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MP3: Artefacts, Learning Media - Virtual Learning Worlds and Game-based Learning (Minecraft)

Page history last edited by k.jauregi@uu.nl 6 years ago

Case study on Virtual learning Worlds and Game-based learning using Minecraft.


Short description:

"While games are good for learning, learning is good for games." (James P. Gee)

Based on the development of appealing and versatile entertainment media, modern computer and video games are attributed with a high potential to encourage informal and self-directed learning. In this context, a separate research direction has been established: (Digital) Game-Based Learning understands computer and video games as  teaching & learning settings and assumes a reciprocal relationship between gameplay and learning process.

The aim of the course is to introduce students to a computer game, which is currently being used by many young people and adults for the creation and exploration of virtual worlds: Minecraft.

Students will experience the capabilities and limitations of this technology to get to their own assessment regarding potential deployment scenarios. In addition, other concepts and ideas of Game-based Learning for example Serious Games are part of the curriculum in order to widen the focus on the professional debate on this topic.

The module consists of two courses, seminar and exercise that will take place both as a presence event and as a gaming session online alternately.

Number of participants: 29 students.



1.1 Decision making process


  • The course is aimed at bachelor students of Education, teachers in training and bachelor students of Software Engineering
  • Course delivery takes place online in Minecraft and face-to-face at University Kiel; the use of Minecraft is only a component in the course concept as a whole
  • Minecraft is a very popular virtual environment that is focussed on cooperation and creativity, it offers a very unique and immediate approach on building, creating content in a virtual environment
  • There’s a special modified version of Minecraft called Minecraft EDU, which was built explicitely for the use in the classroom setting
  • Minecraft EDU () offers a huge library of materials like use cases and tutorial worlds; it’s offered by TeacherGaming LLC with a significant discount (up to 50% compared to the commercial version of Minecraft; a single classroom licence of Minecraft EDU consists of a specified Mod and 25 Minecraft licenses Minecraft EDU $ 335, compared to the normal version you would have to pay $ 675 to acquire the same amount of licences ). In addition it offers easy to use functions to interact with the students in the virtual environment (like teleporting students to a specific location, muting, freezing)


1.2 Aims/objectives


  • Introducing students to the idea/concept of (Digital) Game-based Learning
  • Questioning their own conceptions and experiences of learning and teaching
  • Making aware about potentials for learning and teaching in virtual environments
  • Engaging students in creative gameplay and design tasks (Using Minecraft as a prototyping tool)
  • Looking at different modes of interaction between participating students: collaboration & cooperation
  • Looking at unique qualities of Minecraft – which aspects of Minecraft contribute to the concept of (D)GBL, looking at existing scenarios using Minecraft in an educational setting


1.3 Funding


• In addition to the acquisition of licenses and new PC hardware there were no additional costs involved
• The costs were financed by the university in their entirety by state funds
• Unlike Second Life, Minecraft doesn’t not incur any additional costs relating to the use of virtual areas or customizing the avatars


1.4 Environment and Participants


  • 29 students in total, bachelor students of educational sciences and bachelor students of software engineering
  • The course delivery took place in face-to-face sessions at University and online in Minecraft
  • In the first phase the students experienced Minecraft EDU, in the second phase they were given a design task to create the „University of the Future“ using Minecraft. For this we created Minecraft accounts using official e-mail-addresses from Kiel University. These e-mail-addresses were generated by the it-department

  • In cooperation with the it-department of Kiel University we had to open certain ports to enable students accessing the server from outside university (TCP 25565)
  • In the introduction phase we used materials of Minecraft EDU specifically built for introductory purposes (Controls, Orientation, Movement, Building)


2.1 Technical Issues and Support


  • The process of procurement took a lot more time than expected. (release of the funds) We received the new pc-hardware three weeks before the course started
  • We had no problems acquiring the game licences via TeacherGaming LLC
  • If you plan to use Minecraft in your educational setting you should bear in mind, that Minecraft isn’t compatible with Intel Graphic Chip Sets/ cards.  Minecraft doesn’t require a state-of-the art gaming PC. We used these specifications: 


