Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Learning in Virtual Worlds -- #Minecraft #DigitalLiteracy

Years ago I served as a librarian and then as an adjunct instructor for graduate education courses taught in a virtual world, Second Life (SL). After teaching for a while, I took a National Library of Medicine grant funded position as a Consumer Health Librarian in SL. Both were remarkable experiences. the learning that took place for me in that virtual world was truly transformative.
However, with all SL had to offer, there were problems and challenges that, in the end, proved too difficult and costly for many colleges, universities and schools to continue to use SL for teaching. Many educators moved on to other virtual worlds but, in my opinion, nothing came close to what SL offered...until Minecraft. (Yes, Minecraft is very different from a real life like virtual world but it's the same type of open system that allows you to create whatever you can imagine.)

If you know nothing about Minecraft for education, this entertaining video can get you up to speed in five minutes. And, of course, there's the Minecraft wikipedia page, which includes excellent references. For those wondering about Minecraft research, here are Google Scholar results.

I've been working on an upcoming digital literacy presentation and have been researching ways we can develop digital literacy skills through inquiry, play and exploration. I agree with @EricStoller in this Inside Higher Ed article regarding our digital literacy development in higher education "...it seems that technology competency, digital literacy, social media fluency, online engagement, etc. are still areas that need some structured/intentional work."

In this post I want to showcase an excellent example (albeit quite advanced) of learning, and developing digital and traditional information literacy skills around a project using Minecraft. A short article, found through twitter, titled Students build Gallipoli in Minecraft, includes comments from the teacher and a few of the dozens of Auckland teenagers who spent thousands of hours recreating an awesome virtual version of 1915 Gallipoli. It also features a quality silent video of the student work.

I went hunting for a bit more about the project and found two of the short videos below, which include student narration, on this page.

The learning and engagement with history, technology, problem solving, and the research process itself that took place during this project is clearly evident.

Watch: The making of Gallipoli in Minecraft:

Description: Watch how students used the sketches from Percival Fenwick’s diary as a reference for the 'Recreating Gallipoli in Minecraft' build. 

Decription: Students from Alfriston College re-enacting the tragic events that Anzac troops had to experience on the Gallipoli peninsula from May 5th to May 7th 1915.

A couple of years ago I downloaded Minecraft and began playing. I mostly made a huge mess, it was fun and very reminiscent of my early days in SL. Like SL, I could create whatever I wanted, I simply had to learn how. There was a familiar feeling of empowerment that I often experience when exploring a powerful new digital tool that allows me to create and learn. I could take my time solving problems, make a huge mess and it wouldn't matter. I could make connections, collaborate with others, solve larger problems, etc., all while fully engaged and continually #learning.
Being overly committed I decided that, until time allowed, I would follow the development of Minecraft in education on Youtube. A Youtube search of Minecraft returns almost 60 million results, it's really quite a phenomenon.

Teaching and learning with online games and virtual worlds has been taking place for many years. It seems to be more popular than ever in K-12 (partly due to Minecraft and people like Jane McGonigal and others who understand the engagement and learning potential), I've been surprised that there hasn't been greater adoption in higher education. I wonder how students who learn about history, for instance, in such an active constructivist learning way, will fare in the more traditional "sage on the stage" type of lecture classroom.

I didn't fare well in traditional classrooms, I was painfully bored and could not remain focused no matter how hard I tried. I was also intensely curious and remember desperately wanting to learn. I would have loved to have had opportunities to learn in similar ways as the Alfriston College students. I'm thankful I can continue lifelong informal learning, and developing my digital literacy skills using many readily available technologies.