Any attempt to make use of games in schools … needs to be sensitive to the diversity of interest and experience in gaming amongst students. (Williamson, 2009, p.2.)
The game Minecraft comes with no narrative. As a sandpit game it’s loaded for play and devoid of instructions or rules – it’s among the ultimate choose your own adventure plots. So popular is the game, it’s spawned a commercially available educational tool http://minecraftedu.com/ and promotion the likes of YouTube’s Idea Channel.
Educator blogs also share its benefits and means into the curriculum, for example:
Games are used in a classroom are to keep students motivated and engaged (Williamson, 2009). While pedagogies, or classroom how-tos, of Minecraft abound, what of evidence-based practise? Does Minecraft motivate and engage? Elliot’s (2014) study of a Year 8 English/Humanities classroom describes not only the rationale, circumstances, activities and assessment associated with a teacher’s use of Minecraft as an assessment tool but sheds light on the game’s social benefits and potential to motivate challenging students. Elliot (2014) ensured the authenticity and freedom afforded in the game was not compromised by the situation hence the game drove assessment rather than vice versa.
Class reactions to the gaming task were mixed. Some students “described the game as a highly desirable alternative to traditional schoolwork” (Elliot, 2014, p.37),while others were sceptical that a game-based assessment wasn’t credible enough.
One student, John, is championed by Elliot (2014) for particular mention. John has a diagnosed learning difficulty and existed in a negative cycle of high absenteeism, indifferent attitude and limited academic success. Socially shy, John was marginalised and sometimes bullied. He did have a small group of friends who knew of, and relied on, John’s Minecraft expertise when they played. As this became more universally acknowledged, John accepted a role to help assigned students through the assessment tasks; others quickly joined in .Over the course of the Minecraft study John gained wide acceptance and credible results. His attendance improved and skills in other areas, “numeracy, logic, written and visual literacy and ICT” (Elliot, 2014,p.39) became apparent. Other “difficult and complex …disruptive” (Elliot, 2014, p.39) students had similarly changed outcomes.
Whilst there was no scope for longitudinal study of game-based assessment for students like John and nor was it suggested this be the only form of assessment, Elliot (2014) concludes,
“John’s expertise in Minecraft may have been hidden within the formal learning space by a legacy curriculum which does not recognise the validity of new media literacies” (p.40).
Just as no one-size-fits-all in gaming (Williamson, 2009), nor does it in education. For students with skills outside a formal academic curriculum, success and motivation may only come when educators are willing to challenge traditional assessment in a variety of ways. This must continue to be supported with academic research into the benefits of popular culture’s tools in the classroom, Minecraft being no exception.
Elliot,D. June, 2014. Levelling the playing field: Engaging disadvantaged students through game-based pedagogy. Literacy Learning: The middle years. Norwood (SA): ALEA.
Idea Channel. March 6, 2013. Is Minecraft the Ultimate Educational Tool? Retrieved from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RI0BN5AWOe8
Montavon, A. Screenshot from H. La Franc’s Minecraft server (Creative Commons licensed) Retrieved from: http://www.netfamilynews.org/minecraft-the-shared-creative-safety-of-gaming-social-media
Williamson, B. March, 2009. Computer games, schools and young people. Futurelab. Retrieved from: http://archive.futurelab.org.uk/resources/documents/project_reports/becta/Games_and_Learning_educators_report.pdf