Mobs, Mods and Malware – Minecraft as a Context for Digital Literacy Education

About a year ago my eight-year-old son asked my wife and I if he could start playing Minecraft.

We were initially a little hesitant because of our concerns surrounding screen time and the sedentary nature of computer games. But Minecraft had also come highly recommended by Jim Pedrech, an Educator we respect and admire.

After a few discussions with Jim, and after reading about the learning and pedagogical practices associated with Minecraft, my son and I dove in to the pixelated world of pick axes, villagers and mobs.

minecraftpic

During the first few weeks I was amazed at what I believed to be authentic and valuable connections to creativity, design skills, problem solving and spatial reasoning. But I’ll  leave those issues for another post.

What I’ve found to be most extraordinary are the digital citizenship and digital literacy skills my eight-year-old has developed.

As a high school computer science and computer engineering teacher, I’m quite familiar with the Ontario Curriculum in Computer Studies and Technology.

My son’s desire to install Minecraft, download worlds and work with mods has led us to using Minecraft as a context for discussions connected to various strands of the High School Computer Studies and Technology curriculum.

minecraftandics2o
Some of the curriculum connections from Ontario’s ICS 2O course.
Click here to see a larger version.

My son now researches, downloads and installs worlds and mods while I’m at his side. This  allows me to teach him digital skills and competencies. His questions led us into a variety of areas associated with safe and effective computing.

Below is a list of some of the discussion topics that have arisen as a result of our paired Minecraft experience.

minecraftbig
You can see an interactive version of this image.
  • Computer Viruses: When downloading software, it’s important to avoid downloading computer viruses. These are programs that can damage your computer.
  • File Management: Files “live” on our computers inside of folders. When programs need files to run, they look in specific folders. We can move, copy, delete and rename files.
  • Servers and Networks: Networks allow us to share files and data between computers. The servers are the dedicated machines that store files and data for us to retrieve. The machines that connect to the servers are usually called clients.
  • Adware: When downloading from the Internet, you have to be careful not to download adware, which his software that will reside on your computer and show you advertisements. This type of software can also slow down the performance of your computer.
  • Downloading: Programs and files can be stored on servers located elsewhere, and then downloaded to our own computer.
  • Internet Advertising: Most websites are free to visit, but they often include advertisements. Companies pay to put their advertisements on popular websites.
  • Backing Up Data: It’s quick and relatively easy to make backups of saved worlds and mods in case they are altered. These can even be stored on devices external to the computer.
  • Software Compatibility: There are times when software might stop working after we add certain components. We have to make sure that any new components or updates are compatible.
  • Safe Downloading Sites: There are often clues that help us identify websites that will be safe for downloads. If we are ever unsure, we should avoid downloading and should instead seek out an alternative website.
  • Zipping and Unzipping Folders: Many files stored online are downloaded inside of zipped folders. These folders must be unzipped when ready to use on your computer.
  • Updating Antivirus Software: Antivirus software scans your files to see if any of them match the database of known viruses. If you don’t update your antivirus software then the database won’t include the newest viruses.
  • Data Storage: A hard drive stores software and files on a computer. RAM is where programs reside when they are running. ROM storage includes files necessary to get the computer to boot up.
  • Ergonomics: Our computer and workstation need to be properly adjusted so that we are comfortable. If not, we could develop musculoskeletal problems.
  • Software Version Numbers: When companies update or improve software, they often name the software with a new version number. The higher the number, the newer the version.

If you are interested in the potential use of Minecraft in the classroom, I would highly recommend getting in touch with Jim Pedrech. His most recent project involves creating an archeological dig site for students to explore in history class.

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