Minecraft’s biggest success may be because Minecraft is not just one game, but a million games in one covering different topics and interests all going on at the same time.
is a very important point. I pitched (unsuccessfully, so far) a student Minecraft server at Temple University, because I wanted to develop a community of people for study in a number of different academic disciplines.
For example, there’s an Experimental Journalism course at Temple, and I thought a thriving Minecraft community would provide a fascinating environment for projects in the course. Minecraft in education isn’t just about learning to program, or building lessons using the tools and mods available for Minecraft. Minecraft specifically, and video games generally, should be played extensively for fun and for research, alongside efforts to use them for teaching and learning.
It’s impossible for someone unfamiliar with Minecraft to parse the quoted sentence. A million games in one, covering different topics and interests…how is that even possible?
It’s possible because Minecraft is a tool which allows student imagination to combine with student initiative, resulting in individual projects following the personal interests of each student playing the game. There’s a narrative, not just about what the student chose to do in Minecraft, but about what the student chose to reveal about themselves: their interests, their skills, their decision-making. There’s a different story for every student, a different matrix of influences, of choices, of interest.
Each student comes to Minecraft with a unique narrative. Through Minecraft, we gain the opportunity to learn more about them as individuals than we learn through outcomes assessment. Many lessons we assess are determining how well students perform on tasks they must complete. Minecraft, and video games overall, help us assess qualities about students which can’t be measured through standardized tests. They help us learn about our students as people, and respecting who they are as people goes a long way toward helping them feel connected in the classroom.
I’m not suggesting we go 100% in the direction of games based learning. I am suggesting we spend as much time playing games as we do thinking about how to employ them in the classroom. Games are an entry point to the person sitting in the desk in your classroom. Let them play. Watch them play. Ask them about what they’re doing, about what they enjoy. They’ll teach us a lot: not just how we can use games to teach, but about how video games can change the way we think about teaching.