Minecraft puts history in with the bricks

Toby HusseyAlbany Advertiser
Looking east from Mt Melville.
Camera IconLooking east from Mt Melville.

It was Friday lunchtime in a darkened Great Southern schoolroom computer lab, 1:15pm.

With blinds drawn, students chatted and stared gamely into their computer screens as schoolyard noise penetrates an open doorway.

These students, about 30 children aged 12 to 14-years-old, could have been playing outside or studying in the library.

Instead, they were immersed in the videogame Minecraft.

To outsiders this might have looked like technology-raised children trapped inside a room, in front of computer screens – and inside a virtual world.

But delve deeper, one teacher said, and these students were creating, co-relating and learning in a new way.

Minecraft is a video game in which players can battle monsters, socialise and build nearly anything from aeroplanes and stadiums – even whole cities.

It won a swathe of awards after its 2009 release including most addicting game, best family game and best multiplayer game.

Then, in 2016, owner Microsoft released Minecraft: Education Edition.

Stripping combat from the game, Education Edition created a nonviolent digital world where students could be tasked with researching, exploring and building.

The immersive learning won praise from Great Southern Grammar IT head Kieran Bailey, who said he immediately saw its benefits.

GSG has used Minecraft to teach coding for two years, but this year Mr Bailey said he decided to task students with a different quest.

“I wanted to get a project they can engage through,” he said.

Inserting a contour map of Albany into the game, Mr Bailey generated an accurate, three-dimension world from Oyster Harbour to Little Grove.

“Not a lot of people have done that globally,” he said.

The next step was education.

Student participation was not graded, but Mr Bailey said he wanted to make the sessions more than lunchtimes of aimless play.

The children were then tasked with learning about Albany at the dawn of World War One, and then to transfer that into the game.

That included creating buildings, military batteries and ships off Middleton Beach and in King George Sound.

As the club was fundamentally for socialising, Mr Bailey said he had allowed liberty with designs – but students had jumped at the challenge.

“I’ve had a couple of students in their classes looking at contour mapping … They came and looked at the Albany world we’d created and they instantly made the connection,” he said.

“Inevitably that’s happening.”

Jaap Smit, 13, is an avowed Minecraft fanatic who first logged into Minecraft to learn coding in 2018.

He continued to play the game away from the classroom and said education within a virtual world appealed to him over traditional teaching.

Like his peers, it was the gaming that drew him in.

Learning about geography and history, and socialising, added to the experience.

“It’s fun to build and recognise that this is Albany’s history,” he said.

“You can build anything, it’s unlimited.”

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