Part 1 – How Gaming Promotes Conversation
Part 3 – A ‘Real Life’ Example & Interview
Alex Paolino is an IT teacher at a Western Australian high school that I have also taught at for a number of years. In 2014 Alex established a gaming-based extracurricular initiative in conjunction with the school’s IT technician and library staff, who oversee the biggest bank of networked PCs available on site. I don’t intend to give away any spoilers just yet, but as someone who believes that multiplayer video games are overwhelmingly beneficial to people’s social development I think Alex has provided a fantastic opportunity and one that will enrich the lives of the students involved.
Let’s find out how Alex feels about his creation as the school year comes to an end.
S: Thanks again for agreeing to this interview-by-email. As I mentioned when we discussed this in person your responses will be greatly appreciated by the extremely small readership that sees them. It may just be me for all I know…
So, on with the business at hand, can you please give a brief summary of what you envisioned before getting this program underway and how it has taken shape?
AP: I bought a copy of Minecraft back in 2009 and I was completely consumed by it. I spent the better part of two years building, inventing, modding and socialising in its blocky virtual world. One day, after well over a thousand hours, I stopped playing. I didn’t think I would return.
Fast forward to 2014 and a new group of year 8 students arrive at school and all they want to talk about is Minecraft. The game that started out as an indie experiment has turned into a multibillion dollar empire and the younger generation is completely hooked. They play the game when they can and watch other people play on YouTube when they can’t.
I thought we could use Minecraft as a way to bring students together, help them form friendships and maybe even improve their social skills. After invaluable assistance from our school Technical Support Officer, constant badgering from students and plenty of tinkering we finally launched the school Minecraft Club in May 2014.
The club has grown and evolved throughout the year with up to 40 students from years 8 – 12 attending our afterschool sessions. A core group of about 25 students are the most regular attenders, most of who are in year 8. It is extremely satisfying to watch them work as a team; teach one another new skills and co-ordinate complicated projects.
S: Minecraft is a bit like a digital version of Lego blocks and sandcastles. In what ways have the participants’ creations surprised you or surpassed your expectations?
AP: I am so proud of what the students have achieved in such a short time. There are some truly wonderful constructions in our Minecraft world but what has surprised me the most is how well the students divide labour and tackle truly enormous projects. One year 8 student, while learning about medieval culture in Society & Environment took it upon himself to build an entire medieval village complete with houses, a market place and keep [see image below].
[ed – Pictured below is a year 8’s “Minecraft Academy” which he proudly informed me was the biggest structure in their Minecraft world. This article’s cover image is also a student construction; a year 9’s Combat Arena for all your gladiatorial needs!]
S: If you had to identify ways in which this program has been successful or valuable, what would they be? What are the key factors or resources that made these successes possible?
AP: The greatest achievement of our Minecraft Club would be the bonds that have developed between the group members. It has been fantastic to see the students form friendships through the club.
Minecraft Club has also been valuable in identifying leadership ability in students. It is wonderful when students ‘step up’ and take on a leadership role in a build project. Many of these students have not had an opportunity to show their potential in other school based activities.
This program wouldn’t have been possible without the consent of our Principal, the support of library staff who help oversee the after school sessions and our very talented Tech Support Officer who set up the server on our school network.
S: I presume that your time in supervision and tech support is given freely each week. Do you foresee this as being something you will continue either in the same form (i.e. LAN Minecraft) or with some alterations in future years? Are there further, realistically attainable, resources that would increase the efficacy of the program over the long term?
AP: I will continue to run the Minecraft Club as long as it has strong interest from the students. There are 450 new students in year 7 and 8 joining the school in 2015 and I anticipate it will have a big impact on the club. LAN Minecraft is great because the students can communicate verbally in person while playing the game on their computer. The main limitation of LAN play is the number of computers students can access on the network. I suppose the next step would be to take the server online so that students can also play from home but that would have its own unique complications and challenges.
I would like to thank Alex for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer these questions. What a great illustration of teamwork, cooperative learning and creativity this is, and I hope it can continue to evolve and function as effectively with 2015’s influx of new blood!