Minecraft in the Classroom?
I’m a gamer and worked in the games industry for many years. My favorite genres are stealth games and RPGs: Fallout, Skyrim, Bioshock, Far Cry, and the like. Despite this preference, I’ve likely put more hours into Minecraft than every other game in my library. Minecraft is officially the most-played video game in history, despite being 12 years old. People make their living playing Minecraft and putting videos up on YouTube. Needless to say, it’s popular.
I got my kids into video games when they were younger and saw their play build their characters and skills, not on an in-game skill tree, but in real life. Even then, with my pro-video game view, I was shocked when my son came home from school and told me he was playing Minecraft in his creative writing class.
The teacher used the game as a vehicle for creativity, and games (particularly Minecraft) in the classroom are a growing trend.
But is using video games as a tool for teachers beneficial to our children’s education? According to a thesis written by Ferran Adell, a researcher and member of the Faculty of Computer Science, Multimedia and Telecommunications of the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) and head of the YouTube Video Games and Education project, the answer is yes, with a caveat: that teachers choose suitable games.
Adell, along with David Casacuberta, a faculty member at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, and Javier Melenchón, who is also a member of the UOC’s Faculty of Computer Science, Multimedia and Telecommunications, have developed a method to help teaching staff choose the right game.
Their method is a list of five filters one must answer about a game before bringing it into the classroom.
- Difficulty level. This is an exclusion criterion. Very complex video games or those with very sharp learning curves are very unlikely to be useful in the classroom.
- Flexible mechanics. This filter relates to the extent to which the game can be manipulated based on what the developer is offering. Some games, such as shooting games, provide very little flexibility. Others, on the other hand, are more flexible. An example of this latter type is City Skylines, a city construction game in which players can edit scenarios and set new goals. In this game, for example, your goal could be to build a completely sustainable and pollution-free city.
- Creative freedom. The more things you can develop in the video game, the greater its educational potential. “This criterion can be applied in very different ways but, when you have full freedom to modify the environment, you can use the video game to work on many concepts,” said Ferran Adell.
- Community power. In cases such as Minecraft, which has millions of people playing and creating tools, the customization options increase manyfold. The community also provides learning resources, such as YouTube tutorials or forums and wikis with detailed information about the game.
- Immersiveness. This criterion relates to the video game’s ability to make players feel disconnected from the real world and involved in the character’s story, the identification process between a player and their character.
“Playing is in our nature: it’s inside us. Playing is key on a social level, and it’s part of our culture,” said Adell. “By using play, you can make education fun, a concept that is not new and has been more than proven to work. It also has the advantage of fixing some of the problems facing education today: students’ perception that what they’re learning is pointless, and a lack of both interest and attention.”