On October 29, our class had the pleasure to have Adam Hellebuyck, who was a former MAC-er and social studies chair at University Liggett school, as a guest speaker. More importantly, Adam shared how he had been using technology to serve educational purposes: teaching History with Minecraft! Specifically, students, instead of studying World History in the 'traditional' way, get to build their own virtual civilizations and empires. Besides Minecraft, Adam also talked about another of his 'renewed' history curricula: teaching US history from the reference point of Detroit. Adam's is one among many examples of innovate teaching - especially one that increasingly realizes and capitalizes upon the educational potential of technology.
How does Adam's use of Minecraft engage, enhance and extend student learning? First, it engages students by enabling them to take a more active role in learning. Instead of being told how civilizations and empires were built, students become builders themselves! Here, the game also potentially enhances student learning by reorganizing it into a more inquiry-based framework, in contrast to a more lecture-based classroom. During the lecture, without activities such as discussions or writing, if the teacher just provides students with different historical knowledge, not only are students disengaged primarily because they don't understand the value of all that information, but they also are likely to see history as a string of disconnected facts. As a professor of mine, Dr. Bob Bain, remarks, contrary to the popular assumption that students are 'lazy' and need to be told to study, students are actually, like any human being, naturally curious and want to ask questions. Yet many teachers are not giving them the opportunity to ask questions but instead, force them to remember answers to other people's questions. Therefore, we must provide students with reasons to ask those questions, by understanding and teaching history as an inquiry. In this sense, Minecraft allows students to figure out themselves many questions, such as what infrastructure and social arrangement are the best to sustain and protect their empires from their classmates' empires. Whether Minecraft really helps achieve the ultimate learning goals depends on how it works in conjunction with other learning activities. Indeed, Adam mentions that the game supplements, and is supplemented by, student research and writing.