30 Jan 2019

Is It Pedagogically Valid?

Inspired by a twitter thread started by Mark Anderson from the ICTEvangelist blog that I found through a fellow Minecraft Mentor’s retweet, this post should clear up a few questions about the project and our approach.

Mark’s post started a few years ago in reply to Paul Moss blogging Is that edtech tool pedagogically valid? in response to the plethora of educational technology software that was on the market in 2016. Paul noted “edtech companies often employ the most persuasive people in the land to try to get you to buy or use their products” and having spent some time in an academic technology department at the university level before joining a public library, I can tell you this sentiment hasn’t changed much.

Version 2 of Mark’s decision tree diagram shifts the questions around a bit, following some comments and feedback by other educators on social media. So, with all that being said, below the fold are my responses to this useful set of questions. Save it! Might be useful in the future…

Q1 –  How do you know Minecraft is pedagogically valid? Can you explain your use of the tool?

Yes! Apart from being the subject of several books, conferences talks, and a global community of educators already using Minecraft and/or Minecraft Education Edition in their classes, I can tell you specifically that Minecraft for Cybersecurity is based around the ideals of cooperative learning and design thinking. It’s not a rabbit that appeared out of a hat, it’s something you can explain, analyze, and categorize the same way Jazz improvisation might seem magical at first but has an underlying system.

Please do not mistake this for an argumentum ad populum—I’m not suggesting Minecraft is valid because lots of people say it’s valid, instead I’m pointing to the numerous case studies and interviews with educators who love to use it and have measured its impact through direct experience.

Q2 – Are you sure Minecraft for Cybersecurity isn’t a gimmick?

Yes! While I think there are some use cases for Minecraft in classrooms that border on gimmick-land, the way we’re specifically using the survival mode game mechanics of Minecraft and building components to demonstrate threat modeling as a process is not a gimmick—this is a core concept in the game that simply needs to be mapped to security terminology to increase understanding. The ultimate goal is to build scaffolding for future security education. Risk, probability and impact are all threat modeling terms they should walk away understanding (and maybe, just maybe, use the next time they play Minecraft outside of class).

Q3 – Does the use of Minecraft for Cybersecurity truly enhance learning?

Yes! But there’s a catch. The enhanced learning comes from students already being familiar with how to play Minecraft, and the resulting encyclopedia of knowledge about the game universe itself. It’s an Ender’s Game style flip where students learn that having different layers of security in a Minecraft “base” is a direct translation of how real world experts approach cybersecurity. It’s all about layers. If this were part of a course syllabus, threat modeling would be the final chapter, not the beginning.

Q4 – Is the learning activity only possible through use of Minecraft?

Yes! This was mostly covered in the previous question, but I’ll add that the “survival sandbox” video game genre is quickly expanding and for other age groups (that is, not teens & tweens) there might be a better option to pick from. Subnautica, the deep-sea alien world survival exploration game, and Fortnite are just two examples off the top of my head. These might appeal to older teens and adults in comparison to Minecraft. There are more games like Minecraft on the way too—it isn’t easy to stay in the #1 spot forever.

Q5 – Is it worth your time and effort to use Minecraft?

I think if your school or community is already using Minecraft, our you think there might be an opportunity to formalize group play, our threat modeling workshop is a win-win. For anyone seriously doubting their gamer skills or the utility of video games to support education, this isn’t the right entry point. Being able to “speak” Minecraft with your students at the end of the workshop is a critical factor if they’re going to walk away with new knowledge.

Let’s step away from Minecraft for a second and consider other hugely popular fandoms at the same size and cultural scale. For example, the Harry Potter universe is pretty big and rumored to have a new mobile AR game on the way that libraries might want to leverage in the near future. It would be crazy to advocate teaching with the tales of Mr. HP as your anchor point if you’ve never personally read the books or watched the movies. In many ways, the time and effort necessary to use these tools effectively starts before the lesson plan even begins. Is it worth the time and effort? Only you can make that decision.

I’m not suggesting we all need to be Minecraft super-fans to make this work—far from it—but when you’re working with youth, shared enthusiasm goes a long way.

This was is a guest post by Chris Markman, Senior Librarian at Palo Alto City Library in conjunction with PLP’s 2018-2019 Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant, “Cybersecurity for Youth Using Minecraft”. This project is supported in whole or in part by the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act, administered in California by the State Librarian. The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services or the California State Library, and no official endorsement by the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services or the California State Library should be inferred.