Minecraft / MineCraftEDU

Emerging Technologies and Edtech June 19, 2014

Country of Origin: Sweden (MineCraftEDU: US)
Languages: English, Spanish, French, German… (Huge List of language translations)
Developer: Mojang / TeacherGaming
Publisher: self-published
Year Published: 2011 / 2013
Website: http://www.minecraft.com/
Platforms: Web, Windows, iOS, Android, Xbox 360, Linux, Raspberry Pi
Genre: Simulation, Building Simulator
Age Range: 5+
Barriers to Entry:  Controls can be tricky to get accustomed to; multiplayer requires either setup and maintenance of a server, or renting a server from a service provider.
Subjects: English, Reading, Math, Science, Digital Citizenship, Media Literacy, Civics, Computer Science

Although Minecraft was not developed with the educational community in mind, it has been widely embraced by students and educators alike. At heart, Minecraft plays a bit like Legos—players can break apart the world into small blocks, then place them elsewhere. But the game also introduces complex interactions between these building blocks, melting ice with lava or turning stone and wood into primitive tools.

The game can be played in two different modes: “Survival” mode is more game-like, with ‘zombies’ that come out during the night cycle of the game, so that players must build structures to stay safe during the zombie attacks. Survival mode also forces the player to collect and craft items according to strict rules and limits. “Creative” mode eliminates the zombies and most of the limits, allowing players to build freely. Minecraft in creative mode feels as close to pure play as digital gets. The game also allows players to mod extensively, leading to a proliferation of interesting experiences.

Although Minecraft was not developed with the educational community in mind, it has been widely embraced by students and educators alike. The freedom of creative mode has opened the door to an enormous number of Minecraft-centric lesson plans, from basic economics to cultural development and even math-focused building exercises. Since the game itself contains no explicit learning-focused content, use of Minecraft in schools demands the instructor and the student to contextualize the experience as an educational one.

MinecraftEdu is a specific mod and toolkit for Minecraft created by TeacherGaming and endorsed by Mojang. The Edu version of the game functions the same as the original for students, but provides a large number of tools designed to make the experience much more accessible to teachers and schools. This includes tools for setting up and maintaining servers, as well as setting parameters for players, which normally requires tedious editing of text files. The Edu mod also includes changes more conducive to instruction, such as allowing much larger amounts of text in-game, and allowing the teacher to designate “unbreakable” blocks so that students will not destroy carefully constructed scenarios.

The MinecraftEdu package (which is sold as a separate add-on to the base product) also includes a library of pre-built scenarios designed by teachers for use in certain subject areas.