MinecraftEDU: Minecraft for the Classroom

After reading the original article by Audrey Watters about a year ago, I read this one with great interest as I was chasing the idea of setting up our own Minecraft server.  It was interesting to read about the details, now if I can just get to affording it.

It’s been almost a year since I first wrote about the work of Joel Levin (aka "The Minecraft Teacher") bringing the 3D world-building game Minecraft into his second-grade classroom. Much has changed since then — the full release of the PC version of the game, for starters. Mojang co-founder "Notch" stepping down as the lead developer of Minecraft (that is sort of "inside baseball" information, I suppose). And Levin himself co-founding a startup — TeacherGaming — the only company sanctioned by Mojang as an official reseller of the game. Levin’s still teaching too, but he’s also hard at work helping other educators implement Minecraft in their own classes.

Currently, that takes the form of MinecraftEDU, TeacherGaming’s first endeavor. It’s both a product and a service, tapping into the expertise that Levin has accumulated while using Minecraft in his classes and by supporting the teachers that have been drawn to doing just the same. MinecraftEDU offers educational licenses to the game at a deep discount (up to 50% off the regular price). There’s also special training for educators who are interested in using Minecraft with their students. Additionally (and perhaps most importantly), the startup offers a special version of the game — slightly different than what’s sold to regular customers (more on that below).

With or without special mods, there are a lot of reasons why Minecraft is a wonderful game for the classroom: it is open-ended (there are no explicit missions — no princesses to save or wagon trains to get to Oregon); it’s deceptively simple in its graphics yet complex in what people have actually built (See this Quora thread for a short list of some of the coolest things); the game can be played in single person or multiplayer mode and can run on both public and private servers; and the Minecraft community has developed tons of modifications to extend and alter the game’s functionality.

MinecraftEDU provides one such "mod" that’s been designed for classroom use. At the very outset, the mod tackles one of the biggest barriers to implementing Minecraft at school — that is, setting up your own private Minecraft server. The MinecraftEDU mod allows teachers to do this with just a few clicks, turning their own PCs (Mac, Windows or Linux) into a local server.

Minecraft and The Classroom

From this article by  Chris O’Brien, How Minecraft is Taking Over The World, comes an overview of Minecraft a link that is a starting point for the discussion about its use in education.  This is going to be a game we are going to play in my classroom when I can research how to use it constructively.  Building is always a good thing.  Check back later for progress on this topic.

Click photo to enlarge

Minecraft introduces a world that is a blank canvas where players build just about everything. The prospect of filling those empty spaces allows players’ imaginations to run wild.When I asked my son, Liam, what he loved about Minecraft, he said: “You can play with all of your friends at the same time. And you can build anything you want.”That fundamental appeal is reflected in the game’s look. The design of the game is almost laughably primitive. In an era where achieving hyper-realism appears to be the main goal of most high-end video games, Minecraft’s look and feel appear to be plucked right out of the post-Pong world, something that might have been at home on the first Atari home console.Minecraft’s graphics are based on blocks, with not a curved line in site. The best reference may be Legos. The user grabs a tool and then either erases a block to dig a hole or creates a stack of blocks to build walls, houses, towers, just about anything you can imagine.At its basic level, that’s about it. There are no elaborate game mechanics, no quests or points or levels to achieve that make most games compelling and addictive. People have created thousands of “mods” that can add various competitions or quests, but at its heart, Minecraft is mainly an exploratory place.”The experience is really about the things you make and the things you can imagine,” said Jamin Warren, founder of Kill Screen, a video game arts and culture company. “That turns out to be a very powerful tool.”As I noted, the game also bucks the current trend of free-to-play games such as “FarmVille.” While there is an older “classic” version of Minecraft that is free, the current version costs $21.95. In a post on his blog called, “I hate ‘free-to-play,’ ” Notch made it clear he feels such games are really geared toward making players into addicts who will cough up money down the line.The people who like that model are “mostly game developers, not game players,” he wrote.I tried to reach Notch for several weeks, but a representative of his company said he was too swamped finishing up the next release and preparing for MineCon.It’s simply remarkable that all of these kids like my son discovered Minecraft. The typical way such things go viral is to build on a platform like Facebook. But Minecraft is linked to no social networks, though when you see your kids plotting elaborate structures together or playing remotely and chatting in Minecraft, you realize it is extremely social in its own way.In this case, it seems word of Minecraft spread through fan videos posted on YouTube. Leavitt noted that in September 2010 he found about 14,000 Minecraft videos on YouTube, and then watched that number jump to 400,000 two months later, when the game just seemed to catch fire.Several educators have even started a MinecraftEdu.com initiative to find ways to use the game in schools.

Using Gamer Rewards Instead of Grades to Boost Engagement

From IT News For Australian Business

Clearly defined goals and fair, incremental rewards are two game design techniques that could motivate the ‘gamer generation’ in the workforce, according to a US academic.

Lee Sheldon of the Indiana University believes managers may have to rethink how they engage the next generation entering the mainstream workforce.

“As the gamer generation moves into the mainstream workforce, they are willing and eager to apply the culture and learning-techniques they bring with them from games,” said Sheldon, a gamer, game designer and assistant professor at the  university’s department of telecommunications.

“It will be up to management, often of pre-gamer generations, to figure out how to educate themselves to the gamer culture, and how to speak to it most effectively,” he told iTnews.

Last year, Sheldon replaced the traditional grading system in two of his game design classes with a system that is based on experience points (XP), which were typically used to track progress in role-playing games.

Students commenced the program as avatars at level one, which corresponded to zero XP and a grade of ‘F’. They gained XP by completing ‘quests’, ‘fighting monsters’ and ‘crafting’– in other words, giving presentations, sitting quizzes and exams, and handing in projects.

Like in the popular online game World of Warcraft, the students were grouped into ‘guilds’ and had to complete quests solo, as guilds, or as ‘pick up groups’ with members of other guilds.

So far, students have responded to the classes with “far greater enthusiasm” than before, Sheldon reported.

“The elements of the class are couched in terms they understand, terms that are associated with fun rather than education,” he told iTnews.

“There will always be a portion of the class who will not be motivated to learn no matter what an instructor may try. Those that are not as involved, one or two out of a class of forty, are pretty much drifting through life anyway thanks to factors the classroom can’t really address.”

Sheldon’s class structure has attracted the interest of educators from other institutions. At Indiana University however, he said colleagues had questioned the efficacy of applying the techniques to “regular”– non-game-related — classes.

“What they are missing is that we are teaching the gamer, social networking generation,” he told iTnews. “I have no doubt the students will respond positively to any number of non-game-related classes taught in a similar manner.”

Many specifics of game design could also be directly applied to the workforce, he said. These included: clearly defining goals for workers; providing incremental rewards; and balancing effort and reward.