  • Client
    • MacBook Pro 15”
      • 2,6 GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i7 Processor

8 GB 1600 MHz DDR3 RAM

NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M


    • Windows 7 PC
      • Dell OptiPlex 7010
        Intel I7 3.40GHz
        8GB RAM
        ATI Radeon 7470


  • Server*
    • Dell Precision T3600
      Processor: Intel Xeon E5-1607 3.00GHz
      16GB RAM


  • * It’s important for the server to have sufficient RAM and free space on the harddisk drive.  The graphics card is not important


  • The installation process and testing phase went really smooth – this is a short overview on tasks and activities, which were crucial for the implementation phase:


    • Downloading and installing the MinecraftEDU Costum Mod
    • Creating Minecraft-Accounts via the Mojang Game-Website, using the official E-Mail Addresses of Kiel University (25 accounts) in combination with the purchased game licences provided by TeacherGaming LLC
    • Setting up the server for MinecraftEDU and Minecraft
    • Creating a whitelist of users that should be able to access the servers
    • Setting up TeamSpeak server (Minecraft only offers textchat for communication between players)
    • Testing the tutorial environments in Minecraft EDU: controls, orientation, navigation, task design
    • Designing/setting up a building / creative environment in Minecraft, where students will work on their design task (in this case: building the ‘University of the Future’)


  • Since the demand of the students was higher than the estimated number of 25 participating students, we decided to open the course for 5 additional students, who already bought or were willing to acquire a game licence of Minecraft on their own behalf. From a technical standpoint this was no problem, because these students had their own equipment, they only had to be added to the whitelist, accessing the Minecraft Server 


  • 2 employees were engaged in this course: the tutor (course delivery) and an additional employee as supporting staff (resolving technical issues, preparing the virtual environment)


  •  technical issues/challenges:
    • communication in Minecraft via textchat was tiresome
    • Minecraft EDU: players can change their names, Minecraft: it’s not possible to change the name, MC uses account name
    • long process of procurement: availability of it-infrastructure of the course and licenses of the software
    • identifying the hardware that is suited running the software
    • limitations of the official hardware supplier of the university
    • restrictions regarding the firewall of the university (accessing Minecraft server from outside university)
    • some students signing in on pc-hardware provided by University of Kiel had problems with the installed version of Minecraft starting the software (solution: downloading Minecraft again and starting it with a temporary profile)
    • Confusion regarding the use of TeamSpeak: some students thought that TeamSpeak was an additional communication tool within Minecraft


2.1 Interaction


  • Minecraft only offers textchat for communication: the players had problems, specifically addressing other players. These players weren’t aware that another player was talking to them; Skype and TeamSpeak were introduced additionally to support synchronous and active communication
  • Textchat doesn’t provide an archive function in order to reread old discussions, textchat can be disrupted by other students
  • Students used Facebook and GoogleDocs to coordinate their efforts regarding the design task
  • Though presence at University wasn’t mandatory during the design phase, most of the students chose to meet their groups at the accustomed timeframe of the course
  • In the face-to-face meetings the students used several different rooms, where the desktop-pcs were located; the tutor and the supporting staff member periodically changed between the different rooms and were contact persons for the issues and needs of the students
  • Minecraft EDU offers unique functions that can be used for effective session & group management: mute students, freeze students, teleport students, giving items to specific players
  • 1 out of 5 groups, a very tech savvy group and very experienced in Minecraft, used their own Bukkit server for accomplishing their design task. They wanted to use additional plugins like VoxelSniper and WorldEdit- these are special tools that facilitate building in Minecraft, making it a lot easier to build huge constructions. From the instructors perspective these tools require a sort of deepened/ expert knowledge, most of the students in this course simply lack. Introducing students to these tools wasn’t part of the curriculum. Most of the groups added blocks with each click. For some of them it seemed to be tiresome, others were deeply engaged in this activity, investing hours and hours in the virtual world of Minecraft


