Imagine a game that allows players to create what they want, where they want, and (usually) with whom they want. This is Minecraft, and far from the glossy, intense graphics of many video games today, Minecraft uses a basic block to create everything from land to trees, animals, buildings and people. Despite the low-tech graphics, kids (and adults) spend hours completely immersed in the game. Perhaps the promoters of Minecraft provide the best reason… “in Minecraft, no one can tell you what you can or cannot do.”
Minecraft is available in two different platforms; ‘regular’ Minecraft and MinecraftEdu. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, depending upon whether you are looking at it from a player or educator perspective. Sansing (2013) provides a good comparison of the two. Minecraft’s strength lies in its unlimited capability for open-ended play, where everyone in the world is a peer (teachers and students alike). As players become more skilled with the game, they naturally ‘level-up’. Minecraft can be played individually or as multiplayer, and while some servers are ‘white-listed’ many are easily accessible by any player. Servers without vigilant moderators may be a concern for younger players who may experience ‘griefing’, ‘trolling’, foul language or bullying. (See This “Minecraft” Community Is Saving The Lives Of Children With Autism” for an example of the impacts of this behaviour.)
In contrast, MinecraftEdu is teacher-controlled via integrated classroom management tools. While still encouraged to build and interact with the environment, students are required to complete tasks created and monitored by the teacher. Players that are already skilled at the game may find this restrictive. For those unfamiliar with the game, MinecraftEdu includes a ‘Tutorial World’ – an introduction to the basics of Minecraft through team puzzle solving. MinecraftEdu is a multiplayer game only and the teacher has control of who is allowed into the game. As moderator, the teacher can ensure that inappropriate behaviour is not allowed.
MinecraftEdu is useful for keeping students on track if using the game to meet a learning outcome. There are many custom blocks in the Edu version that are not available in the standard Minecraft game, such as ‘home blocks’ that can be used to teleport a student back to a specific spot, or ‘information blocks’ that can store messages or other necessary information. The only way I found to provide instructions (that would not fit on a sign) in Minecraft was to write in a book and store it in a chest.
Another huge advantage (from a teacher’s perspective) of MinecraftEdu is the ‘World Library’ of teacher-created lessons and activities. After spending more hours than I want to count creating my tiny little build to teach area and perimeter, I would greatly appreciate being able to search already created worlds that may only need slight adjusting to meet my own personal teaching requirements. Let’s be honest, I also wouldn’t mind simply touring around in some of the worlds myself.
From a teacher’s perspective, Minecraft would be suitable for small group or individual projects. Students that already had their own Minecraft account could choose to use the game as a way of showing their learning. It allows for maximum creativity and personalization. MinecraftEdu, only available to schools, is suitable for delivering specific content in whole-class lessons. Access to this platform at school would help ensure universal access to all students, as not everyone can afford an account or have the technology to play the game at home.
Sansing, C. (2013, Sept. 24). Minecraft or MinecraftEdu at School? Pros, Cons, and What it’s Great For. Retrieved from https://www.graphite.org/blog/minecraft-or-minecraftedu-at-school-pros-cons-and-what-its-great-for
What is MinecraftEdu. (n.d.) In MinecraftEdu Wiki. Retrieved from http://services.minecraftedu.com/wiki/What_is_MinecraftEdu#What_makes_MinecraftEdu_different.3F