A lively academic debate exists on the use of games in formal education. Pedagogic/cognitive sciences promote the use of games in class, because these instructional media are considered to have positive effects on affective and cognitive learning. However, according to multiple, very recent systematic literature reviews of Digital Game Based Learning (DGBL), rigorous scientific evaluations of the effects of digital games of education are scarce. Most studies are performed in an ad hoc manner and use a simple research design. As a result, the academic debate on this topic still misses a profound body of studies that consider the effects of digital games on the acquisition of knowledge and the development of practical skills in formal education.

At the SPINlab we hypothesize that the immense popular computer game Minecraft has a positive effect on cognitive and affective learning of students in secondary education. We posit that Minecraft enhances not only the students’ understanding of geographical concepts, but also contains a mechanism to develop the childrens’ spatial skills. Although the added value of Minecraft for teaching geography has been underlined, experimental studies that assess the positive learning effects are rare. We argue therefore that there is a need of systematic experimental studies that examine the proposed causal relationship between digital games and an increase of cognitive and affective learning using a well-defined model.


In 2015 the SPINlab launched its own Minecraft environment called Geocraft. Geocraft is a 3D interactive virtual world in which an existing environment (city, province, country) is visualized in 3D Minecraft building blocks. Not only concrete structures can be depicted, but also features like the amount of air pollution, noise disturbance, energy labels, etc. After creating Geocraft, the VU offered it to high schools as an excellent educational tool to enhance spatial insight, to raise awareness and insights in a number of geospatial issues, and to develop typical 21th century skills as communicating, finding and evaluating information, creating and innovating, collaborating and problem solving.

Project Geocraft 2017

In cooperation with Rijkswaterstaat and the Technasium School Community at Lelystad a new project-based assignment has been developed on hydraulic engineering and sustainable environmental planning. Third graders from the secondary school “Technasium Lelystad” are challenged to inventory suitable locations for a second location of islands in the Markermeer lake in The Netherlands using realistic, high quality spatial data from different stakeholders (e.g. Deltares and Rijkswaterstaat). Furthermore, they are asked to iteratively create a robust and resilient spatial design for these islands in which the multiple functions (e.g. nature, energy and/or recreation) are represented.

The Marker Wadden is one of the largest freshwater lakes in Western Europe. Since the lake has been closed off the IJsselmeer, the ecological situation has deteriorated severely because of the turbidity caused by fine sediments. Rijkswaterstaat, Nature organisation Natuurmonumenten, Ecoshape and Deltares work together on the improvement of the natural environment in the Markermeer, by capturing silt from the Markermeer to use it as building material for an archipelago of marsh islands. This will hopefully partially remove the cause of the ecological deterioration. This project comprises a lot of research and innovation in the area of building with silt, the development of ecological systems and adaptive governance.

A dedicated Minecraft infrastructure for Lelystad has been set up by the SPINlab that allows the secondary school children to work on this project-based assignment. Groups of four or five, they can work simultaneously on their own spatial design. During three feedback moments, the preliminary designs are assessed by domain experts from the field. This is a unique chance for the students to present their plans and to acquire valuable input for a new version of their spatial designs. We posit that these feedback loops in combination with the use of Geocraft will result in better cognitive and affective learning outcomes than with using traditional design materials.

Project Goal

The specific purpose of this research is to closely examine the influence of DGBL on teaching Geography in secondary education. We consider Geocraft as a representational instrument (research game) that enables us to critically assess the advantages of DGBL in the classroom. Minecraft is a computer game that has huge educational potential for geography education. Due to its open-world layout with different, unique environments, animals, plants and weather conditions, Minecraft represents the ecosystems of our planet in an innovative, gamified way. The ability to directly alter the environment in a nondeterministic manner, allows the player to build, modify and/or deconstruct an area in line with its own ideas and preferences. As such, Minecraft is a digital game that enables the learner to put its acquired geographical knowledge (e.g. spatial planning) into practice and for this reason we consider this game as a valid instructional medium to study the impact of DGBL for Geography.

For more information about this project, please follow the link below:


Geocraft 2017
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