The company behind a popular learning management system for higher education institutions has found a compelling hook for trying to expand its reach into K-12 schools:
Minecraft, the wildly popular digital video game in which students create structures and explore an open, online environment.
Among the 15 new massive open, online courses (commonly known as MOOCs) unveiled Tuesday by Instructure, the Salt Lake City, Utah-based company that makes the Canvas LMS, are "Getting Started with MinecraftEDU" and "Minecraft for Educators," both of which are intended to help teachers become more comfortable with the game that many of their students love.
Instructure also released a new Minecraft app, which will allow students to link their game account to their Canvas account, facilitating the submission and grading of assignments directly from the game world, according to a press release from the company.
"Through Minecraft and other engaging forums, we want to help teachers and students come together to advance education everywhere," said Melissa Loble, the senior director of Instructure's Canvas network, in the release.
The company announced a total of:
- Seven MOOCs for teachers, including "Teachers without Borders: Educating Girls" and "Tinker, Make and Learn";
- Seven MOOCs for students, including "Google Ninja" and "NASA Space Center Houston's 'Mars: The Next Frontier'"; and
- One MOOC for parents, "Parenting in the Digital Age."
MOOCs are typically free, uncredited courses that are delivered online and available to participants from all over the world.
The hype around the online courses has subsided somewhat in recent months. In November 2013, just a year after the New York Times dubbed 2012 the "Year of the MOOC," Sebastian Thrun, the founder of leading MOOC provider Udacity, partially disavowed the phenomenon he helped create, pointing to low retention rates and other problems.
And the trend has never really taken off in the K-12 sector. A review of the Ed Week archives reveals a handful of stories that mostly focusing on tentative steps taken and the tepid reaction they've received:
- MOOC Targets Needs of K-12 Teachers, Students (October 23, 2013)
While massive open online courses, or MOOCs, may be the rage in higher education, the trend has been slow to make its way into the K-12 arena.
- Blackboard, Amplify Deals Reflect Shifting Landscape for 'MOOCs' (July 16, 2013)
Blackboard plans to give K-12 schools access to a platform to create "MOOCs," while Amplify will launch its first MOOC, focused on AP Computer Science.
- MOOCs Provider in Higher Ed. Targets K-12 Teacher PD (May 15, 2013)
In attempting to bring "MOOCs" to the world of teacher training, Coursera and its university partners are courting a new and potentially vast audience.
- Virtual Educators Critique Value of MOOCs for K-12 (February 6, 2013)
Massively open online courses are growing more popular in colleges and universities, but there are questions about the quality of the courses and the retention of students.
Nevertheless, Instructure is bullish.
"MOOCs have the power to tear down walls and bring our brightest contemporaries together," Loble said in the company press release.
Instructure was founded in 2008, and the company launched its Canvas LMS in 2011. The product is currently in use in more than 400 school districts, charter schools, and private schools, according to the company.
Keep an eye out: The crowded, highly competitive K-12 LMS market is the subject of an upcoming Ed Week special report, to be published next month.