One of the delights of Melbourne is its warren of alleyways and arcades. Victorian educator Stephen Elford wants everyone to help build them all over again – only this time using Minecraft: Education Edition.
Elford is the Victorian Department of Education and Training’s (DET) Digital Learning Coach and has led the development of Mini Melbourne – a virtual rendition of 600,000 square metres of Melbourne, copies of which the State’s schools are downloading by the thousand for its learning potential.
But Elford’s not finished yet, and believes that over time Mini Melbourne could grow to four times that size, with students replicating lanes and arcades, and even designing new street art for the Minecraft version of famed graffiti-magnet, Hosier Lane.
Mini Melbourne, like Minecraft: Education Edition, is available for free to all Victorian State schools, and comes complete with a range of lesson plans for different school years. This makes it accessible to 1,600 schools and 600,000 students in the State.
Mini Melbourne is also available to millions of Minecraft users around the world through the Java, Bedrock and Education editions.
“This multi-platform release was a top priority for the team, as we wanted to encourage global community engagement and this is one thing that we feel makes this whole project unique,” says Elford.
The genesis of the project came when Rail Projects Victoria partnered with DET to create Melbourne in Minecraft to help educate Victorians about the Metro Tunnel Project and construction taking place in the City of Melbourne. At the same time there was the chance to create a learning module about the archaeological work being undertaken as part of the development.
Elford says that in the first two weeks after the launch, 8,000 copies of Mini Melbourne had been downloaded. Students from all over Victoria are now able to take virtual tours of the city, entering key buildings and taking part in the virtual Archeology Adventure that uncovers important parts of Melbourne’s history as students dig for real artefacts that were uncovered by archeologists.
The project took around 10 months to bring to fruition, and Elford says Mini Melbourne will continue to expand over time.
“In terms of the actual Mini Melbourne world – that took a couple of months to work out how to get the 3D data into a usable form and into Minecraft, then it took about four to six weeks to render the city,” he says.
Creating the Archaeology Adventure, which is aligned to the curriculum for years 3-10, took about six months of planning and development.
“The Archeology Adventure is a way to educate students about the profession of archeology, about the history of Melbourne – and some of the stories and culture that go from early European Settlement to the 1950s. It also helps kids with teamwork,” says Elford whose main focus at the Department is to “grow quality practice in schools across the State and in particular around Minecraft: Education Edition.”
Having Melbourne rendered in Minecraft is extending how Minecraft: Education Edition is being used, and the learning outcomes that can be achieved.
“I went to a school on Monday and we ran a Mini Melbourne session. They did a scavenger hunt looking for key Melbourne things and discussing why they are there and their history,” says Elford.
He is also working on an array of other lesson opportunities using Mini Melbourne that; “Cover maths, scale, proportion, literacy and writing, through to geography and mapping, arts – and science is a plan as well.”
It’s not just an online destination to visit. Elford says that; “There are a lot of parts of Mini Melbourne that aren’t detailed yet – some of the really important historic arcades and laneways and other things like that that make Melbourne special. We are encouraging people to go and create this –- students and the general public – build those components and send them into us for possible inclusion in the next version.”
He says that Mini Melbourne offers a wide range of learning opportunities for teachers to make use of – for example students can work together to propose a change in a public space, discuss it, refine their ideas, make the change to their downloaded version of the software, and then collaboratively reflect on the outcome.
“There are opportunities for kids to get into the world and rather than be passive explorers, to get in there and get creative. That is one of the things the next update will bring such as repainting Hosier Lane with street art that means something to the students in the class.
“The more we can use this world as a base for immersive interactive learning experiences the better placed we are across the State for getting students into this platform for teaching and learning,” says Elford.
He is a passionate advocate for Minecraft: Education Edition as a deep learning tool. “It changes the way you look at what learning is, what assessment is. The curriculum stays the same – but Minecraft: Education Edition gives you the opportunity to teach students in a different way and for students to demonstrate learning in a way we haven’t been able to before. It really does shift classrooms in an astonishing way.
“The limitations are literally student and teacher imaginations.”