Schoolifying — or suckifying — Minecraft
Microsoft is trying to “schoolify” Minecraft without “suckifying” it, writes Anya Kamenetz in NPR.
Minecraft, which lets players build a 3-D world out of “blocks,” has sold more than 121 million copies since 2009, writes Kamenetz. Microsoft bought the game in 2014, then bought TeacherGaming’s classroom version, MinecraftEdu.
Microsoft’s Minecraft: Education Edition now has 150,000 teacher and student users in schools around the globe, she reports. “Teachers are using Minecraft in every imaginable subject, from literature to social studies to math. Build a 3-D diorama of an archaeological dig; retell a Japanese folktale; test bridge designs in different materials.”
In the Edu days, creative “teachers set up and maintained their own servers,” which “required some technical know-how, but also allowed for lots of experimentation and customization,” Kamenetz writes.
“Scrappy educators and hackers and YouTubers kept adding stuff on, and it was very much an organic, geek-led movement,” says Mimi Ito, a cultural anthropologist at UC Irvine who studies how children and teens use media. She is also the founder of an online Minecraft summer camp. Ito compares the game to a skateboarding park: a place that kids flock to and have a blast while also picking up wicked cool new tricks. “Kids are mostly hanging out, but they’re also learning from each other,” she explains. “Some are more advanced and are displaying their skills, so there are open invites to level up.”
Will that spirit be lost? “The Education Edition conforms better to traditional lesson planning, particularly grading,” writes Kamenetz. Teachers don’t need technical skills to use the Education Edition, which runs only on Microsoft’s platform. Students create an Minecraft identity at school to play Minecraft, but can’t use it at home.
Taken together, the changes have some observers wondering whether the company is going to turn Minecraft into a product, with all the ubiquity — and all the fun — of PowerPoint or Office.
Diana Main, a computer-science teacher in San Jose who’s a Minecraft EE mentor, said she’s discussed the risks with one of her students, a former homeschooler. “She was talking about the risk of making Minecraft suck by schoolifying it. And I said, ‘Just because you schoolify it doesn’t mean you suckify it.’ It doesn’t matter what it is, anything can be done badly or done well.”