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.