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Anthropologist explores the use of Minecraft in education

Studying for an MA in Anthropology has inspired 24 year-old Patrick Smith to explore how the cult computer game Minecraft is educating children.

“Supporting the retention of knowledge is only the start of what Minecraft can do,” says Patrick, who graduates today (26 January).

“In one Religious Education class two groups of children − one Muslim and one Christian – are planning their next construction projects. The Muslim children wonder how they are going to create the stained-glass windows depicting Jesus feeding the 5,000, while the Christian children worry about creating the large dome of a mosque using nothing but square blocks.

“These students are using Minecraft to consolidate what they have learned about each other’s religions. As he places individual prayer mats, a Christian child asks: ‘So what's up with going on your knees and facing east when you pray?’ One of the Muslim children replies: ‘Going on our knees to pray is called sujud. And we face east because that’s where Mecca is.’ ‘Oh, just like how we put our hands together and face the altar,’ the Christian child says.”

Inspired by his foster sister and cousin, who played Minecraft, Patrick chose to explore how the game is used as an educational tool during his MA in the School of Global Studies.

He says: “Minecraft enables young people to identify how they are similar and how they are different. I discovered that more and more teachers understand that immersing children in virtual worlds allows them to develop skills such as cultural understanding.”

Patrick, whose undergraduate degree was also in Anthropology, chose to concentrate on digital anthropology as part of his Masters course. He says: “Up until now there has been a lot of emphasis in this area of 'big data' and 'algorithms of behaviour'. I want to push how analytical and qualitative analysis of social media can be more beneficial in this professional world.”

Patrick, originally from Lostwithiel in Cornwall, has just finished an internship with a London-based, global insight and brand consultancy called Flamingo.

Asked why someone should study Anthropology, the Sussex graduate says: “It’s a way of thinking and perceiving things which pushes you outside of your own world space and gives you new analytical tools for understanding things which you never even considered before. I would recommend it to anyone!”

Read more about the inspirational students graduating this week.

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Posted on behalf of: School of Global Studies
Last updated: Thursday, 26 January 2017

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