Friday, September 11, 2015

Hacking Cities With Minecraft -- Part 2

The recent post “Citizen Engagement: Hacking Cities With Minecraft” appeared to generate significantly more interest (pageviews) than other recent posts about civic hacking. In case NE Wisconsin people are seriously interested in this topic, today’s post highlights a couple more potential links between civic hacking and Minecraft.

The article “Digital History students re-creating 1905 Denver in Minecraft” directly connects Minecraft and the layout of a city.
“...For his digital history course, Dr. Robert Jordan is having his students re-create Denver in Minecraft...Jordan, who is in his fourth year as a professor of history at Colorado State University, said that the idea came to him after he saw a professor at a conference who had had her students re-create the Chicago World’s Fair in Minecraft...
Jordan and his students decided on 1905 as the era of Denver they would re-create. 
Jordan said that they wanted sometime far enough in the past that the city looked different, but a time that there were still enough records to work with. Students then used maps and other resources from the Denver Public Library to build the city on a Minecraft map which Jordan had created to match the topography and climate of the city. “You end up using sanborn maps and historic photographs to help get an idea of what (Denver) looks like,” said Sami Slenker, a senior international studies major. “A lot of it is vetting historical documents to really verify and back up the construction.”... 
The final product will hopefully offer a faithful re-creation of 1905 Denver, and also offer information within the game that lets people use the map file as a way to learn history in an interactive way. The hope is that someday students can freely download the file, and then load it and use it to learn about many aspects of the history of Colorado’s capitol. “It’s a slow process to really get it flushed out,” Jordan said. “The concern is whether or not people will still be interested in Minecraft in five years...”
NE Wisconsin Colleges
A group of interested college students and Minecraft players could replicate the Denver project for one or several NE Wisconsin cities. There are 20 colleges in our area, and a project like this would be a good way to get students from those colleges involved with civic hacking in the cities where they'll be creating many memories, as well as drinking a lot of coffee or beer...

Libraries are a nexus for this post, being extensively involved with both civic hacking (see the post “Libraries And Civic Hacking”) and with Minecraft. One of the three resources listed on the Minecraft Louisville website (mentioned in my first post about Minecraft) is the Louisville Library. That library’s website doesn’t specifically mention civic hacking on their Minecraft page, but it does says their World of Minecraft pilot project is in partnership with the Louisville Metro Government Office of Civic Innovation.

The Olean Public Library, Newark Library, and Red Hook Public Library are three libraries who have Minecraft clubs. I don’t know enough about Minecraft to know if those library clubs have their own servers, but at least one library, the Gretna Public Library, established its own Minecraft server for patrons of the library to use. Establishing NE Wisconsin regional Minecraft servers is something libraries in our region might consider.

There appears to be an APL Minecraft Guild (Appleton Public Library) and Minecraft activities at libraries in the Green Bay area. There may well be Minecraft activities at many libraries throughout NE Wisconsin, but it was not easy to find information about them. One fun civic hack for a few Minecraft enthusiasts could be to build a regional library club or guild connecting all the game’s players in the area. Another possibility is to develop a GIS (geographic information system) or mapping-focused Minecraft project for the immediate areas around libraries in NE Wisconsin.

I know that other libraries in Wisconsin are involved with Minecraft, so if someone in our area wants to start building a strong connection between libraries, Minecraft and civic hacking, mining the networks of librarians in the state for resources, ideas and potential collaborators would be a good place to start.

Another type of organization in NE Wisconsin that could help launch civic hacking activities with Minecraft is makerspaces. Sector67 in Madison is the host for Madison Fractal, as described in the article “From 3D printing to Minecraft, summer camps go high tech.” Madison Fractal, founded by Heather Wentler as a way to help kids and teens build self-confidence and life skills through hands on and challenged based learning projects (608.218.4571 or offers Minecraft classes, as well as other tech activities for young people. Several of those classes are coming up this fall. It would probably be worthwhile to visit one of Heather’s classes or go down to Madison to see if she’d want to collaborate on Minecraft activities or classes in NE Wisconsin. The Appleton Makerspace or Green Bay’s Proto would be good groups to get involved with this type of civic hack.