2.1 Resources and Materials


  • We used QuickTime on Mac and MSI Afterburner on Windows 7 to capture activities and products in the virtual environment of Minecraft. Other Tools for recording like Fraps and Camtasia have to be bought separately
  • Most of the materials like PowerPoint slides and literature were uploaded to an online platform called OLAT-Online Learning and Training, other materials like Minecraft EDU files were stored locally on the desktop-pcs in use of the course
  • Minecraft EDU offers a huge library of materials for the use in the educational context: usecases, tutorial videos, virtual environments


2.2 Risks and Ethical Issues


  • Since the gameplay and the results of the design task had to be recorded via a screen capturing software, one student, providing his own account with his ‘stylized’ player name felt uncomfortable, because he feared that his chosen name wasn’t appropriate to share with the scientific community. In consequence we didn’t film his activities in Minecraft in order to comply with his concerns
  • Minecraft EDU offers the possibility to protect areas and buildings, which means structures and buildings can’t be manipulated or destroyed by fault or on purpose by the players/students. Building in Minecraft on the other hand can be dangerous since all the players are on the same map. Some students might be interested to experiment with dynamite, destroying creations of other students. At the beginning of the design phase the students gave their consent that they won’t be destroying the prototypes of other students on purpose. The building areas in Minecraft on the server map are so extensive, spacious that no player could harm other one’s creation by fault 
  • In the following semesters we’ll use Bukkit servers for Minecraft, special customizable, modified servers that allow the use of plugins. Using this kind of server allows us to define and modify many of the world settings, so dynamite won’t be a problem at all     
  • The students received two consent forms: it was mandatory to inform them about data collection and –analysis. In addition they agreed to the terms for using Minecraft EDU and Minecraft (these accounts will be re-used in the following semester)


3.1 Participant Assessment


  • The students received several minor tasks regarding the use of Minecraft and analysing the potentials and weaknesses of existing worlds in Minecraft EDU. These activities won’t be assessed. Their major task creating “the University of the Future” on the other hand is a complex task – during the last phase of the course the students were working on personas (‘students of the future’, studying in Kiel) identifying 4-5 archetypes for their conceptual design. In the end they were asked to: 


    • Give a vision about the development of a learning and teaching environment like an university
    • Question their own conceptions of learning and teaching in general
    • Reflect on their process as a group, looking for aspects and modes of cooperation and collaboration
    • Think about potential uses-cases according to the principles of (D)GBL
    • Form a reasoned opinion about (D)GBL and Minecraft as a prototyping tool 


  • These questions will be subjects of a professional discussion in a course paper the students will be able to submit at the end of this semester (March 31st 2014)
  • In consequence the final assessment will take place out of the virtual world “Minecraft” – In this case Minecraft is used as a tool likely to support learning. The activities and constructions in Minecraft will be part of the reflection and argumentation in the context of their professional engagement/assessment regarding the potentials and limits of virtual Learning Environments, which are using creative gameplay to motivate students


3.5 Course Evaluation

  • During the course the activities of the students were periodically recorded via screen capturing software. In addition they were asked to document their progress as a group using a questionnaire
  • In the final phase of the course the students created an information sheet in order to portray their prototype of the “University of the Future”. These short questionnaires were produced with the publication in the Euroversity Wiki in mind
  • The students had the possibility to give a written feedback by participating in an online survey (general evaluation of courses at University of Kiel)
  • The final evaluation of the course will be based on: 


    • Feedback from students (online survey)
    • Feedback from colleagues (presenting results of the course during team meetings)
    • Findings from the course/ term paper


Preliminary Results (this overview doesn’t include results from the term paper)


