Building Learning Communities Through Building in a Virtual World (Minecraft)…and then breaking it

On Wednesday I ran two workshops for Edinburgh Napier staff on Minecraft. It was billed as a hands-on exploration with a view to thinking about how it could be used for learning and teaching. As it happened, it was an experience in how to manage vastly different skill levels where some participants jumped in confident in their ability to navigate a 3D world, while others struggled to orientate themselves. Feedback mentioned feeling quite uncomfortable and unsure of what to do. This was not accidental, as I was hoping for participants to experience what it is like as an inexpert learner in a wholly disorienting space. I was also hoping that they would collaborate in the world to do tasks together. I think I achieved the former, while the latter was less in evidence, although there was very lively conversations between participants in real life as they were sitting side-by-side in a computer lab.

I had designed the world with escape rooms where participants had to work together to

hello

Unexpected vandalism

break free to an area where they could do unstructured building. Education Edition Minecraft includes Scratch-like coding plug-ins and in the afternoon workshop, one enthusiastic participant managed to overwrite the escape rooms with huge letters made out of grass and earth spelling out ‘Hello’. It was chaotic and yet another lesson that I can’t always control what learning happens.

Yesterday I spoke about the workshops during our Learning and Teaching conference. Here  are the slides I used including responses from staff on some questions I posed about the conference.

Here is the blurb for my talk:

Drawing on the workshops during the research and teaching day, this session will explore how the ‘LEGO-like’ building functions of Minecraft can allow users to manipulate their environment, thereby developing skills in design and creativity. Doing so collaboratively necessitates communication and co-operation, enabling the building of social presence and relationships, an area notoriously difficult to achieve in distance and online learning. By working through tasks as novices, the workshop participants experienced what it is like to be a beginner learner and the dis-ease and emotional responses this can create in the individual. Mistakes are inevitable and wholly necessary to learn how to use the various tools in Minecraft. The 3D environment also prompts questions around accessibility and inaccessibility, including how some digital technologies can be disadvantageous for some while inclusive for others. Lessons from the workshops will be shared, including what it was like to learn, collaborate and ‘fail’ in an unfamiliar environment and how this could inform planning and design of learning for students. It will end with a short plenary discussing experiences, drawing on all the sessions during the day.

Key literature
Sharples, M., De Roock, R., Ferguson, R., Gaved, M., Herodotou, C., Koh, E., Kukulska-Hulme, A., Looi, C.-K., Mcandrew, P., Rienties, B., Weller, M. and Wong, L. H. (2016) Innovating Pedagogy 2016 Exploring new forms of teaching, learning and assessment, to guide educators and policy makers. doi: 10.13140/RG.2.2.20677.04325.

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