July 29, 2013
Microsoft wants to find ways to assist the pioneering teachers who have taught pupils through the sandbox construction game Minecraft. The company earlier this week launched its Minecraft in Education initiative to turn the pioneers into pillars.
There was puzzlement over Microsoft's end game last September, when it purchased Mojang, the studio behind the multiplatform hit, in a US$2.5 billion bet. Many thought Minecraft was at or near its peak.
Minecraft as a Platform
It turns out Microsoft has some novel plans for the game.
Microsoft and Mojang see the potential for the game to inspire students and empower educators.
Minecraft is the de facto killer app for the HoloLens, Microsoft's augmented reality goggles, said Deirdre Quarnstrom, director of Minecraft in Education.
"Our goal with Minecraft in Education is to stay true to the Minecraft experience, while providing educators with a breadth of resources to complement how and what they're teaching every day," she told TechNewsWorld.
The broad appeal of Minecraft -- which is composed of the popular sandbox mode and an overshadow survival template -- makes it ideal for teaching various subjects in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), as well as language arts, history, geography, reading, writing, creative thinking, problem solving and collaboration, said Quarnstrom.
"Since the Mojang acquisition, we've spent time meeting with educators and students using Minecraft in Education," said Quarnstrom. "We are working closely with TeacherGaming and will explore future opportunities together."
Minecraft as Motivation
The video game industry takes a lot of heat when anything bad happens that has any connection to gaming -- often without any proof of causality.
However, it appears the Minecraft in Education initiative helps more than harms, said Mario R. Kroll, principal at ÜberStrategist.
Minecraft as a teaching tool encourages collaboration and creativity, while helping students learn and refine the skills required by the STEM and liberal arts fields, he said.
"Minecraft seems a quite different game and Microsoft seems -- gasp -- truly altruistic in their intentions," Kroll told TechNewsWorld.
Microsoft wants to shift from meeting kids on couches to engaging them in classrooms -- where, even today, many kids receive their only serving of computer and desktop Internet usage, he noted. This initiative could cultivate coders and innovators from households that have no computer hardware or Internet access.
"The core audience for Minecraft, unlike much of the much-older hardcore gamer audience, is growing up in a digital, fully connected, social media world from the start," said Kroll. "There is a continual tug-of-war between 'everyone gets a ribbon just for showing up' and 'the real world rewards winners,' so to get ahead and survive, winning must be mastered.'"
Minecraft offers an almost idyllic sandbox for showcasing individual and group skills and creativity, he observed.
"Individuals can succeed and showcase their efforts, but so can collaborators, and no one really loses anything," said Kroll. "Most of the younger players have turned off survival mode and aren't competing for scarce resources -- or trying to be some sort of king of the mountain to the detriment of others."