  • Every working group (in total: 5) created a unique draft of their vision of the “University of the Future”: they created impressive buildings and campus areas with titles like ‘Cloud-i-versity’, ‘Superversity’ or “University of Individuals and Interaction’
  • Most of these drafts were built on the principle of enabling students to learn interest driven. Collaboration and Cooperation were necessary requirements for them as they were forced to work collaboratively and cooperatively completing their design task
  • All of the students were highly motivated contributing to the design tasks within their groups. They said about Minecraft: “It’s easy to learn, but hard to master”. Most of the student especially liked the idea of working within a group on their design task. (‘Minecraft as a social event’)
  • The ‘University of the Future’ should reflect the individual learning types of the students, offering diverse courses that are suited for each learning type
  • Most drafts represent interdisciplinarity, transferring knowledge from one discipline to another. These groups created specific buildings on campus, where these students could meet
  • Another important aspect for designing the ‘University of the Future’ was sustainability in the sense of learning in the nature should be encouraged
  • One group even used Minecraft as a Prototyping environment. While other groups were working on their single draft, this group created several protoytpes within Minecraft, to see which draft would be the best to represent their vision of the ‘University of the future’


Feedback from the students perspective about Minecraft



Exploration & Experimentation are key aspect of the gameplay of Minecraft

‘Blocky’ character: presentation of the game is rudimentary

Virtual Playground (many ways how to use MC)

Knowledge about Gaming- and Crafting system is required to use MC effectively

Easy to build (demonstrate spatial relations)

Building in Minecraft can be very time consuming

Supports the creativity of the players


MC as a prototyping tool: 3D Modelling


New working method




One example for a draft/ prototype in Minecraft




How would you name your draft (University in Minecraft)?


We decided to call our draft “Thinksquare University” after its shape and purpose.




What kind of assumptions and expectations about Learning and Teaching are represented within your draft? Which concepts about Learning/Teaching were important for you?


  • An encouraging and welcoming learning environment is paramount for effective learning.
  • Especially learning in the nature should be encouraged or at least possible.
  • Interdisciplinary learning should be reflected in and encouraged by architecture.
  • A modern, open architecture enables the flow of creative, new ideas.
  • Feeling good in ones environment encourages effective learning.
  • Teaching small groups is way more effective than teaching large groups. Technology can aid to simulate the same effect for large groups, thus the architecture should encourage online learning and teaching.
  • Everyone should be encouraged to participate in the learning process of a university, as diversity enhances creativity.



When creating the building did you have any guidelines that aided you in the process of building the ‘University of the Future’?


We wanted to create a very green and open building, that was both welcoming and modern. This lead to a more concrete guideline, the use of glass elements as building blocks of our university.

The design goal of this was to provide as much light as possible and to include the surrounding nature into the building, while not sacrificing or even strengthening the modern looks.


Another guideline we tried to pursue, was to provide for short ways to important areas of the university, like the canteen.


We did not plan to provide space for huge numbers of students, as we expect most teaching to be online. However we did provide a huge area for group meetings and learning spaces. We wanted to encourage both physical learning as a group, on a voluntary basis and the use of the new media for teaching, following this guideline.


Another guideline emerged in the creation process, as we realised that social services provide a unique way to integrate the university into the city and to enable parents to study as well. So we decided to build these into the design and architecture of the university buildings.



How did your conception of the building as a whole evolve throughout your group work?


We decided early on, that a square, filled with a green, open area, enabling interdisciplinary exchange and “learning in the nature”, would fit our requirements and goals best. This square was made deliberately big, to counter the “obfuscated backyard” effect. This decision generated some problems of its own, though, especially the sheer size of the building we had and have to construct.


Another early idea was to put the canteen into the uppermost floor, surrounded only by glass, but later decided, that a canteen in the middle of the square would fit the requirement of interdisciplinarity far better. This middle building forces students to at least meet when dining and creates a space for new students to accommodate to the new learning environment.


Later on we decided to integrate social services into our university, such as a kindergarten, to enable parents to study in a welcoming environment as of our guidelines. This furthermore helps to integrate the university more into the city and to provide non students to profit from the university as well.


To provide a welcoming environment for foreign students we decided to include a dormitory especially for students from abroad. We later on decided, that this dorm should also be open for students that can’t afford a proper apartment.



How did you progress as a group?


see next question



How did you organise as a group? What kind of communication tools did you use?


