From Lego to Minecraft; alternative approaches to learning and teaching

A discussion on a Jisc mail list (ALDinHE; the Association for Learning Development in Higher Education) is promoting the use of LEGO® and LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®.  I am intrigued. Not because I’m any good with making things, it’s more about interest in new concepts for old problems.

My first encounter with Lego was this explanation of SOLO Taxonomy. It worked for me. I was also interested in Carina Buckley’s paper Conceptualising plagiarism; using Lego to construct students’ understanding of authorship and citation which describes making visible the ‘underlying theoretical philosophy of referencing and plagiarism by using Lego as a mode of authorship.’  There is clearly scope for closer investigation of what Lego can do. A useful starting point is Innovating in the Creative Arts with Lego. This report by Dr Alison James promotes Lego as representation of complex ideas in three dimensional forms. It can be a ‘playful and imaginative alternatives to traditional ways of learning and engaging.

The Prompting Reflection through Play video from Manchester Met’s CELT refers  to using Lego as ‘thinking with your hands.’

During the workshop, Lego is used to create metaphors. This sounds like a form of three dimensional reflection. If external shapes represent internal thoughts then I suspect working with Lego is as much about the process as the end result.

In June I’m attending a Lego workshop at Manchester Met. Play is not my strong point so it may not work for me but underpinning this is wanting to rethink approaches to developing digital capabilities.  I’m looking for ways to stimulate discussion which are non-digital. If going online in the first place is uncomfortable then presenting solutions in digital formats risks creating further barriers. I think we need to go back to basics to establish how low a digital capabilities baseline should be. This requires old fashioned face to face communication. At times like these, where we need to talk, it’s possible an alternative approach like using Lego might work to stimulate conversation. One thing is for sure. I won’t know unless I try.

It isn’t only Lego Serious Play which is attracting interest. The HEA have recently produced a toolkit for Gamification and Games-Based Learning Closer to home the principles of gamification are being realised through the pedagogical potential of Minecraft. Joel Mills and March Lorch at the University of Hull have created Molcraft; an animated world of amino acids and molecules.

Minecraft reminds me of the immersive learning experiences I encountered in Second Life; another alternative form of learning. Virtual 3D reality is now 360 degrees thanks to technologies like Oculus and Google Cardboard. High tech approaches like these make Lego look a little basic but compared to the digital, Lego is more accessible and inclusive. Therein I think lies the power in keeping it simple. Whatever the method, the message is the same. Don’t be afraid to try something new and different.