In an article on Mashable, published Monday 4/21/14, the online publication profiled an interesting and non-traditional use of Minecraft for reimagining public spaces in developing countries. The developer of Minecraft, Mojang, partnered with the UN Habitat in 2012 to create their Block-by-Block program. Four cities have been added to the Block-by-Block program: Le Cayes, Haiti; Kiritpur, Nepal; Nairobi, Kenya; and Mexico City, Mexico.
In the first experiment with Le Cayes, Haiti began as a UK-based Minecraft modding group, FyreUK, who built the region inside the game. Then, UN Habitat reached out to local fishermen and asked them to use Minecraft to reimagine this public space. The ease of use of the software and the fast learning curve enabled these citizens who lacked traditional reading and writing skills to contribute to the public space planning and process. Their ideas for building sea walls to prevent flooding and adding public toilets allowed the local developers to better understand how the local residents would prefer the space be reimagined. Then, architects took those drawings to create actual renderings and models that could be used to present to the city governments for planning and development.
UN Habitat, a division of the international organization of the United Nations, works with cities around the world on issues such as urban planning and finding funding for social services. Block-by-Block is part of their Global Public Space Program, which has a goal of upgrading over 300 public spaces within the next three years. Mojang also provides funding for this program through the sale of online currency for their Minecraft game.
It is an unusual collaboration, but one that works. By simplifying the technological barrier between the resident population and enabling them to leverage software to provide them a voice to local government, UN Habitat is facilitating better, stronger, clearer communication between local citizens and their governing bodies.
UN Habitat is not alone in leveraging Minecraft in a non-traditional manner. Local school teachers in Solana Beach, CA are also figuring out ways to create deeper engagement between their students and architectural-related subject matter.
This year for the 4th grade Mission Project, students were given the option to create a Minecraft model of a California Mission and present it to their class. The rubric consisted of well-placed placards within Minecraft that called out the name of the mission, the location, the date it was founded, and other key information. Each student had to recreate from scratch the Mission, the Chapel, the food and storage areas, and any other significant pieces of architecture on the property. Then, they were asked to present via AirPlay through their personal iPod or classroom iPad and give a tour of their Mission to the class. The average time spent on each Mission ranged from 10-50 hours.
In the old days, the assignment might have been to write a report, take photos, or build a traditional model. By having the students visit the Mission, take notes, and photos to then recreate a perfect Minecraft replica, this lead to a deeper analysis and engagement with the subject matter. Thus leading to greater retention of information and a stronger appreciation for the work that might have gone into physically building said Mission.
Some modern educators theorize that Minecraft may be a new way for students to learn subjects in a more engaging manner. Here are a few educational links on the subject matter if you’d like to learn more:
Transforming the Way We Learn: Why Minecraft is an Amazing Learning Tool
Digging for Truth – Minecraft Blog
Minecraft.edu: Bringing Minecraft to the Classroom