We started off by talking and organising our creation process directly in class. After the third meeting we decided to try to communicate via the built-in chat function in minecraft. However, we soon realised, that this method of communication was rather limited and ineffective, because it doesn’t provide a way to archive or reread old discussions and since the chat was open for the whole class the communication was often disrupted by other students.


To overcome these limitations we started a facebook group, especially for organisation of long-term goals. This gave us the advantages of asynchronous work schedules and the polling system provided by facebook. We still used the built-in chat though, especially for quick, organisational questions mid-game.


Furthermore we created the required documentation, such as this document, collaboratively in Google Docs, a tool built especially for this purpose.

Did you use other tools within the creation process than Minecraft?


Unfortunately we did not use any tools, scripts or hacks. This was rather tiresome, as we decided to mine away the whole ground, transforming it into a welcoming, green, outdoor learning environment, which took quite a long time to accomplish by hand.

Should we have another assignment like this we would probably use batch mining tools or scripts for tasks like this.


Outlook/ Next Steps


  • These prototypes represent different assumptions about learning & teaching. Unifying topics occurring in these prototypes are interest driven studies, interdisciplinarity and a holistic approach combining different areas of life within university. In the next step these assumptions have to be questioned/criticised regarding their relevance (“Why is it important to have interest driven courses/ research? Which arguments are in favour of … or are against interdisciplinarity?....” Using these prototypes as a basis for new questions & analysis can possibly lead to answer to the question whether a qualitative change towards learning occurred during the use of Minecraft and which affordances of Minecraft have been contributing to this idea



Used Literature (in selection)


Bloom, B.S. (Ed. ;1976)[1972]: Taxonomie von Lernzielen im kognitiven Bereich. 5th ed., Beltz, Weinheim und Basel


Bopp, M. (2005): Immersive Didaktik. Verdeckte Lernhilfen und Framingprozesse in Computerspielen.  Link: http://www.soz.uni-frankfurt.de/K.G/B2_2005_Bopp.pdf. (24.02.2014) In: kommunikation@gesellschaft


Breuer, J. (2010): Spielend Lernen?. Eine Bestandsaufnahme zum (Digital) Game-Based Learning. LfM-Dokumentation, Bd. 41/ Online, Landesanstalt für Medien NRW, online: http://www.lfm-nrw.de/fileadmin/lfm-nrw/Publikationen-Download/Doku41-Spielend-Lernen.pdf (27.08.2013)


Ganguin, S. (2010): Computerspiele und lebenslanges Lernen. Eine Synthese von Gegensätzen. Reihe Medienbildung und Gesellschaft. Bd. 13, Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, Wiesbaden


Gee, J.P. (2007)[2003]: What videogames have to teach us about learning and literacy. 2nd ed. , Palgrave Mac Millan, New York


Juul, J. (2005): Half-Real. Videogames between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds. MIT Press, Cambridge


McGonigal, J. (2012): BESSER ALS DIE WIRKLICHKEIT. Warum wir von Computerspielen profitieren und wie sie die Welt verändern. Amerikanische Originalausgabe (2011): Reality is broken. Why Games Make US Better and How They Can Change The World. Heyne, München


Molka-Danielsen, J./ Deutschmann, M. (2009)(Eds.): LEARNING AND TEACHING IN THE VIRTUAL WORLD OF SECOND LIFE. Tapir Academic Press, Trondheim


Paavola, S./ and KAI HAKKARAINEN, K. (2005):  The Knowledge Creation Metaphor .An Emergent Epistemological Approach to Learning; online:

http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11191-004-5157-0#page-1 (15.10.2013)


Prensky, M. (2007): Digital game-based learning. New roles for trainers and teachers. How to combine computer games and learning. Real life case studies from organizations utilizing game-based techniques. Paragon House, St. Paul


Salen, K./ Zimmermann, E. (2007): Rules of play. gamedesign fundamentals. MIT Press, Camebridge et al. 


Schelhowe, H. (2007): Technologie, Imagination, Lernen. Grundlagen für Bildungsprozesse mit Digitalen Medien. Waxmann, Münster et al.


Shaffer, D.W. (2007): How Computergames Help Children Learn. Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke et al.


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