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Amazing, The Central Eastern European School Association (CEESA) has created a Minecraft server that schools from across Central Europe are playing in. The server, located in Moscow, is available for students at any CEESA school. I ran my video-game club through our first trial of minecraft yesterday afternoon, and we had a neat time. This project has just started, but with many schools involved, it is enormously exciting. I am hopeful for a bright future. Here’s our experiences, and some reflections about this experience and learning.
Initial expectation about the experience.
For many players in our video game club, there really is nothing better than killing your friend in the most imaginative way possible. In gamer terms, this is known as griefing. We reviewed a prezi made by a student in Moscow with the rules, which offered common-sense suggestions like not destroying each others buildings, killing other players, and generally being rude. The members of my video game club were shocked and let-down when they realized this wouldn’t be part of their minecraft experience.
When they saw no zombies, spiders, and explody-thingies, they were again disappointed. There was an intelligent conversation about the “essence” of minecraft - what made it a game, what makes it fun, why people come back. There seemed to be a general consensus that with a common enemy (mobs) players would have a reason to visit the game more often. We are going to suggest adding in PvE (or perhaps, just a part of the world can be PvE).
But then, there is that whole “game” thing going on.
Despite their concerns, they were very quickly immersed in the world. We saw the center of the world and set off to build the Polish section of the world. We built a big Polish flag, and started building a platform. There is an idea to build a very big train system linking the different districts, and the center district. Last night, still learning about Minecraft, I started building The Wieliczka Salt Mines.
I was reminded again why I am drawn to games as a powerful tools for learning. The students excitement, motivation, and energy was palpable. They were pointing at the screen, shouting and yelling, impassioned. And then, they started building; trying to make the most beautiful buildings they could. There were complaints about student players being ‘ops’. I promised them I would investigate (I think the server is set up for creative mode).
As my readers may know, I am an enthusiastic proponent of Dr. Richard Bartle’s player types - which basically states people play games for different reasons (explorer, socializer, achiever, and griefer) there are other types, but you get the idea. I saw my student quickly adapt their playing styles to the confines of this world, and just love it.
Learnings and further steps
1. We have an opportunity to learn, discuss and reflect on online behavior, ethics, and community. This server offers a lens for us to participate in a virtual community - and learn much in the process. These kids don’t know each other - there is very little glue to keep them together.
2. There is an amazing opportunity to build important cultural buildings and places here - why not a famous church in Croatia, the famous metro system in Moscow (or Red Square), old town in Kracow, beautiful sites in Helsinki, etc… Why not create a microcosm of Europe on a minecraft server? Here we see a place where students can virtually represent anything.
3. Teachers have an opportunity to learn how to teach and work with other schools in CEESA. Our athletics department might be able to give us some advice - how do you work with CEESA kids you don’t really know? I would like to begin offering online / blended courses in Warsaw to other students throughout CEESA. This server is a great place for us to fall flat on our faces as we learn to virtually interact with each other.
For further steps, I suggest we:
1. Build a collaborative vision of our minecraft server - At some point, we need to be able to answer the “why are we doing this” question.
2. Institute a “uservoice” type service so the different schools can agree on what sorts of features they would want in the game (http://uservoice.com/feedback). Basically, uservoice allows users to vote on a feature request, and it is very easy to quickly see what your community thinks is important.
3. Maybe have a guiding question or idea in the moodle forum each week. We can then focus our efforts in the game towards answering this question or exploring this idea.
One last thought - games are educational in very different ways; please don’t think “playing minecraft will make their math skills stronger”. Take a quick peek here for some summaries and thoughts about games and learning I’ve written over the last 5 or 6 years.