The different ways to Minecraft

This week i startet following the MOOC Minecraft for Educators. I’m looking forward to getting new ideas and interact with other educators who believe in Minecrafting as a learning activity.

The first assignment is to identify the different versions of Minecraft available and describe some of the differences and limitations of each. That is my aim with this blogpost, and I will try to focus on points that are especially relevant to educators. I have to start by saying that i find that a somewhat boring starting point for someone who are not familiar with Minecraft already. My advice to someone curious about what Minecraft really is, and what is so fun about this world of blocks, is to spend a few hours delving into whatever version you have, and have fun for a good while before returning to this question. After all, the similarities between versions are far more relevant than the differences. That said, of course it matters to a teacher what version to use in class. So here is my short presentation of those.

The one that I know best is the regular Minecraft for PC without any modifications (of which there are lots!), named Minecraft Vanilla by the community. That is the first and official version. This version itself has several game modes that change the rules, and thereby the activities that players engage in. The most relevant modes to know for an educator, is survival mode and creative mode. In survival mode you start with empty hands and need to build a shelter for yourself before nightfall, when the monsters come out! Thus, survival is more of a game than creative mode. In creative the monsters don’t hurt you, you have an unlimited amount of building materials, and you can even fly (so as to easily build huge structures). The creative mode of Minecraft is often and rightly called «digital LEGO».

I was not completely right in claiming that the regular Minecraft for PC was the first. Actually for years you could play something called Minecraft Classic, which was an alpha version that you could access for free. It seems to not work anymore. 😦 It was very simple, but did not repuire any form of login or registration. I used that one in class, but since you could not save your games either, the pupils took screen shots of their creations. A simple  but creative activity in Classic (which of course can be done in any other version as well) was to use the different blocs to create mosaic pictures, like this one.

minecraft-mosaikk-121

Somehow the idea of Minecraft Classic seems to live on in Minecraft Pi. That is a free version made for the small and inexpensive computer Raspberry Pi. I dont have any experience with that but I love the idea. I assume the Minecraft version is simpler than other versions, but with the same essential content. In fact, I think I will order one of those computers right now!

As the popularity of the game rose, there were new versions made for tablets and consoles. I don’t have much personal experience with those either (i have Minecraft on my android tablet but it only demonstrates for me how much i love to use a keyboard and a mouse!), and their appeal in general is more to a consumer market than to the dedicated Minecraft community where a player is often also a game designer, a modder and a world builder.

Finally, of the hundreds of mods available (of which many could be used in school projects), Minecraft Edu needs mention. It is not a game version on its own, but a modification that makes it easier for a teacher to control the class and lead learning activities in Minecraft.

When choosing a Minecraft version for use in class, in my opinion most educators have two real alternatives: Either to use the regular Minecraft or to use the regular Minecraft  with the Edu-mod. About Minecraft Edu I would like to mention two pros an one con.

Pro1: The cheapest way of buying a class set of game licences, is to buy them together with the Minecraft Edu mod (however, that does not mean you have to use the mod).

Pro 2: When being in control as you are using Edu, it is easy to reach the planned learning goals. Minecraft becomes more similar to a more traditional creative class activity than if you let the class loose into a world where you cannot surveil them.

Con: The pro argument above is actiually also a con. Be very careful when using Minecraft Edu. Use it wisely and you might achieve to put fun into learning. Use it unwisely and you might just take the fun out of Minecraft.