Welcome back to another TESOL games and learning blog post. As a new school year starts in many parts of the world, it’s a great time to take a look at Minecraft.
Perhaps most everyone has heard of Minecraft at this point. The gaming juggernaut has sold more than 176 million copies by mid-2019, making it one of the most successful games of all time. At its core, Minecraft is digital Lego—a pixelated world of blocks that players can use to mine resources, build structures, and equip themselves with resources for adventure. Since its release in 2011, Minecraft has become a darling of education, and many believe its popularity among educators is what prompted Microsoft to pay US$2.5 billion for the game and its creator Mojang in 2014. After the purchase, Microsoft reached out to teachers to figure out just what they were doing with the game.
What makes the game popular among educators? Minecraft’s open world nature and lack of in-game tutorials position it is an “object to think with” (Papert, 1980, p. 23) that rewards trial and error. It’s a sandbox-style game meaning there are no set goals or objectives. In many respects, Minecraft is more of a toy than a game; the user can apply their own rules and goals to it. The openness of the game allows teachers to use it any way they see fit as well. Teachers have used it for language learning, creative writing, and world history.
If you’re interested in trying out Minecraft in the classroom, the essential starting point is: which Minecraft? Currently, there are three versions of the game, each with their own pros and cons, and choosing the best version for your classroom is mostly a matter of classroom context.
Minecraft Java Edition
Originally, Minecraft was written in Java and users quickly began writing their own modifications, or mods, for the game. These mods allow users to change various aspects of the game to tailor it to their own specific play style. This has created a wealth of options in this version of Minecraft, and the game can be adapted to almost any need. The game has been modded to reflect quantum physics and deep space and to replicate fantasy worlds.
This freedom and flexibility extends to multiplayer sessions as well. With Minecraft, it is possible to set up servers that players can join from anywhere in the world for collaborative play. Though server set up has become easier, and with Mojang even hosting servers, it still takes just a bit of tech know-how to get things up and running.
Well suited for: tech-savvy teachers, passionate constructivists, desktop computer-based classrooms
Minecraft: Windows 10 Edition
When Microsoft purchased Minecraft, they crafted a new version of the game written in C++. The benefit of this change in the underlying code was that players across devices could play together. Desktop computers (for PC this means Windows 10), game consoles, and mobile devices could all join the same server and play, making it a great choice for schools running tablet devices such as iPads.
The drawback to this new edition is that all of the mods created for the Java version do not run with it. Over the years, a sizable mod community has developed for the Windows 10 edition, but it pales in comparison to the Java edition.
Well suited for: tablet-based classrooms, classrooms running Windows 10 computers, classes where students may play at home across many devices
Minecraft: Education Edition
Given the success of Minecraft in the classroom, Microsoft purchased the rights to a modded version of Minecraft called Minecraft: Edu. They updated it to the Windows 10 version’s C++ code and rebranded it Minecraft: Education Edition (EE).
The Java version of Minecraft allows for server commands that in Minecraft: EE have been integrated into the in-game menu. These commands now have a graphical user interface, giving educators extensive control over the game without needing any coding skills or to memorize commands. It also allows teachers to freeze players, direct message them, and assign homework inside the game.
The most notable drawback to Minecraft: EE is that players need to have an Office 365 account, and only players on the same account domain can play together. If your students all have 365 accounts and school-provided email addresses, then Minecraft: EE may be a fine choice for your classroom. If you teach students from various schools or from widely separate geographical locations, Minecraft: EE may not be the best fit for your classroom.
Well suited for: single school districts, teachers with limited gaming experience, teachers with limited experience setting up servers
Getting Started With Minecraft
If you are interested in learning more about Minecraft, the best way is to play! The classic version of the game is now available for play in web browsers and is a great way to learn the basics of the game. There are also a host of videos on YouTube that can make fantastic primers for new players. Interested teachers can also join the yearly Minecraft MOOC hosted by the TESOL Computer-Assisted Language Learning Interest Section as part of the Electronic Village Online beginning each year in January.
Until next month, play more games!
Papert, S. (1980). Mindstorms: Children, computers, and powerful ideas. New York, NY: Basic Books.