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Spark Tank grant means Minecraft is coming to Park classrooms

Arron Riffle, Reporter

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Minecraft, a computer game, is a digital world of limited resources with endless possibilities. It’s based on creating and maintaining a world by using and constructing materials from the digital resources available. Two Park students and their professor think this video game could be used as a learning tool in higher academia. The group presented their plan as part of the Faculty Center for Innovation’s “Spark Tank” grant contest on Aug. 8.
Susan Keim, Ph.D. visiting professor of public administration, Zac Jarrard, a Park graduate student majoring in public affairs, and William Graff majoring in political science were finalists in the Spark Tank grant program.
The Spark Tank program awarded three teams $5,000 grants. The awardees were chosen by a panel of judges that determined if the winners demonstrated a new and innovative approach to learning.
“I knew we had a unique presentation, but I didn’t know we’d win!” Keim said.
Keim and Graff presented live, in a packed Alumni Theater, on what Minecraft can teach us about local government.
“I didn’t know if this would be viewed as a kid’s game,” Jarrard said.
The panel of judges saw the team’s idea and awarded them the $5,000 grant to fund bringing Minecraft into the classroom.
The idea to bring Minecraft into the classroom began in December 2015 when Jarrard started Minecraft and became the mayor of a virtual town. As the town grew so did the number of residents, “By spring I was leading 200 people,” Jarrard said.
He started talking about commonalities in the game to issues they were discussing about local and state governments in class.
“For me the part that is important is that there are transferable skills in playing video games,” Keim said. “Minecraft is about building cities, and government is about building cities.”
“I tried to help Dr. Keim understand,” said Jarrard.
“As he was talking I wrote down the key things [such as] communication, risk taking, building your own city,” said Keim. “If students are doing this naturally then why aren’t we capitalizing on it?”
With 35 years of Minecraft experience between Jarrard and Graff, and Keim applying the in-game experience into an academic course, the group was able to develop an eight-week online course. Virtual Local Government, or PA 504, is an independent study course that will be offered in the Spring semester of 2018. The course will focus on students who are assigned one of four roles.
“Builders are the architects, security are the police, city council are the legislators, and explorers are the entrepreneurs,” Keim said.
In addition to meeting the requirements of their roles, the class will have to accomplish in-game objectives to demonstrate team work.
Incorporating video games into education is at the forefront of innovation and this group is putting Park University at the front of the pack.
The team will also use a portion of the Spark Tank grant to attend the American Society for Public Administration (ASPA) conference in Denver, Colo., and present this concept of using Minecraft in the classroom.

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Student newspaper of Park University
Spark Tank grant means Minecraft is coming to Park classrooms