Lonely To Leadership with Minecraft Education
A Canadian Story That Could Have Happened Anywhere
“Let’s start a Minecraft server for all of Atlantic Canada” said Brilliant Labs’ Jeff Wilson just days after our school systems closed for the foreseeable future. Six weeks later I admit looking back that I was outwardly enthusiastic but inwardly panicking at the thought of an initiative that large. But Jeff had said the magic word “Minecraft” and I was hooked. The goal was to create an educational Minecraft server operating during the regular school hours, and for students of all ages in our Atlantic region of Canada consisting of four provinces.
Brilliant Labs did the heavy lifting with server setup, choosing Minecraft Pocket Edition in the end for maximum engagement in students’ homes dominated by the tablet supported version of the game. My role was to establish an engaging, safe and educational world experience for the diverse students who would be joining us. Using a portal system at the point where players spawned into the world I was able to turn one world into many, essentially multiplying how impactful the Minecraft experience could be. Six zones were established thousands of blocks apart and included Sustainable Development Goal, Dream Home, Community of the Future, School of the Future and Free Play zones. Students would choose a zone, teleport out and teleport back to spawn in a super easy fashion for all ages. The stage was set for success but what happened next was extra special.
Students started pouring into the server to check it out. What became apparent early on was that the students attracted to the server were mainly those who, while stuck at home, had lost their friends network that school had once supported. In some cases, these were students who hadn’t established any real friendships. One morning while in the server a child contacted me in confidence saying privately “I don't have any friends!” After some dialogue I determined that the child meant in real life and not just in the game setting. I responded swiftly by saying “We’re all friends in here now!” The student came alive hearing that and grew from a lonely disengaged visitor into a thriving young leader with a solid friend network in just a few weeks!
Now, six weeks in, this student receives cheers when entering the server and he now greets all who enter the server in polite and inviting fashion. Waiting at 9am daily for the server to open he is usually the first one in, and the last to leave. He’s organized incredible events like fireworks shows for all in the server and invited others to trade and build together. He’s helped in spotting trouble makers and alerting us as managers, he’s helped so many other children by providing a peer group audience for their endeavours, and most importantly, he’s contributed to the success of the in-game community.
This isn’t a blog about how educational Minecraft can be. This is a modern anecdotal account about how a game environment like Minecraft and a little empathy can radically transform a child’s life during a pandemic, and forever, for the better. There are no stats here, but to this one child it mattered. Brilliant Labs had the vision to create the atmosphere needed by so many children during this pandemic. I am glad that I could help make it engaging and educational but I’m grateful that I was present that day to provide what that child needed most. Empathy and encouragement can go a long way! Perhaps the Community of the Future exists in games like Minecraft? The team at Brilliant Labs who are managing this space have truly built a community of which I'm glad to be a member!
I'm an experienced Global Minecraft Mentor, Published Educational Researcher, Microsoft Innovative Educator Fellow, Apple Distinguished Educator, TeachSDGs Ambassador and grade 6-12 technology teacher. @BBTNB