Victoria to introduce new programs for schools to build digital tech skills

The state of Victoria will grant all students in government schools access to Minecraft: Education Edition, according to a press release by the Victorian state government on 8th June.  The move seeks to “give students access to the very best digital and science technology”, and comes as part of a recent agreement between the Victoria state government and Microsoft.

The release of Minecraft: Education Edition for use by students in the state of Victoria follows earlier releases of the game in other Australian states such as New South Wales. Minecraft: Education Edition was first made generally available in Australia by Microsoft Australia on 2 November 2016. Since then, the game has been widely included in classrooms on a school-wide or state-wide basis; the game has been in use in over 45 countries since launch.

Minecraft: Education Edition is increasingly popular as a learning tool in classrooms around the world, In Australia, the game’s pedagogical potential has already been demonstrated by many Australian educators, which have since used the game to teach students a wide range of subjects. Students have used the game to recreate a replica early Australian settlement, simulate societies during the age of the Victorian Gold Rush and even mix chemical compounds.

Providing new opportunities for interactive and collaborative learning within a “safe, shared learning environment”, Minecraft: Education Edition is an adapted version of the immensely popular Minecraft. In addition to the game’s original contents, the educational version is tailored towards enhancing classroom learning experiences by encouraging creativity, critical thinking and problem solving between students. 

The virtual learning space provided by Minecraft : Education Edition is expected to supplement in-class learning by providing students with opportunities to directly interact with concepts learnt. The use of the game to recreate physical structures like school buildings for example, as highlighted by a number of educators, provides an opportunity for students to not only do fieldwork, but also engage in concepts in art, math and design in ways that conventional lessons cannot.

In addition to providing an expanded, multidisciplinary learning experience that is both safe and secure, Minecraft: Education Edition also comes with new features that allow teachers to monitor student activity, and tools to prevent undesirable behaviour like vandalism or “trolling”. An in-built camera function also allows students to take photos and videos of their virtual works and send them to teachers directly, providing a simpler and more intuitive alternative to the traditional print-screen function.

“This is about giving our schools and students access to the best digital technology and programs to prepare them for the jobs of the future,” said Minister for Education James Merlino. “We know our kids will need skills in science and in technology as well as critical thinking, and programs like this give them the opportunity to develop in these areas.”

The use of Minecraft : Education Edition in enhancing classroom learning is not without controversy. 

In 2016, The Chair of the UK Department of Education’s behaviour group Tom Bennett debased the game as “gimmicky” and “(getting) in the way of children actually learning”; while Minecraft: Education Edition wholly demonstrated vast pedagogical potential, its success has done little to dissuade fears the the use of computer games in education could give rise to problems such as video game addiction.

A study conducted in 2016 by the Academy of Finland showed a strong relationship between internet addiction and school burnout; Other studies have also pointed out related health risks such as obesity and optical disorders.

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