Gaming-enabled education: Minecraft for young minds
The ‘game-ification’ of learning may help ensure that today’s children have a job in tomorrow’s digital world
Tech literacy is essential in the contemporary workplace. The ability to navigate basic software, operating systems, the Internet, and mobile devices is a mandatory skill in virtually any industry.
It is a workplace our grandparents would not recognise, and if you’re over 30 very little of your school career would have prepared you for it.
Not so for current school students. They have never known a world without mobile phones, even if they don’t yet have their own. We’ve all heard anecdotes about children trying to activate a TV by touching the screen, or seen toddlers trying to pinch and zoom their way through print magazines like they would on a tablet.
These children will soon enter a school environment even more geared for tech literacy, aimed at preparing them for a workplace we cannot imagine, and jobs that haven’t yet been invented.
Computer-assisted teaching is well established, and gaming-led learning is part of it. Microsoft and Minecraft are tapping into it with the recent release (and local launch) of Minecraft: Education Edition. This version of the popular game gives teachers and schools a more controlled and secure virtual environment in which to let their charges loose.
Since the global launch last year, more than 75,000 students around the world have engaged with Minecraft: Education Edition.
Inside the game, players build and create elements of their world such as buildings, farms, structures and complex systems that can — in a lesson environment — be used to represent other things, such as the excretory system for a biology class. There’s an endless supply of building materials and chances to "do over", promoting a level of comfort around trying, failing and trying again that is not always present in classrooms with the limitations of their physical resources. This also promotes creativity and collaboration.
But do we really want even more screen time and children playing computer games in class? It’s a matter of teacher management, says Stephen Reid, a Scottish educator and founder of ImmersiveMinds, as well as an ambassador for Minecraft: Education Edition. He attended the local launch at Brescia House School in Johannesburg this month.
He lays this principle out with examples from his own experience. He recently taught a module on Egyptian history. The class read textbooks, researched an essay and mapped a pyramid on graph paper throughout the week, before getting limited class time in Minecraft at the end of the week to try their hand at virtually building these structures. Another group used the technology to recreate a historical building in a Minecraft world — learning about modelling, research, technical drawing and design, before creating their digital projects. Then they bed these lessons down in a tech environment, along with learning how to manoeuvre and manipulate in this virtual setting.
Reid believes this is how students learn from observation and trial-and-error.
This is how to ensure that children have a job in the future, in the face of increasing automation, Reid argues in an opinion piece: "It is our duty as educators to rise to these demands and assist our learners in developing the kinds of skills needed to play their own part in this digital evolution. Today’s learners have to master the use of technology and acquire 21st-century learning skillsets such as critical thinking, creative problem solving, collaboration and communication within groups of people from diverse countries and cultures."
Several primary school students from Brescia House School were present at the launch, and keen to show off their newfound skills. The littlest girls played on tablets throughout the session, then showed the collection of teachers and journalists the projects they had created, including planning and building little homes for their online avatars. The older children then led the group through an exercise in a Minecraft world – their fingers flying over the keyboards (making this particular journalist feel very slow).
Brescia House’s endeavours in Minecraft began after a teacher saw a presentation by Reid at an education conference and petitioned to include this in her classes. But this is – for now – certainly not within reach for all SA schools, as licensing fees and hardware requirements apply.