The Implications of Wonder Quest and Minecraft in Education

May 4th, 2015 Categories: Minecraft

I’ll preface this post by saying I think the Wonder Quest Youtube channel is a fascinating and innovative shift in educational media and it should stir up a few minds in thinking about how we are using media that children already watch and navigate to integrate educational material into them. What I find interesting is the audience’s reaction to it and how young people perceive an educational aspect to an area where they may not have experienced a learning element before and involving a Youtube character they are used to “just” being entertained by…

Last week a new channel sprung to life on Youtube mashing up Minecraft, fun, and education. Wonder Quest.

It stars the 6-million-followers-Youtube-superstar Stampy and the tireless, multi-talented Adam Clarke.

So Adam has been in the design and education field with Minecraft for years and he has been involved in many amazing educational and design related projects around the United Kingdom. He’s been involved in a lot of education centered Minecraft projects and his involvement in this makes a lot of sense.

Here is where it gets interesting for me. Stampy is huge with elementary school kids. Huugggeeeeeee, I don’t know how else to write it to get that fact across. His young followers expect zany, funny (and kinda a chaotic mix of manic laughing and high pitched talking to these 36 year old eyes!) adventures with which they can plop down in front of and turn their brains off after a long hard day at school (or during school if they find a quiet corner!).

Therein lies the crutch. Stampy has already been proven to be immensely popular with young people. How will they react when he sprinkles in a little bit of education in to his antics…?

What Wonder Quest is setting out to achieve makes a lot of sense to me:

  • They have the captive audience of millions of Stampy fans.
  • They have the captive audience of roughly 54 million Minecraft players worldwide.

So why not work on this premise…

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HOWEVER…

Some children don’t like things they usually construe as being fun being invaded by “education”. The fun wind-down time of their daily lives is their chill out time away from the stresses of homework and exams. It’s this that’s been the downfall of video games in education since….schools started buying video games to be used in education (with a few notable exceptions of course).

So where else to see what these young people thought of this new fun and educational Youtube channel than in the comments that were posted by Stampy’s adoring fans on Wonder Quest Episode 1.

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A voice of reason to start off with! I think this pretty much sums up why they have endeavored to work with Stampy’s already captive audience to gain an educational foothold in this arena.

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I find it interesting that there are still calls for Youtube channels to be made into “full-on” TV shows. I guess TV is not a dead media yet…

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Boooom! No comment.

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So herein lies the quandary, if you want to do an educational series who is your target audience? You’re obviously going to alienate certain age groups whatever you choose. It seems from watching the first episode that Wonder Quest can entertain anyone but the education focus or where the educational aspect might result in a learning moment is targeted at elementary school. Perhaps tapering off in Grade 5. Perhaps.

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I used to feel weird and I still get weird looks sometimes saying that one of the reasons we might use a certain technology tool is because it’s fun. I think it’s a pretty simple equation; fun=engagement. If young people are engaged they are paying attention. If they are paying attention they are remembering things. If they are remembering things they are learning (on a consumptive level).

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Pretty cool to read this. The whole visualization of the sun and the earth was quite cool and stuck in my mind after watching the video.

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Hmmm. So here is where we might lose some young people. They equate Stampy with fun. The second we take…a second… to explain something (“teach”) and cut the flow of the fun adventure then it’s hard to earn their trust back. From an adult’s perspective watching the Wonder Quest video it really is 85% fun and 15% education (if that). I think they got the balance just right and I’m sure with each iteration of the show they will learn what the secret ratio is and the audience will know what to expect.

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Isn’t this awesome? A scientific debate on Youtube, who would have thought it?! The content of the episode enabled someone to express their different opinion on how long the Earth takes to orbit the sun. Deeper discussions and debate are always good. And nobody is calling each other horrible names! Win!

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And, again, a conversation that evolved in the comments of Episode 2 of Wonder Quest. Love it.

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But then there are the young people who just will be turned off by what they see as chocolate covered brussels sprouts…how do we engage them? Teachers struggle with this every day in classrooms around the world. It’s why differentiation exists but when taking on a project like Wonder Quest it’s nearly impossible to reach everyone..to differentiate the content. The mere fact that it’s an educational cartoon based in Minecraft should be seen as a major attempt to broadly differentiate teaching traditional subjects or topics.

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Yes, fun is a factor in making education engaging.

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The mindset of young people can be that education is not symbiotic with entertainment. Wonder Quest is trying to find that hard to reach area in between those areas.

Now, here’s another fascinating turn of events in this story. Stampy uploaded an episode this week on his main channel with Adam (Wizard Keen) involving a memory game:

Nothing wrong here it’s a nice little fun episode which, tactically, makes sense; it introduces the relationship between Stampy and Keen to an audience that may not have crossed over to Wonder Quest. In doing so, Wonder Quest might get more traction with the hardcore Stampy fans. I think it has backfired somewhat..Stampy has now invaded his area with what can be seen by his fans as “educational” content. They are not used to this more “organized” content and enjoy the more flamboyant and “no-real-end result” episodes. The fan base aren’t really happy.

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I would imagine they expected this.

I would also imagine that they weighed up the possible negative and positive outcomes of uploading this and concluded that if they got a small percentage that enjoyed this on Stampy’s main channel who then subscribed to the Wonder Quest channel then it would be a good outcome. Next week, Stampy will upload his usual content and all will be forgiven. I’m guessing.

I don’t know Joseph (the man behind Stampy) but I’ve known Adam for a few years now and he’s worked extremely hard for this. He deserves the accolades he’s getting and will be getting. I think Wonder Quest is going to be extremely popular and will pave the way for future educational endeavors.

However, the complicated task of mixing education and entertainment has always been one fraught with miss-steps and wrong decisions. The equations are pretty simple:

Too much education+not enough fun=No engagement.

Too much fun+not enough education=No learning*

And as seen above in the Youtube comments you also run the gauntlet of encroaching upon these young people’s daily online spaces. If they feel tricked into something they have not been expecting you will lose their trust and engagement.

These are interesting times and I have only started to mull this over…

 

*the specific learning that YOU (the educator) want to happen. There always be learning by-products like collaboration or risk-taking.

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