Website Review

Minecraft Education

Mojang Studios

Minecraft has been a popular computer game since its release in 2011. It has become the best-selling video game in history and is available on several platforms including Windows, Mac, and online. From the beginning, Mojang Studios, the creator of Minecraft has sought education uses for the game. Minecraft Education offers lessons in a wide variety of subjects, including math, science, computing, and history. The Minecraft History and Culture site allows users to search for modules they want or browse from featured lessons. These include the opportunity to explore individual cities and civilizations in the past like ancient Baghdad, work with mapmaking, building a human timeline, learning about topics such as heraldry and land management, and exploring specific events like World War I. Many of the lessons involve building a city/space collaboratively. Minecraft Education’s selection is growing, but already the lesson library includes a wide range, from Washington state history to ancient history, and including Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous (Anishinaabe) history. Among the history lessons are included lessons which overlap with other topics including architecture, math, science, spelling, computing, environmentalism, civic design, sustainability, and citizenship. The lesson library also includes two five-part lesson collections, one on World War I and one on Ancient Egypt. Educators can search the library by student age, subject, resources, and standards. Because of the wide variety of history topics and high level of overlap between other school subjects, Minecraft Education would be a good resource for social studies educators in all subject areas. Additionally, because each lesson offers suggestions for a wide variety of age ranges (typically 7-18+), the resources could be applied at several grade levels and older students would likely have different takeaways than younger students. And because Minecraft Education also offers lessons in other “subject kits” like Digital Citizenship, educators also have access to lessons like Financial Literacy.

How to Use:

Users must either download Minecraft or Minecraft Education. Minecraft has a free trial which can be downloaded for Mac, Linus, and Windows, but the licensed and permanent version is about $30. Minecraft Education can be purchased for about $5 and users with a Microsoft account may already be licensed. Additionally, an institutional license can be purchased. Minecraft can also be played for free online at class.minecraft.net.

Once users sign in, they can click on the clothes hanger icon on the home page for an opportunity to change their “skin” or character’s appearance. Minecraft offers users a wide variety of genders and skin tones, which educators might find helpful in getting their students to connect with the characters and therefore be more invested in the game. On this page, users can also adjust their audio levels, which educators might value to accommodate for students with sensory issues or simply to make it easier for students to hear instructions.

Within the game, educators can set up learning so that students explore and build their own world or work collaboratively.

Mechanics:

Because Minecraft is so popular, there are many user forums spread across the internet. Additionally, the Minecraft website has several training pages and the game itself has training modules, all of which can be completed at the user’s pace and help to explore game mechanics. However, here are the basic functions users will need to complete the game tasks.

W = forward

S = backward

A = left

D = right

Space = jump

Space twice = fly

E = inventory access (users can also view their inventory in the “hotbox” which is always available at the bottom of their screen.

Shift = sneak

Right click = interact with NPC or object*


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Users must be standing close enough to the NPC/object in order for this function to work.


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Within the NPC speech bubble, users can click on the book icon to access an immersive reader which will read the speech aloud. Users can choose to listen in two different voices and at a variety of speeds. They can also increase the text size, change the font, highlight various parts of speech, change the color contrast, add focus lines, break the words into syllables, and translate the speech (either by word or as a whole). This feature makes Minecraft Education more accessible to students who may struggle with reading on screens, who are color blind, or who are not fluent in English.

Users can navigate direction with either the above keys or their mouse. Minecraft describes the mouse as the user’s head and the keys as their body, meaning that if you need to look in one direction then move the mouse, and if you need to move, then use the keys. The crosshair (+) also moves with the user’s mouse and serves as the target, on-screen instructions will let users know if they can place a block or destroy a block in the location they are pointed towards.

Teacher training is available in three self-paced modules which take approximately one hour. We highly recommend completing the training in order to learn more about game mechanics and to get a better sense of the things which educators can use Minecraft to accomplish. Because learning how to use the Minecraft world can take educators and students a while, we recommend building student learning time into any Minecraft lessons you choose to employ. You may choose to have students explore the game functions on their own as homework, which could save classroom time. Many of the pre-built worlds which Minecraft Education offers, such as the Nobel Peace Center landscapes, do not require as much understanding of the game mechanics because there is less required building, but students will still need to understand how to move their characters, interact with NPCs, and place objects.

