Minecraft – Constructive fun, regardless of educational value

Regardless of your views of education, learning, gaming, gamification, serious games or any other buzzword that is thrown around, games like Minecraft are proving themselves to win people over for their inherent “fun” factor and potential as a learning tool. Not everyone agrees that games can be useful for learning and sometimes that isn’t even the point that those of us who extol Minecraft’s virtues are trying to make.

One recent article considered how much fun Minecraft was and made the point that has no educational value, yet, still has value as a tool which promotes creativity. Again, that’s the whole point of Minecraft. Whether or not learning is directly implied, Minecraft is fun and has value that is (without a doubt) tangible. Minecraft is a creativity game that allows children to express their creative side through building and construction. It’s a cooperation game that encourages players to work together. It’s a planning game that forces participants to calculate what they need and how big things are going to get. It’s a challenging game that invites users to expand their horizons by building PCs, writing mods, participating in communities that develop Minecraft plugins. It’s an expressive game that inspires its fans to draw comics, paint pictures, write jokes and sing songs.

Minecraft is all of those things … and at the end of the day there’s no test. There’s no essay or assignment. There’s no teacher marking down grades on a rubric. There’s only fun … and through fun comes the learning.

When you play computer games you learn, whether you want to or not … and that’s a pretty good reason to play games!

*For the record: There is a Minecraft curriculum. Minecraft teachers write units and build curriculum around the game and teach it in their classrooms. But that’s not the point. Minecraft inspires people to play, and to learn, and to do amazing things. You don’t need a curriculum for that!


Minecraft: The cornerstone of future education?


Why the indie success should continue to be used as a learning tool in schools.

A lot has been mentioned about Minecraft’s benefit in learning. However it’s rare to hear about Minecraft and learning from a students’ point of view. Students are starting to see the potential of combining their love of gaming and the opportunity to learn in a way which is both motivating and relevant. What does the future hold for games like Minecraft? Is it possible that Minecraft will one day be a part of the common core, or government mandated national curriculum?


Persuasive Games: Exploitationware

Persuasive Games: Exploitationware

Ian Bogost’s vitriolic attack on gamification, in my opinion, is somewhat scathing and unwarranted. His premise is that gamification focuses too much on the game layer of points and systems used to attract and motivate – rather than focusing on the actual game itself. Bogost’s contention is how gamification is able to be used by advertising and companies to manipulate people. He refers to gamification as ‘exploitationware’ in an attempt to use rhetoric and word-smithing to position gamification as, well, evil. 

My contention with Bogost’s view is that he’s looking for reasons to hate gamification and the tenets it supports. While a game layer over the real world may not be everyone’s cup of tea, there’s definitely merit to the idea – as well as historical precedent to justify it.

Let’s talk about classroom learning for a moment. A teacher decides that she needs to motivate students to learn more. This is every teacher’s desire. So the teacher decides to use sticker systems, stamps and candy. The teacher also offers rewards to students who perform well … this is gamification! The idea of giving students stickers (10 stickers and you get a reward) is no different to frequent flyer miles, no different to 10+1 coffee coupons. Stamps and points are the same. Giving prizes for reading 10 books in a semester is another reward system. Adding a game layer to the real world has been a trend for over 50 years. It’s a method to motivate participants and provide incentive to play the game. Often, that game is for profit (fly the same airline, rather than their competitors, and you get benefits).

When we look at the history of using games in education, the game itself is rarely the motivation – the reward of winning, prizes, status and other symbols are the reason we play. Numerous studies have shown that education based computer games are a failure because they don’t motivate students to keep playing. This is something “dark lord” Game Zichermann has stated on numerous occasions; the best games are not games made by educators. 

Now, I concede that Bogost is concerned with how gamification is used to monetize (and profit from) participants. It’s a somewhat persuasive methodology. However it’s inevitable that private industries will jump on the gamification bandwagon. Business, and advertisers, are always early adopters of new ideas. If you want to know what works, look at what private companies are doing!

Rather than investing in positioning “serious games” and “persuasive games” and “gamification” against each other, I wish that Bogost would consider that games and game methodologies (including gamification) can all be applied to education with considerable benefits. All of us who are pushing for change in education are on the same team.

I’d rather we spent our time focusing on what’s good for kids in schools. It doesn’t matter if you hate the word ‘gamification’. What matters is that the ideas can be applied to learning. 

Dedicating a few thousand words to rhetoric is a waste of words.

High Score Education – Games, not school, are teaching kids to think.

High Score Education – Games, not school, are teaching kids to think.

Although somewhat dated, this short article by James Gee touches on some important elements of gaming and learning. The education system still pushes a “memorize and test” philosophy. Gee laments that children are not learning to think, they’re learning to memorise … and good students aren’t good at thinking they’re just good at “doing school”.

This is a very valid concern. Gee believes that games are an agent of mental training. That children aren’t meant to be memorising.

Learning isn’t about memorizing isolated facts. It’s about connecting and manipulating them.

I like that. It’s a very succinct way of describing what should be our relationship with information. This is exactly what the internet can do – provide an environment where we manipulate information by mixing, sharing and remixing between collectives online.

Gee states that the secret of video gaming’s success isn’t the games themselves or the 3D graphics, but the underlying architecture of the game. Each level is incrementally more difficult, pushing the gamer further and further beyond their abilities. This is the ‘regime of competence principal’. The game is just difficult enough to simultaneously provide pleasure and frustration for the player. It’s hard enough to be challenging, but through effort the player can be rewarded by winning the game.

Games also incorporate expertise. Gamers become masters of a game, but are then forced to adapt and evolve as the game becomes more complex.

As Gee notes, kids often say that playing games doesn’t feel like learning. They’re focused on playing. Again and again, educational experts push this point. Learning must become a secondary objective to having fun. When students are focused on having fun they forget that they’re also learning.

Teachers, Students, Digital Games: What’s the Right Mix?

Teachers, Students, Digital Games: What’s the Right Mix?

There’s lots of buzz around computer games in education now. Various studies are being conducted to ascertain how much access kids have to computers, how often they’re being used in class and how effective games are as a learning tool. 

While more and more teachers are starting to use games in the classroom, there’s concern that tech resources aren’t being used effectively.

What’s more important is drawing a line between “educational games” and everything else. COTS computer games (according to Zichermann) are much more suited to educational purposes than education-centric games. 

Further, this kind of analysis doesn’t consider related factors such as social networking, which is a natural extension of modern gaming culture.

The shift away from an educational focus is gaining momentum. Even Prensky, known for his loathsome “digital native” theory, acknowledges the attitude that learning is becoming a background to achieving goals. This is the direction which education should be taking – how are students learning beyond classroom walls? By playing games, sharing and socialising, and being a part of a community, students are learning valuable knowledge and skills … which is secondary to having fun and hanging out.

The best learning occurs when we forget we’re learning at all.