As a child of the seventies and eighties, I was lucky enough to experience a cultural revolution: the birth of video gaming. From pumping coins into Space Invaders and Asteroids to sitting in the cockpit of a Star Wars X-Wing fighter or driving a Ferrari Testarossa in Outrun, these experiences were shared ones. Watching my friends play, laughing, shouting and ‘encouraging’ them was (almost) as much fun as playing. The bonding that happened around gaming was part of my friendship group’s shared culture.
The popularity of gaming waxed and waned in the intervening decades, but with the advent of tablets, phones, and portable systems like the Nintendo Switch, collaborative gaming is once again part of popular culture. Games such as Fortnite and Overwatch have become particularly popular due to their cross-platform availability, but perhaps the most well-known of them all, with 91 million active users worldwide (Crookes, 2019), is Minecraft.
Minecraft allows players to build worlds using resources collected from the game’s environment. It’s possible to play solo or share worlds and work collaboratively with others. Through YouTube, it has spawned a vibrant maker culture where people create and consume content around the game (Niemeyer & Gerber, 2015).
The development of augmented reality (AR) adds exciting new opportunities for real-world interaction, gaming and collaboration. AR allows users to see and interact with virtual objects while working in the real world via phones and tablets and is therefore potentially accessible for many young people (Khan, Johnston, & Ophoff, 2019). This space between the real and virtual worlds has been termed the Third Space (Schuck, Kearney, & Burden, 2017), and its educational benefits are starting to be explored, particularly the way it interacts with communities (Chen, 2018).
Minecraft Earth (ME) is an AR version of Minecraft allowing users to create and share virtual constructions in the real world. It has a head start on other educational AR applications due to being free, and a ready-made user base already familiar with Minecraft’s concepts and operation. Sharing structures with the wider community will encourage exploration and interaction. Exploring, creating structures, finding resources, having adventures and discovering other users’ constructions will be an important aspect of this interactive experience (Crookes, 2019). With collaboration central to using ME, it could become a sophisticated tool for encouraging interaction and communication amongst students.
This collaboration might result in the creation of a participatory culture (PC). There are several defining markers of PC which ME could align with. These include having few barriers to entry, an aspect of mentorship and an ethos of sharing (Jenkins, 2009). An advantage is students can take greater ownership of learning, unrestrained by location and time. Learning experiences started during school hours can potentially continue and be built upon during pupils’ free time (Schuck et al., 2017). Communication within this culture can also occur within the application, face to face and through other forms of social media such as YouTube, which extends the community’s reach (Kuhn & Stevens, 2017). This could create ever-expanding circles of interaction and learning.
If video games reflect the society they are created in (Bradford, 2010), then the popularity of Minecraft is a positive reflection of popular culture and young people’s desire to work together. Some educators, undervalue or are unaware of the sophisticated literacies present in gaming’s social practices (Niemeyer & Gerber, 2015). However, with gaming becoming more popular as an educational tool (Kuhn & Stevens, 2017), Minecraft is beginning to be used regularly, particularly for developing collaborative skills (Davis, Boss, & Meas, 2018). This means ME is also likely to be well-used in educational settings.
The use of AR has been shown to increase learning motivation (Khan et al., 2019; Taskiran, 2019). Motivation and finding tasks meaningful are key if learning is to occur (Chen, 2018). Choosing applications and designing learning experiences that are accessible, inclusive and meaningful is therefore important. Minecraft Earth may be an early contender for being a valuable collaborative AR application for education.
There are some assumptions to be mindful of when advocating for the use of ME or other AR applications. Firstly, it should not be assumed all educators have the necessary skills, knowledge or understanding to use AR and related technology. Schools may need to provide professional development for their staff (Kuhn & Stevens, 2017). Additionally, some educators and learners may find these new roles challenging (Schuck et al., 2017). Continually introducing new technology can be responsible for change fatigue, and schools should try to stagger new initiatives. Secondly, not all play equals learning. Educators should have clearly defined reasons why AR is the best tool for their learning intentions. It will only be a good tool if it is suitable for the learners and helps them to achieve the learning intentions or develop skills.
ME has lots of potential for encouraging collaborative learning in new and exciting spaces. If educators can be mindful of the areas of caution such as staff development and having clearly defined learning intentions, ME and other AR applications could revolutionise the spaces students learn in and the collaborative skills they use.
Bradford, C. (2010). Looking for my corpse: Video games and player positioning. Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, The, 33(1), 54–64. Retrieved from https://content.ebscohost.com/ContentServer.asp?T=P&P=AN&K=48000988&S=R&D=eue&EbscoContent=dGJyMMTo50Sep7Y4zdnyOLCmr1Gep7dSsqu4SbeWxWXS&ContentCustomer=dGJyMO%2Fr8lPr1%2BeGudvmh%2FHq
Chen, I. (2018). The application of augmented reality in English phonics learning performance of ESL young learners. 2018 1st International Cognitive Cities Conference (IC3), 255–259. https://doi.org/10.1109/IC3.2018.000-7
Crookes, D. (2019). Minecraft Earth. Web User, (481), 38–39. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/2275076713/
Davis, K., Boss, J., & Meas, P. (2018). Playing in the virtual sandbox: Students’ collaborative practices in Minecraft. International Journal of Game-Based Learning (IJGBL), 8(3), 56–76. https://doi.org/10.4018/IJGBL.2018070104
Jenkins, H. (2009). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century. Retrieved from https://muse.jhu.edu/book/60823
Khan, T., Johnston, K., & Ophoff, J. (2019). The impact of an augmented reality application on learning motivation of students. Advances in Human-Computer Interaction, 2019. https://doi.org/10.1155/2019/7208494
Kuhn, J., & Stevens, V. (2017). Participatory culture as professional development: Preparing teachers to use Minecraft in the classroom. TESOL Journal, 8(4), 753–767. https://doi.org/10.1002/tesj.359
Niemeyer, D., & Gerber, H. (2015). Maker culture and Minecraft: Implications for the future of learning. Educational Media International, 52(3), 216–226. https://doi.org/10.1080/09523987.2015.1075103
Schuck, S., Kearney, M., & Burden, K. (2017). Exploring mobile learning in the Third Space. Technology, Pedagogy and Education, 26(2), 121–137. https://doi.org/10.1080/1475939X.2016.1230555
Taskiran, A. (2019). The effect of augmented reality games on English as foreign language motivation. E-Learning and Digital Media, 16(2), 122–135. https://doi.org/10.1177/2042753018817541
Featured image by author