AGILE students created a virtual learning environment inspired by the Hawaiian Islands in Minecraft during a summer day camp. The detailed environment includes familiar landmarks, such as Aliʻiolani Hale on King Street.

For thousands of years, Hawaiian culture and ʻāina have been used as tools to educate and pass knowledge from generation to generation. But in a changing digital world, can a similar or complimentary educational environment be created online? Cody Lestelle and Opapo Fonoimoana, co-founders of The Academy for Gameful & Immersive Learning Experiences (AGILE), believe so. From June to July of this year,

“To me learning happens everywhere all the time,” says Lestelle. “The differences between learning, doing and living are very subtle.” Lestelle believes play and gaming can be powerful tools for education. His organization AGILE is cultivating a hybrid face-to-face and web-based multiversity campus that creates gameful and immersive learning experiences. The AGILE multiversity is designed for users to learn through playing and doing and to optimize computer and digital time to translate to increased AFK “away from keyboard” benefits. Their most recent project involves using Minecraft, a digital building blocks video game program, to study and create a virtual version of the Hawaiian Islands.

In creating the Hawaiian Islands on Minecraft, AGILE based its teachings in a holistic philosophy that takes direction from ʻāina, its people and the elements. During a free summer day camp, 20 students, including Native Hawaiians, with ages ranging from seven to 15 years, took a dive into Hawaiian culture and history to learn more about the land they sought to build virtually. Over the course of five weeks, the students, along with a few experienced Minecraft builders, learned about the Hawaiian ahupuaʻa land division system, topography, map making, water systems from mauka to makai, farming systems and more from guest teachers, including Solomon Enos. The knowledge gained was then applied to create content inside their topographically correct Minecraft versions of the Hawaiian Islands. Time in Minecraft worlds was divided between their 5:1 scale Oʻahu map, a randomly generated Minecraft survival map, and the final contest submission map.

Students created topographically correct versions of the Hawaiian Islands in the video game Minecraft. Photo: Courtesy of AGILE

Near the end of the camp the team switched focus to a new map designed by Lestelle that includes a much broader range of islands. The newer map includes the Hawaiian Islands and several other chains and individual islands, all at a 17:1 scale to encompass the peaks of Mauna Kea and Haleakalā all the way down to sea level within the game’s 256 block height limit. The method of learning is an abundance cultivation-based lifestyle similar to that of ancient Hawaiians. Currently, fun adventure maps and underground treasure troves are being developed to teach the player about Hawaiian culture through tasks and mini clues.

At the end of the 5-week camp, the students entered their Minecraft build titled “Islands LIVE – a Minecraft (board) Game for Sustainable Futures” into the Minecraft community Summer 2018 Journey Through Time Contest. Their efforts won them the 12th place title in the competition.

Although their efforts have been successful thus far, the journey has only just begun for AGILE. Lestelle believes the next milestone in this project will be to create a community of play around their virtual island landscape by adding more islands to the current 40 that are there and by adding details and stories to the islands and island chains on the current map which already includes Sāmoa, Tahiti and the Isle of Man with culture-based tasks specific to each region.

AGILE is continuing to offer a free after school program teaching academic and 21st century careers skills through game design. To learn more about AGILE and their current projects, visit agilexps.com/play.