In September 2016, I attended MINECON with my 11-year-old son. We got on the plane on a Friday afternoon to experience a Convention for one of his main passions: Minecraft a game built by Mojang. The convention center in Anaheim was home to 12,000+ people that weekend all with one similar passion: Minecraft. My assumption going into the weekend was that it would be very similar to Comic Con and other events of hero worship for the gaming alternative community. What I discovered by the end of the weekend was something very different.
In the fall of 2015 on a Saturday morning at Murray Elementary School, we offered a M&M Maker Day and Minecraft was one of the topics parents and their children could participate in together in our computer lab. During this time, I had many parents ask me a very similar question, “Should I allow my child to spend countless hours on YouTube watching Minecraft videos?” Having a son who has catalogued thousands of hours watching Minecraft YouTubers and building in the game, my response was yes. That inclination to answer yes in 2015 was even more cemented this past September when I experienced MINECON with my son.
During panel sessions, in hallways, and at the EXPO, I saw many examples of our students work sitting alongside the work of YouTube gamers with enormous followings of fans. Our students watch Minecraft videos on YouTube on devices while simultaneously playing the game on a computer in a server with friends (some of which they know) many of which they have a shared love of the game. Our students are crafting far better worlds then many of these YouTube superstars. That makes this very different than a Comic Con convention. At Comic Con and similiar events, our students will dress in costumes, get autographs, see examples of their heroes, and dream of superpowers. At MINECON, there is no difference between the attendee and the presenter whatsoever. There is a shared understanding and it was clearly stated often that are Young Minecrafters are as good or better than the gamers they worship on YouTube.
Here’s our great opportunity today in classrooms all over the country: understand that our students are creators when they are not with us in the classroom. They utilize online resources like YouTube in ways that we never could have had access to when we were their age in any other media format. They have a level of understanding of what is possible that far exceeds what they know to be as limitations. In many classrooms all over the country, video creation, collaboration, and design are still fairly new concepts to teachers. Yet our students are cataloging thousands of hours of YouTube video watching gamers design, edit, & modify Minecraft worlds for their consumption. With today’s technology in most classrooms around the country using Chromebooks and iPads, we have a great opportunity to allow our students to create in with tools like Minecraft or a Google doc or any other platform where they can design, fail, collaborate with others, and show you their awesome skills.
You do not have to attend MINECON, or even play Minecraft to understand what is happening with our students today. Ask them: Why do they spend so much time on YouTube watching Minecraft? Let them write an essay about it. Let them do a presentation about it. Let them demonstrate it to you as an instructional outcome. Meet them where they are and understand their potential is limitless.