Why not to buy Minecraft Education Edition

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At the risk of disagreeing with several commentators and influencers, this post is about why teachers should not buy into Microsoft’s “educational” edition of Minecraft. Of course immediately burns several potential avenues which I could – if I wanted – exploit in the social media biome.

I am pleased to say I started playing MInecraft with students well before the beta-ended and about the same time Lucas Gillispie set up Minecraft in Schools (wiki) based largely on the model he’d successfully co-developed for WoW in Schools (wiki). I co-created the first large-scale Minecraft server which was about ‘learning to be’ in an online world with Jo Kay (long time Second Life and Virtual World guru), this was over 5 years ago, and at no point have I seen any evidence that Minecraft Edu and now Education had any pedagogical benefit over the ‘real version’. My argument remains that the single biggest reason for this version is the ongoing issue of teacher culture and professional ‘bubbles’ which believe adding the world ‘education’ to a product somehow changes it, removes it’s bite or makes it simpler. This is why we made Massively Minecraft. It was to counter the dreary porting of the syllabus and simplistic cultural-teacher view of ‘games’ and ‘creativity’ to the vastly more complex evidence surrounding the use of virtual worlds and massive multiplayer games towards educational goals.

I walked away from Minecraft when it was obvious that this game (at the expense of others) was being used to advance unproven and sensationalist discourses about imagination and creativity — with no regard for the value of games as a broader phenomenon. Let me set out some issues so far …

Minecraft Edu has never presented any convincing evidence [please supply peer-reviewed work to rebuff] to its educational value, nor any convincing ‘method’ of teaching. Most of the videos seem to be an adult leading children around worlds they make or being told what to make. While this was always a clever move in a business sense, the resulting ‘sale’ and re-development of the Educational Edition extends the exploitation of children.

The central motivation (then and now) is to ensure that children access the game via a closed (pay-me system) – now the Microsoft ecosystem – ie Office 365. It’s common knowledge that Goolgle, Apple and Microsoft use education to ‘on-board’ families and children to a lifetime of software use. It’s been happening since the invention of home computers. I believe that we should not place children in exploitative software biomes.

Lucas’s wiki for Minecraft states that its use is for non-commercial purposes. This isn’t what you are listening too and reading about Minecraft from various quarters. That is for commercial purposes. Minecraft is a highly successful (and sufficiently misunderstood) phenomenon that it’s relatively easy to say anything – especially if you hint at STEM and creativity (the buzzwords of EdTech) – and make money and social capital from it. Again, it exploits teachers and students.

If the reason you’re using MS MC Education is to get through a firewall, then this is a clear sign that the system STILL DOES NOT VALUE games. Whoever is making those choices for you has clearly read little literature which dates back to 50 years before Pong. They are allowing it for other reasons. If you’re using it because you THINK it’s fun and kids enjoy it – they also bring to school a cat, let them drink Red Coke and play C.O.D because it’s the same floored argument. Will they let you have an Xbone and choose games without being monitored? No .. because they think you (and games) are ‘fun’ but superficial. You are being placated not supported. Get back into the fight – for games, not a pat on the head.

Multi-user worlds are not a potential future – but they are today’s reality. Again, read the literature – there’s no doubt as to why games are here now and why we need to include them in media education. A sandbox game such as Minecraft isn’t less threatening than playing Overwatch or less brutal than Tomb Raider, it is part of children’s media culture and therefore should part of their educational development as literature.

To use Minecraft Education over Minecraft Pocket or the ‘regular’ edition requires someone to step beyond the rhetoric of software features and connect it clearly with theory and evidence to say exactly why playing it in a closed network has any benefit and in fact doesn’t cause more issues and heighten parental fears about ‘the world of games’ when a teacher or adult isn’t in charge. Children are seen as unable to make their own choices.

But I can’t fight culture … if you want to buy the closed loop version and listen to self-proclaimed experts and isolate yourself from the vast literature available about the value of placing kids inside virtual spaces to explore original thought, creativity, communication and critical thinking — go right ahead – bolt a clock on a toaster and call it cool.

If you’re skeptical and beginning to realise there’s a problem with using games to promote brand agendas and to skip the ‘research and evidence’ – you might start by reviewing the mountain of literature from clinical psychology and media-effects about the problems that you might be causing by drinking the cool-aid and abandoning scholarship. Adding Edu to the end of things is not sufficient and people should be very wary of anyone who attempts to simplify games and game cultures in this way. ‘Edu’ games have historically been disasters – ask Mario.

I’m off for a day at Futsal … because round things are also useful.

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2 thoughts on “Why not to buy Minecraft Education Edition

  1. Dean I get what you are saying about the “edu” tag on products. Every time we promote or seek out edu games we are by virtue saying that there is not educational value in all else, all other, off-the-shelf games. I really do support this view. There are many many games outside the often sucky edu realm that have fantastic game potential but might not get noticed because they are not branded “educational”. This is a prejudice that needs to be broken down. Do we perpetuate it when we adopt edu games – maybe but maybe only if they are the only games we allow into the learning environment.

    As someone who experienced the magic of Massively Minecraft from the inside, with you and Jo, I also agree that the schooling of games can serve to drastically limit their affordances. Indeed many would queston whether they should even be in schools – diminishing what kids already love. What we saw in Massively was a largely youth led experience scaffolded and support by trusted adults (Jo, you and I, parents). It was not restrained or constrained by notions of curriculum, assessment or centrally controlled goals. And to this day in its current form Massively@Jokaydia it is influential in shaping a vision of what’s possible for those who do have to work within those constraints. No-one could argue it set a gold standard for Minecraft as an ecosystem.

    But I think you are conflating a number of things here. The environment and its implementation are not the same. How a teacher uses any piece of media creates the pedagogy, degree of self determination and how student led or managed it is. This is not inherent in the media or tool. “It’s not the invention that makes the difference but how teachers reinvent it in the classroom”. This is something I think teachers are struggling with. What’s their role in the ecosystem and how do they find their starting place in creating it? Not every educator is ready to cultivate a Massively (http://massively.jokaydia.com/), Morrowcraft (http://morrowcraft.wikispaces.com/) or Edurealms (http://edurealms.com/). They need those exemplars to exist and create the vision but many teachers need a sanctioned place to start, dip their toes, experience first hand and understand the media’s potential and then perhaps aim for the gold standard. I don’t see why a teacher could not build a student led project space the equivalent of Massively inside MCEE. It’s the teacher understanding of engagement, vision and preparedness to get out of the way for transformational learning to happen that does not come in the software box.

    • Thanks Bron, I noticed that you are on a video on the home page, so I fully understand your support of this product. The issues I have raised here are not dismissed by a lack of time or examples — and in the mean time a bunch of people make money. The rhetoric on the home page is just rediculous – ie “Learning-by-doing in Minecraft teaches students independence and perseverance, giving them great satisfaction and sense of accomplishment when they can demonstrate their knowledge. And because Minecraft: Education Edition is a flexible platform for learning, educators are able to map student activities directly to specific learning outcomes and curriculum standards.” This is full of marketing mumbo buzzwords which lack any supporting evidence. Thearguement “we want to make it gold standard” – this isn’t the way to do it, this empowers a few ‘experts’ and sells products. I also notice that most schools will be encouraged to upgrade their OS and buy new consoles. I think you underestimate the intelligence and insight of ‘normal’ teachers and the gred and ambition associated with mega-brands and consumerism frankly.

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