The immersive game-based platform is being used to help students develop 21st century skills, writes Balqis Lim

MOHAMMAD Aliff Othman begins to choke up as he talks about his students’ development.

That’s how passionate this 29-year-old teacher is in making a difference in the children’s life.

A Geography subject teacher, Aliff uses Minecraft: Education Edition in his classroom to explain certain topics during a lesson.

He says that instead of “chalk and talk”, Minecraft is very good to engage students in class. It also boosts the students creativity and enhances their 21st century skills, he adds.

Minecraft, developed in 2011 by a Swedish company Mojang, is a game that allows players to build with a variety of different blocks in a 3D procedurally-generated world.

After acquiring Mojang in 2014, Microsoft also bought over MinecraftEdu that was developed by TeacherGaming, and launched a new version of Minecraft in 2016 that’s dedicated to learning. It’s called Minecraft: Education Edition.

MRSM Tun Mohammad Fuad Stephens in Sandakan, Sabah was the first school in the country to adopt the Minecraft: Education Edition.

Aliff, who was teaching at the school, first learned about Minecraft: Education Edition last year while attending a Microsoft Education Exchange event.

On returning to Malaysia, he gathered some students to try it out.

“As I am not a gamer, I had my students teach me the technical parts of playing it.

“These students were the naughty ones but instead of punishing them, I gave them this task,” says Aliff, who is now a certified Minecraft Global Trainer.

Students using Minecraft in class.
At the first Minecraft workshop held recently, he was invited as an instructor.

The workshop was a joint effort by Microsoft Malaysia, National STEM Centre and Digital Classroom, a teacher community. A total of 70 teachers from different schools and backgrounds participated in it.

Since Aliff started using Minecraft in classroom, he says a learn-with-each-other environment was also created.

“Today, teachers are no longer “kings” in the classroom who know everything. The students learn from their peers. The teachers too learn from their students.

“I truly believe in this outcome. Most importantly, the teacher-student relationship is now strong.

“Besides enhancing creativity and skillset, Minecraft makes the learning more powerful as the students feel like they ‘own’ the learning,” says Aliff.

Students with their AR creation.
Meanwhile, a science teacher at SMK Jenjarom, Selangor, Abd Rahman Ali Bashah, sees Minecraft as having big potential in developing the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills.

He plans to form a team with his students when school reopens next year.

“In STEM, we encourage students to create something based on a real situation. It’s a hands-on approach. For example, students can design a building or a bridge to solve problems.

“These lessons blend concepts from science and engineering through creativity and critical thinking,” says Rahman.

A creation by one of Aliff’s students.
For Aliff, the students’ engagement in class is more important than merely good grades.

“Yes, getting A in exams is important but how meaningful is the grade? Via the STEM and Minecraft approach, I can see that my students’ engagement in class has increased. They are now bolder in taking risks.

“They are not afraid to try new things now and they also have better understanding of the subjects,” says Aliff.

The Microsoft Showcase School now has teachers using Minecraft in their lesson activities.

About 2,000 Minecraft licences have been acquired by not only MRSM Tun Mohammad Fuad Stephens but also other MRSM schools nationwide.

Students who have tried out Minecraft say it an exciting and engaging learning platform.

Form Five student Amirul Hafiz Zulazli from MRSM Transkrian in Penang enjoys playing the game but he has only tried the original Minecraft game and not the educational version.

“We don’t have it at school because our teachers think it’s just a game and hardly educational.

“But I think otherwise. This game is a great way for people to explore their creativity. I hope our teachers will allow Minecraft to be used as a learning tool in our lessons,” he says.

Nor Sofea Alyea Mohd Shairani, 11, concurs.

“I started playing Minecraft since early this year and I believe the game helped me in my Science subject.

“A lot of thinking and planning need to be applied into designing my virtual world. The canvas is so vast and limitless. I also collaborate with my friends to construct the buildings,” she says.

Minecraft is used as a hands-on activity to relate to certain topics.
According to Aliff, deploying Minecraft is not an easy task. It’s a long process which needs the support from school, he adds.

He laments that teachers nowadays are still preoccupied with grades and sceptical about Minecraft as a teaching tool.

“Minecraft is not about getting As in exams. It’s for the development of students. It’s not something that can be measured. Anyone can teach but experience itself cannot be taught unless we give students the space and opportunity to try and explore it themselves. That is more valuable than any ‘A’,” says Aliff.

“If teachers are afraid about the students getting attached to the game, they can treat it as a reward when the students behave well in class,” he adds.

Anita Adnan, the teacher engagement manager at Microsoft Malaysia’s Education Segment, says Minecraft: Education Edition is an open world game that promotes creativity, collaboration and problem-solving in an immersive environment.

This sets it apart from other games and the only limit is the children’s imagination, she says.

“Children today are very digital literate. Using books and giving them homework are not enough. Teachers need to catch up with current trends and technology.

“Minecraft can also be embedded in ICT programmes or curriculum, suggests Anita.

Aliff teaching a group of educators at the Minecraft workshop.
The collaboration with the National STEM Centre will see Microsoft having a more structured plan where they will help 2,000 schools to try out Minecraft.

National STEM Centre head unit Dr Ihsan Ismail says the collaboration is aimed at creating awareness about Minecraft in public schools.

“With Minecraft, we hope to instill students’ interest in maths and science. Although a proper module has not been finalised, there is a possibility that Minecraft will be used as one learning tool.

“At this early stage, we want to encourage teachers and students to use it so that the ministry can monitor and evaluate its impact. If the outcome is positive, we may extend it to all,” he says.