One of the design principles I voiced during in my Learning 2.0 research on the next generation of education was to get learning tools directly in the hands of students. Given the right tools, I argued, students would take charge of their own learning to an unexpected degree, fully engage, and ultimately teach adult educators more about how to design large education systems.
Minecraft may offer the best example of a tool that kids literally brought to class; where they introduced the chunky build-a-world game and adults have followed. I got a little introduction to the game from my Minecraft tutor JC, and I’ve determined that the best way for me to understand its potential is to play it myself.
This should be easy, you say; children learn how to play this game all the time. Not so much.
Microsoft has purchased Minecraft and they’ve announced enhancements to the education version and free versions for educators. I signed up and it downloaded quickly, but when I tried to install Minecraft, I got a message saying that it won’t work unless I update my Mac operating system to El Capitan. No can do. I’m running applications that I know won’t work with Apple’s latest system, and I don’t have the spare day or two to jump through all the hoops that inevitably come with changing an operating system.
A little investigation leads me to a “pocket edition” for my tablet. For $6.99 it downloads, and I’m faced with an invitation to play online with friends, earn Achievements and join Realms, whatever they are. Sounds like a click too far. I try setting up an account. I decide to use my phone to get the security code and enter the code; then the system asks for my email, and sends me another security code, which I enter. It signs me up to play on an X-box. I don’t have an X-box. It gives me an avatar, which is really scary looking, but says I can change it later in my X-box, which I don’t have. I decide to back out of this, and get the screen that allows me to play.
I name the world I’m creating “After Eden” and select “creative mode,” because I know from JC that beginners frequently don’t make it through the first night in “survival mode” where the monsters roam. Besides, just getting the game installed has taken the better part of two hours.
“After Eden” looks pleasant enough. There’s some blue stuff that looks like water, and there are directional arrows that allow me to move around. I’m trying to find a level place to begin building, but I can’t zoom out enough to allow me to get a big picture of my world. Still haven’t found a way to get my bearings, when night falls. I find a torch and place it next to a tree; it gets brighter, brighter still with four or five torches. I have no idea whether the torches will burn the wood or whether I’ll get a torch utility fee for the light.
Still can’t find a way to look for level ground, but I learn that I can place blocks of wood or stone around, although my control of where they go isn’t very good. Hey, it’s getting light; that’s good. I learn that I can whack away at things by holding my finger on the screen. There’s green things around me, which must be trees, but when I whack away at them, they don’t fall down. The trunk goes away, but the branches are still there.
It’s getting dark again. I hear noises; the game is doing something on its own. I must be looking up, because I see things that look like stars. I’ve dug a pretty big hole because there’s no more dirt down there and I’m into rock. But I still have no clue about my surroundings. And besides I’m running out of time.
I’ll try again to make this work. I need to call JC for advice.
Note: I’d love to hear from teachers who are using Minecraft in their classrooms. Click on my name under my picture to send me an email.
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