Some civic hackers might be interested in a project to put a Minecraft device in the hands of more young people by means of an inexpensive Raspberry Pi. An example project is the one described in “Raspberry Pi 2 projects: The best 15 things you can do with the low-cost microcomputer.”
“...Raspberry Pi projects: Create a dedicated Minecraft machine -- Minecraft is one of the biggest success stories of the indie games world, and was bought from the original creators by Microsoft in 2014. The sandbox construction SIM is essentially an infinite digital LEGO set, and is naturally hugely popular with kids. However, its simplistic, blocky graphics also mean it's ridiculously easy to run, and the latest versions of the default Raspbian OS come with a custom-optimised copy of the game preinstalled. If you have children who play Minecraft and you're tired of constantly having them monopolising your tablet or computer, a Raspberry Pi can be an inexpensive, durable machine that they can use for schoolwork, movies, and all the digital digging they can handle…”
If you’re not sure that spending time on Minecraft is worthwhile, read “Block by block, Minecraft helps build human connections.”
You might think of Minecraft as just another video game, but don't tell that to the legions of parents, teachers and other fans in this area who think it's not only educational but can build social connections among those who have trouble doing so...Sederquist said he and fellow teachers shared concerns about some sixth-graders who were having difficulty transitioning from elementary to middle school. He wondered how some of the students were even going to make it through the school year. "If they weren't plugged into orchestra or theater or sports, they were just really starting to fall through the cracks," Sederquist said... 
He decided to try to pull those kids together, along with others interested in technology, through the Minecraft Club...The club usually meets twice a week for 90 minutes after school. Sederquist said dozens of kids showed up on the first day. As the weeks went on, he began to see things click and the barriers start to break down. "We had kids that I hadn't even heard speak for two months of the year, and they were sharing these ideas," he said...Some students bring their own iPads because the school has only four of them for Minecraft play, but the school's parent-teacher advisory council has ordered about 10 tablets to reduce wait time for the kids...”
As a counterbalance to the unbridled enthusiasm for Minecraft in the above article, you should also read “The Myth of the Minecraft Curriculum.” This article doesn’t totally slam Minecraft, but it does recognize its limitations as well as potential benefits.
Everyone loves to talk about how Minecraft, the popular computer game where players build structures out of blocks, is educational. Indeed, the hype isn’t limited to people who make Pinterest boards, use Minecraft in the classroom, or writers who argue that the game teaches spatial reasoning,  reading, computer programming and/or system administration. The parents I run into on a regular basis have also jumped on the bandwagon...When a parent says, "I hear it's educational," I imagine they are actually thinking, "I hear it’s a video game that I can let my kid play and not feel guilty." Okay, maybe some of them truly believe that their kids might learn something. But, as a popular Reddit user’s comment holds, "Minecraft has about as much inherent educational value as an overhead projector." In other words, Minecraft is not intrinsically educational... 
When people talk about what their kids have learned from Minecraft, my observation is that it's almost never something a child has learned directly from the program; no one ever brags about how many monsters their child fought off, and people rarely gush about the types of structures their kid has built. Instead, they talk about everything Minecraft has inspired their kids to do. They read, they research, they problem solve—activities with real educational value...But the problem isn’t that children would miss out on such learning without Minecraft; kids can glean those skills simply by having interests. The real problem is that parents think every activity needs to be educational to have value...”
If you enjoy civic hacking and Minecraft, there are certainly ways to combine them in worthwhile projects and activities. I hope lots of Minecraft fans come to NE Wisconsin’s next civic hacking activity to discuss, develop, launch or work on a Minecraft civic hack!



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