Print Project Proposal: Is Minecraft Building Towards a Bettter Future For Education?

What is Minecraft?

Originally released in November of 2011 by Mojang AB and Microsoft Studios, Minecraft has revolutionized not only the structure and economic model of the gaming industry but the broader gaming experience. Specifically, Minecraft is not bound to the binary of winning or losing, instead, the game encourages exploration, resource collection, and imagination— a basis that was not necessarily the norm within the gaming industry prior to 2011.

Originally designed by Hayden “Dock” Scott-Baron in 2009. The logo pictured is from the post-2012 era of Minecraft.

With more than 141 million active PC users of all ages, Minecraft has doubled down on these features, priding itself on its ability to embed educational principles straight into the framework of the game. Reported to enhance creativity, problem-solving, self-direction, collaboration, and a global perspective, Minecraft is consistently ranked among the best games for young people.

The Introduction of Minecraft: Education Edition

As video games increasingly look to communicate ideas about the past, Minecraft is no different. Understanding both the makeup of their audience as well as the potential of their platform, Minecraft invited a whole new generation to build and explore models of the past with their release of Minecraft: Education Edition in 2016. Having already faced extreme amounts of success with the original version of the game, Microsoft Studios sought to expand the game’s impact directly into the educational sphere, effectively taking a medium that young people were already familiar with and transforming it into a useful learning tool.

My Research Interests and Goals

Simply put, I want to learn more about the relationship between gaming and history, including the benefits and downfalls of video games in a history education setting. In order to get a better sense of the design and success of Minecraft: Education Edition‘s history education components, I will focus my attention on Minecraft: Education Edition‘s History and Culture guide. Moreover, since each lesson plan and model world contains its own unique set of learning objectives, I will be analyzing three projects that are situated in a variety of historical fields and marketed towards different age groups in hopes of gaining a more comprehensive understanding of the landscape. In particular, I have initially chosen four projects from among Minecraft: Education Edition‘s most popular: “The City of Florence” (updated in 2021) submitted by Marco Vigelini, “World War I Lesson” (updated in 2021) submitted by Phygital Labs, “A303 Stonehenge Through The Ages” (updated in 2022) submitted by Block Builders, and “Juneteenth Build Challenge” (updated in 2022) submitted by Minecraft Education.

In using these models as a lens into Minecraft: Education Edition, I hope to understand what makes these particular models more appealing and promotable than others on the website (and, more generally, other educational tools). With this, I am interested in the overall design of these world models, both in terms of content accuracy as well as the assumed role of teachers vs. students within the game.

I will also search to better understand the method by which these models are presented to educators and whether or not they are ultimately successful in completing their proposed learning objectives. That is to say, I will use these models to better determine the broader relationship between immersive videogame play and the potential for education. I find this particularly important in the case of Minecraft: Education Edition as the tool is designed to filter models based on country, region, grade, and subject in order to ensure that the educator is choosing a model that complies with standards of learning in their location.

Additionally, since Minecraft: Education Edition largely relies on community submissions, an oral history component would add a lot of structure to this paper. Interviews focusing on the small teams/educators that create the models as well as those who are implementing these models within the classroom space could be an interesting point of comparison. These interviews would also do much in the way of providing a behind-the-scenes look that would hopefully complement my own analysis.

5 Replies to “Print Project Proposal: Is Minecraft Building Towards a Bettter Future For Education?”

  1. This is so interesting and cool Sam! I wish my project was as interesting! I think that incorporating an oral history component to this project/paper would overall strengthen it. Understanding the process firsthand that went behind creating the models is amazing itself, but considering how educators used the models is much more important. Depending on the oral history component, perhaps you could conclude on how the models could improve.

    1. That’s a great idea, Josh! The consistency of the models is all over the place, at least from first glance. I would definitely be interested to know more about the policing/posting process ~and if there even is one~. Surely that would be a great improvement to the website and very helpful for educators sifting through 1,000 + models! I definitely recommend checking the website out, some of the models are interesting to say the least… what do you do with a Minecraft world that claims it teaches children about “the brutality of trench warfare.” How is that even possible? Is that completely ethical/is this a good way of approaching a sensitive topic? Or rather, is this a good way of even approaching sensitive topics? So many questions!

  2. I love this topic idea and wish I had thought of it! I agree with Joshua and think that understanding how educators have used the models and the varying success they have had is extremely important to consider the place Minecraft has in an educational setting. This could be done through interviews with educators, or perhaps a survey rating the success of models/lesson plans.

    I think it’s also important to note the cost of Minecraft Education, as not all schools have access to the software. From what I understand, it’s a subscription service that costs a certain amount perusers although I’m not sure about this exactly.

    1. Very well said, Claudia! You make a great point— how does this work on the financial side? I would love to see Minecraft make this a free educational tool so lower-income areas would also be able to participate (or really any school outside of an absurdly wealthy county)! I also think that this would have a dual effect of promoting the tool, in turn, getting more community submissions. This conversation also brings websites like Cool Math Games, Poptropica, Fun Brain Games, etc. to mind. These were all free and extremely impactful. Of course, they aren’t the same but definitely something to think about… I would also be interested in seeing whether or not the school typically compts the cost or if teachers are paying for this out of pocket.

  3. Hi Sam,

    This is a great idea. I like how you set up the stakes for the importance of Minecraft and I also like how you have zeroed in on their history and culture set of resources as the things to focus your analysis on.

    If you do run with this as your project, before getting into a lot of analysis of Minecraft itself, I would suggest delving into a bit of the research and literature on teaching with Minecraft and on history games and education a bit more broadly. For the Minecraft and education research, you can likely surface a lot of useful material by just searching on Minecraft and education in different journal databases. For work on teaching history and video games, I would recommend checking out some of Jeremiah McCall’s work (https://gamingthepast.net/about/ ). You might also consider emailing Jeremiah about some of what you are looking at doing and seeing if he has any recommendations or suggestions about how to approach this kind of research.

    As another thing to consider for a project like this, it would be great if you could find reviews from educators about some of these resources. Or alternatively, if you could find some educators that have been using the resources I think doing some lightweight interviews with them about what they find works well or doesn’t work well with them could also be really useful context for rounding out a project like this.

    Overall, this is a great idea for a project and given how much continued interest there is in Minecraft I think it has a lot of potential to be of interest to a number of audiences. I know various libraries and museums use Minecraft in their programs so I’m sure there will be interest in this kind of research in those communities.

    Best, Trevor

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