original landmass before humans settled the area.
I don’t know anyone using the maps in the classroom yet, but there’s great potential (for these maps, or future maps like it) for students to discover the locations of major cities, create a rough layout of the city, and build major landmarks. Minecraft does not lend itself (yet?) to a perfectly accurate geographical recreation of a city location, but the vagueness of the location allows students to feel creative about what they decide to build and where they locate the buildings, instead of focusing on incredible accuracy.
If you’d like to see the variety of landscapes without logging in to Minecraft, LetsLente upload the following video. Give him a Like and a Subscribe if you enjoy it; he deserves the attention.
The Washington Post published an article last month talking about two social studies teachers in Washington using Minecraft to teach about Ancient Rome.
Hank Lanphier and Amy Yount, social studies teachers at St. Patrick’s Episcopal Day School in Washington, experimented with using Minecraft this year to transport students to an ancient Roman city.
Lanphier built the city’s sandstone block walls and then assigned each sixth-grader a plot of land on which to build a home.
More and more of these projects are popping up, and many teachers are posting about what they’re doing on the Minecraft Teachers Google group. Dan Thalkar, a teacher at the New Los Angeles Charter School, posted his lesson plan for students studying ancient civilizations, and a couple posts later Lisa Douthit posted her plan for a sixth grade lesson about civilizations, mentored by eighth graders.
These experiments are helping educators figure out how to use Minecraft for games based learning exercises while preserving the enthusiasm and engagement of the students within the learning environment.
There’s a new pre-release version of MinecraftEdu, 1.51.6, available in the Members area of MinecraftEdu.com. If you’ve purchased the Classroom Edition of MinecraftEdu, you should be able to download the client from there (or server, if you’re running your own server).
Our MinecraftEdu server for the Minecraft Teachers Google group has been updated to 1.51.6. If you’re an educator using MinecraftEdu and you’d like to experiment with the new pre-release, post on the Minecraft Teachers Google group and we’ll give you the server information and the mods we’re running.
Part of reason we’re updating the server so often is to test the use of mods in conjunction with MinecraftEdu. The mods really extend the possibilities for classroom lessons, but we need to make sure they’re working as intended, and make sure the community has access to information about how mods are installed on a server, on a client, and how they work (or don’t work) alongside each other. If you have any questions, the Google group is definitely the place to start.