Minecraft also offers Minecraft educators support through their online community which offers educators access to a Minecraft Teachers Lounge, teacher training, community events, and feedback forums. These resources may be helpful for teachers who are looking for advice, lesson plans, and other ideas on how to implement Minecraft in the classroom.

Additionally, Minecraft offers suggestions for classroom management. These suggestions fit into the company’s larger goal of promoting game-based learning in classrooms. Because game-based learning can be tricky, educators may consider revising their existing classroom management procedures or utilizing Minecraft as a homework which can be discussed in class afterwards.

Finally, Minecraft offers a Minecraft Student Ambassador Program and Minecraft Educator Ambassador Program, both of which are aimed at making teachers and students into leaders and communicators about the power of game-based learning.

Analysis:

Because Minecraft offers such a wide variety of sources and topics, it can be incredibly helpful to teachers. However, because game-based play poses particular risks, such as the possibility that students will not learn and only focus on playing, or that they will not internalize the lessons because they are too focused on learning to use the game, it is important that educators wishing to use Minecraft Education do so carefully. Minecraft suggests that educators use the software either as a take-home assignment or an in-class group assignment, in order to mitigate any significant loss of classroom time and to allow students to explore and learn at their own pace.

Additionally, because many of the lessons are less focused on game-play and more on exploration or on city-building, students may find some of the lessons less engaging or less instructive on the intended themes. In units like Florence and the Round City of Baghdad, where students’ main objectives are exploring the city and interacting with NPCs, the game may be useful for learning about ethnography, tourism, anthropology, and architecture, but less so for other topics.

It is unlikely that educators will want to exclusively use Minecraft for their lessons, so it is better as a supplemental tool. However, due to the learning requirement for both teachers and students before playing the game, it is a high labor supplement, which may make it less useful.

Additionally, because Minecraft requires each student to have access to a computer either at home or at school, and an institutional license does cost money, it may be prohibitively expensive for some educators.

On the other hand, because Minecraft does not time out and users cannot run out of lives in the Education version, the game can be played forever and will save user progress in the event that they need to stop and start. This feature increases the replayability of Minecraft Education games and gives students more opportunities to learn at their own pace.

Most lessons provided by Minecraft Education comes with an introduction video, learning objectives, educator tools including premade PowerPoints and notes, suggested activities, performance expectations, and estimated times for playthrough. We found these resources helpful but simplistic, and they would be best used with supplemental instruction. However, the wide variety of resources on many topics makes Minecraft Education a good educational database for educators, regardless of whether they use the game as an instructional tool. Additionally, because many of the lessons are submitted by educators and built by students, not all are as complete as those produced by Minecraft Education. And, because the games don’t always include video playthroughs, it is not always clear what users should do in what order to proceed through the game. One extreme example of the dangers of playing without instructions is that users can die in lessons like Sailing to the New World, where drowning is possible and when users fall into the ocean, they cannot escape.

Overall, we found that some Minecraft Education lessons were easier and more informative than others but that each is suited to a variety of instructional goals in some way. We suggest that educators who choose to use Minecraft Education lessons do so with older students who may be easier to keep on task. The lessons may be most instructive if assigned as homework, where the instructor provides background in class and space for reflections after. The reason for this is that the format of Minecraft games makes them best suited to self-paced learning. Instructors should also consider providing written or oral instructions to their students on how best to complete gameplay. This model will equip students with the context they need to get out of the game what their instructors intend and to not get lost in the gameplay rather than the lesson.

Reviewed by Alexandra Miller, George Mason University

How to Cite This Source

"Minecraft Education," in in World History Commons, https://worldhistorycommons.org/minecraft-education [accessed February 23, 2024]
Minecraft Education logo
“Because Minecraft offers such a wide variety of sources and topics, it can be incredibly helpful to teachers. However, because game-based play poses particular risks, such as the possibility that students will not learn and only focus on playing.”