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Blog » The Educational Value of Minecraft (Games-based Learning)

The Educational Value of Minecraft (Games-based Learning)

Monday 2nd June 2014

The game 'Minecraft' has been around since 2009 and has sold over 33 million copies. Many many under 16s find it fun, and it's arguably useful in child development. So, how useful is it?

If you know about the game, skip to the next paragraph. Minecraft is an immersive fantasy construction game where players control a character that explores an environment of 3d blocks such as wood and rock. Some can be 'mined' and 'crafted' to build tools and various structures from castles to tennis courts. In 'survival' mode, monsters appear at night to attack players. The 'creative' mode lets players build what they like. Players can share their "worlds" with others online. Others can also challenge players by attacking their structures. It can be an endless video game with no overriding goal. A quick "Google" will yield further information. To write this post, I've played on the demo, spoken with players and read a lot of web pages Please correct any errors!

Is Minecraft any good for children?

Can children playing Minecraft really be a good use of time? Many have asked this questions. Media interest in Minecraft has certainly results in good stories. The feedback from experts and parents suggests that Minecraft is can be hugely beneficial to children aged around 7-14 in helping them to learn to be very creative, solve problems more efficiently and preserver to build the desired mechanism. There exists an 'educational' version of Minecraft available at http://minecraftedu.com/. Conversely, it can be addictive, promote anti-social behaviour and once mastered, waste time.

What to use Minecraft for:

Stuart Duncan has been inspirational in the field of using Minecraft, greatly helping people with autism. His invitation-only Minecraft server 'Autcraft' exists to "teach players with autism to respect each other." It does this with game modifications - for example 'monsters' are not allowed to attack players, players can't destroy each other's constructions and no swearing is allowed. There are places in the game to meet, socialise and make friends - significantly reducing the feeling of isolation as users share in a common interest. Players can become happier by being themselves in the environment and feel safe to explore without fear of being attacked.

Mental Stimulus - Creativity Problem Solving: Players have numerous blocks to play with. Think of it as an enhanced version lego. Lego has stood the test of time and is often used to spark children's imagination. But unlike lego, there is an endless supply of blocks to play with. Children can redesign public spaces or come up with their own ideas for buildings - though don't forget that Google Sketchup can be used for this.

The crafting aspect of Minecraft involves pistons and circuits involving pressure sensors. It's possible to model impressive structures such as The Eiffel Tower and roller coasters. Players can also learn about logic gates. It is far better for children to be creative than to be consuming mind-numbing television!

Social Stimulus: Whilst children should be encouraged to work on real life social skills, players can also work on their online communication skills in the context of virtual construction of large structures. Many also like to share their Minecraft work on YouTube.

A sense of achievement: No matter on the ability of the player, something is possible. This certainly has a feel-good factor which is an important part of someone's well-being.

What not to use Minecraft for?

Exploring Existing Buildings: Students can explore Minecraft versions of structures such as The Roman Coliseum. However, the detail is relatively limited and there are better alternatives, such as detailed YouTube videos and over 100 photos in Google Maps that are far more detailed.

Scale and Ratio: Students can build structures to some kind of scale, though it is far better to use intuitive & fit-to-use software such as the freely available Google Sketchup for such a purpose.

Make your own mind up...

There are video examples of 'educational' uses for Minecraft on this web site: http://services.minecraftedu.com/wiki/index.php?title=Teaching_with_MinecraftEdu. There are also examples of downloadable 'World Libraries' here. Use your own mind up to figure out whether these are the best methods to teach the shown concepts!

Negatives

Minecraft can be played over public or private networks. Bullying (where stronger players gang up on weaker players by destroying everything they've spent hours creating) and foul language are rife in public. It's possible for home users to set up private networks to reduce this problem. Educational versions on private servers help to negate such problems.

Make up for the missing physical dimension

Whilst children can spend hours playing on computer games, what's important is that this is they get to experience the real 'physical' dimension too, for example by doing outdoor problem solving activities or building real circuits. This is something that no amount of Minecraft can replicate.

Getting Carried Away?

Judging by the many videos online, I think it would be fair to say that some adults have spent far too long on Minecraft and - perhaps out of their own personal interest - are using it for the sake of it in the classroom As I say with any technology - don't use it for the sake of it, use it purposefully!

Alternatives to Minecraft

Virtual Lego (Free - PC & Mac):http://ldd.lego.com/en-gb/download.

Teach enterprise skills with the 'Tycoon' series of games. This is where players can build their own Rollercoasters or Cities (like SimCity if you remember this!). Rollercoaster Tycoon 4 for Mobile is the latest edition featuring construction skills, money management and the ability to share theme park creations with others. The improved PC version is due out some time this year in 2014. There is an element of physics as if the coasters are not built correctly, they won't work! There is also an awesome 3d camera that allows players to ride their creations. An alternative free 'tycoon' type game is My Free Zoo. - this is played in a web browser.

The only way is...

The only way for a teacher learn about Minecraft is to play it!

The ultimate question

Could games and YouTube be used to teach anything? They can certainly go a very long way towards doing so - though it will take time and a significant amount of investment in creation and installation of a games system. Just don't forget the need for a human teacher/coach/facilitator to humanise the experience, and also don't forget about the 'physical' element to well-being that not all computer games can deliver.