April 28, 2020

When Carl Faust first introduced Minecraft to his physics class a few years ago, he had no way of knowing how well it would position him for the unexpected transition to online learning necessitated by the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Faust, assistant professor of physics, combines Minecraft with Twitch to create a virtual workspace for the students in his Digital and Analog Electronics course to practice circuit-building. Minecraft is a virtual 3D Lego-like computer building game where players are free to make anything they want, while Twitch is a live-streaming platform for video gamers.

“Using Minecraft, everyone can be in a virtual world together and they’re all working on the same large circuit, everyone with their own individual pieces,” Faust said.

Faust usually introduces his Minecraft unit after spring break, once students have learned the basics of traditional circuit-building.

However, after the university discontinued in-person classes in March, Faust extended the use of Minecraft for the rest of the semester.

“If I hadn’t used Minecraft before I don’t know what I would have done for this class,” Faust admits. “But I was at the point where I was going to switch from analog to digital and happily, you can do all of that in Minecraft.”

Chemical physics major Thayne Hummel ’21 said the online transition was well-timed.

“Minecraft allows us to visually see exactly what components of our build are working and to see the theory behind building. Of course, physically building would be optimal, but using Minecraft makes it as real as possible,” Hummel said. “We can even work on it with other classmates and learn along with them.”

“Using Minecraft exclusively for the class has been quite a lot of fun,” said Brianna Watts ’23, a double major in biochemistry and physics. “I think Minecraft adds a level of nostalgia and fun to the assignments. Playing video games for class makes the assignments, which can be very time-consuming, less tedious and more enjoyable.”