After spending weeks researching possible lesson plans, reading material on Minecraft, watching YouTube videos, reaching out to others, and playing in the MinecraftEdu world, I was semi, sort of prepared for the first club meeting at the middle school. Dave and I had started a wiki so the students could have profile pages, created the accounts and I had worked with our senior systems administrator to create the Minecraft world. We were ready to begin!
The 15 students (17 total in the club), grades 6 -8, bounded into the room as though they had been shot out of a cannon, full of talk of past adventures, the battles yet to be fought and what their plans were for this club world (to the Nether and beyond!). Dave and I gathered them around the SmartBoard for a little discussion on the concept of community gaming and collaborative work within the Minecraft world. We discussed a few guidelines - no griefing, teamwork, and respect for each other's work were the main goals. We asked them what their expectations were for the club. They didn't appear to have any beyond getting into the game and playing.
The loose plan Dave and I had was to have them spend some time exploring their new world and then gradually we would have everyone meet at the "Welcome Center" where we would build something together - their choice, in teams. My vision, which I didn't share, was that they would build something "fantastical" together.
The reality was that students who generally play alone don't suddenly start helping each other mine for materials or construct buildings. There was a fair amount of argument about who shouldn't be some place or who did what to whom. Several times we felt the need to remind students of the policies we had discussed.
At the end of the fastest 90 minutes I've ever experienced, we gathered together for a little "show and tell." In spite of the discord, the students had done an amazing amount of work and were quite pleased to show others what they had done. They wrapped up by logging off, shutting down and whoosh! They were gone - leaving as abruptly as they had arrived.
Dave and I dropped to our chairs, trying to process whether we had actually accomplished something. Our eventual conclusion was that they were accustomed to playing alone, not together and were not used to teamwork in a virtual world. Teamwork on a physical playing field is one thing; working with another in the virtual world - well, that was going to take some time
Later, I thought about my vision of a collaborative, imaginative world filled with structurally stunning buildings and joyous inhabitants. Perhaps I needed to revise a little. How about striving for a feeling of working and living together within a virtual community? Time (1 week into an 8 week program) will tell.