OK, so some of this week’s questions are: Is there evidence that multimedia aids in learning? What is it? Do games impact learning? Does creating multimedia, rather than viewing or interacting with it, play a role in learning?
So as I mentioned in my introduction, I work at a Swedish high school called Viktor Rydberg. We have a jr. high as well, and we share the same building. VRG has had a 1-1 laptop programme for about 5-6 years now, and the school often makes the news for its apparently progressive IT profile. That, compounded with Sweden’s apparently progressive brand in the world, means we often get launched right into the international media. The latest news about VRG has made its way to Gizmag, Edudemic and lots of other techno-centric educational websites. Our jr high has put mandatory Minecraft classes on the curriculum for 13 year olds. You can read more about this on Edudemic here. The Gizmag article is here. According to the teacher in charge of these classes, “They learn about city planning, environmental issues, getting things done, and even how to plan for the future,” (Monika Ekman in Gizmag).
In looking around for responses to this, I find the majority of educators writing about Minecraft in the classroom are immensely positive about it, because it is engaging and motivating. It meets kids where they are. They seem to also be able to list certain skill sets and curricular goals Minecraft can meet. I have even found a graduate student who is working on gamification in the classroom, who posts glowingly about Minecraft here.
So, why… why… does it give make me feel so uneasy? I am the mum of a 9 year old boy. During a recent bout of illness, we dropped his screentime limits, and I witnessed his descent into a Minecraft world that was all-consuming. I don’t think he even stopped to pee. I find as parents we have to work hard to keep him away from screens all the time, so there’s hockey and guitar and swimming and soccer (and boy are we tired…). If I found out that he was being given compulsory Minecraft classes at school, I would likely protest. I think the balance in his life would have tipped too far into a virtual world, and that his ability to connect with and imagine the real world would be in jeopardy. I know he enjoys it, I am just not entirely certain about what he is getting out of it.
I have some pretty strong opinions about the way that Swedes are approaching IT: they seem to think that some is good, so a whole lot more must be better. There really seems to be a highly uncritical no-holds-barred approach to IT in schools and for children with little or no interest in real research to back it up. 10 year olds are routinely given their own iPhones, iPads are being purchased for preschool classes and now.. this. I find there to be very little concern about finding the research to back up or even justify a lot of the choices that are being made, especially about the saturation of IT in schools.
The answers provided about the educational value of Minecraft do not really satisfy me. I feel like an enthusiastic teacher (who has solved a big problem with motivation) could justify anything they do in the classroom with a clever manipulation of a term or two. But urban planning? Environmental issues? Are schools doing enough to establish connection with and understanding of real-world issues and problems before they launch into solving them in virtual worlds?
In this fascinating documentary on PBS, Digital Nation, esearchers discovered that young children who were immersed in virtual reality experiences (in this case they “swam” with “whales”) and were interviewed afterwards believed that they had actually had that experience. They did not differentiate between reality and virtual reality.
In the video clip you will see above, the teacher seems very happy and satisfied with the way his Minecraft classes have worked with the kids he teaches. I wonder, though, if anyone has recently interviewed a teacher about, say, a good trip to a museum, or a local pond…