For all its massive popularity, Minecraft – the best-selling video game of all time – is not well-liked among the snobby class of the gaming world. The graphics are blocky and there’s no point. It’s for the kids.
But according to several million users, including some Concordia professors and students, MinecraftThe malleability of is its strength. Unconstrained and easily modified, the game can be used in countless ways, including as a method of teaching through play. At a time when classrooms have had to pivot online with little warning or time of preparation, the field of Minecraft provided educators with a huge sandbox in which to play, experiment and teach.
A new article published in the journal game environments by Darren Wershler, Professor of English, and Bart Simon, Associate Professor of Sociology and Director of Concordia’s Milieux Institute for Arts, Culture and Technology, describes how Wershler used Minecraft give a course on the history and culture of modernity. The course was entirely game server-based, with instruction, classroom communication, and course work almost exclusively done within the Minecraft world and on the Discord messaging app. This new pedagogical framework offered researchers the opportunity to see how students used the game to achieve their academic goals.
“The course is not a video game studies course, and it’s not a gamified version of a modernity course,” says Wershler, who holds a Tier 2 research chair at the University. Concordia University in Media and Contemporary Literature. “It’s this other thing that sits in an uncomfortable middle and rubs against the two. The learning comes from trying to think about both of these things simultaneously.
Familiar Concepts, New Learning
The students adapted quickly to their unique classroom and wasted little time adapting to their new learning environment. Some took the time to teach their peers unfamiliar with the game, providing instructions on how to mine resources, build houses, plant food, and survive waves of swarms. hostile zombie and skeleton attacks. Others, who generally did not identify as born leaders, found themselves answering questions and providing advice due to their mastery of the game.
The students finally decided on group projects that would be created in the Minecraft world and addressed the issues of modernity addressed in Wershler’s half-hour podcast lectures and readings. A group attempted to recreate Moshe Safdie’s futuristic Habitat 67, which Wershler notes fits perfectly into the Minecraft aesthetic. Another group built an entire working town (populated by Minecraft villagers) modeled after the Nakagin Capsule Tower Building in Tokyo.
Rather than using the Creative mode that many educators prefer, the game was set to the more difficult Survival mode, so students were often killed by marauding enemies. The researchers uploaded fan-made mods to improve the game as they saw fit. but the mods also made the gameplay more wonky and more likely to crash at inopportune times.
“It was important that the game remained a game and that while the students were working on their projects, there were all these horrible things coming out of the desert to kill them,” says Wershler. “It gets them thinking that what they’re doing takes effort and the possibility of failure is very real.”
An adaptable construction
He admits to having been pleasantly surprised by the way his students adapted to the parameters of the course he co-designed with a dozen other interdisciplinary researchers at Concordia. Wershler uses Minecraft in his course since 2014, but he found that this approach created scaffolding for a new style of teaching.
“Educators at the high school, college, and university levels can use these principles and tools to teach a wide variety of in-game topics,” he says. “There’s no reason why we can’t do that with architecture, design, engineering, computer science as well as history, cultural studies or sociology. There are countless ways to structure this to make it work.
The project was funded by the Concordia Lab for Innovation in Teaching and Learning.
Read the quoted article:The allegorical construction. Minecraft and allegorical play in undergraduate education.”